The Joy Of The Lord Is Your Strength

Photo by Jill Wellington:

Introduction From Ezra: We Must Be Willing To Follow

Please turn with me in your Bibles to EZRA chapter 8. We will shortly be in NEHEMIAH chapter 8, but you can only understand what is going on in Nehemiah 8 if you first look at Ezra 8. There’s a reason that the Jews considered Ezra & Nehemiah to be one book. Ezra the Priest and Scribe brought exiles from Babylon with him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. How did Ezra get out of captivity to do this? We read:

Ezra 7:6-7 This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him. 7 And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king.

When Ezra came from Babylon, King Artaxerxes allowed him to come with a large expedition. Why? Because the hand of the Lord his God upon him. Ezra sought God’s will in all that he did. As a result, God supplied Ezra with all the people and craftsmen needed to get the job done. The Nethinims were servants that assisted the Levites and priests in the services of the sanctuary. Why did God bless Ezra in his endeavor? Because

Ezra 7:10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

Ezra did not seek our his own will, nor did he allow his heart to harden. In America we have hardened our hearts against God. In our Churches they are “OUR” Churches and not God’s. We have allowed our hearts to harden against God’s direction.

Beloved, We need REPENTANCE in America,
and in our Church gatherings. We need God and His Word.

God says:

Proverbs 28:13-14 (ESV) Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

The reason Israel as a nation is divided and exiled into various places is because they allowed their hearts to harden. A hardened heart provokes God. The Bible warns us:

Hebrews 3:8-12 (ESV) Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: 9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. 10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. 11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.) 12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.

Ezra and Zerubbabel his assistant – along with those who came with him – restored the Temple because God was their focus.

The Temple was rebuilt NOT through the miraculous power of God on stone and wood, but through those involved PRAYING and FASTING and SEEKING GOD’S WILL.

Look to Ezra 8:18 … And by the GOOD HAND OF OUR GOD UPON US they brought us a man of understanding

Ezra led the people to pray, because he knew “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1). It was God Who led the right workers into the place so the rebuilding could occur. It was a PRAYING PEOPLE that God would bless. We read:

Ezra 8:21, 23 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. 23 So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was entreated of us.

Ezra was doing what our Lord Jesus told us to do. When Ezra prayed, he denied himself comfort and pleasure while he sought the face of God. He said, that we might afflict ourselves before our God. Isn’t that what Jesus told us to do? Jesus said:

Matthew 16:24 … If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

America Christianity hates this type of thing – but this is the type of faith that God calls us to. The great commandment is:

Matthew 22:37-38 …. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment.

God wants our ALL, not our leftovers. Years of preaching easy believism has imported a type of Christian into the Church that runs from suffering, despises long sermons, and only wants to apply the Word of God to their lives as long as it does not interfere with their pleasures. God does not hear such selfish, God excluding prayers. He says You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.(James 4:2-3).

Ezra had enemies. We will always have enemies that stand against the will and Word of God. But Ezra kept his eyes – and the people’s eyes – on pleasing God. We read:

Ezra 8:31 we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way.

Ezra 7:8 tells us that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the 7th year of King Artaxerxes, whereas Nehemiah arrived in King Artaxerxes 20th year (Nehemiah 2:1) – some 13 years later.

It took Ezra 13 years to rebuild the Temple, but Nehemiah and his crew only 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). Following the rebuilding of the wall the two teams – Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s – come together to worship and praise God for what had been done.

The People Came Together In One Accord To Hear God’s Word

Nehemiah 8:1-3 And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel. 2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.

I love the phrase all the people gathered themselves together as one man. The same phrase is used in Ezra 3:1. Both Ezra and Nehemiah’s teams were in one accord with God, and now both teams are in one accord with each other. There is nothing that God’s people can’t accomplish when they are in one accord vertically and horizontally. The Apostle wrote of our target unity:

Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV) I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The devil loves to introduce disharmony into the Kingdom of God. He did this in the Garden of Eden, and does it now in local Churches. Unity is so important in God’s Kingdom. The Apostle told the Church of Corinth:

1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV) I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

2 Corinthians 13:11 (ESV) brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

And further encouraged the Church at Phillippi:

Philippians 1:27 (ESV) let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,

Philippians 2:2 (ESV) complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

God can only work in an environment where the people are in one accord with one another. However, we must FIRST be in one accord with the Bible, God’s Holy Word. Doctrine matters. What the Bible says matters. The Apostle said:

Love – But Avoid – Troublemakers In The Church!

