Author: Ron Graham
A meditation on Ezra’s statement, "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).
David writes, "Strength and joy are in his place" (1Chr 16:27) When David said that, he was probably thinking about the tabernacle. The the ark of the covenant had been stolen, and David brought it back to Jerusalem. The earthly tabernacle, however, was a shadow or “type” of the true and perfect tabernacle in heaven (Hebrews 9:11-12). This heavenly holy place is filled with the glory, joy, and strength of the Lord.
The parable of the talents, in its commendation of the good slaves, has the marvelous words, "Well done good and faithful slave... Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21,23). Can you think of anything more wonderful to hear from your divine Master the Lord Jesus Christ? He said, "These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full" (John 15:10-11). You have no true or lasting joy of your own, therefore you are weak. But you can enter into the Lord’s joy and therefore be strong.
We tend to put texts like “The joy of the Lord is your strength” in a frame and hang them on our walls. Why not? It is comforting to be reminded of our reliance on God. However it's not just a one-way unilateral thing. Certainly God gives us joy, but we also give him joy if we do the right thing. Jesus, for example, said, "There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents..." (Luke 15:7). Paul, when encouraging obedience for salvation, said, "God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12). We can give good pleasure to God. Yes, we can cause the Lord to rejoice.
When Ezra said, "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10) he was speaking to the remnant of Israel who has returned to Judah to rebuild the city and its temple. It was a time of restoration, not only of the ruined city, but also of obedience to the law of God. There was soprrow and weeping when the people heard God's law and realized how far they had gone away from its teaching. But Ezra told them to rejoice and celebrate because of the restoration (Nehemiah 8:9-12).. That's when Ezra said, "The joy of the Lord is your strength".
One discovery the elders made, as they returned to the scriptures, was that the feast of tabernacles had not been observed since the days of Joshua! (Nehemiah 8:13-17). That was back before the destruction of Israel and Judah, before the great kingdom of David and Solomon, back even before the Judges. Within a generation of entering the promised land, God's people had forgotten the annual feast of tabernacles.
Now in Ezra's time, a time when Israel was but a stump, and life was very hard, the people went out to the mountains and gathered branches. They made the leafy booths on every housetop and in the city squares. They dwelled in tabernacles seven days as an observance of the covenant. God's law was now being obeyed again after such a long lapse. This caused God and the people to be glad and rejoice. The restoration gave joy to the Lord, and his joy was the strength of the people.
In the same way, when a remnant of God's church goes back to the gospel covenant mediated by Christ, and they see the departures from it, and restore their obedience to it, then God is glad and the joy of the Lord is their strength.