Lord's Day Evening Meditations July 27, 2003

Nehemiah 8:10-17

"The Joy Of The Lord"

When the people "heard the words of the law" they wept, because they realized how far they had departed from it. However, Nehemiah and Ezra told them not to weep, for that day was intended to be one of joy, not of sorrow. They said, "Neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength." Let's consider this statement a little.

Firstly, I'm sure that we all realize our weakness and need of strength. The words: "The joy of the Lord is your strength" give us a key to having the strength that we need - it is "the joy of the Lord." When we are happy in the Lord and enjoying Him, we have strength for the requirements of the pathway. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice." Phil. 4:4. The epistle to the Philippians gives us what is normal for believers - rejoicing in the Lord, even though they are going through trials and sorrows. How can that be? At the beginning of chapter 3 Paul wrote, "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord," and before the chapter is ended, we find him "even weeping." v. 18. How is that? Did Paul not practice what he taught?

There is no contradiction. Our circumstances can be very troublesome, and cause many tears, but we are not told to rejoice in the circumstances; we are told to rejoice in "in the Lord." That is, we have every right to look above the clouds of sorrow, and the storms of circumstances, to where the Lord is in cloudless glory. As we gaze on Him there, we see the One Who loves us with an everlasting love, Who dwells in a peace that nothing can disturb, and Who is the source of every blessing. When by faith we are able to rise above the clouds to view the Son in His glory, what joy that gives to the heart, and what strength that gives to the believer!

People didn't believe me when I told them that at my place the sun shines every day. Well, it does. I don't see it every day, because there are often clouds, but though I don't see it, it is shining there above the clouds anyway. If you have traveled by air, you have probably had the experience of taking off in cloudy or rainy conditions, and then, in a very few minutes, you have found yourself in bright sunshine. Above all the clouds of sorrow, trouble, and turmoil down here, the Son of God, is shining in His glory above. There is no strength in being occupied with the troubles, but there is strength in being occupied with the Lord in His glory and beauty. Such an occupation fills the heart with joy, and that joy in the Lord gives strength. I know that it is easy for me to read and to say these things; it is another thing to do them. May the Lord help us to do so!

However, I heard another way to take this statement: "The joy of the Lord is your strength." We've been speaking of it as our joy in Him, but "the joy of the Lord" could be His joy in us. When He looks down upon us, what does He see, as to our conduct down here? If what He sees makes Him happy, it is because we are going on well or serving Him acceptably, and that is a source of strength to us also. So there is our joy in Him and His joy in us, each one a source of strength, which makes for double joy and double strength! Surely we should be a happy people.

The first part of chapter 8 recounted the events of "the first day of the seventh month." Now, in verse 13 we have "the second day." On the first day they had all met together, in perfect unity, for the purpose of having the Word of God. On the second day it was the chief of the fathers, the priests, and the Levites who gathered together "to understand the words of the law." v. 13. The French translation reads, "to become intelligent in the words of the law." For them, "the words of the law" were the books of Moses, only the first five books of the Bible. But how important it was, to understand what was written, and to be intelligent in the Scriptures. For us today the Scriptures are the whole Bible, and how important it is to understand, and to be intelligent in, this Divine revelation, especially those who, as in our chapter, were responsible to teach it to others. Some of us attempt, in very much weakness, to present some thoughts from the Scriptures, but how far short we come of knowing the contents of this Book as we should. An aged brother, who knew more about the Scriptures than anyone I knew, opened his Bible to no particular page and said, "What do I know about that?" He was right. The one who knows the most, still knows very little compared to what there is to learn in this Book.

There is the need of those who are willing to learn, as in verse 13, and who want to understand and be intelligent in these things, so that they can help others. I would especially encourage the younger ones to take up the study of the Word, not as an intellectual exercise, but as a spiritual exercise. This Book is full of treasures and spiritual riches, but they are not found lying on the surface. You have to dig for them, and you can be sure that the effort will be well rewarded. Besides, you will find, that in trying to explain something to someone else, you may get more benefit than the person to whom you are explaining.

Well, as these leaders of the people read the words of the law, "they found written in the law that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month." v. 14. You can read what they read in Leviticus 23:33 - 44. In that chapter you have the seven feasts of Jehovah, all with a typical application. The seventh one was the feast of tabernacles. It was a happy feast, marking their entrance into their promised land. Dwelling in booths was a remembrance of the wilderness when they had dwelt in tents after the Lord had brought them out of Egypt. Immediately everyone got busy to do what the Lord had required of them, with the result that "there was very great gladness." This was more "joy of the Lord" as a result of obedience to His Word.

Something to notice in verse 17 is that "since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so." Joshua to Nehemiah is about 1000 years, so the feast of tabernacles had not been kept, the way Nehemiah kept it, all that time! There is something similar in 2 Chron. 35. Josiah kept a Passover such as not been kept "from the days of Samuel the prophet." v. 18. Something significant here is that the days of David and Solomon are passed over. There was no remarkable Passover or feast of tabernacles on record in their day. Now the days of David and Solomon were days of power and glory, so this tells us that days of glory and power are not necessarily times of greater faithfulness. The days of Josiah were days of weakness, and of Nehemiah even more so, but the feasts they kept surpassed anything in the days of power. This is an encouragement to us. We are in days of much weakness, a "day of small things," but it is still possible to keep our Lord's Word, and not deny His name. It is still possible to be faithful, and maybe even more so, than in times when all seemed very much in order.

We saw how the people rejoiced in verse 12. It was the joy of having "understood the words that were declared unto them." There is a very special joy that comes in finding new things in the Word of God. When the Scriptures begin to open up to us, how our hearts burn within us, like the two on the way to Emmaus. In verse 17, "There was very great gladness." It was the joy of having done what the Lord required of them. These are things that our Lord desires for us, for He has said, "That My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." John 15:11. Yes, He wants His people to be happy, and He is the only One Who can truly make us so. The devil says, "No, not that way; I'll give you a lot of fun." But the old liar doesn't tell us the consequences of his sinful pleasures. He is like a fisherman who sets very attractive bait before the fish, but that bait hides a deadly hook. Only the Lord Jesus can give us the true joy and happiness, that fully satisfies, and does not leave us with bitter consequences. S.L.