The meaning of the phrase “the joy of the Lord is my strength” has to do with how we should respond to God’s grace when we realize our sins. This verse has inspired many songs but very little study has been done on it. In this post we look at the big picture of what was happening at the time this statement was made.
Let’s jump in.
What Psalm is the joy of the Lord is my strength?
Although it sounds very much like a Psalm, this verse is actually found in the book of Nehemiah.
Also, the phrase is a part of Nehemiah 8:10.
The joy of the Lord is my strength meaning in context
The book of Nehemiah records history. During the life of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, the Israelites were warned multiple times about their stubbornness and disobedience.
Through these prophets, God told the nation that because of their sinful and unrepentant lives, they would be sent into exile.
But, the period of exile would be for a limited time. After that, God would do a new thing.
In Nehemiah we learn about the beginnings of that post-exile life.
Two major things happened after the exile. First, the temple was rebuilt and, second, the wall around Jerusalem was rebuilt. Nehemiah was specifically in charge of the rebuilding of the wall.
Nehemiah chapter 8 covers some happenings after the wall was finished. The people had come together for the reading of the law. It was the day of the Feast of Trumpets, a joyous occasion.
Because they had been exiled, they had not heard the Word of God being read in decades. They had forgotten much of what God had required of them.
Ezra was the priest. That day, after the wall was finished, Ezra read the law from early morning until midday. As it was read, it was also explained to the Israelites so they could get a clear understanding.
As the people listened and understood what was written in God’s Word, they were being convicted of sin. They began to mourn and weep because they had failed miserably in obeying the Word of God.
Nehemiah 8:10 records the response from Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites to the weeping Israelites.
Now that we have the background of this verse, let’s explore it deeper.
The joy of the Lord is my strength explained
The phrase is only the very last part of the verse in Nehemiah 8:10. To get the a little bigger picture, let’s look at the entire 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.”
You should probably read the entire chapter to get the full picture.
What is the meaning of the joy of the Lord?
Nehemiah said, “This day is holy to our Lord “. After the rebuilding of the walls, this particular day on which the law was read should have been one of joy and celebration for what they had accomplished.
Remember, it was the day of the Feast of Trumpets. They should have been eating, drinking, making music, and enjoying some good old Jewish dancing.
Instead, as the people realized how far they had strayed from God’s law, their hearts fell. The day of celebration began to turn into a day of mourning.
They should have been feasting. But who has an appetite when they are sorrowful and weeping?
Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites were trying to call the people away from the sadness that had descended on them.
These leaders in Israel wanted the people to know that now that they had a renewed and refreshed understanding of God’s law, this new knowledge should be a reason to rejoice.
Because this refreshed understanding also should bring with it reminders of God’s grace towards both them and their ancestors.
Although they had fallen woefully short, God had still loved them with an everlasting love and had sustained them all through the decades when they strayed. This is the “joy of the Lord”.
To understand this phrase more, we have to understand the word strength in the verse.
Let’s examine that word.
What does my strength mean in the Bible?
The word strength in Nehemiah 8:10 should not be taken at face value. Strength, in this context, is the Hebrew word moaz. It means “protection”, “place or means of safety”, “refuge”.
The word carries the idea of someone being in danger and in need of a place to hide.
God’s law is sometimes very challenging for us because it cuts right to the heart of those things we struggle with. It reminds us that we constantly fail at meeting God’s standards.
But, that’s why God provided us with grace. The beauty of living under God’s grace is our strength.
Let me explain further.
How is the joy of the Lord my strength?
You see, God’s grace allows us to access God’s continued favor over our lives, even though we do not deserve it.
That favor is our strength, our protection, our refuge and hiding place from the judgment that we really do deserve.
In short, the bad news is that we will always fail and disappoint God. But the good news is that God’s grace will never run out in handling our failures and shortcomings.
God’s law brings judgment but God’s grace brings pardon and protection from that judgment, every single day.
