Friday, August 07, 2015
The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength
The Babylonians and Assyrians took captive God's chosen people, but decades later King Cyrus, the Persian ruler, allowed the Israelite people to return to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding and reconstructing the temple. Ezra recounts the first return under Zerubbabel and Joshua, while the second return was led by Ezra himeself. And finally, Nehemiah leads the exiles on a third return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls.
They encountered much opposition in their work--seven accounts are specifically told to us. Enduring the mocking taunts of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, the people willing set to work in groups and families. Nehemiah leads the people, praying against the opposition and setting guards to protect against invasions.
Knowing that the God of heaven was their protection, the Israelites soon have to prepare against a potential military attack, for Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites plot together to throw the Jews into confusion and stop the reconstruction. Later Sanballat and Geshem attempt to lure Nehemiah outside of Jerusalem, but he refuses and continues on in his work, praying that God would strengthen his hands and keep the people focused. Nehemiah was later threatened with false charges and others were paid to falsely prophesy and discredit Nehemiah. We're told, too, of how Tobiah wrote letters to Nehemiah to try and frighten him.
But still the work went on, for "the people had a mind to work" and joined themselves with Nehemiah in raising the walls and defending what was rightfully theirs. God destroyed the plans of those who opposed the Israelites' work, and Nehemiah brought leadership to the people who had been in captivity for so long.
In chapter 8, the people gather together under Ezra the scribe as he reads and explains the words from the Law of Moses for at least six hours. As a scribe, Ezra had set his heart on the Word of God and sought to learn it and teach it to his people, and so, with 13 other men, he stands before the people, blessing them and worshipping the one true God with them and expounding the Scriptures to them.
The people, intensely convicted of their sins by the reading of the Word "wept as they heard the words of the Law". They understood their transgression of the law and the sin that had caused them to be taken into captivity, and they realized that God did indeed punish sin. However, Nehemiah and Ezra and the Levites comfort the people, telling them that this day was a holy day. The work on the temple had been completed through God's strength, protection, and guidance. This was a day for rejoicing. Rejoicing in a God who blessed obedience. Rejoicing in the fact that God once again preserved a remnant of His people. Rejoicing that the walls around Jerusalem were now finished. They were given a fresh start, and though God punished sin, He also blessed obedience. This is why Nehemiah said "And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." This was a time of celebration for all the goodness God had done for them, and the people were encouraged to keep the Feast of Tabernacles that had likely been neglected during captivity.
The heads of homes and families and the Levites and priests came together under Ezra to study the Law, and then joyfully enforced it throughout the land. "And there was very great rejoicing" among the people. Obedience was blessed, sin was confessed, and joy and freedom reigned once again in the hearts and homes of the people.