The Joy of the Lord

10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. (Neh. 8:10)

I heard something today that disturbed me. I sat outside and smelled the night air and pondered it. What I heard is that this verse, particularly the last phrase, is used to rebuke those who are downhearted, gloomy or weeping.

I have heard this phrase. It seems to be a frequent guest lodging itself in annoying praise tunes. The idea is this:

Dance, be happy, rejoice, laugh – because God has commanded you to be full of joy in the Lord. Otherwise you will be weak and pitiful.

What bothered me is this – what about all of the times when God’s beloved people wept, or cried out to him? What about God keeping our tears in his bottle?

What about those times when violence and hatred assail our soul and we are trapped?

Or what about those times when we are bowed down by sin, crushed by the knowledge that we have offended a holy God?

That is actually the context of this verse. The people of Israel were mourning over their sins, and Nehemiah was giving them comfort.

Was he comforting by adding another commandment – be joyful!

Knowing that scripture never contradicts itself this is like an itch. I mull. I sit on the porch in quiet and think it over.

And then it occurs to me. It was like a light, a flash of joy and a thought so profound and wonderful that it doesn’t seem quite real!

What if the one with joy isn’t me? But God himself?

The word “of” can mean a variety of things. It can mean here that Israel’s joy in the Lord is their strength. OR it can mean that God’s joy in Israel is their strength.

In the context, there can be only one interpretation that fits. Israel, although convicted by the law, is told to stop weeping, get out the food, eat and drink and give generously to those who have nothing.

Why? Because even though they have sinned before God, God takes great joy in them. The joy is the Lord’s for Israel, not Israel’s for the Lord! And this changes everything.

Rather than being a command to Israel, it is a motive for OUR joy. In Christ, God’s anger is taken away. He rejoices over us. He even sings over us. He delights in us.

THIS is our strength. God’s joy in his people.

If we look within to see our joy in God and try to work some up so that God doesn’t zap us, we will never succeed. How can we rejoice? How can we love, if we view God as a harsh lawgiver ready to stomp us down any moment?

The answer is that we cannot. We can only rejoice when we fully understand that God delights in his people. The joy of the Lord is our strength.

Meditate on that. Think about how God delights in you. You are acceptable, loved, wanted, desired. Yes, your sins are many. But God’s grace is far greater.

Yes, the pain is real and the tears are real. But God isn’t in heaven scoffing at you for weeping at his harsh providence. He is holding your hand; walking with you. He is leading you to quiet pastures because he actually WANTS to. He loves you freely, not from compulsion – but that love means that he actually delights in you.

Do you know those parents that tell their kids, “I love you, but I sure don’t like you very much right now.”

And you see the child just crumple. How painful it is to not be wanted, to not be delighted in. We were created to be delighted in.

And yet in the cursed world, we are very used to the door slams, the unfriending on Social Media, the booting out of the inner circle – Jesus even said that they would throw his people out of the synagogues.

But being an outcast isn’t who you are before God. You are accepted and loved.

The joy that comes from the Lord, freely given to his people, is their strength.

Amen!

5 Comments

Filed under Gospel, Hope, Love

5 responses to “The Joy of the Lord

  1. Quite profound. Thank you. It makes sense as it puts the onus on God the giver, and we respond to His kindness, yet again. Very comforting. This has been one of my favourite verses for much of my life.

  2. twosparrows

    Pastor Sam,

    You did it again!

    Your faithfulness in listening to God and sharing those thoughts with others has again touched my heart right where God is working, right where I needed it today.

    This speaks to a number of issues in my life.

    Thank you and may God bless you even more…(Eph 3:20-21).

  3. Bill

    wow.. Yes! the Joy OF the Lord, HIS JOY is given to us freely, like everything else, through His Grace.
    When we don’t have joy. When we most need it! wow. I can picture HIS Joy–and in doing so–that joy resonates in me, and wakes Joy in my heart this morning. I was solemn, thinking hard about some hard things…
    I learned this past weekend that two friends are hurting badly; one with cancer that’s come back again; so a third round of chemo begins soon. What can I do but weep for what he and his family are going through? Another friend with these horrific headaches that debilitate her for days.. no known cause that can be treated… right now in the midst of a holiday season… she has them again. Yeah, I’m weeping…
    But I’m meant to; and I’m meant to love my friends; and thinking hard about ways my wife and I can do small things to help ease their pains.
    And life has other other hard things; and other good things, both.
    Knowing that God is Joy filled, and His Joy is freely given to us, does something good; the dam breaks, the weeping comes freely for my friends, and washes away some; leaving the Joy that came giving a peace like that of His Presence sustaining me.
    The Joy of the Lord is our strength.
    Thanks, Sam…

  4. Ellen Schulze

    Sam, I disagree that the joy of the Lord spoken of here is God’s joy for two reasons: the verse itself, which says don’t be sad, be joyful, so it seems it is joy in us that is spoken of, and also that repentance, which is the context, brings sorrow and is followed by joy in realization of the love of the Lord and his forgiveness. So I agree with you that the joy that the Lord takes in his people and the great love he has shown us is the basis for our joy. . . And, having experienced this joy in the love of the Lord in the darkest moments of my life, I want to point out that happiness is only a mood, a pale shadow, of the strength/ trust/confidence that the joy of the Lord gives when we trust and obey as we suffer.
    Your blog is bookmarked along with Aquila Report etc. Good reading.

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