Recently, a blogging friend asked me if I understood the verse “. . . for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8.10b NIV). Her question sparked my interest because I had made a vow at the beginning of 2009 that I would dedicate this year to understanding and gaining joy.
However, this particular verse always appeared backward. It seemed to me that it should read “The strength of the LORD is your joy.” How could God’s joy be our strength? Where can we find God’s joy?
To answer this question, I had to look at this verse in the context of the Bible. This verse was stated by Nehemiah (445 B.C.), an Old Testament prophet. He was sent by God to help the Israelites rebuild their lives. The Israelites had just experienced great amounts of devastation at the hands of other nations. They suffered through starvation, displacement and slaughter. In fact, when Nehemiah came on the scene, only a few survivors were left.
The remaining remnant made their way back to the promise land, but they were disgraced and harassed by other nations. Their homeland was in ruins, and the city wall that protected them was consumed by fire. The lives of the people were in shambles, and all that was left to do was rebuild from the mess. Needless to say, there was very little joy during this bleak time.
Against all odds, the nation began to rebuild itself. There wasn’t enough man-power or money, enthusiasm was low, bordering cities tried to sabotage the reconstruction and there were many disputes among the people themselves; but, somehow, the wall was built in record time and the towns within the walls were restored.
Before the people went back to their villages to start their new lives, Nehemiah told them, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” But where do we find God’s joy? It is hard to gain strength from something that we do not see.
The amazing truth is that God’s joy was actually recorded approximately 250 years before the nation rebuilt itself. The prophet Isaiah (700 B.C.) foretells the fall and restoration of the Israelite nation. Isaiah records God’s attitude toward the nation rebuilding itself. And what is God’s attitude? It’s joyful: “Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones (Isaiah 49.13 NIV).
God is shouting for joy. God is telling both the heavens and the earth to rejoice. God is eager to offer compassion and comfort to the afflicted remnant, and He is rooting for His people to succeed at rebuilding their lives.
What does this mean for you and me? It means that God is our cheering section. Life is hard and bad things happen – houses are foreclosed, families are broken, health is compromised and lives are lost; but we gain strength to move on because God finds joy in our lives. He wants us to rebuild from the ashes and start again. With God on our side, we can accomplish anything.
Are you nervous about going back to school? Are you apprehensive about dating again? Are you scared to start that new business? Are you concerned about a health issue? Are you struggling with an addiction? Are you consumed by self-doubt and worry? Don’t be! God is cheering for you to succeed. He wants you to make those tough decisions that push you outside of your comfort zone. It will be hard at first, but you will find strength in God’s joy for you. He wants you to rebuild and thrive!