When Weeping Turns to Joy

When Weeping Turns to Joy

Nehemiah 8:1-12

‘Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

 

            It was not enough to merely rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple; Israel needed to reconstruct their heart for God. Rebuilding the city's walls was easy, but how do you rebuild a nation that had been cast into exile because it had abandoned the covenant with God and failed to walk in obedience to the word of God? Israel needed a spiritual revival. Stones are easy to restack, but how does one rebuild the spiritual vibrancy of people and a nation?

            Ezra and Nehemiah called for a national meeting to bring about a revival. All those who had returned to Jerusalem and the surrounding towns were summoned to gather at the Water Gate. The gate was located on the eastern wall of Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley, so it would make a perfect natural amphitheater for the people to hear the words of Ezra. To bring a spiritual revival, Ezra did the only thing that could genuinely result in a change of heart—He read from the book of the law. In verse 8, we read where they read from the book of the law, translating it from Hebrew to Aramaic. However, they did more than just read it; they “gave the meaning of the text.” In other words, they related the law to the situation the people were confronting.  

            As the people heard the word proclaim, their hearts were broken as they realized their failure to follow God’s law. They had been taken into captivity, not because of the might of the Assyrians but because of their rejection of God’s law. As a result, God brought judgment upon them. As the people heard the words of the law, it profoundly impacted them. The Word of God is more than just a static book of information. It is a living word. It can penetrate the heart and bring people conviction, transformation, and hope. As the Hebrews writes, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  In other words, God's Word can do what we cannot do—it can change people's hearts. Genuine repentance brings grief and sorrow for sin. Thus the people began to weep and mourn as they realized their rejection of God.             

            Amid the emotional outpouring, Nehemiah interrupts the people. While repentance should lead to mourning, it should not remain there. Once there has been the acknowledgment and confession of sin, there comes come and celebration. Nehemiah reminds the people that the holiness of God, while confronting us with our sins, also points us to joy and celebration. They can celebrate because the holy God who judges sin is also a holy God who brings forgiveness and restoration. The reason for their joy is that they are now aligned with God’s word (vs. 12). 

            This difference happens when we understand and live by God’s word. Sin’s destructive influence brings sorrow, but God’s redemptive word brings joy. When we study and apply God’s word to our lives without falling into the pit of legalism or snare of compromise, we find the joy of the Lord that gives us strength (vs. 9). God uses his word to refresh by drawing us back to him for it is his autobiography and a love letter to us. If your life seems to be one of drudgery and joylessness, then start to read and apply God’s word. When you do that, you rediscover God's forgiveness and grandeur, which is always a cause for joy and celebration.  

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