Don’t Just Read The Word Of God – Respond To It
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy 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.
10 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.”
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
12 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.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
As we read the word of God, our hearts should react. The Israelites who were gathered before Ezra when Nehemiah was the governor over Jerusalem after the wall was rebuilt in fifty-two days experienced great mourning when they heard the word of God read to them. Jesus indicated that this was to be our state of heart as well when we hear the word of God and we realize that we are falling short of it.
The word of God is not merely words inspired by God and written by men for us to give historical records and inspirational thoughts; rather, the word of God is living and active:
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
The word of God is able to show us exactly who we are in our inward attitudes as well as our outer words and deeds. Scripture is able to accurately pinpoint the weaknesses and failings in our character, thought processes, and beliefs. It is able to do so because it is both alive and absolute truth:
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
When our hearts respond to the word of God, we are ready to be trained by it.
Nehemiah records that the ordeal in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem was taxing on the people. Anyone who has been under the threat of violence, where working with one hand and your other hand on your weapon is not a very peaceful ordeal. The Israelites experience this even today on a near day-to-day basis with the threat of suicide bombers, shootings, beatings, and missiles being directed towards them.
The last thing that God’s people needed right now was to become overwhelmed with dread at the thought of just how far short they were from the glory of God. Nehemiah commanded that the people not grieve on this day, for it was holy to them. They were to embrace the joy of the Lord. This is their strength, and our strength as well. God has sovereignly paid for our sins with the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. Our natural response is to mourn over our sin. But we should then embrace the joy of our salvation, for it is in that joy that we have strength.
Pain, suffering, misery, mourning, and many other physically and emotionally draining situations sap our strength from us. When we have joy in hope (the certainty of outcome, not wishful thinking), we are able to look at these difficulties and put them in their proper perspective. Until we are able to grasp the joy of the Lord, we will be subject to the storms of emotion. Life is hard. For many, life seems impossible. When every breath is a challenge, and the situations of life threaten to rob every aspect of normalcy in life from you, only the joy of the Lord can lift you out of the pit of despair.
The Levites (the Levitical priests) had counseled the people to be still. Elsewhere in the word of God, that phrase is used as well:
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
But what does it mean to “be still”? One of the best translations of this phrase is “cease striving”. As humans, we have a desire and drive to do things our way. We tend to rely upon the gifts and resources that God has provided to us rather than on the provider of the gifts and resources. When we rely upon God, we will cease striving. Our hearts will “be still”, for we will be expectantly waiting for God to act, rather than acting on our own.
God had done a mighty work in and through those who had rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem. The Israelites were told to celebrate this great victory that God had given to them. Do we take the time to celebrate what God has done in our lives? Do we publicly acknowledge the victory God has given us over our enemies? Do we embrace the joy of the Lord in such a way that it is winsome to others? How we respond to what God has done and is doing in our lives is very important to God.
All of this was very important because of one thing: the people had understood the meaning of the word of God. We too should seek and embrace the word of God and its meaning in our lives. Learning the word of God should be foremost in our minds:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
[Blessed is the one…] whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
“Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children.”
A Qualifying Question
Let’s ask a question: Am I living in the joy of the Lord?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, Your joy is made complete in me through the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ, for my sins. Thank You for this gift, and for Your joy. Help me to know Your word and to embrace Your word in my heart and my mind. May Your law be on my lips when I first wake in the morning until I go to sleep at night. Help me to understand Your word better so that I can live it out in my life. Help me to cease striving, and to fully receive Your Spirit without measure. Give me the desire and ability to die to myself so that the Holy Spirit can display Your character through the life that You have provided to me. Help me to rely upon You more each day and less upon myself. Help my heart to be attuned to Your word and Your direction so that I might live in a way that pleases You more. Forgive me for my sins, and help me to have a heart that is sensitive to You. This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.