And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So, the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them (Nehemiah 8:9-12).
The Joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah challenged the people with an important reality. The joy of the presence of the Lord was to be their strength. The stark reality of their lifestyle and God’s call was overwhelming. The gap between the way they were living, and the way God wanted them to live was embarrassing. They could have crumbled into shame and discouragement except Nehemiah reminded God’s people of something even more powerful than their sin. God’s Word grieved them because they saw their sin. The joy of the Lord gave hope because they came to grips with a savior. Despite their failure, God would provide for His people and gave them something greater – the joy of the Lord.
God’s word is living and powerful. Clearly God’s Word, for those who had ears to hear, was deeply convicting. They grieved over their sin and the gap between how they were living and what God’s word called them to be and do. The standard for life and conduct was dictated by the words from God. Since they had neglected God’s Word for so long, they had lost their spiritual bearings and were blindsided with the weight of God’s expectations. These people felt that deeply and struggled standing under God’s discipline rather than his favor.
God’s people can find joy and hope even in grief. The passage contrasts the conviction and grief of not measuring up to God’s Word, with the encouragement of the joy of the Lord. God’s Word showed them their sin; Nehemiah pointed them to the power of His presence. On the one hand they had wandered far from the Word; on the other they discovered the joy of His presence. Nehemiah told them to stop grieving and choose to celebrate with joy over the fact that God had made His Word clear to them. He was not telling them to ignore their sin but to confess their sin to the Lord. Their confession was authentic; their grief was palpable. What an interesting contrast to feel grief from sin but joy because they knew God was loving, merciful, compassionate, and forgiving.
Some things are inappropriate for God’s people. Nehemiah would not allow them to wallow in guilt of their sin. He challenged them to consider their disobedience did not define the path forward. They were in relationship with a God who would forgive them no matter how discouraged they were over their spiritual failure. Nehemiah knew that sin could discourage God’s people to the point of giving up. He could not let the inertia of their guilt define their next steps, except to find forgiveness with the Lord. Having confidence that God forgives and cleanses from sin is hope beyond hope. It breathes new life into shattered hearts. It lifts people from the failure of their own efforts to find freedom in the Lord. There are fewer things more life-giving than knowing the joy of the Lord.
In Christ’s grace and mercy