Then [Nehemiah] said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8.10)

When you have nothing else, you have the Lord. In this is joy.

When Nehemiah gave this admonition to the Israelites, it was after 70 years of exile. It was after generations of disobedience against the Lord. It was after their holy city had been razed, their homes destroyed, their dignity crushed, their humiliation complete. When all was taken away, they still had the Lord. This was their joy.

It was by sheer grace that the Lord allowed them to return to the land and restore their national life. Granted, there were some who were still dissatisfied. The prophet Haggai cautioned those who pined for “the good old days” (Haggai 2.3). He promised that whatever glory they thought they remembered would be eclipsed by an even greater glory from the Lord (Haggai 2.9). The text in Nehemiah showed a people overwhelmed by fresh memories of their sins. But even more they were overwhelmed by fresh compassion from the Lord.

The noun “joy” occurs about 180 times in the Bible. The verb “rejoice” occurs about 230 times in the Bible. Joy isn’t just something we have, it’s something we do. When God tells us to rejoice, it’s not a suggestion, it’s a command! This tells us that joy and rejoicing are choices we make about our lives. We choose whether or not we’ll have joy.

I might have expected Nehemiah to say that the strength of God is our joy, but he reversed that: the joy of the Lord is our strength. What Nehemiah was saying is that grace precedes strength. We draw strength as we contemplate and appreciate the good things God has done for us. 

So, if you have been blessed by God, rejoice! If God has taken care of your needs, rejoice! If God has helped you through a hard place, rejoice! If God has comforted you when nothing else could, rejoice! If God has chastened you to bring you back to him, rejoice! 

And as you rejoice, you’ll be stronger for whatever obstacles and challenges ahead of you. 

God’s people have every reason for joy every day. So, for today, do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!