Then he said to 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
This is one of the verses I have posted on my wall. I reread it this morning to be reminded. I find that I need constant reminders and encouragement because I so easily get discouraged in the middle of life’s “stuff.” Funny thing is, that this verse that came off my wall and was being used to build me up (and hopefully others!), is about another wall that had just been built and the people were being reminded about the true Foundation of the wall and the city of God. Actually, it went deeper than that. They were being reminded and encouraged in the heart and knowledge of You, Lord.
This special day, all the people had been gathered together and Ezra, the priest, brought the Word of God out, the Book of the Law, before the gathered assembly, men, women, and children, and read the Word to them. And the people listened. And they blessed the Lord together. And the Levites helped the people to understand the Law. So as Ezra read, the Levites made sure the people had the sense of the reading and understood. And in their understanding, they wept. Why?
Because they had forgotten all the promises and precepts. They had let God’s Word fall loosely aside. They had left things in their lives unrepaired like the wall of the city. And now they were understanding how far they had fallen, how unrepaired they were, how broken. That’s a sad thing to find out. It hurts.
And the truth of the matter is that all the weeping in the world will not fix my brokenness. I will always be broken. I am continually in need of repair just like the city wall. And I can’t repair myself no matter how badly I want to. Could the wall repair itself? Neither can I.
So what could they do, now that they found out the truth about their fallenness? What can I do? Once I come to the sorrow of repentance, then where do I go? Wasn’t Ezra basically telling the people to go celebrate? It was a holy day. Why? Was it holy because You were at work, Lord? Was it holy because Your Word was sinking in and they were understanding and now it was moving them to action? Was faith returning?
“Don’t be grieved.” Why? God has opened your eyes to know your problem, to see your sin, and He is the answer. He is here. He has come. His answer to your problem is in Him and in His Word. He made the way and He is making the way and He is the way. “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” He’s the answer. He’s your way.
See, it’s not about the Israelites here anymore than it is about me and what I can do. And it’s not about my joy or the Israelites joy. It’s about the effective work of Your joy, Lord, and how that work becomes our strength.
Today I learned that this Hebrew word for joy is “hedvah.” And it’s a rare word in Scripture. It’s only used twice, here and in 1 Chronicles 16:27 (“Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and joy are in His place.”) The word usually used for joy is “simhah” which is usually translated in Greek as “cheerful or glad.” So “simhah” is associated with our emotions and actions, but not “hedvah.” “Hedvat YHWH” or “the joy of the LORD” is solely and exclusively possessed by You, Lord.
“Simhah” calls for rejoicing that takes participation on our part. It’s like with the festivals or rejoicing over our rescue. It’s the human participation side where we express our gladness and thanfulness to You, Lord. But “Hedvah” is totally dependent upon You. So, how can I really understand this word that You only chose to use twice in Scripture? Will You please give me sense of this word just like You did that day for the Israelites? Will You give understanding?
Skip Moen shared a “picture” of this Hebrew word form its pictograph. “Hedvah is a noun derived from the verb hadah. The consonants are chet-dalet-hey. The picture is “behold, a door in the fence.” Now we see. What is the joy of YHWH? It is the gladness of providing a door in the fence – a path for coming into His presence. What cheers our Lord? A way in. God rejoices that there is a door for us to come into fellowship with Him. We are not shut out for He has provided a way back. The joy of YHWH is that He can fellowship with us!”
Do I understand that? Why were the Israelites weeping? Because they realized they were closing themselves out from Your presence by their actions. They didn’t know how to fix all they had forsaken. But wasn’t Ezra telling them, “Stop weeping! Your God has provided the way back. Here it is. Now, listen and obey, trust and follow. Let Him be your strength and let His joy rule in you.” Imagine that. You, Lord, take people who have no power to fix themselves, and call it Your joy to fix us so that we can spend an eternity in Your presence. Now I can cry different tears over that. That brings tears of joy unspeakable because that is so full of mercy.
This whole message today reminds me of Mercy Me’s song “If I Could Just Sit With You Awhile.” How many times, Lord, have I been so distraught and there is just no way to fix the hurt or pick myself up out of the situation? How many times am I unable to rescue myself or even provide what I really need? And I could just sit and cry and start feeling really sorry for myself. But Your word to me is, “Stop crying. You’re not supposed to do it. I am. And I AM. Get up and keep walking in faith. Look at me and get your eyes off the deceptive circumstances and feelings. The door is always open. Don’t choose to sit outside and weep. Come in with Me. Hide yourself in my pavilion. You were never meant to have it all under control. That’s for Me. Bring those heavy burdens and let Me take care of them. I’m just waiting for You to come in, I’m just waiting to hold You, I’m waiting for You to let Me be God.”
Yes, sometimes there is nothing I can do. And that’s OK. Because this is about that open door, the gift that You give, God. It’s this blessed privilege that You give. It’s all about “the privilege to enter in to harmony with God” and that is my strength. You provide our strength.
That’s why I put Your Word up on my wall. That’s why I surround myself with brothers and sisters in Christ who surround themselves with You. Because there are days when I desperately need to be reminded that my joy isn’t based on my efforts. Even my good efforts fall so short. What I want is to sing, and shout, and clap my hands to You, and yes, even to dance for You. But sometimes I feel so shipwrecked that even my joy feels like an anchor and I don’t have the strength on my own to lift that heavy weight. But this is when Nehemiah speaks, “Don’t be grieved, for the joy of LORD is your strength.” And You lift the weight, and You don’t only invite me in with You, You carry me.
In Matthew, Jesus shares the story about the good and faithful servant. But I mustn’t forget that his goodness and faithfulness didn’t come from him, from the servant. The Lord gave the measure of goodness and faithfulness to him. That’s what I need to trust in, what You give me, Lord, because by Your Spirit and by Your power, You will make it effective in me as I trust in You with it. I want to let go of the weeping and run with what You’ve placed in my hands, wherever You want me to run, and walk wherever You want me to walk, and sit wherever You want me to sit. Because it’s always about what You are doing in me and through me and for me. You opened the door wide for me. I want to choose to enter because that’s where the joy of the Lord is, in You, and You alone are my strength.
Well, keep teaching me, Lord. It’s a hard lesson to learn. I have to keep being reminded. But I appreciate every reminder, because with every reminder and with every time You lift that anchor and lift me, I experience You more and more. And only as I experience You more and more do I see how much I need to experience You more and more. I only come to know my dependence on Your strength by learning true dependence.