Joy, Strength, and the Word of God (a meditation)

Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. ~Nehemiah 8:10

What are we supposed to feel when we read scripture? Conviction? Guilt? Comfort? Happiness?

In Nehemiah 8, we read how Judah’s returned exiles, after working long on rebuilding the temple and fortifying the city’s walls, gathered in the public square and asked their leaders to read to them the Book of the Law. As Ezra stood before the crowd and read, other Levites scattered throughout the crowd gave explanation—acts very similar to modern day preaching and teaching within many churches.

At first the people wept. The text indicates that this wasn’t a weeping for joy at hearing the word, but rather a weeping of sadness, possibly over the reality that many individuals and the nation as a whole had refused to obey the Law which led them into exile in the first place.

But in response to their weeping Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests seek to encourage the crowd and tell them, “Don’t’ mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God!” (8:9), and, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a scared day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10).

The reality here is present: when we truly interact with and understand the Bible, it will engage the full spectrum of our emotions. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul wrote that all scripture, inspired by God, profits us through teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness. In 2 Corinthians 7:8-10, Paul replied to concerns about the harshness of a letter he had sent to the church by saying that it hurt him to make them hurt, but he was glad that the pain led to their repentance from which comes salvation without regret.

So when we come face to face with what God speaks to us through the pages of the Bible, we should feel sorrow over our sin and the sting of rebuke. Yet, as the Holy Spirit works his word in our hearts, that should lead us to repentance which produces the comfort of God’s promises and the joy of salvation.

As with the men and women of Judah when they returned to the land, so it should be with followers of Jesus. Even if the words of scripture cause us sorrow at the start, they leave us with joy at the end. And there we find that the joy of the Lord is our strength.

One of our greatest motivations for life is happiness. We tend to want to do what feels good and what makes us happy. Joy is happiness rooted in God which rejects sin and transcends the ups and downs of life. By taking joy in God through the words he has given us, we find the motivation to flee sin, pursue righteousness, boldly witness, give generously, fight fear, and pursue Christ further in all things and at all costs. The joy of the Lord truly becomes our strength.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

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