Just One Thing: Joy

When I taught my way through the book of Nehemiah with my Sunday School class this year, I was reminded of the context for one of the Bible’s most “quotable” verses on joy — it’s not what I expected!  Thanks be to God that He is  our  infallible source of joy during Advent and throughout the year.

Then he (Ezra) said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord.  Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength,”  Nehemiah 8:10.

I wonder if people who sing and give testimonies about the most well-known verse in Nehemiah realize the irony of it:

A captive people impoverished by taxes and famine conditions returns to their homeland — a broken down city — and stands for six hours to hear their priest read aloud to them the record of their ancestors’ rebellion.  Living in the grip of a distress which they have brought upon themselves, they are encouraged to rejoice!  Yet, we see in verse 12 that they actually obeyed, because, in spite of their circumstances, they had been invited into the Lord’s joy which He delights to share with His people.

A careful reading of Scripture should banish from our minds, once and for all, the idea that God is a cosmic kill-joy, and yet the myth clings in spite of the writings of Paul (Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!) and in spite of salient pronouncements such as Phyllis McGinley’s:  “Dourness is not a sacred attribute.”  Martin Luther had no patience with his friends who behaved as if it was.  Melanchthon, his contemporary, was of a cool and reserved temperament, highly virtuous and still clinging to his monkish lifestyle even after having joined the reformers.  Fiery Luther roared at him to relax, and with his gift of over-statement declared:  “God deserves to have something to forgive you for!”  Commentator Derek Kidner observes from Nehemiah 8:9-12: “Holiness and gloom go ill together.”  In his commentary on the Psalms, he points out in Psalm 126 that the singers on their way to Jerusalem provided two metaphors for the joy of the Lord.

  1. Streams in the Negev:   Utterly dry in the summer, the arid regions to the south flood in minutes when the spring rains come.
  2. Sowing and reaping:  Crops require time and human effort in order to produce a harvest.

There is wisdom in these complementary images for those who would know the joy of the Lord.  It is His to give, and it may come in a flood, but it may also require cooperation from a heart that seeks God’s perspective on life’s circumstances.

In Psalm 137, when the Israelites lament, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” they answer their own heart-wrenching question in the lyrics that follow —  Jerusalem was to remain their “chief joy.”  Being at home in God’s City is also the ultimate joy for the present-day believer.  All the things that we chase after in our pursuit of “happiness” pale in comparison to the expectation that comes from having our spiritual roots at home in the City of God.  Anticipation of that day allows the believer to sustain joy and confidence in the face of a terminal diagnosis, loss from a natural disaster, or the heartbreak of wayward children.  In fact, the strength of which Nehemiah 8:10 speaks, in the Hebrew [maoz]  implies a refuge, stronghold, fortress or place of protection.  God’s joy is the believer’s safe haven at all times, and, dare we believe, in all circumstances?

In Christine Hoover’s new book Good to Grace, she expresses an honest response to the juxtaposition of God and joy:

“When I think of God delighting as He throws us a really good party, it surprises me a little, like I’ve got it wrong . . . Doesn’t it feel a little sacrilegious?  If so, perhaps we’re missing that God is in fact a celebratory God.  He delights and exults in those who accept His invitation to come to the party and sit at His table.”

Far from a pasted on smile and a forced “amen,” the joy of the LORD is not a requirement of the Christian life — it is a consequence!  We’re not dependent on fleeting imitations of joy, or even to the temporary outbursts of joy found in Nehemiah 8 (and later in Nehemiah 12) but are invited to the robust and eternal joy that comes from taking God’s grace, trusting His promises, accepting His unmerited invitation to “the party,” and allowing His joy to be our joy.

This is the twentieth in a series of posts in which I ponder “just one thing”  each week from my study of the book of Nehemiah, as I travel slowly and thoughtfully through the chapters with my Sunday School class.  If you’d like to make a comment or leave a link to your own blog post about your wall-building stories, I’d love to read it. If you want to catch up with previous posts, here’s the link:  https://michelemorin.wordpress.com/tag/nehemiah/.

