|Posted by kelvinbueckert on April 25, 2021 at 4:50 PM|
It had been a very long time since the Israelites had worshiped God, as a nation, in Jerusalem. In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar had taken the Jews captive to Babylon. In 539 Cyrus overthrew Babylon and as was his custom , he encouraged expats to return to their homelands. Fifty thousand Jews returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel, to rebuild their temple, although it was not finished until more than 20 years later, under the reign of Darius.
Meanwhile Nehemiah was moved by God to return to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The book of Nehemiah reveals the heart of a man of prayer! Through opposition from within and without, he persevered , faithful to God’s calling upon his life. The nation was blessed by this one man and in our chapter we find them gathered, at last, to worship God. Ezra the priest brought the book of the law; in the spirit of renewal these people were once again touched by the words of God.
We would hardly think of rules and regulations as something worthy of worship, but it was so much more than that…the law demonstrated God’s love! How much He cared for every detail of each person’s life! How often is the God of the Old Testament seen as a God of wrath and yet He was so very longsuffering, faithful to His covenant of love! (Nehemiah 1:5). We find these same qualities in the God we worship today. How longsuffering is He with a church that is lukewarm, casual in its worship?
These people, coming out of loss, hardship and suffering had much to worship God for! They stood with hands raised towards heaven out of reverence for the scriptures Ezra was reading (Nehemiah 8:5). They stood for hours while the words of God were read and discussed. The Levites were eager to make sure they understood the law (:8). Then the people “bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (:6). As we lounge in padded seats with our coffee during church, how does our body language speak to God of our enthusiasm for His Word?
The Israelites were celebrating the privilege they had lost! Their hearts were deeply stirred! At last the joy of the Lord, described by Nehemiah himself, “is your strength” (:10)! Celebrate without grieving; he urged them not to weep (:9,10). This was a new season of joy. The time, which Solomon later referred to for weeping, had passed. Now it was time for “great joy” (:12, 17), to honour the greatness of their God, and all that He had done to restore them to fellowship with Himself!
Jesus came to restore our fellowship with God, sent by the Father in heaven to suffer and die on our behalf – yours and mine. As we celebrate Easter, Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection let us not forget that joy does not require the absence of pain. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
The Israelites had been disciplined by God who must remain true to His word. He had warned them repeatedly about their rebellious hearts, their unfaithfulness to Him as they turned to worship idols. Had they taken Him seriously? Do we today take God at His word? Why do we believe that a loving God will not also be just? He must be true to His character and so, let us question if it is possible we stand at the edge of a precipice, inviting His discipline, even His wrath, by the way we treat His law? His goal is to give us joy born out of freedom from sin! It is our joy that is contagious as we seek to win others to our Lord Jesus Christ. The early church welcomed the gospel message with great joy (1 Thessalonians 1:6). It is joy in the Lord which keeps us from sin.
Perhaps you would like to do a personal study on the number of situations in which joy is mentioned in both Old and New Testaments!