Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. Nehemiah 8:1-3 (NKJV)
So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:8-12 (NKJV)
As the people wept Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites instructed the people not to sorrow because this was a day for joy. I thought long and hard about this because their sorrow over their sin was right. What I see as I look at this isn’t Nehemiah and Ezra telling the people not to be broken over their sin. Instead what we see is Nehemiah and Ezra continuing to help the people understand God and His ways so they didn’t despair. The people’s grief over their sin was beginning to overwhelm them because they didn’t understand the role of forgiveness in connection with repentance.
There was no longer reason for mourning and crying because repentance had led to forgiveness. Once forgiven, they were to stop grieving and give thanks and praise to the Lord for His forgiveness. But they needed to believe God and trust His Word that He had forgiven them. And if they truly believed, they now needed to cease their mourning and rejoice in the Lord.
Once the people understood God’s Word they began to greatly rejoice as they began to put it into practice. One of the keys to Christian joy is to believe what God says in His Word and then to act upon it. Faith and action that flows out of God’s Word will produce the kind of joy that will weather the storms of life. It isn’t enough for us to read the Word or receive the Word as others preach it. We must also rejoice in the Word.
One of the things I feel is so often overlooked about God’s Word is that it’s not supposed to be a burden. If reading the Bible causes us to feel burdened instead of causing us to rejoice in the Lord something is wrong. If listening to God’s Word being preached causes us to feel burdened instead of causing us to rejoice in the Lord something is wrong.
“The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Psalm 19:8 NKJV)
The idea of enlighten the eyes seems to be that we are able to see things more clearly. One of my commentaries used the illustration of fog and smoke being cleared away so that we can see more clearly.
What this made me think of is the many times I have gotten discouraged and felt beat down by things that were going on. I don’t know about you, but when I get that way I really feel like I am looking at life through a fog or smoke. All I can see is what is bugging me. If I let myself go on like this long enough my entire perspective of life can shift and all I can think of are the many things that are wrong.
For me, there are only two things that can help me shake out of this funk, time spent in prayer and time spent in the Word. In fact if I start getting down my wife will tell me to shut my computer down, take my Bible and go read and pray. If I will do this, it does encourage me. It does clear the fog away and lets me see things in a better or at least more accurate light.
The way the Word helps to clear the fog and rejoice the heart is that it lifts our eyes and minds beyond the here and now. It lifts our eyes and hearts up to heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of God and reminds us that He sees, He cares and that everything we do for Him has eternal value whether we see any noticeable fruit from it or not.
Studying God’s Word or hearing God’s Word preached should never be a burden to us. Instead it should always lead us to rejoice in the Lord. Even the hard stuff should lead us to rejoice in the Lord. The key to letting the hard stuff cause us to rejoice in the Lord is that we let it convict us and let conviction lead us to broken repentance knowing that repentance leads to forgiveness. Your private study of God’s Word should absolutely lead you to rejoice in the Lord. Your corporate study of God’s Word should absolutely lead you to rejoice in the Lord.