Week 32 Nehemiah 8
v. 10 … The joy of the Lord is your strength…
The whole 8th chapter of Nehemiah is important to read in context. Here’s some background to the story: Israel had been taken into captivity for 70 years and finally allowed back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and Temple of YHWH. Unfortunately, after 90 more years, they still left the town defenseless until Nehemiah leads them in rebuilding the city walls.
Chapter 8 tells the story of the congregation waiting at the Water Gate for the reading of the Book of the Law that God gave to Israel.
For the first time, this generation of Israel was hearing the Words of God. Such power and conviction came upon them that they laid prostrate before the Lord, weeping in grief. I can imagine the shame they felt when they realized they had been living so short of the standards God set up for them. Imagine the thousands of adult men and women weeping as one. Apparently it was loud enough to prompt Ezra and Nehemiah to address it. (Warning, history rabbit trail to follow…)
Let’s go forward in time over 2000 years, 1727 A.D. to a place called Herrnhut, Germany. A small community of Protestants was living on the estate of Count von Zinzendorf, a man after Jesus’ heart. He desired to see the unity Jesus spoke of manifest and allowed persecuted protestant Christians to live on his land and worship as they wished. But, although they loved Jesus, they had fallen short of the unity the Count had hoped for. Infighting amongst the different believers over nonessential beliefs became rampant.
Zinzendorf met with individuals house to house and opened the Scriptures as to the need for unity in the essentials of Christianity. One night during a gathering he began to confess his own sins to them, suddenly the believers began to weep, repent to God and each other. This weeping lasted long into the evening as the power of the Holy Spirit fell upon them with a release of great joy. They shared a meal together thus starting the very first Love Feast meal that many Christians know today.
From that point they lived in such a way that they gave their lives freely 24/7 prayer (this lasted 100 years!) and to the mission field long before William Carey, the father of missions, began sending out missionaries. This small group of believers, later known as the Moravians,changed the face of Christianity in the 1700s, influencing leaders like John Wesley, George Whitefield and William Carey.
(…Okay, rabbit trail over now.)
Meanwhile, back in 444 B.C…How would we address Israel’s hysterics today? Probably like this, “Yeah you should be weeping, we neglected the law for 160 years and we deserve what we got.” But no, Nehemiah and Ezra tell the congregation to stop weeping, and rejoice. Eat drink and be merry as they say.
Why? Because the Word of the Lord brings life not death, and they were to live fully alive now that they knew the truth which set them free. So, at the water gate they were washed with the water of the living Word. Now they were clean.
And then Nehemiah said something profound, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Now how many of us know that verse? We say it over and over, not knowing the context that it was given in. And I always thought the joy of the Lord would make me strong. You know, strong enough to whoop the enemy, strong enough to stand under pressure, big muscles strong.
As usual, I decided to study the original language and was surprised to find that the Hebrew word does not mean strength. It is the Hebrew word ‘maowz’, which means place of safety, refuge and protection, a fortress or stronghold. The word ‘strength’ is a place not an attribute. Oh my.
Thinking back on the rest of the story, it seemed odd when the next day the people heard about feast of Tabernacles and decided to build booths for themselves before hearing the Word for the next seven days. I don’t usually make camping out my go-to expression of joy or strength. But they understood what ‘maowz’ meant and found a tangible way to express it.
The joy of the Lord became their covering and protection. It wasn’t their own strength at all, it wasn’t their beautiful houses, their cattle or their bank accounts. The joy they were now feeling would be their very protection.Sometimes I struggle with walking in joy. But if I focus on the Living Word His joy will come, and that joy will be my hiding place when I am weak. I can eat, drink, be merry, and, yes, even laugh at the enemy when I am sitting in my safe place. So I choose to rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.