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Archive for November 3rd, 2021


joyWednesday, November 3, 2021

Nehemiah 8

Joy and the Law

We continue through the Old Testament looking for stories of joy that might surprise us. If today’s story calls you to search further, click on the word Joy in the categories cloud in the blog’s right hand sidebar and choose a reflection, or enter the word Joy in the blog search bar. You may also want to visit the Joy for the Journey blog at www.joyforthee.blogspot.com to see how joy surprises you there. Today our story is taken from the Book of Nehemiah.

The priest Ezra and the organizer Nehemiah bring the faithful back to Jerusalem to rebuild the, city, the temple and their relationship with Yahweh. The faithful find it in themselves to ask forgiveness, to ponder their recklessness and abandon. Yahweh receives the faithful with loving forgiveness. For Yahweh has been waiting with open arms all along their journey home.

We might find it difficult to understand what The Law really is, and last winter we spent a number of weeks reflecting with Psalm 119. In this series, we found a variety of ways in which we are called to perceive the concepts in the Mosaic Law and in the end we determined that this psalm – the longest Chapter in scripture – is actually an exchange of love letters between God the Creator and us, God’s creatures. This is what the stories in Nehemiah call us to today.

Nehemiah 8:9-10: And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and 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 or 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 and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 12:43: They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

What is this law that brings the faithful back to God?

images-joy-redAleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth, He . . . the first five letters in the Hebrew alphabet and the opening stanzas of this prayer of the Law. These letters bring us the understanding that we are made in God’s image of mercy, forgiveness and love. This is God’s promise.

Waw, Azyin, Heth, Teth, Yodh . . . the second five letters bring home to us the idea of trusting God beyond all others and all else. We also come to understand that joy is always somewhere hidden in sorrow. This is our portion.

Kaph, Lamed, Mem Nun, Samekh . . . kindness, transformation, dedication, insight, promise. These are the gifts we receive when we contemplate God’s law. These are the gifts that often only come through strife and contention. God promises that despite our portion of suffering, there will always be great joy. This is our call.

Ayin, Pe, Sadhe, Qoph, Resh . . . discernment, serenity, freedom, discipleship, eternal life. Once we begin to live in God’s Way rather than our own, we understand how and why we are Children of God. We understand that we are most free when we give ourselves over to God. We understand that we must die to self before we experience eternal life. This is our rescue.

psalm-119-32Shin and Taw . . . the Law of Love arrives when the creator comes to walk among us as a man of flesh and bone. We are marked with the sign of Tau, claimed as God’s own. When we journey through and with God’s Law we begin to experience transformation. This is our redemption and our own resurrection from the life of the dead.

If we struggle to find how God’s Law brings more freedom and not less, we might spend time with this story. If we balk at the lesson that we must die in order to rise, we might spend time with this Psalm. Ezra and the Levites teach the people. Nehemiah organizes the work. Together these leaders and these people enact God’s Law. Together these leaders and these people find rejoicing in what had once been a great sorrow.


To investigate God’s Law in these stanzas, enter Psalm 119 in the blog search bar.

To learn more about Ezra and Nehemiah, spend time with the stories in these two books. Enter their names in the blog search bar and explore. Click on the images for other reflections. Or use the scripture link to compare different Bible versions of these verses. 

Images from: http://dwellingintheword.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/944-psalm-11925-56/ and http://jennyrain.com/2011/09/gitzentats-you-create-choose-joy/

For more about anxiety and joy, click on the image above or visit: http://riselikeair.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/anxiety-joy-a-journey/

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