Friday, October 31, 2008

Who Cares about Joy? A Different Slant on Strength

Top 12 Scripture Texts: Number 10C
Nehemiah 8:10
Bob Rakestraw

One of the best things about writing this blog is that I often discover new insights on the scriptures in my preparation. I have another one this time—something I had never seen before.

What is our Strength?

This is my third and last posting on Nehemiah 8:10, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” My new insight—surely a gift from God—has to do with the word “strength.” For all my adult life I have understood “strength” here to be the equivalent of inner energy and power, in the sense of “grace” when that word is used as God’s empowering Spirit.

As I did some research I found that the Hebrew word for strength in Nehemiah 8:10 also means “stronghold,” or “fortress.” In fact, this is its primary sense. The verse does not seem to be focusing on an inner boost of power but rather a rock-solid citadel in which we take refuge and into which the enemy cannot penetrate. When I first discovered this truth, I was a bit disappointed, because I had always considered the verse to be promising energy. A major health issue for me, both before and after my heart transplant, has been a lack of energy—a profound weakness and inability to work, speak and serve as I did earlier in life.

Help for the Mind and Body

The more I have meditated, however, on the joy of the Lord being my fortress, the more encouraged I have become. Let me explain. Since my heart transplant in November, 2003, I have faced two enemies that I had seldom fought before: depression and anxiety. I have also battled bodily weakness, as mentioned above, and surely have benefited from the scripture texts that teach of God’s strengthening us inwardly in order to get through the day. But depression and anxiety need a different kind of help than physical energy and strength. These involve battles of the mind as well as the body.

Satan and his forces attempt to invade my mind at times with depressing and anxiety-producing thoughts, and I find huge relief and encouragement in knowing the joy of the Lord not only offers me inner strength but is also my fortress, stronghold and protection. As such, it serves as a blockade to the invading enemy thoughts. As I praise God and focus on his greatness and goodness, and receive deep joy from doing so, this joy builds a fortress around my mind and keeps out the negatives. I have actually been experiencing this protection in recent days, and it is a major help to me. I find, however, that I may need to activate this cycle (praise – joy – mental protection) several times a day. This keeps me close to God, because I desperately want to block the invaders from creating harmful moods.

I am glad, as well, that even though the Hebrew word for “strength” (maoz) is primarily fortress, protection or stronghold, it also seems to have, at times, the idea of energy or power (as in 2 Samuel 22:33 in the Dead Sea Scrolls and some Greek versions of the Old Testament, and perhaps in Ezekiel 24:25). In any case, the Bible—using other words—clearly teaches that God is the source of our strength and power (Psalm 29:11; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). He is both our protection and stronghold as well as the supplier of daily energy to live for Him and serve those who need help.

Joy Unspeakable

It is “the joy of the Lord” that brings the protection we need to live successfully. Several days ago a friend said she feels like she is “going out of her mind with joy.” She can’t contain the joy that God is generating in her, even though she and her family have had some very difficult issues to live through in recent years. She had been reading in the book of Isaiah when she phoned and gave my wife and I this encouraging report. God is remarkably alive to her! This is the joy of the Lord. It is God’s own inner joy as Father – Son – Spirit which God then communicates to us, and which becomes our joy in God. We receive it by praise, thanksgiving, reviewing all of God’s promises in the scriptures, and understanding and obeying God’s teachings. In Nehemiah’s day, “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.” “From the days of Joshua son of Nun until [this seven-day feast of booths], the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great” (Nehemiah 8:12, 17).

God cares about our joy—yours and mine. I used to think that joy was something optional in the Christian life—it’s nice if you can have it but it’s not absolutely necessary. Now I realize it is vital to daily living, both defensively and offensively. The fruit of the Spirit is indeed joy (Galatians 5:22).

Referring to the thrice-repeated statement in Nehemiah 8:9-12 that “this is a sacred [holy] day,” Dr. Derek Kidner makes the following remarks. I will close with them, wishing you God’s very best always.

“Three times in this short paragraph it is pointed out that holiness and gloom go ill together. What makes it rather striking, to our ears, is the calm assumption that this should go without saying. … To be ‘altogether joyful’ was the prospect held before the guests of God (Deuteronomy 16:15), and the words that went most naturally with ‘holiness’ were not only ‘justice and righteousness’ but ‘glory,’ ‘beauty,’ ‘strength’ and ‘joy’.” See, for example, Psalms 96 and 99 and Isaiah 35. [Ezra and Nehemiah, InterVarsity Press, 1979, p. 107.]

1 comment:

Kim said...

Thank you, Bob, for sharing your Joy.