The Joy of the Lord
Doing a Great Work for God
Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
The walls had been repaired and the gates rebuilt, but now the real work would begin. God was not interested in merely having a city rebuilt. His end desire was for His covenant people to be what He intended them to be. The next 5 chapters of the Book of Nehemiah record the remarkable spiritual growth of the remnant of Israel culminating in an awesome revival. The subject of the Book now turns from the physical, the building of the walls, to the spiritual, the building of God's people.
Our text describes the beginning of this great spiritual awakening and concentrates heavily on the preaching of God's commandments by Ezra and the Levites. From morning to noon, about 6 hours, Ezra stood on a wooden pulpit and delivered the Book of the Law (perhaps Deuteronomy). In fact, verse 8 says, "they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading". They didn't just read the words, but they taught the Jews what the words meant as God had appointed them (the Levites) to do. God did not give his Law for only an elite group to understand. God said, "the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it" (Deuteronomy 30:11 - 14).
That the people understood what God had to say can plainly be seen in the effect it had on them. Verse 9 says, "all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law". The people obviously saw and realized what they and their forefathers had failed to do and no doubt the justice and goodness of God was clearly understood as well. We shall see the profound affect it had on them even better in the rest of this chapter and the following chapters. At the end of our text, Nehemiah and Ezra exhorted the people not to grieve but to be happy. They encouraged them to enjoy the blessings of God that day, "eat the fat, and drink the sweet", and to make sure that the poor enjoyed such blessings so that everyone could have a time of great mirth. Then it was perhaps Nehemiah that made the statement, "for the joy of the LORD is your strength". In this lesson, we shall find that this phrase is the binding truth to the entire passage and has great bearing on doing a great work, physically and spiritually, for God.
What is the "Joy of the Lord"? Obviously it is not a joy in the pleasures of the flesh, it is not a joy in riches, nor is it a joy in sin. David said in Psalm 5:11, "let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee". The Joy of the Lord is a delight in God. It is to take pleasure in the nature and ways of God. It is to praise and magnify Him for His greatness and majesty. The garden of our soul's delight is to be in God!
The Jews in our text are a great illustration of this delight in God. Neither Ezra nor Nehamiah had to force the Jews to learn the commandments of God, but on the contrary, the Jews showed a great desire for themselves to know what God had to say. They told Ezra in verse 1, "bring the book of the law of Moses". They wanted to know more about God - they had a delight in Him, and this was a genuine delight to gather for 6 hours straight and listen to the preaching of God's word.
When Nehemiah said, "the Joy of the Lord is your strength", he was not referring to a physical but a spiritual strength. In other words, he was relating the joy of the Lord to the amount of strength we have to live uprightly. Though our text says so much about the reading of God's Word, the revival that was to develop was not born through this increase in the knowledge about God. No, this spiritual growth began with an interest or delight in God. The joy of the Lord is necessary both to grow spiritually and to maintain the health and vigor of our spiritual life.
The lost man who cares nothing about God (Psalm 10:4) will increase in corrupt living. Paul said in Romans 1:21, "when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened". He goes on to say in verse 28, " And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient". The believer who begins to set his affections things of the earth rather than things above will be unable to grow and will be in danger of backsliding. In contrast, those who delight in God will seek to "observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes" (Nehemiah 10:29).
Certainly Satan knows that our spiritual health and growth depends upon our delight in God. Satan has turned the hearts of most of America to the pleasures of entertainment. Consequently, what God questioned in Jeremiah 6:10 could surely be asked today, "To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it". We have such a shallow Christianity today because even believers have preferred television, sports, fishing, hunting, gardening, and such like to enjoying God. No wonder Peter pleaded with believers to "abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" because these things weaken our spirituality by detracting from our delight in God.
Since the Joy of the Lord is so vital to our spirituality, let us now spend some time learning from our text how we can enjoy God.
If you want to delight in God, get involved in His work. It is not a coincidence that the increased interest in God that began in our text followed the finishing of the work. Oh the joy that comes when you see God work through you and mold you into the image of Christ. How you will praise and admire Him when you see His mighty hand at work. Get involved in the work of God and you will say like the Psalmist, "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness" (Psalm 84:10).
Nehemiah told the Jews not to grieve but to enjoy the blessings of God by eating the fat and drinking the sweet. We might compare this with what Paul reminded Timothy about the God "who giveth us richly all things to enjoy". God does not bless us with things that we might consume them upon our lusts, but rather that we might have reason to praise and thank Him. He gives us things to enjoy that we may in turn enjoy Him and consider how great it is to be one of His children. The Psalms are packed full of rejoicing in God for His blessings and most of all for His gift of salvation.
It is important that we take time to eat the fat and drink the sweet as Nehemiah exhorted the Jews. Often we get so busy in the work of God that it becomes laborious and no longer joyful. Our spiritual strength is then in danger because we may lose our Joy in the Lord.
Finally, we may note that the Jews were to make great mirth because "they had
understood the words that were declared unto them". An interest in God had brought a
desire to know Him better which in turn had brought even more of a delight in Him. The
more we learn about God, the more we shall be in awe of His many perfections. So, let us
enjoy God by reading about Him in Scripture.