As we end our week celebrating the joy of God’s presence, read the story of God’s people who were overwhelmed with joy. It’s a great moment! Read, be encouraged and enjoy life more in light of who God is!
The joy of the Lord is your strength. —Nehemiah 8:10
After years in exile and captivity, the Israelites have returned to Jerusalem and under the leadership of Nehemiah they begin to rebuild the city, first the wall and then the temple. Ezra is the chief priest who has returned as shepherd to the people. We read in Ezra 7:10 that he had set his heart to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. Set his heart meaning he was devoted and had set his heart toward this thing.
Have you “set your heart” towards the Word? Have you made a determined, intentional decision and commitment to be in God’s Word daily?
In Nehemiah 8 we find the people gathering in sacred assembly at the Feast of Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23 for the background on this event). As Ezra stands above the people to read the Word of God, he is not only reading, but “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read”. The Word of God was written in Hebrew. But, the people had been so long in captivity and had so assimilated into that culture that they no longer spoke or understood Hebrew. So Ezra reads the Word in Aramaic so they can understand.
We have the great advantage of the Holy Spirit as our personal teacher and instructor in God’s Word. He makes Truth clear to us.
Do you begin your time in God’s Word with a prayer for the Holy Spirit to be your teacher, making clear the Truths of God’s Word?
The people’s next response it that of weeping. It had been so long since they had heard the Word of God it was overwhelming to their souls and spirits. In verse 10, Nehemiah instructs them, “do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The word for grieve here carries the idea of mental and physical discomfort. It was a grieving of their souls and spirits because they had not heard the Word of God in so long. They were spiritually starved and thirsty. The fresh, power, living and active Word of God had pierced their very souls and their response was an emotion so overwhelming they could not contain it!
Have you ever felt the same way — have you found yourself living in a dry and parched land spiritually and in need of God’s Word? Quench your thirst today with the refreshing truths of God’s Word!
The timing of this event is also key. We read that it was the seventh month when they gathered in this sacred assembly. When God brought his people into the promised land from captivity in Egypt and after years of wandering in the wilderness, He established several feasts for them to observe. This one in particular was to remind them of their delivery from captivity and the years God provided for them in the desert. The Israelites were now returning from years of captivity and wilderness living once again. How divinely appropriate that God would choose this month to have Ezra read the Word to the people. The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths was a eight-day feast. The first and eighth day were to be a day of rest before the Lord with no work being performed. On days two through seven the people were to offer sacrifices by fire and “rejoice in the Lord”. This feast was also timed to be observed at the end of the harvest, just after they had gathered. They were to decorate the “booths” or “tabernacles” with choice fruit from trees, palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars.
We know that God established the tabernacle in the wilderness as a way and a place that He might dwell among His people. This is still His heart’s desire. It was a time of celebration —they had been set free from captivity, they had worked hard to rebuild their city despite constant opposition and hardship. Now they were to celebrate and rejoice before the Lord! And God uses the reading of His word, to begin this time of celebration. The very words of God spoken directly to their hearts to meet whatever their need was at that moment. And the greatest need they discovered was the need to be near and in fellowship and communion with their God!
This is still our greatest need and greatest joy today. And we don’t have to wait for a yearly feast or event to meet with our God and experience His presence. In Christ Jesus, God meets us faithfully in whatever place or state we find ourselves because we have His Spirit living in us! He is always faithful and ever-present! So rejoice, be glad and enjoy life more…in His presence!
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Spend some time reflecting on the verses from today and on the fact that God is your joy! Praise Him for meeting you at the point of your greatest need and the joy of His presence becomes your strength!
It’s my prayer that through this series we will, “from the rising of the sun to its setting”, focus on and praise our amazing God! We’ll take the Word for the day and think about it, ponder it, pray it and practice it. We’ll allow it to really SOAK into our hearts and lives. And then we’ll SHINE — boast, rave, praise and celebrate God’s presence in our lives, reflecting Jesus to those around us.
©2014 Susan Cady, susancady.com