“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” We’ve all seen this many times laid over a beautiful image. What is the context?
The whole sentence: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The whole verse: “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
What was the situation? Nehemiah had come to Jerusalem, and inspired the people to start rebuilding the wall. They had begun, Nehemiah called the people to persist despite the opposition. The work was not yet finished, but well under way. The people all gathered in Jerusalem and urged Ezra the priest to read the Law to them. Ezra and several Levites read and explained the Law to the people. And the people wept. Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites said this was a holy day, they should not weep but celebrate. Verse 10 is the key of Nehemiah’s exhortation — don’t mourn, celebrate.
Why did the people mourn? I’m sure they must have listened to the Law and thought of all the times they had not obeyed. They were reminded this is why their ancestors were sent into exile, failure to keep the Law. They heard “Do these things and you will live,” and thought “We have not done these things. We are doomed.”
But Nehemiah and the other leaders insisted they should not mourn but celebrate. And we in the New Covenant should rejoice even more. Even the old covenant had grace, the message that God wanted to make a people for himself and would be with them. And the new covenant makes this clearer. God will do these things in our hearts so we will live. Don’t perceive the commands of God as things to do to be saved, but as the promises of God, what God will do in us because he longs to save.