26 thoughts on “Just One Thing: Joy”

  1. I wonder where we got the idea we must be serious for God? We feel guilty for being happy. I’ve always liked the picture of David singing and dancing for God. So much so that his wife got onto him and told him to stop. We are willing to look like fools at a concert or a ball game but not for God? Something is wrong with that. I appreciate this post on joy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like this- Thank you- Have been thinking and hunting for Joy – wondering how it works in the midst of life and messy living! Hoping to discover more what Joy in Him really looks like and how it can play out in my life more- Thanks for this thought provoking post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Michele for the compelling reminder to live fully in the JOY that has been made available to me. Happy to be your neighbor at #livefree Thursday.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes Michele! The decree is to live a joy filled life and we can only do that thru the blood and grace of Jesus. Amen sister! 🙂 LOVE THIS: “the joy of the LORD is not a requirement of the Christian life — it is a consequence.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How on earth have I missed that you write? Seriously. I was blessed to read your words this morning! These words right here were beautiful >> “Far from a pasted on smile and a forced “amen,” the joy of the LORD is not a requirement of the Christian life — it is a consequence! ” Amen! So grateful to have stopped here this morning for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve always wondered exactly what this verse means. But I know enough to believe it is good news! 🙂 I like joy. And I love that God says joy is our strength. Thanks, Michelle, for shedding a little more light on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “All the things that we chase after in our pursuit of “happiness” pale in comparison to the expectation that comes from having our spiritual roots at home in the City of GOD” <— Yes, yes, yes! This is so very true! Really great post, Michele! Thank you for sharing this! Infinite blessings to you, Love! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “God is in fact a celebratory God. ” I like the thought of partying with my Heavenly Father. My Daddy always celebrates me so it’s easy to think of God does, too. Christine’s book will be on my to-read list. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Stopping by from the Grace & Truth Link up. Joy is one of my favorite topics. It is what we should all aspire to live for. After all, we have a Savior who loves us and died for our salvation. Wonderful teaching here.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love it that you said that joy is a consequence… that is such a blessing. All too often, it is easy to seek joy or happiness… BUT we need to seek the Lord, be thankful and obedient… and THEN we have joy. : )

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So good to read about the background of the verses in Nehemiah. I appreciated your thoughts on joy. “God’s joy is the believer’s safe haven at all times, and, dare we believe, in all circumstances?”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I am new to your blog, but so glad to have read your post! Thank you for sharing a bit on Nehemiah about joy. So many Christians walk around with pasted smiles and it saddens me that they think that is what joy in the Lord is…I have found joy even among the worst of the worst in my life because it was God’s joy and not my human attempt at it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The “Joy of the Lord” is not something we can make or even give to one another. So wonderful that that it is HIS, and He delights in giving it to His children. Thanks so much for reading.


  13. In other words, stop working so hard, God’s got us! Right?
    I had never read that Martin Luther quote, “God deserves to have something to forgive you for!” and I must admit it made me laugh out loud. It’s now my quote of the day. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luther was quite a character, right? Apparently his wife was a piece of work as well. He called her “Katie, my rib,” so they loved one another, but she was an uncharacteristically strong and independent woman for her era! Good to hear from you and thanks for reading!


  14. Michele, love this post! and this quote, “the joy of the Lord is not a requirement of the Christian faith, but a consequence”… yes! once we realize the true weight of Christ’s finished work on the cross…taking all my sin–past, present, future–joy bubbles up from the innermost part of me where the Holy Spirit dwells…crying Abba Daddy! My Savior and my Lord! many blessings to you!


    1. So true, Beth. When we try to manufacture joy ourselves (because we think we’re supposed to feel that way), it becomes a different thing entirely and it gets in the way of our entering in to the circumstances God has placed before us. Blessings to you as well!


  15. A celebratory God! Yes! This concept works well with finding gratitude in the little things in life and giving thanks for the simple gifts. This post is my warm fuzzy for the day.

    Liked by 1 person

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