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Go and Enjoy: a scripture about joy

There is a passage of scripture about joy that I confess to quoting for quite some time before actually looking it up for context.  "The joy of the Lord is your strength" seemed like something encouraging to say to one feeling weak, and I knew it was hidden in the Old Testament somewhere, but I eventually became more curious about what God was actually being said all the way back then.

As it turns out, the scripture is in Nehemiah chapter 10 when the scattered nation of Israel are returning to the rebuilt temple and they are reclaiming their culture.  Nehemiah, now governor, and Ezra, a teacher of the Law, have gathered the people together for a reading of the Law--that is what we know as the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  After hours of reading, the priests explained what had been read so that everyone could understand.
I am not sure what Ezra and Nehemiah expected, but the people respond with weeping.  It is then that Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." (verse 8)

You see, while those books contain the Law, they are also full of the history of God and his people.  It was so moving to be gathered together again, hearing the word of God again, remembering all God had done before, and likely even coming to terms with their brokenness and sin, that these people wept.  Since we are in this season of not being able to gather for services, I think I can identify a little with how overwhelming it might be to gather for a celebration and still be moved to tears.  But I have loved this passage for longer than just this season.

When I consider strength and joy, images of reading would not ordinarily come to mind.  Yet, it is reading the word of God, understanding the word of God, that creates the condition for this joy of the Lord to come and his strength alongside it.  Verse 12: Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.  

Joy can be elusive, and strength as well.  The joy of the Lord is a gift from him, we cannot generate it.  But here we see that the joy of the Lord, the joy rooted in the only timeless, endless, ubiquitous, and almighty God, comes when we read about him, remember him, and seek to understand him.  I can do that.  And friends, I can say that he is faithful to give joy when I do.  Moreover, when I encourage others with this passage, I can now add that they too can find joy and strength in reading the word of God and in seeking to understand.  

This holiday weekend is shaping up to look very different than in years past with limitations on the usual barbecues, camping trips, beach days, and fireworks.  It is not based on a religious celebration, but it can still be a time to celebrate God.  My encouragement is not to grieve, but to eat and drink and celebrate with great joy our good God, our faithful Father, our sovereign Savior, our Holy Spirit by reading the word and remembering his activity in your life.

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