When you think about this fact, your heart should be doing cartwheels!
Being identified with the God of heaven allows you to experience joy and gladness because you know you are living under his protection and grace, not under his judgment.
The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. Psalm 28:8 ESV
How can I make the joy of the Lord my strength?
The ideas expressed in this verse might not be new to you. They are not new to me either. But I have found that too many of us Christians struggle to live out this truth in our daily lives.
Here are four practical tips that I hope can help to make Nehemiah 8:10 a reality in your life.
Move away from a state of permanent guilt
Say you have been guilty of fornication (just as an example). You have already repented. You are truly sorry and have turned away completely from that way of living.
You go to church and the preacher is speaking against fornication. And you begin to feel guilty about it all over again.
No, no, no!
You have already repented. God has already forgiven you. This point in the sermon should be an opportunity of rejoicing.
Because it should only remind you of how God delivered you from a life of sin! How He picked you up, cleaned you up, and set you up!
You no longer need to walk around feeling guilty-ridden.
There was a time for repentance. You had that season. And that season is over. There is a time for every season:
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance… (Ecclesiates 3:4 ESV)
This is now the time to rejoice.
Stop rehearsing your regrets
There is not an adult living who does not have regrets. We’ve all made decisions that we wished we had never even considered in the first place. We’ve all made mistakes.
But, can I tell you that talking about those mistakes over and over and over does not make God happy?
God isn’t rehearsing the mistakes you have made nor is He desiring that you live in a cycle of regret.
God isn’t in that place where we wallow in regret and hold ourselves hostage. It is not a place of rejoicing at all.
Consider these two verses:
He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:19 ESV
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13 – 14 ESV
Rejoice if the pure Word of God still convicts and converts you
Nowadays, it is not fashionable to teach and preach about sin. There is a pull towards the parts of Scripture that are only inspiring, uplifting and encouraging.
But the parts of Scripture that call out sin go untouched. There is a problem when people are asked to repent and change so they can align with God’s Word.
And when appeals are made for people to turn from things that God does not approve of, people become angry, rebellious, and stubborn.
The Bible refers to these responses as the hardening of the heart.
If when the Word of God lands on your heart, you are moved, that’s something to rejoice about.
If your attitude is one of submission to Scripture, rejoice. If you feel your daily need for Jesus and a deep need to have Him change your heart, rejoice.
Your heart is like the fourth soil that Jesus talks about in the parable of the sower. He calls your heart good soil.
Say a prayer of Thanksgiving to God for having kept your heart soft and responsive to Him and His will and Word.
Celebrate your spiritual victories
The entire verse of Nehemiah 8:10 is about moving away from mourning and celebrating a spiritual victory.
The Israelites had demonstrated the appropriate response to the awareness of sins: repentance. But the season of repentance need not continue forever as I have said.
Following their repentance, they were instructed to celebrate the feast that day. They were to “enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared”.
God wants you to express your joy externally. He approves of a party to celebrate the new spiritual victory you have experienced.
We celebrate new babies, new degrees, new cars, and new houses.
Well, spiritual victories should be on that list of things to celebrate.
Call some friends, share your testimony and invite them to a celebratory dinner. It could be a potluck.
Or, you can take yourself out to dinner. Have the best three or four course meal that you can afford.
Or cook yourself a spread, make plates for a few people, take it to them and share the story of your testimony as you hand over your gift of food.
The joy of the Lord is my strength verses
The joy of the Lord is my strength verse KJV
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.
The joy of the Lord is my strength verse NIV
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.”
Final words on “the joy of the Lord is my strength” meaning
It is my prayer that this verse came alive to you. I also hope that you have decided to have a celebratory feast of some sort in the true spirit of Christian fellowship with God and others.
God has big plans for us. He wants us to be sorry for our sins but He does not want us to waste time being bugged down by sorrow.
We must get up, brush ourselves off and get going. There is still purpose for us to pursue, by God’s grace.