Join Sharon and Nicole as they discuss the joy that comes from knowing God and hearing His Word. It's stunning to read about how long the people of Jerusalem stood in rapt attention, listening to the reading of the book of Moses. It's humbling, when we think how short our own attention spans are. Let's talk together about the joy of the LORD. Join us.
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Are you ready to embrace a little stillness, some rest for your soul today? Welcome to the Sweet Selah Moments Podcast, where we stop and study God’s words and encourage one another to know Him better and love Him more. This Sweet Selah Moments Podcast is brought to you by Word Radio and Sweet Selah Ministries.
Welcome to the Sweet Selah Moments Podcast. We are studying the book of Nehemiah and Episode 59 is called: The Joy Of The Lord. It is taken from one of the most famous phrases in Nehemiah. Nehemiah 8:10 ends with this wonderful truth: For the joy of the Lord is your strength. Sharon, joy is such a fascinating word. Especially when the Lord gives it to us. The Biblestudytools.com has this to say about our episode title.
“The original Hebrew for joy in Nehemiah 8:10 is Kedva meaning joy or gladness. The root word for joy in this context means to rejoice or to make glad. Strength, in the same verse, is a Hebrew word, meaning a place or means of safety, protection, refuge, or strongholds. The root word of strength means to be strong, prevail, to make firm, strengthen. The joy of the Lord is a constant gladness and cause to rejoice, it stems from an inner strengthening from our relationship with Him. How beautiful is that? (Sharon: It is!) I love the two together.
I do too! I love that strength comes from joy and belonging to Jesus, and doesn’t it?
It does. Very cool. So, Sharon, can you think of a time when you felt the joy of the Lord in your own life?
Well, I was thinking about this because I knew, actually, that you were going to ask me this question and there’s a lot of them, but the one that really just kind of resonated was a time when I felt super overwhelmed by responsibility. I was national director at Moms in Prayer for the USA and I had just barely started it and it just felt too big. It really did. It felt just too big. So I was walking the Marginal Way, in Ogunquit, which is my favorite place to walk. And there’s this tiny Cove there that when tide is full, you can’t even sit in it because it disappears right to the water, but it was low enough tide that I could go down these little rocky steps and sit in a cleft in a rock, basically, and watch the water, well, you have to be careful that you get out before the tide comes in, watch the tide come in and crash against the rocks.
And I just was overwhelmed by the bigness of God. (Nicole: Yeah.) And I felt like He kind of said to me, Sharon, let Me be big, you stay small. And I just felt this overwhelming joy in the Lord that, oh yeah, that’s right. I don’t have to be the big one. In fact, He doesn’t like it when we get big. Let’s just remember that. That’s where we get into trouble. I need to stay small and remember that He is big. So that’s just one of my joy moments where I felt safe, protected, and okay again! (Nicole: Yeah.) Okay again, about life.
I Love that. Yeah. That’s awesome.
How about you? Any joy stories?
Yes! It’s funny because there are several, but again, you think of that one that really stood out. I think it was my first big joy moment as a young adult. I was 15 and we had gone on a missions trip to Mexico and we were super far away from everyone. You know, it’s a big, scary adventure. And we had been working on site building homes for a few of the families in the area and our water truck broke down. So we had no water all day. It was like 90 degrees, 100, it was super hot. (Sharon: I could not have survived it.) No. And back then, I didn’t know that I had a condition that needed extra water. So we made it through the day with very little water and that night I got horribly, horribly sick. I thought I was going to die. I was so scared. They said I had heat stroke and dehydration. So they popped me into one of the cabins with a little AC that wouldn’t go under 74 degrees, so it was still pretty hot. And I remember laying there just thinking that, oh, this is awful. I felt so alone and scared.
And you were 15!
I was little still! My first big trip away from home. So the next day I kind of dragged myself out of bed and felt well enough to go eat and feeling sorry for, well, I think about your story about when you went on the retreat and you were really sick and you’re sitting there going, I should be worshiping God, not stuck in my room. Same thing, I’m on a mission trip and I’m dying. But walking back to my room, I found our group because there were several other groups there as well, and they were outside just talking. And so we joined together and we ended up sharing some of our struggles of the trip and praying together and holding hands. And then we were singing praises to God and we looked up and I remember seeing the stars. They were just so brilliant that night and going, if a God that could make these stars, these are magnificent, He can take care of the six scared little 15 year olds. I had this welling of joy that just filled me like effervescence. It was incredible. And I remember just coming home, floating on air because of that moment with God. And not because I built a house or done VBS with the kids.
