“…for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10d)
The Book of Nehemiah is one of the historical books of the Bible. There are a lot of practical applications found therein as we consider the attitudes of the world and the character of God’s people. Nehemiah himself may be considered a minor character in the overall flow of Jewish history. He wasn’t a prophet, priest, or king. He isn’t given much of a biographical sketch. But what we do know about Nehemiah the man teaches us to look past our past and rejoice in the grace of God.
Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes (1:11). While this was a high honor for a slave to be in the presence of the king, the king’s cupbearer had a most-dangerous responsibility of sampling the king’s wine. If an attempt was made to poison the king, his cupbearer would be the one to find out. Unfortunately for him, this would be by his death. However, Nehemiah had a deeper concern, for his people and the worship of his God.
After the inhabitants of Jerusalem had been carried away captive by the Babylonian armies, Babylon itself was captured by the Medo-Persian Empire (Daniel 5:31). Under the Persian king Cyrus, an order was issued to give a command to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-3). Through many trials, the work progressed until the Temple was finally rebuilt. At this point, the Lord’s hand is strong on Nehemiah as Artaxerxes issues the command to build the wall around Jerusalem and gives Nehemiah the commission to oversee the project (Nehemiah 2:7-8).
In our text verse, Ezra has just read from the book of the Law to the people. At this recounting of their nation’s heritage, the Jews are convicted for their nation’s many sins against God. The Law had worked its effect of exposing the nation’s idolatrous heart; and the Jews knew that they’d been chastened by the Lord. Their grief was great because they were without excuse as God the righteous Judge had executed perfect justice.
But here we see a consolation greater than grief as Nehemiah assures the people of God’s graciousness. The grief-stricken people are encouraged to rejoice because their sins had been forgiven; the Lord had restored them to their land; the Temple was rebuilt; and the city wall was one again complete – this was a time of celebration for the goodness that God had shown them! “For the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Have you ever been in a similar situation? Perhaps you have recently had to endure a time of serious trial and testing. Or maybe you have been chastised for your sinful behavior. Whatever the circumstance or the cause thereof, you are tired, worn, or maybe even broken. In such grievous times we know that the Lord is faithful to restore us to fellowship with Himself when we humbly acknowledge our need. That’s an assurance that should invite us to turn to the Lord when we have gone astray; accept His pardon; and submit to His cleansing of us (James 4:6-8).
However, it is so often true that we find difficulty in accepting the fact that God’s grace is complete unmerited. This mindset seeks forgiveness, but then continues to mourn and grieve one’s state of brokenness. Such a pity-party is an expression of the fleshly “self” that wants to be held in respect of its brokenness. We may even try to perform good works in an attempt to console ourselves in the comforting of the ego.
Be sure that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and then cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). But this forgiveness and cleansing is free and sovereign. If we add anything to it at all, we discount the grace of God and pacify our self-pity through fleshly works. We need to come to a full acceptance of the graciousness of a loving God and Savior who restores us to Himself; and then we need to rejoice in His goodness.
As Nehemiah told the Jews in our text verse, “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Rejoice in the Lord and be strengthened thereby. When the night has passed and the darkness is gone, rejoice in the light of day and be warmed by it. Lift up your voice and praise the goodness of God’s grace – completely unmerited; completely unfailing. We are joyful when we are strong. And we are strong when we are joyful. Rejoice then when Christ lifts your head, and be thankful, for this is where you will find strength.