And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.
Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8: 9-12
So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”
The children of Israel were making their way back to the land of the living. Their exile is behind them, and it was time to rebuild and rededicate their city and their hearts to God. The great wall of the city of Jerusalem had just been completed and now the focus shifts to the people of God’s holy city. This was the Feast of the Tabernacles, a time for great joy and celebration, and Ezra was leading the march by holding a big ol’ Bible conference if you will, a revival of sorts. He fashioned a platform in the city square for the Word and the Law to be read for hours a day. When the people heard it, they stood up (v.5). They sought desperately to understand it (v.2-3) and they rejoiced greatly when their hearts received the truth (v. 12).
Sometimes though, when we hear these words of the law, it isn’t all smiles and praise hands is it? Verse 9 says that all the people wept when they heard God’s law being read to them.
The words are too hard. Obedience to them is impossible. It’s oppressive. It’s narrow.
There are many who feel this way about God’s Word. We don’t know where to begin. It seems entirely too narrow and too heavy… who needs more lists and formulas to deal with? Not the Israelites. These people are coming off years and years of captivity and learning lessons the hard way.
Enter Ezra. Enter Nehemiah. Enter the Levites. Enter the people who “gave the sense and helped them understand the reading…” (v. 8)
See, once we understand that the word and the law is given for our freedom and our protection, things turn quickly from weeping to rejoicing.
What did these teachers and leaders say to them?
Go your way.
Eat the fat.
Drink the sweet.
Help those in need.
In one verse, joy is restored. It is restored because the people finally understood and took to heart what was required of them, and it wasn’t oppressive or painful. When we “go our way” we find out our place and our purpose. Notice it doesn’t say “go your OWN way”like the Fleetwood Mac song, it says that we go our way. A way set apart for us, a path that is ours to take, set before us by God who loves us and has a perfect will for us. We are able to enjoy life, pour out to others and be filled by God.
The joy is restored all because the people finally understood the words that were declared to them.
There’s a lot of talk about walls these days. Building them up. Tearing them down. There’s so very much mourning and weeping and complaining. People running in circles flailing about yelling that the sky is falling… if not literally, most definitely spiritually and emotionally. The Israelites were mocked endlessly for the wall they built. They were intimidated and threatened. They worked anyway.
We all have our work to do, but it cannot be accomplished if we sit around mourning, weeping and complaining.
If only we understood the words that have been declared over us. Words of life and not death. Words of encouragement and not defeat. Words of promise and not doom.
We don’t have an Ezra or a Nehemiah or Levite priests, we have something far better. The Holy Spirit guiding and leading us into all truth (John 16:13).
Take time to investigate all that truth. Soak it in. Make it personal, because it most certainly is meant for each of us in the deepest part of our hearts.
Rejoice greatly in it, just as the Israelites did. There is a sweetness to everyday life that comes when we do. Give His Words a chance to be the very joy and strength that changes your mourning into rejoicing.