Have you ever heard someone try to comfort someone else with a quick quote of a Bible verse? Whenever I do I often cringe – these are what I call “shoot from the hip” responses to a need. I’m sure they are well-intended to help the receiver feel better. Do they always work? Well, sadly enough, maybe not always. As an illustration, one of the classics that comes to mind is the quote …..“the Joy of the Lord is your strength”
What does that mean really? ….. especially to the one who is upset, hurting, depressed, fearful or otherwise feeling ‘less than’ .…. and where does it come from anyway? How can God’s Joy make me strong? ….. and besides, what makes God joyful?
The context of the quote …
… is a statement from Nehemiah talking to the Jewish people
(Nehemiah chapter 8) after their return from their seventy years of exile in Babylon. He oversaw the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem amidst strong opposition. Together with Ezra who led the spiritual revival of the people, they directed the political and religious restoration of the Jews back in their homeland
After the walls were completed and everyone had re-settled Nehemiah assembled the people in the square and had Ezra read to them the law-book of Moses from daybreak ‘til noon (vs 1-3). While the people were standing there 13 of the Levites (priests) instructed them in the Law. They made it clear and explained the meaning because the Scriptures had not been heard for a long time. As they listened and were given understanding by the priests (vs 7-8) the people began to weep. This was because they realized that they had not kept the law and that they had been disobedient to God again and again
Consequently, “Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. (vs 9)
Further, he told them to “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (vs 10)
“The Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.’” (vs 11)
“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” (vs 12), namely, God’s Grace and Mercy was based on His Love of them
So that’s where the quote is from but to understand how the joy of the Lord can be our strength we first need to know what the quote meant in the Hebrew (original text)
The meaning of joy of the Lord
Firstly, I checked the Hebrew and found that the word translated as “joy” in this verse (Nehemiah 8:10) is based on the Hebrew word for “rejoicing” with a sense of “gladness”. As we get to know God better from His Word it is clear that our love for Him expressed in our obedience, our praise and our thankfulness toward Him brings Him great Joy. Not the least is our giving “thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thessalonians 5:18)
Secondly, I found the Hebrew word translated as “strength” in this verse is based on the Hebrew word for “a fortified place”. It refers to a defensive strength as in a fortress or refuge rather than a strength of power or fight
In addition to this insight into the joy and strength from the Hebrew in Nehemiah’s quote we recall the advice (commands) that Paul gave to the early church ……. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! ……….. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (a fortress)” (Philippians 4:4-7) and then again he writes …. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Reflection – the joy of the Lord
We can be pretty certain that our being joyful, praying and giving thanks always, continually in all circumstances will certainly bring Joy to the Lord. Moreover, it will provide us with protective strength as we draw closer to or “press into” Him, enabling us to withstand whatever we might face
Thus, if not just in calamities but in everyday living, we make joy (rejoicing in the Lord) our choice, then we will be secure in the refuge of joy. Because it protects us from the debilitating effects of discouragement and depression. Likewise, we are secure in the refuge of joy because it gives us strength to stay close to God. How good is it for us to choose joy and be immersed in God’s strength to face all of life! ….. all of the time!
Sample texts based on the joy of the Lord
As a result of pondering this ‘train of thought’ I am sure the concepts behind the quote “the joy of the Lord is your strength” are the foundation of Psalm 5:11-12 …. “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favour as with a shield”
Habakkuk 3:17-19 is a good example of the quote from Nehemiah at work … “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; ………”
Even in the midst of troubles, rejoicing in the Lord because of who He is and what He has done provides us with strength to hold onto Him. In fact, the Sons of Korah produced Psalm 46 to emphasise this. Surely, this is a great Psalm, very well-known with some classic memory verses. So much so that I include it here for you to read/meditate. Soak it in ……
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress
Indeed this is a powerful declaration of the absolute security for anyone who lives in God’s purpose, stays close to Him. In particular, the promise of this psalm is that those who entrust themselves to God and his purpose will never be thwarted. They may experience hardship but nothing will be able to impede what God has planned to do in and through them
There are so many connections between praising God and our strength and one further example is in Psalm 18:2-3,
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn [here symbolises strength] of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.”
The joy of the Lord in a practical sense …
However, there may be little comfort let alone healing in just “shooting a verse from the hip”. Instead, time is needed to understand/discern the real problem/s at hand and to “turn the eyes” of the sufferer toward Jesus and assure them that the Lord is Good and is the very definition of Love
Importantly, it is very difficult for anyone to receive a ‘shoot from the hip’ verse and to respond with praise, to rejoice in the Lord, to express thanks to Him, when all along they are even slightly considering that He is the cause/source of their troubles. We can’t praise God and express our love for Him when we are asking “How could He do this?” or “How could He let this happen?”
1. We need the receiver to be sure that God is Love and God is Good, all the time …… see “what’s with the suffering (part I)?” in a separate post
2. Giving thanks in all circumstances does a lot more than just bring joy to God …… see “what’s with being thankful?” in a separate post
… just sayin’
- The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984.
- The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: together with Dictionaries of the Hebrew and Greek Words with references to the English words, by James Strong. Riverside Book and Bible House 93429837–8, Iowa Falls
- Image: Fortress from unsplash.com
- Song: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, sung by Lauren Daigle
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