“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” You’ve all probably heard this verse before. Or maybe you haven’t. I don’t know you. But assuming you have, what does it mean?
A lot of people think this verse means that when we’re upset, we just need to choose to be happy instead. You know, fake it til you make it. Don’t not be happy, just be happy. Simple enough, right? Except… that doesn’t really involve God all that much. I mean, it’s the joy of “the Lord.” The Lord sorta needs to be involved, right?
No, to understand what this actually means, we need to look at this verse in context. So quick history, the people of God have been in slavery in Babylon for seventy years. Then over the next 70 years, they slowly begin to return to Jerusalem. They manage to rebuild the temple and the walls around Jerusalem, but they’re still not living right. They don’t know what the Bible says, they don’t know who God is, so on Rosh Hashanah in 445 BC, Ezra and Nehemiah gather all the people to the city square to have church. Men, women, and children all gather together, and for six hours Ezra just stands there and reads the Bible to them.
Now imagine what these Judeans must’ve experienced in that moment. It’s been years and years since you’ve heard the Word of God. You’re probably an idol-worshipper, married to an idol-worshipper, and raising idol-worshipping children. You have no idea who God is. And then in one day, you discover that you’ve been living wrong your whole life. The Creator of the Universe, the one true God, wants to know you, but you’ve been completely ignoring Him and doing your own thing. Your life is not what it’s supposed to be.
What would be your response? I don’t know about you, but these guys just start weeping in the streets. In a moment they come to the realization that everything they’ve believed is wrong, that everything they’ve been doing is wrong, that they’ve wasted their entire lives.
So there just sobbing and weeping all through the city, and that’s when Ezra stands up and says, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” But what else does Ezra do? He sends his disciples and the priests throughout the crowd, to help the people understand God’s Word. They clearly explain the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage. They basically started small Bible studies with everyone in town, so that they would all be able to understand God’s Word.
And that’s not all. They also started a specific Bible study with the fathers of every household. These men met with Ezra and received the same teaching the priests and Levites received. It was basically a men’s ministry, but all the men were getting ministry-level teaching. That way, they could lead their families to understand God’s Word.
And what was the result of all of these Bible studies? The people “rejoiced greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.” What was the source of their joy? Understanding God’s Word!
But there’s more. During their study, they discovered that they hadn’t kept the Feast of Tabernacles properly in almost a thousand years. So they began to act upon God’s Word as they read it. They kept the feast. They weren’t just hearers of God’s Word, but doers also. And what was the result? “They very greatly rejoiced.”
Notice the progression. As they understood God’s Word more and more, as they began to put it into practice, they went from joy to great joy to very great joy. And what was the source of their joy? God’s Word!
Now I want to point something else out here. Whose joy are we talking about? The joy of the… Lord. It’s God’s joy. That means two things: 1) God rejoices when you understand and do His Word; and 2) God is joyful! Think about it. So often, we think of God as being stern and serious, and kind of emo (Do people still say emo?). But we just read that God has so much joy that it can literally give us strength.
Think about Jesus. He was the kind of person that was constantly being invited to parties. You don’t typically invite the weird quiet guy to your party. And kids always wanted to play with Him. Kids don’t like to play with stern grown-ups. Who do they like to play with? Fun people. Joyful people. Dare I say, silly people! That’s the kind of person Jesus was. If you pay attention when reading the gospels, you’ll discover that Jesus is actually pretty funny.
Speaking of Jesus, He teaches the exact same thing we just read in Nehemiah. We just saw that the source of their joy was knowing and doing God’s Word. And during the last supper, Jesus says to His disciples, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in my love.” Then He adds, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” When we know God’s words and when we keep God’s words, we are filled with God’s joy. And that joy—His joy—is our strength.
So when we say, “The joy of the Lord is our strength,” what we’re really saying is that God’s Word is the source of our strength, that God’s Word is the source of our joy. We should find strength and joy in the Holy Scriptures. And the more we understand God’s Word, the stronger we’ll be. The more we act upon God’s Word, the more joyful we’ll be.
So do not sorrow, do not weep. Go to church. Study the Bible. Be a doer of the Word. For the joy of the Lord is your strength.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.