Scriptural Gem for May 2014

In Nehemiah 8:10-12 we read: '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." The Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve." Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.'

In Christian circles the phrase 'The joy of the Lord is my strength' is well known and oft-quoted. Especially when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, when this phrase becomes something like a 'mantra'. But the original Hebrew behind this verse reveals a startling truth. In the passage above the word 'joy' is used twice - once in verse 10 and once in verse 12. In the English translation however, the fact that two very different Hebrew words are used here, goes unnoticed. The Hebrew word for joy used in verse 12 is 'Simchah' which is the word found all over the Old Testament to describe human joy such as at festivals and celebrations. The word used in verse 10 however, is 'Chedvah'. This word only appears twice in the entire Old Testament and both times the word is directly related to God Himself. 'Chedvah' is the joy experienced by God...

Some commentators have taken verse 10 and declared: 'You see, you must ask God for joy! The joy He sends you is 'real' joy which will strengthen you!" This statement misses the point of the text completely. First of all it creates the impression that God 'sends' joy (by mail order) upon request. To make matters worse, if we are truly honest, we actually have our eye on the 'strength' that this joy will provide, because it will help us 'get through our day'.

The text is clear that the joy which is our strength is the joy belonging to, experienced by, the Father. This joy is the joy of us being reconciled to Him again. This restored oneness with Him has been His plan and purpose all along ever since that awful day in the garden of Eden and it brings Him great joy when we are made one with Him again in Christ. Now, how do we partake of this joy? Psalm 16:11 gives us the answer: '...In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore'. We are also reminded of Matthew 25:21-23 '...Come and share your Master's joy!'. It also calls to mind the joy that is expressed in Luke 15:6-24 where the call rings out: 'Rejoice with me! I have found my lost sheep', ' lost coin' lost son...'

Dear friends, the 'Joy of the Lord' and resulting strength is found only in His presence. Are you experiencing His joy or are you still asking Him to 'send' you something of human description because you need a 'lift'? Father, we want to be with you. Joy and strength will be ours in abundance then. Bring us to yourself O God. Amen.

Werner Schreiber