Romans 16:17 (ESV) I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

I find this interesting, because it is the polar opposite of what the world and the worldly Church believes today. The Scripture says that the Lord hates …. one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16, 19). To those who go about striving to destroy the harmony of any Church I say – never forget – God HATES what you are doing. What is our standard? Is it human opinion, social justice, some Internet fad? No, for God called out those who used their opinions as if they were Scripture. God said,

Mark 7:7 (ESV) in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (see also Matthew 15:9; Ephesians 4:14; 1 Timothy 1:10; 1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 2:1)

What is contained in this Book, the clear teachings of God, set the standards of our faith. That which gives our faith power and endurance is “thus saith the Lord”. When the people of these two repair teams came together, we read:

Nehemiah 8:1 … they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel.

The people wanted to hear the Word of God. They were not bored by it, nor complacent in it. The people understood that which few Christians understand today:

The only way to maturity in my walk with God is through reading, studying, and applying the Scripture to my life.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God {Greek Theopneustos, literally “God breathed”), and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the {Greek anthropos = person} of God may be {Greek artios = complete or mature}, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

God designed the believer to “do good works” (Ephesians 2:10), not bad works. We are called to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). It is the Word of God, the Bible, that grows the faith of the citizen of God’s Kingdom. What does the Bible say?

Proverbs 30:5 Every Word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him.

The people wanted to hear the Word of God. They were thirsty for it.

Nehemiah 8:3And {Ezra} read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.

As Ezra is reading the Law, he is standing before the water gate. During the Festival of Booths, also called Tabernacles or Sukkot (which is what time this is) the Water Gate was opened. The Kohanim (priests descended from Aaron) drew water out of the Shiloach Brook in a golden pitcher, and brought it through this gateway into the Temple. “Once in the Temple, the priest poured the water into a special funnel from where it flowed into the ground” (reference here). Ezra chose to read and teach the Word of God from this area. This is the same area where our Lord Jesus cried out during the Feast of Booths/ Tabernacles:

John 7:37-39 (ESV) On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

It was God’s Holy Spirit Who guided both Ezra and Nehemiah as they did the work of God. It was God’s Holy Spirit Who guided the craftsmen to rebuild both the Temple and the walls. Where there is unity is seeking the glory of God, there will the Spirit reveal Himself through the hands and feet of God’s people. Something else we can see that is VERY interesting:

Nehemiah 8:3 And {Ezra} read therein {in the Scripture} before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.

Ezra reads and explains the Law from the morning until midday, from the sunrise until about noon – about 6 hours. The people focused on God’s Word that entire time. What else is amazing about this? Read on:

Nehemiah 8:4-5 And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up:

Ezra didn’t ask anyone to stand up. When he opened the Book, all the people stood up. There is no indication they ever sat down throughout that entire time. There was a time when I would ask people to stand up in respect to the reading of God’s Word. But over time I stopped doing this. Why? Because I preach and quote extensively, reading scripture after scripture when I preach the sermons God gives me. But further,

If I have to ask you to stand up, then God is not in it. These people stood up because some of them had been through 13 years of trial as they rebuilt the Temple, and God got them through it.

The People Stood Worshiping God

Nehemiah 8:6-7 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place.

Word Study: When Ezra praised God as the great God, he was declaring that God is One, and none others are God. This is not an inclusionary but a very specific, exclusionary truth. There are NOT many ways to God. There are NOT many true Gods. There is only One True God, and we approach Him through His revealed Word. The people cried out Amen, Amen” (Hebrew אָמֵן ‘āmēn). The Free Bible Commentary notes:

This Hebrew word comes from the root “to be firm.” It is related etymologically to the Hebrew word emunah, which is found in Habakkuk 2:4 and is translated in English “faith.” Here the crowd affirms the truth that the Lord is a great God (see Nehemiah 1:5; 4:14; 9:32).”