It was the bigness of God Again.
It was. Overwhelming our smallest.
Yes. And you know, we need to be out in creation. God speaks through His creation. Doesn’t He? With me, it was the ocean. With you it was that night, the stars. But it just reminds me that staying in doors all the time is a bad idea.
It is, it gets us out of our own way to see his creation. It’s so magnificent.
It is magnificent, which points to Him. (Nicole: Exactly.) And the joy of the Lord is in Him, in the Lord. So we need to see what He’s made. Great Joy stories, I’m joyful already! We’re going to look at a life-changing event for the people living in and around Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day that led to this amazing verse, the joy of the Lord. They had finished the wall. Yay, done their survey. It was time to gather together for the solemn reading of God’s actual words to them. Wow, that’s a cool thing. This is chapter eight. We are going to learn a lot about how to approach the Bible, as we watch how God’s people approached it that holy day. we’re dividing the reading into three parts. The first part shows us the importance of desiring to hear God’s word. I’m going to start with just that desire. Which they’re going to kind of shame us, I feel, but why don’t you start Nicole? You read the first section, which is Nehemiah 8:1-6.
All right. All the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra, the scribe, to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given for Israel to obey. So on October 8, Ezra, the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand. He faced the square just inside the Water Gate from early morning until noon and read aloud to everyone who could understand. All the people listened closely to the Book of the Law. Ezra, the scribe, stood on a high wooden platform that had been made for the occasion. To his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah. To his left stood Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. Ezra stood on the platform in full view of all the people. When they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet. Then Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and all the people chanted, “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
Man. Oh, Nicole.
What a Worship Servant!
Yeah! You know, in this age of instant gratification, little tiktoks, and tweets, can you even imagine men, women and children standing from early morning until noon to listen to the word of God?
Isn’t that amazing? I can’t even picture that. I feel like my kids have a hard time sitting during a church service nowadays.
Yeah, for only 45 minutes and we get kind of whiny and the speaker goes too long. (Nicole: Oh yeah.) Good gravy.
A little shaming. (Laughter)
I know it! I love that they were unified and wanting to hear what God had to say to them. You know, when Ray and I would search for a church in a new location because we moved all the time in the military. That was one of our key points we needed to find a place that had a reverence for God’s word, that people believed it was actually really actually God’s word. Which is kind of an ironic thing to say about church shopping, but not all churches took it as seriously as I believe it should be taken. As seriously as these people took it. By standing and by listening and listening and listening.
That’s so important. I think if we, as believers, are not united in God’s word, then what do we have to stand on? We can go so horribly awry without God’s truth as our starting point. I just think it was really special that they rose to their feet when he opened the book. They had such respect for God’s words. Sometimes I think we’ve lost that reverence for his Holy Word because we’re blessed to have it everywhere. I’ve got Bibles all through my house. I have it on my phone. It’s everywhere.
I know! It’s so amazing. I also liked that they began with praise. They were like, “Wow, Lord God, you spoke to us.” You know, they worshiped the God they were about to hear from. It’s kind of like that first “R” in our Four-R method of Bible reading. Where we first start with the request. We first start with prayer. Even before we read the Word, we want to remember that it’s really The Word. We can’t associate it just with any book. This is living, this is God speaking. And I think that that prayer, or that praise, at the beginning helps us remember that we’re about to hear from the living God. It makes it the Holy thing that it really, really is.
That is so true. That is so important to prepare our hearts for reading His Word. We can so easily just open the Bible and glaze over the words and check off the box and get on with our day. I find myself doing that some days. And then I catch myself and apologize that I started without Him. It’s rather rude of me.
