Nehemiah 8:10 is probably one of the best known verses on joy. This verse comes in the middle of a passage as the people were holding a solemn feast to the Lord. Ezra read the entire book of the law, while the poeple stood to listen (try that in modern churches!). The New Testament teaches us that the Law is a schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ. The Law had the same effect on this congregation, for they were so disturbed by their sin, after seeing how they had violated the Law, that they were mourning and weeping. Ezra and Nehemiah had to instruct them to stop mourning so that they could worship the Lord properly on this holy day! They were told to go and have their feast, and make mirth, and that the joy of the Lord would be their strength.
Verse 12 concludes that the people responded this way because “they had understood the words that were declared unto them.” As we read God’s Word we may be broken because of our sin, but we can also rejoice in the God of our salvation. As we realize what He has saved us from, the joy we receive gives us strength to live for Him.
Some parallel thoughts include these verses: (emphasis added)
Prov. 10:29 The way of the LORD is strength to the upright: but destruction [shall be] to the workers of iniquity.
Isa 25:1-4 O LORD, thou [art] my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth. 2 For thou hast made of a city an heap; of a defenced city a ruin: a palace of strangers to be no city; it shall never be built. 3 Therefore shall the strong people glorify thee, the city of the terrible nations shall fear thee. 4 For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.
Psalm 28:7-8 The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. 8 The LORD is their strength, and he is the saving strength of his anointed.
Isaiah 12:1-3 And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. 2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. 3 Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.
Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
2 Cor. 8:2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
2 Cor. 12:8-9 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Matthew Henry states, “Holy joy will be oil to the wheels of our obedience…The joy fo the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies.”
The Hebrew word translated strength in Nehemiah 8:10 also means a place or means of safety, protection, refuge, stronghold, harbour. As we make the choice to rejoice in the Lord – to be thankful for His salvation, to trust in His strength, to rely on Him in our trial – then He tucks us away in the safety and refuge of Himself. I think that knowing this only intensifies the joy!
Isaiah 61 says that God wants “to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” We should mourn for our sin, as the Israelites did in Nehemiah 8, when we understand the depth of our sin from the Word of God. But then we allow the Lord to take our mourning and exchange it for joy. To take the heaviness and sorrow of our sin, and trade it for a garment of praise. All of this brings glory to the Lord!
“The joy of the Lord is your strength”