Learning Joy from Nehemiah
What do we learn about joy in these verses? How is joy fostered in God’s people?
First, we learn that joy is God-centered. The joy in this scene came to the people as a result of being in the very presence of God, gathered in the temple as his puri ed people, together giving thanks to him. Notice what verse 43 says: “God had made them rejoice with great joy.” Not only did their joy come from being in God’s presence, but it came from him. He was the living and active source of his people’s joy as they worshiped him.
It’s the same for us. Joy is fostered in us as we come together as God’s people, with God at the center. But it’s no longer about meeting in a place, but rather through a person: Jesus Christ, our Savior, who purified us once and for all through his blood. Joy is fostered in our knowing the very presence of God in the Lord Jesus and celebrating that together. It comes in our gathering week by week to worship the Lord as the people of God. Joy comes as we gather at events like The Gospel Coalition’s women’s conferences, as sisters in Christ, worshiping God together. Indeed, the joy of God’s people is God-centered.
Second, we learn from this passage, even more specifically, that joy comes in remembering God’s faithfulness. As the choirs and leaders proceeded around the wall, all who were there would have remembered how the Lord had protected them and enabled them to finish the work. Not so long before, this wall had been broken down, the city empty, and the Word of God neither heard nor understood. Now look! Remembering his faithfulness fosters joy.
Indeed, the joy of God’s people comes with thankfulness.
It’s the same for us, as we together remember our God, who has given us his Son, Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, who has provided a new and living way through his own blood (Heb. 10:19–20), who has given us the Holy Spirit as “the guarantee of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14), and who has given us his Word to live by.
But we are so apt to forget as we get caught up in the “stuff” of life. How are we to remember God’s faithfulness? We remember by daily preaching the gospel to ourselves, that is, reminding ourselves of the truths of the gospel. We remember by daily saturating our hearts and minds in God’s Word, so that God’s ways become our “default” ways of thinking and living. We remember by talking with each other, reminding each other of his works day by day. Indeed, the joy of God’s people comes in remembering his faithfulness.
Thanksgiving Begets Joy
Finally, we learn from this passage, most specifically, that joy comes with thankfulness. The focus on God and the remembrance of God happened in a certain way: with hearts of thankfulness to God. God’s people were celebrating the dedication of the wall “with thanksgiving” (Neh. 12:27). As they remembered what God had done, they responded: they lifted up their hearts and offered him thanksgiving. The choirs are described as companies “that gave thanks” (v. 31)—one word in Hebrew. In other words, one “thanksgiving” went to the north and the other “thanksgiving” went to the south. The choirs were the very embodiment of what they sang: thanksgiving. Thankfulness fosters joy.
If the people of God in Jerusalem were consumed by thankfulness, how much more ought that be true for us who live on this side of the cross? How much more ought that be true for us who know God’s faithfulness in the Lord Jesus Christ? Indeed, the joy of God’s people comes with thankfulness.
You don’t have to tell a bride on her wedding day, you don’t have to tell a new parent who looks at a newborn baby, and you don’t have to tell a child with a big bowl of ice cream to rejoice.
And you didn’t have to tell the people of God in Jerusalem to rejoice with great joy. They just did, because God had made them rejoice: they were God’s people, gathered together in his presence with a joy that was God-centered, full of remembering God’s faithful works, and overflowing with thanksgiving offered back to him.
And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away. (Neh. 12:43)
This article was adapted from God's Word, Our Story: Learning from the Book of Nehemiah edited by D. A. Carson and Kathleen Nielson.
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