It’s funny but it is! Because God’s right there. When someone opens one of my books, I’m not right there. They don’t have to be feeling rude if they don’t talk to me, but God is there and he is speaking through those words. So it’s a whole different thing. First section, they’re standing in reverence. They’re excited about it. They’re praising God and their attention is rapt. I mean, they are listening for three hours. Let’s look at our second set of verses dealing with this special day. I’m going to read Nehemiah 8:7-12, starting with a lot of hard names.
These names I’ll tell you what!!
I’m always going to associate him with names. From now on, the man that knew everybody’s name. Pretty cool. Okay, here we go, Verse 7. The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah—then instructed the people in the Law while everyone remained in their places. They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” And the Levites, too, quieted the people, telling them, “Hush! Don’t weep! For this is a sacred day.” So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them. (Nicole: Oh wow.).
Isn’t that just so beautiful? Nehemiah named all the names. Each person was important. Every Levite, we needed to know who they were, which is so sweet. But I think it’s interesting that they not only read from the book of the law, but they also explained the meaning of it, which is good. And it must have taken quite a while. (Nicole: Yeah, I bet.) And I get curious. I’m like, well, what is the book of the law actually? What books in the Bible represent it?And nobody knows! Different scholars have different ideas. Some say it’s just Deuteronomy, that was the book of the law. The one that Moses gave the people right before they entered the promised land, that’s logical. But some say it was the whole Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. (Nicole: I always thought it was the first five.) So you’re like, wow, reading all five books and interpreting and explaining. Maybe it was just Deuteronomy. (Nicole: Right?!) We can ask, when we get to Heaven. It was kind of like the sermon, right? (Nicole: Yeah.) To explain it and as well as speak it. And if they hadn’t heard this in a while, they kind of needed some explanations I suspect.
That’s true. I love that. I do like that they explained it cause that’s so helpful to have someone. It’s important to read God’s Word on our own, but it’s also a blessing to have people that God has gifted with insights into the scriptures that can help explain things to us.
Yes, and it is one of the spiritual gifts. I mean, we’re supposed to be looking to teachers to explain things. So it’s a good thing. I find it so moving that they’re weeping as they are listening. They’re involved, right? They are not mentally thinking about mowing the lawn, in their heads, they’re engaged and they’re crying. But why are they crying? What do you think?
They had just come back to their Homeland. This probably was not brand new, but that was probably newer for them. Maybe they hadn’t heard this very often. They’d forgotten what God had commanded them and told them. So I think this was a time of healing for them too, and pain, seeing that God had fulfilled his promise to them and then hearing from their Jewish leaders, hearing words given to them by God for them, you know, after living in a pagan nation for so long, it must have been overwhelming. But almost like “we’re finally here” moment. Like we finally made it back to our place with God, you know?
Here we are in Jerusalem, hearing our God’s words to us. WOW.
I think it was a mixture of all of that and probably conviction as well, realizing how far they had slid from what He wanted for them. (Sharon: Yeah.) Lots of tears!
I know, I feel emotional, just thinking about their emotionalness. I feel like we’re going to have a moment like that in Heaven. We’re finally here! (Nicole: Finally home!) And there is Jesus on the throne and there’s that river coming from the throne and, I can’t even, I can’t even imagine. And when we lay our crowns at his feet and we’re doing it instead of having read about it, I suspect there’ll be weeping. I mean, I know He dries all our tears in Heaven, (Nicole: In the beginning there’s going to be some weeping) but I feel like that kind is going to be legit. So then we get to our beautiful phrase, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” I love that joy brings strength specifically Joy the Lord who loves us. Don’t you just love that God wants us to be filled with joy in his presence.
Yes. I love that. He’s so cool. When God calls us to Him, he doesn’t want us to do it with drudgery or misery. He calls us to joy and that’s such a beautiful thing. And I find even doing like the mundane and frustrating tasks, when I lean on Him, there really is the joy in doing that.
I love the next part, the feasting. It seems a bit odd at first, you know, after such a solomn and tear-filled event before, when you think about it, like what a great way to celebrate such a beautiful event. And I love that even during the Festivities, they were still looking out for those less fortunate and sharing their food. I think it’s a really great time of strengthening them as a people group in a community, after working so hard together to build the wall, they finally came together to sit down and have a little fun and kind of get to know each other and their neighbors.
