December 19 – Day 19
Ornament – Wall or Watchtower
Three times the Jews were taken into captivity by Babylon. Then three times they were permitted to return to their homeland. The first group that exited exile were led by Zerrubbabel in 536 B.C. The second exodus was led by Ezra in 458 B.C. The third egress was led by Nehemiah in 444 B.C. All three passages came through the provision of Persia.
Each of the three leaders played a pivotal part in rebuilding the nation of Judah. Zerubbabel restored the foundations of the Temple. Ezra reignited worship. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah was a cup bearer or butler to King Artaxerxes of Persia. This meant he not only had access to the king, but also that he was a trusted advisor and high ranking Persian official. Though he was not allowed to approach the king with his own requests, Nehemiah found favor with the king. One day, the king noticed Nehemiah was not himself and asked after him.
Nehemiah had learned that the walls of Jerusalem were still in a state of ruin, more than a half century after the Temple was rebuilt. The temple and the walls were meant to be united in a nation founded on God’s covenant and steadfast love.
Nehemiah went to the foundation of his faith, coming before the Lord with prayer and fasting. When favor found him, he shared with the king why his heart was troubled. He told King Arataxerxes that he wanted to return to the city that his fathers built and were buried within and restore the walls. The king commissioned him to rebuild, saying it pleased him to do so because Nehemiah had served him so faithfully!
When Nehemiah arrived in Judah, the people within ruined walls were painfully passive. They had adapted to the culture around them. The remnant that returned, lost awe to apathy. They intermarried and formed political ties with surrounding nations. They had many sources of protection and provision, besides Pappa.
Nehemiah had a great gift of administration and character that called him to persevere. He led the people back to God and away from the practices of the people around them. It wasn’t enough to rebuild a wall; he needed to remind a people that they stood for God. Just as the wall would be the backbone of Judah, the physical city, Nehemiah sought to have the people be the testimony of the Temple.
Nehemiah noted that the people had become enemies of God, even as they cried out for God to protect them from the enemies that surrounded them. The people were angry about being exiled, though it was their choices that led them to captivity. Though the people had gone back to Judah, they had not returned.
A gathering of the people was called. Before them, Nehemiah reminded them that they were forgiven and returned to be restored. He invited them to rebuild with him, that the nations might know God was ever present. He was with them. Nehemiah divided the wall work into smaller projects while drawing the people together. Side by side, shoulder to shoulder, they would rebuild what sin destroyed. In the midst of stone and scaffold, Nehemiah led the people to renew their covenant with Pappa, for a physical wall rebuilt would quickly fall if not raised by those with rebuilt lives. They needed to live for the One they assembled the wall for.
Enemies inside Judah and those without, tried to thwart the work of Nehemiah and the people, but he would not take his eyes from the One he restored for. The greatest recovery came through prayer and sharing the testimony, again and again, of all God did when they prayed. He led the people to declare that God was their refuge, the only One who could keep them safe. Fear was replaced by faith, stone by stone. They began to live resurrected lives, fully free from bondage.
A people, near perishing, renovated their imaginations. No longer did they fear what the enemy could do, as they imagined with God, what He intended. A people, once afraid to rest, could dream with their God once more.
As they worked on the wall, their identities, value and the knowledge of who they truly were to their God were reinvented. Alongside one another, they didn’t learn one flesh, they became one.
Then he said to them, “Go eat rich food, drink sweet drinks, and send portions to those who can’t provide for themselves; for today is consecrated to our Lord. Don’t be sad, because the joy of Adonai is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
Nehemiah and the people were centered in celebration. The walls were woven. Tucked tenderly inside, they had just listened to the law, the love letter, translated by Ezra and his scribes, into languages they could all understand. They had lost their language, but love returned for them.
Nehemiah now implores the people to greet all that has been garnered with gratitude. Those of exile and exodus are called now to enjoy all the extravagance of their God. This was the great gift Nehemiah gave them. The knowledge that something more lay before them. Grief had been their gleaning, but joy would be their harvest.
He declares, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” to a people who just finished fortifying their stronghold with stone and mortar. Wasn’t that substance enough? No, for something stronger secured them!
The word Nehemiah used for “joy” is ‘chadah’. It is spelled chet-daleth-hei and suggests an open portal between heaven and earth that gives access to the presence of God. The meaning of ‘chadah’ is pleasure. Pleasure in His presence. His pleasure in our being present.
Nehemiah’s declaration was that they were now connected to the joy of the Lord and that joy was the pleasure Pappa had in being with them. Poised in the pleasure of Pappa is where Nehemiah felt strengthened, connected and secured.
Only one other time is the word ‘chadah’ used. The event is the return of the Ark, described in 1 Chronicles 16. It is monumental day for Israel. After the return, Davis composed a song exalting the Lord for His faithfulness. Not just His faithfulness, but His continued faithfulness. This anthem sews the story of God’s faithfulness throughout the history of His people. David declared that no power would ever defeat Pappa’s purposes or pillage His promises.
David used the word ‘chadah’. Generations later, when Nehemiah used this word for joy, he was recalling the song penned by David and sung over the Ark. This word reveals “joy” in a special sense. Or maybe it is the joy of our senses! It is meant to remind that what Pappa harkened in the past, continues to the present. This is historic, covenant joy, anchored for the ages.
In John 15:11, Jesus says:
“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
I love that Jesus said, “His joy,” not joy like His!
His joy is constant. It doesn’t wax and wane. He wielded it in sorrow and suffering. He carried it to feast and finish.
A favorite quote of mine is:
“If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.” Carlos Santana
Jesus lived that. He is that. I could never count how many of my moments He has healed with His joy. He is the source, sustenance and sufficiency of joy. And all are satiated.