It’s not like they didn’t have just cause to mourn. Not like there was no good reason to grieve. In fact, under any other circumstance, their tears would have been the appropriate response to what they had just heard preached. Their brokenness, contrition, and lament, the right acknowledgment to what they had been reminded of. But not today.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.
(Nehemiah 8:9 ESV)
The wall was finished–God had prospered them. The word was being proclaimed–and God was speaking to them. Their ways again before them–God reminded them of His faithfulness.
But as they comprehended afresh the connection between their transgression and their exile, between their adulterous rebellion and Jerusalem’s all-encompassing ruin, it overwhelmed them to remember again where they had come from. And so, they faltered in their recognition of where they were now. That they were standing again in the city–with the glory again in their midst behind the curtain, and the walls again about them in their land of promise. And so they wept.
But this was not to be a day of weeping. It was a holy day. A day of feasting. A day of remembering God’s faithfulness despite their failure. A day of rejoicing in God’s goodness to them. Not because they were good. But because He is good. It was to be a day of knowing the joy of the Lord. And in that, they would find strength.
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.” . . . And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
(Nehemiah 8:10, 12 ESV)
The joy of the LORD is your strength.
Last night I was talking to one of my girls and she said, “Dad. Life is hard.” Yeah . . . at times it is. Sometimes it’s our own doing and other times, it’s not. Sometimes it’s partnered with justified regret, but other times it makes no sense and is without apparent reason. Either way, not much to rejoice in, other than the joy of the LORD.
And it occurs to me that it’s important to observe holy days of feasting. Important to set apart times of feeding again on the things of God.
Important to find a place at the banqueting table. Yesterday, at our church, is was the Lord’s table as we remembered His great provision through the cross by taking the symbols of His body and blood.
Important to feed deeply on the meat of His word. Being reminded afresh of His ever-present power and provision, and of His unchanging promises .
Important to seek to satisfy our thirst with the rivers of living water flowing through us by the Spirit in us.
And so, being at the table, feeding on His word, drinking deeply of His Spirit, though our circumstances don’t change and our hearts are still heavy, we purpose to feast. To make times of remembrance and response. To reaffirm the presence, power, provision, and promises of our God. And in doing that, we can’t help but rejoice. To know afresh the joy of the LORD. And the joy of the LORD is our strength.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness
(Isaiah 61:10 ESV)
We need to find time to reflect again on the God who is with us at all times–even the hard times. Without deposits of joy, the withdrawals of life can become overwhelming.
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
(Proverbs 17:22 ESV)
Thank God for the holy days. Thank Him for the times of feasting, where sorrow is set aside for a time that we might remember that our God is good . . . and our God is faithful . . . and His mercies really are new every morning . . . and His grace really is sufficient in all things.
For in that, there is joy. And in that, there is strength.
By His grace. For His glory.