"Today is a holy day to the Lord, don't be sad,
because the joy of the Lord will make you strong"
A Plate of ExperiencesS
SITUATION Nehemiah and Ezra assembled the people in Jerusalem to here the Law of Moses. Many wept when they realized how disobedient they had been. The assembly became a festive time when the people reclaimed their legacy as God's chosen people.
OBSERVATION Nehemiah not only encouraged the people to consider the day sacred but also to rejoice in the Lord, their source of strength. They could seek God's holiness and be joyful at the same time.
INSPIRATION Last night during family devotions, I called my daughters to the table and set a plate in front of each. In the center of the table I placed a collection of food: some fruit, some raw vegetables, and some Oreo cookies. "Every day," I explained, "God prepares for us a plate of experiences. What kind of plate do you most enjoy?"
The answer was easy. Sara put three cookies on her plate. Some days are like that, aren't they? Some day are "three cookie days." Many are not. Sometimes our plate have nothing but vegetables--twenty-four hours of celery, carrots, and squash. Apparently God knows we need some strength, and though the portion may be hard to swallow, isn't it for our own good? Most days, however, we have a bit of it all. Vegetables, which are healthy but dull. Fruit, which tastes better and we enjoy. And even an Oreo, which does little for our nutrition, but a lot for our attitude.
All are important and all are from God. "We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). We, like Paul, must learn the "secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough. I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength" (Philippians 4:12). (From The Great House of God by Max Lucado)
APPLICATION Seek to be holy as God is holy, and there find true inner joy. Are you a joyful Christian or a grumpy one? If you are the latter, see if there is something that is keeping you from the joy that the Holy Spirit would like you to experience. Ask God for contentment and joy in the midst of life's experiences.
EXPLORATION Joy - John 15:1-11; Romans 14:17, Galatians 5:22-23; James 1:2-3; 1 John 1:1-4.
SCRIPTURE READING NEHEMIAH 8: 9-18
"Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher, and the Levites who were teaching said to all the people, "This is a holy day to the Lord your God. Don't be sad or cry." All the people had been crying as they listened to the words of the Teachings.
Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy good food and sweet drinks. Send some to people who have none, because today is a holy day to the Lord. Don't be sad, because the joy of the Lord will make you strong."
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send some of their food to others, and to celebrate with great joy. They finally understood what they had been taught.
On the second day of the month, the leaders of all the families, the priests, and the Levites met with Ezra the teacher. They gathered to study the words of the Teachings. This is what they found written in the Teachings: The Lord commanded through Moses that the people of Israel were to live in shelters during the feast of the seventh month. The people were supposed to preach this message and spread it through all their towns and in Jerusalem: "Go out into the mountains, and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, myrtle trees, palms, and shade trees. Make shelters with them, as it is written."
So the people went out and got tree branches. They built shelters on their roofs, in their courtyards, in the courtyards of the Temple, in the square by the Water Gate, and in the square next to the Gate of Ephraim. The whole group that had come back from captivity built shelters and lived in them. The Israelites had not done this since the time of Joshua son of Nun. And they were very happy.
Ezra read to them every day from the Book of the Teachings, from the first day to the last. The people of Israel celebrated the feast for seven days, and then on the eighth day the people gathered as the law said. "
BIBLE STUDY NOTES:
During the Seven Day Feast of Tabernacles, the Hebrew people lived in booths made of branches. This practice was instituted as reminder to the people of their rescue from Egypt and the time spent in shelters in the desert (Leviticus 23:43). They were to think about God protection and guidance during their years of wandering and the fact that God would still protect them and guide them if they obeyed him. This was a time to remember their origins, where they came from. It is helpful to remember our beginnings in order to appreciate where we are today. Think back on your life to see where God has led you. Then thank God for his continuing work to protect you and provide for your needs. ( Nehemiah 8:14-17 NIV)
Personal comment: Today is Pentacost and it was on Pentacost that the Holy Spirit arrived. If you would like to learn more about this Holy Day please read Acts Chapter 2.
The Devotional Bible - Experiencing the Heart of Jesus, Max Lucado General Editor, New Century Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers; NIV Life Application Bible Study Notes, Nehemiah 8: 14-17; Zondervan Press