Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” -Nehemiah 8:10, NIV
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it, If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
When the pastor opened the prayer meeting by singing this song, at first the people just listened as he sang his joyful solo. Slowly, one by one, they joined in and before long they were all singing at the top of their lungs as the joy of the Lord filled their hearts and minds.
As they sang, the fog of life cleared and the beauty of individual and collective laughter filled the phone line. They had a moment and, in that moment, not only were filled with joy, but they also felt strength. The more they sang, the more joy they felt and the stronger they felt. As they continued, whatever was bothering them, whatever concerns they had, whatever worries they had, and whatever past mistakes they had made were all covered by God.
This moment brings Nehemiah 8:10 to mind.
The historical backdrop of Nehemiah 8:10 is the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall. Nehemiah had organized the people and then he gathered them for a reaffirmation of the covenant through the reading of the book of the Law.
While hearing God’s Word, the children of Israel were reminded of their sins, which caused the people to grieve. Nehemiah admonished them that the time for grieving was over, and the time of rejoicing had come. He instructed them to celebrate with the best foods and wines because the joy of the Lord was their strength.
It is worth noting that the text could also mean God’s rejoicing over the people as well as the people rejoicing over God. Either way, joy – not grief – was the appropriate response.
Israel’s experience mirrors our experience in Christ. We were once sinners, convicted, and headed for eternal death. This was a real cause for grief. BUT GOD, sent Jesus Christ to save the day. While we will never be perfect, we will never be lost. For that reason, we rejoice as God rejoices over us. In that joyful place, we find our greatest strength.