Beautiful, and God evidently loves fun. He has all these holidays. So it is okay to have fun!
And there is feasting in Heaven, so God is good for a good party (laughter). All right. So they’ve read from God’s word, they’ve wept over it. They have dried their eyes and feasted. Let’s finish this chapter and see what comes next on this very special occasion. I’ll read Nehemiah 8:13-18. On October 9 the family leaders of all the people, together with the priests and Levites, met with Ezra the scribe to go over the Law in greater detail. As they studied the Law, they discovered that the Lord had commanded through Moses that the Israelites should live in shelters during the festival to be held that month. He had said that a proclamation should be made throughout their towns and in Jerusalem, telling the people to go to the hills to get branches from olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees. They were to use these branches to make shelters in which they would live during the festival, as prescribed in the Law. So the people went out and cut branches and used them to build shelters on the roofs of their houses, in their courtyards, in the courtyards of God’s Temple, or in the squares just inside the Water Gate and the Ephraim Gate. So everyone who had returned from captivity lived in these shelters during the festival, and they were all filled with great joy! The Israelites had not celebrated like this since the days of Joshua son of Nun. Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God on each of the seven days of the festival. Then on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, as was required by law.
So the very next day, after that first reading, they obeyed what the law of God said (Sharon: Yay!) How cool is that? It was the month that they were supposed to sleep and cook outside basically. And they actually did it. This was huge for them. We have seen such horrific disobedience from the Israelites and the terrible consequences of it. So to see them obey and to see that it filled them with joy and the obedience, it’s just so wonderful to read. I love the line where it says that they haven’t celebrated like this since Joshua. So this celebration and joyful obedience was well overdue, but that can be really hard, Sharon, to find joy in obedience. Sometimes I’ll just assume that obedience won’t make me very happy. But there’s such a deep and lasting joy from obeying God. And that can only come after we spend time with Him and read His words for us and then go and do them.
That’s right. And I can, I can see parents thinking, seriously? Now we’ve got to build like a shelter and live in it after all this? And yet the kids probably had a blast. It’s like, when you go camping the fathers, you know, doing all the work and everybody’s like, isn’t this fun and he’s cutting the wood and putting up the tent. But they enjoyed it. And that is so good. I love this, that obedience is a key part of the joy of the Lord that we’re discussing. We’re not to just read the Bible. We have to do what it says. God’s instructions are for our good and not our harm. And I’ve learned that time and time again in my own personal life. And when we walk the way He directs, it’s much easier to have that joy. It’s amazing for me too, that they hadn’t celebrated like that since Joshua.
I mean, that’s a long time. That means during that whole time at the judges, they weren’t building the booths and remembering the time when everybody lived in tents in the wilderness. At least not to the extent that they were doing it that beautiful year in Jerusalem when the wall was rebuilt and everything was happy for a little tiny while. I bet those who were there never forgot it. Never forgot that joy. I also love that Ezra kept reading from the Word each day, they just kept learning and growing for seven days, he continues to read. So, you know, maybe that’s how they fit in the whole Pentateuch or did they repeat it? I don’t know, but it’s not like everybody necessarily had their own Bibles in their house. Right? (Nicole: Oh that’s true.) So this is how they’re going to get it is, what is it called? Not oral listening, come on… Audio listening. Through their ears. I also love how the kids were so involved that day and the whole way through hanging out in the tents and feasting, I think all those visuals would help underline to the children that listening to God is super important. I mean, the parents stopped life to stand and listen to God’s word and then go build little shelters on their roofs.
Definitely something that would get their attention.
Right, something that kids would remember because it’s so different. And so out of the ordinary, you know, and it helped them see that God was important. So how do you guys do that, you young mothers of today? How do you underline for your kids that God is important. That He’s a big deal. I doubt you’re cutting down branches to build a shelter with Josh. I mean, maybe you are, I don’t know. Tell me, what do you do? (Laughter)
If we did, my kids would be very happy. We already have those all around our yard in different places. They love to build little shelters. I’m like, oh, that’s great. We don’t have the same requirements for festivals, do we? I think that what stood out for me with the parents in these verses was it was the standing or the stopping and the building of the shelter. Something a little bit different that marks it as not ordinary. So I don’t know, I guess our modern holidays could be compared to their festivals. Josh and I try really hard to keep the big holidays as Christ-centered as we can. I feel like the world keeps trying to steal it away from God and add more and more stuff that just clutters and confuses us.
