Home > Miscellaneous > “Do not mourn or weep” (Nehemiah 8:1-12)

“Do not mourn or weep” (Nehemiah 8:1-12)

Here’s a link to the passage in question. I’m going to abbreviate my interpretation even more this time. So much stuff goes through my head and I just want to exegete and interpret everything… blibbity blah… Let’s do this.

The book of Nehemiah is the story of an Israelite after the Israelites were pretty much completely in a foreign land, under a foreign ruler, with their homeland in ruins. This bold soul stuck his neck out before the King Artaxerxes and YHWH moved and convinced the uber-powerful Artaxerxes to allow Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to rebuild it, along with a group of others, and the King funded the trip. It’s a pretty cool story. Well, in the process of this rebuilding, Ezra the scribe (whose book represents a time period just prior to the book of Nehemiah and progresses so that the events of Ezra and Nehemiah chronologically intertwine) reads the Book of the Law (Torah) to the Israelite people gathered together in Jerusalem. This was the first time many of them had heard the Book spoken. When exiled, the Jews were scattered and massive gatherings together were rendered impossible. There weren’t mass productions of the book, nor could many of them read anyway. So, hearing the Law was a really big deal.

As Ezra opened the book, everyone stood up and then engaged in worshipping God. They were so grateful to have the chance to hear the words of the Book of the Law that surely they had heard of, but had not heard extensively, ever. They valued the words more because of its absence. With the prevalence of the Bible everywhere, we don’t get the chance for its absence and so we begin to take it for granted and we become familiar with it enough that we expect that we know most of what is in it, most of what it says, and most of what it means. And we miss out on its power. We miss out on experiences like the Israelites had because of our presumptions about what it says.

Being without the Law, though certainly negatively affecting the lives of the people, allowed them to hear its words with fresh ears and process them with a fresh mind. As the Levites read the Law to them, translating it and explaining the meaning of its words when necessary, the people got it. Their souls understood it and the contrast between how they had been living and how the doting Father of Israel command them to live became clear. And they wept (8:9). It’s the natural response to emotionally perceiving this dichotomy. God would not let them continue in their sorrows though. Tears are okay, but this is the party God who never seems to let a good act of repentance and humility go uncelebrated.

The story plays out much like James exhortation to the Church (James 4:8-10). The day was declared sacred and apparently sacred days aren’t days for tears (8:9). They are God’s days and though He is acquainted with sorrow and understands our grief, He can’t stand to see us cry on account of Him for long. This sacred day, the day when the Israelites realized the extent of their sinfulness, was not a day for mourning, but one for enjoying “choice food and sweet drinks” and sharing these good things with eachother (8:10). They were not to grieve because ” the joy of the Lord is [their] strength” (8:10). It’s such an awesome picture. The strength described here is not the strength to get them through hard times of oppression, times of relational difficulty, hard economic times, or any sort of external struggle, but it is the strength to keep them empowered through this time of revelation, confession, repentance, and pain from their own sin. The joy of God is big enough to overpower emotions of shame and sorrow over our sins. It’s sizable enough to turn mourning into celebration.

God couldn’t be better. He couldn’t be less condemning. He couldn’t be more open armed to those who turn their face toward him. He couldn’t be more loving. He couldn’t be more humble toward us. He couldn’t be more merciful. He graciously gives all good things, like overpowering joy, to those who love Him because of His actively merciful pursuit of us (Romans 8:32).

Sometimes, as we go through life, we’re doing these completely wrong. And we don’t know what we are missing out on because we don’t have a voice of truth speaking into us. Or we don’t believe the truth spoken. We have dulled minds that don’t see the Words of our Lord for what they are and rutted habitual lives that don’t change easily. Humble yourself. Let’s humble ourselves. Let’s look at the Word of God with eyes that see and ears that hear. Let us test ourselves (Galations 6) and “watch our lives and docrine closely, persevering in them” (1 timothy 4:16). Let’s take an honest look at our lives and compare them to the Scriptures. Are they like a living word of God? Are our lives like a manifestation of God’s commands? Look freshly, humble yourself, and you’ll see that it is not. Turn to God in downcast humility and be amazed and awed as the joy of the Lord lifts you up and gives you strength to confess, repent, and transform.

Adoring Daddy, give us joy and strength. Bless us with Your voice and its truth. Fill us with Your Spirit that our lives might be a proclamation to the nations about what You have done. May we rejoice and praise You as we read your words and commandments. May we discover them anew and find them precious and beautiful. Teach us humility. Fill our hearts with gratefulness. May we see how great Your love is. May repentance always lead us to the joy of the Lord. Teach us to party.

Categories: Miscellaneous
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