The people prayed as God prescribes,

1 Timothy 2:8 … (ESV) {we} should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling

Francis Schaeffer – a theologian whose works I have studied – noted in his book The Mark of the Christian (pg 26-27):

We {as Christians often} rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down. This can never show a real oneness among Christians.

There is only one kind of man who can fight the Lord’s battles in anywhere near a proper way, and that is the man who, by nature, is unbelligerent. A belligerent man tends to do it because he is belligerent … The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bull fight, but because we must for God’s sake”.

Nehemiah 8:8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

Word Study: Notice that the leaders of Israel – not just Ezra – read from the Book of the Law of God. Notice that they did not offer their own opinions of what the Bible said. They read … distinctly. The word distinctly is the Hebrew פָּרָשׁ pârâsh, {pronounced paw-rash’}, which means “to make clear”. The people have been in captivity so long that many have forgotten some Hebrew, so the leaders made sure they understood the words. Dr. Constable’s Soniclight Commentary notes:

Not only did the leaders read the Word of God, but they also translated it from the Hebrew language into Aramaic, the common language of the Persian Empire. Some of the Jews present did not know Hebrew (13:24), having grown up in Babylon and elsewhere, away from Jews who maintained fluency in the Hebrew language. The written translation of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, with comments added, was the Targum (literally, ‘translation’)”

Those on the stand with Ezra went out into the crowd, and helped the people understand what God was telling them. This is one reason why, in the Church Age, that the Pastor of the local Church must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). The Word of God is so very important to the Kingdom of God.

The People Repented, But Nehemiah Called For A Celebration

Nehemiah 8:9 And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.

Word Study: We are told that Nehemiah … is the Tirshatha. The word Tirshatha means “Governor”. Though Ezra was given authority to go and rebuild the Temple, only Nehemiah was named “Governor” by King Artaxerxes. The people began to weep because, as the Law of God was read, they realized how foolish it was that they were even in captivity in the first place. Had God’s people followed God’s Word, they would have never been conquered by first Babylon, then Medo-Persia. Our God is powerful, and there is nothing He cannot do. But our God will not allow us to run in anarchy, doing whatever we please regardless as to His Word.

God honors His Word.

As the people realized their failures, and repented, Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites told the people to dry their tears, and to begin to celebrate. These people had rededicated their lives unto the Lord Who loved them.

Nehemiah 8:10-11 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength. 11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.

Too often when we have walked away from God, and repent and return, that we are plagued by guilt and sorrow. This is what the devil loves to do to us. Beloved, there is nothing we can do to “pay back” what we did while we were in sin. The Bible never speaks of PENANCE, but of REPENTANCE.

PENANCE is the foolish notion that a finite mortal such as I can repay an offense against an Infinite Mortal such as God by doing some finite, mortal work. This is a lie from hell that cripples us.

What do we do when we have sinned? Repent. Turn back to God. Put the sin under the Grace of God. What does God in His Word say?

1 John 1:9 (ESV) If we confess our sins, {God} is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

When we CONFESS our sins, the Greek ὁμολογέω homologeō, we “say the same thing about” our sin that God says”. We acknowledge God was right all along, and turn from that sin back to His loving embrace. Here is where power is! Nehemiah told them,

the joy of the Lord is your strength

When we do what God tells us to do, God is joyous, because we are not hurting ourselves or even killing ourselves with sin. The “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ died on Calvary and rose from the grave not just to cover your sins and make you right with God, but so that we can walk with God, unenslaved by sin (Romans 6:16-18). Freed from sin, “you are now the servants of righteousness”. As servants of righteousness, we obey our God, and do the things that He tells us to do. God the Son told us:

John 15:8-11 (ESV) By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

When we walk with God in obedience to His Word, we have “joy unspeakable, and full of glory”. May we all emulate Nehemiah and the returning children of God. Amen and Amen!

About bibleteacherorg

A searching Pastor, I am looking for a people who love the Lord and love one another. Daily I pray for the Church. Most of what the world sees today is not the Church, but clubs pretending to be the Church. God is calling to Himself a people willing to be righteous, not self righteous, serving not served. I am called to pastor God's people, those who want to change the world by willingly and willfully following Jesus Christ. Only God is able to change the world, and we must follow His Christ. He is able! Praise His Name! Come quickly Lord Jesus!
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