So, we try to keep it God-centered and then sprinkle some things here and there. I think something fun we did recently just in regular life, one of my friends put together a journal day for the kids. The kids could come and paint their own prayer journal, like put stickers on it and, you know, make it personal. And then we talked to them about how to prayer journal, like how to write to God, your prayer requests, how to tell Him He’s wonderful. And these were little kids, five up to ten-year-olds. And it was really a special thing that she took time out of her day to plan it. We all brought our kiddos there and we’re going to meet up again and kind of go over their journals with them.
Oh that’s really good, so there’s accountability, and there’s a follow-up.
Yeah, so its not like “Oh, great” then lose it, because most likely, you know, someone’s is lost, it’s somewhere under the bed already. It’s been so precious to see. One of my little girls is super faithful and writing in her journal and I’ll come in at night and she’s writing to God. I’m like, this makes my eyes water. My sweet girls.
I love that. And what did that tell them? Their moms stopped their busy lives to teach them how to write a prayer journal because it’s important. I think that’s how we show things are important. We give time to them. We stop every day for things that are important and God is worth stopping every day for right? (Nicole: Yes. Absolutely) Oh, I love that My girls had quiet time journals too. And I think that was really important for them too. And, and now they carry it with them into adulthood. Oh my goodness. Well, this chapter and the next one, Nicole, are like the high points of the book of Nehemiah, all that hard work done. And, and they’re listening to the Word and they’re obeying the Word, they’ve come together in a beautiful way. God is honored. It’s just so happy!
I know, let’s just hang out in this chapter a little longer.
Because of that, their worship, their attention to what He said, their active obedience, joy followed. I just want to walk in that joy myself, Lord, I just do. I want to listen to the word I want to join in fellowship with others who still feel the, “wow, God is real.” I want that always. The real God wrote to us, I want to keep that awe for the word of God that when I open it, it’s God speaking to me. I never want it to grow old. Never, ever, ever. Well, let’s pray about that. Let’s pray for all of us, everybody listening, wherever you are. Let’s pray that His word, the truth that He’s real and He loves us, that he knows our names, never grows stale. Oh Father God, it is so easy to let the busy-ness and the urgency of life crowd you out. You, who are so big. You who made those stars that overwhelmed 15 year old Nicole. You who reminded me that it’s okay that I’m small as I sat at the ocean, you are the real and living God. And we honor you today. And we ask you, please, that you would help us to approach your word with respect and with a “wow.” That it’s active and living and you still speak through it. Oh, Father, keep our hearts soft toward you all our lives. In Jesus name. Amen.
How about you friend? How do you keep Bible reading fresh for yourself and your children? Have you tried our Four R Method of requesting God’s help first, then reading, then recording a verse, and last of all, responding to God with a little written prayer or comments about what he said to you? If you’d like to learn more, go to Episode eight, Making Your Quiet Time Personal. Speaking of personal, Sharon and I love when we hear from you. We want to know your name, just like Nehemiah loved knowing names. Would you write us today by going to sweetselah.org/podcasts. Or it would be so helpful if you would write a review of our podcast on your favorite app so more people could find us. If you’d like us to share personally back, join the Podcast Partner Squad. Just go to sweetselah.org/donations and sign up for as little as a dollar a month. And you’ll be on our email list. Sharon and I write an email once a month, complete with pictures, and send it out to our partners. Next week, we’re going to turn from joy to deep confession time. Episode 60 is called: When You’re Wrong, And You Know It. Join us as we talk about the actual joy found when we confess our wrongs and receive forgiveness and cleansing until then keep seeking God through His word.
We are so glad you stopped for a while with us. This Sweet Selah Moments Podcast is a co-operative production of Word Radio and Sweet Selah Ministries. More information about this podcast can be found at sweetselah.org. Thank you for joining us.
You can download and print the transcript here.