September 28 (Daily reading: Nehemiah 8-10) We can learn from the way God’s people responded to His word. When Ezra opened the book, the people’s first response was respect; they stood and lifted their hands, then “bowed low and worshiped the LORD.” Their next response was weeping: “All the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law” (vv. 6, 9). But Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites told them not to weep. They were to respond with celebration. “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (v. 10). This was a sacred occasion which continued for eight days as they listened attentively to the word and worshiped. They celebrated “with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” (v. 12, NIV).
It was in the context of hearing the word of God that Nehemiah declared: “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (8:10). The joy we find in reading and understanding God’s word provides spiritual strength. Jesus told us how hearing His words brings joy: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete…I say these things…so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (Jn. 15:11, 17:13, NIV). An example of joy providing strength was when Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2). Joy brings strength even in suffering!
The people ultimately responded with confession and repentance. “They read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God” (9:3). Conviction of sin is not for perpetual sadness, but to bring the joy of forgiveness! Their final response was obedience; they made “an oath to follow the law of God” (10:29, NIV).
– Al Gary