The Joy of the Lord is My Strength
The Joy of the Lord is My Strength
The seventh month was a pretty big deal for the Jews. It started with the Feast of Trumpets, a holy convocation and celebration before the Lord. On the tenth day of the month was the Day of Atonement, the day of sacrifice that made atonement for Israel before the Lord. Then starting on the fifteenth day of the month, there was the 8-day celebration of the Feast of Booths. Fully one-third of that month was dedicated to God with fasts, feasts, sacrifices, and celebration.
However, in Nehemiah 8, the Jews had been released from captivity, returned home, rebuilt the temple, and then were gathered together to listen to the Law of God read by Ezra in Jerusalem during the seventh month. As they heard the Law, the people began to weep (Nehemiah 8:9). No doubt they were reminded of the great tragedy of their sins. As they heard the Law, they listened to passages like Deuteronomy 27-28 in which God explained the blessings and the curses. Blessings for obedience, curses for rebellion. They recognized their own rebellion. They, no doubt, heard the Song of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 32 which the nation was supposed to have known, learned, and memorized to keep them from falling into the treachery it forewarned. And yet they had fallen headlong. No wonder these Israelites wept.
But Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests had a different message for 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” (Nehemiah 8:10, ESV). What a powerful statement.
God had not established the fasts and feasts of the seventh month to bring about grief and sorrow. Certainly, each feast and fast contained a reminder that the Israelites had messed up. Sure, the Feast of Trumpets was a reminder of enemies which usually came about because of their sins. Certainly, the Day of Atonement demonstrated the sins of the people every year. And of course the Feast of Booths recognized that Israel had gotten to the border of the Promised Land and decided not to go in, therefore wandered in booths and tents for 40 years. However, the greater point was not this sorrow but the joy that could be found in the Lord. The Feast of Trumpets was a perpetual reminder that God was with them fighting their battles. The Day of Atonement was a great day of forgiveness and redemption. And the Feast of Booths was a week to remember the presence of God that stayed with Israel throughout their wandering years despite their own folly. If God would stay with them then, He is still with them now that they have wandered in captivity and returned to the Promised Land.
But listen to this message. Don’t grieve. Why? Because it is not the grief of the Lord that is strength, but the joy of the Lord. God had established these feasts and fasts to be a reminder of the joy that can be found in Him. And it is that joy that provides strength. It is that joy that provides the strength to remain faithful. It is that joy that provides the strength to stand up against the enemies. It is that joy that provides the strength to hang on to God when discouragement sets in.
Sadly, for too long I’ve neglected this strength. Rather than taking up the joy that is offered through Christ, I spend too much time wallowing in the sorrow of my own sins. Bible reading and prayer time is too often spent berating myself for the times I haven’t measured up. Assemblies of the church are spent wallowing in how much I’ve messed up. The Lord’s Supper is a sad reminder to me that I put Jesus on the cross. And, certainly, there is a place for these memories. But we need to know that God has not given us the blessings of Scripture, prayer, assemblies, and the Lord’s Supper to provoke us to wallow in grief. These are sources of joy. God loves us so much He has communicated His will and Word to us. That’s a reason to rejoice every time we read it. God loves us so much He allows us to come before His holy throne, laying out our petitions, intercessions, confessions, and adorations before Him. How amazing is that? God loves us so much He has provided us a family in the congregation. What a cause for joy every time we get together. And ultimately, God loves us so much despite our sins that He put Jesus on the cross to atone for our sins. Is there anything more joyous than eating the bread that is Jesus’s body or drinking from the cup that contains His blood? Is there anything more joyous that recognizing His love for us, His redemption, His purchase of our entire being through the body and blood of the Lord?
Of course, sorrow for sin is necessary. Certainly, we need to remember those sins and the sorrow they caused that we might turn away from them. But that is not where our strength lies. That is not what will motivate us to fight the battles and win the victories today. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Even Jesus was able to endure the cross because of “the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2).
Today, as we are gathered together, rejoice in this family. Look around and see the people who long to be with God and long for you to be with God. Rejoice in it. As we break open the bread of life, rejoice in God’s Word to us. What a great God we have to give us such great direction to find Him and glorify Him. As we pray and sing, rejoice that God allows us in His presence. How awesome a God we have who lets us approach His powerful throne. As we partake in the supper of the Lord, rejoice in God’s love and sacrifice. Be amazed that God looked at us sinful people and loved us so much He sacrificed His Son to save us. Don’t grieve. This day is holy to the Lord. It is a day of joy and rejoicing. The joy of the Lord will be your strength.
—Edwin L. Crozier