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Posted By Nan

Esther 8

The story of Esther is a fascinating one. This young woman lived in Babylon during the years of exile. It is important to note that even in exile the people were watched over by God. In the story of Esther there are enemies of the Jews who resent the exalted positions and ear of the rules of Babylon they held. They wanted to destroy the Jews. The enemy of the Jews set out to do this when a young Jewish woman, Esther, had been taken into the court as the wife of the King. She was asked to intervene. It wasn’t that simple a matter. She couldn’t just walk up to the King and talk to him. She had to wait until he summoned her. She could risk hanging around waiting for him to notice and invite her in, but there were no guarantees. The entire population in exile were asked to fast and pray to God for the success of Esther’s mission. This the people faithfully did. The end result was that the enemies of the people were killed and the people became wealthy and influential. So great was their wealth that the other people of Babylon feared them and many became Jews because of this fear.
The end result for the people was that there was great joy, happiness, gladness and honour.
It is always good to see happiness, gladness and joy separated. It sometimes seems that they are just the same word for the same emotion. This section separates the three words out to emphasise their difference.
Looking at the definitions of the three words it is possible to separate them out. In the Bible dictionary, Joy is described as a gift of God, the fruit of the Spirit, a result of deep fellowship with God. Joy is described by Paul as being the outcome of suffering and sorrow for Jesus’ sake. Joy is a dynamic gift of the Holy Spirit and it derives from love. In the Old Testament joy is associated with the fullness of God’s salvation and the anticipation of the future with God. It is seen as something individual and corporate. So Joy has a depth that is far from the superficiality of the transient emotions of happiness and gladness. Joy is not dependent on what is happening in our lives.
Happiness is described as being a positive emotion that includes the feeling of subjective well being. It is accompanied by a sense of positive well being and that life is good. Gladness is described as feeling pleasure, being delighted and pleased.
So in this passage, the people felt joy, happiness and gladness as well as feeling honoured at the exalted position they found themselves in. This exalted position they knew was the result of God’s intervention. They had spent many months fasting and praying for God to intervene and now they saw the result of their dedication. Joy would have been a natural offshoot of their fasting and praying because when we spend a lot of time with God we feel more joy.
Even in the period of exile in Babylon, the people were able to experience Joy as a result of their relationship with God.

Posted By Nan

Nehemiah 12:27-43

This section relates the celebrations that occurred at the dedication of the new wall around Jerusalem. It details how the people came and there were professional musicians providing song and music celebrating God’s provision in the completion of the new city wall. The verse that really stands out here is verse 43. It details how the people rejoiced because God had given them great joy.
God gave the people Joy. Like faith, joy is a gift from God. If you read Galatians 5:22 there is the list of the fruit of the Spirit with joy as the second fruit. In times of great trial, when you are hemmed in and overwhelmed, when depression sets in and you wonder whether God wants to help you, it is hard to find the fruit of the spirit. At those times, all those devotionals that speak of becoming less, so Jesus can become more, and submitting to God and rejoicing in all circumstances, are more likely to make you feel either totally useless because you don’t feel that way or want to throw something or say something rude to the person spouting those platitudes.
The truth is none of us know why those bad times come. Sometimes we have drifted away from knowing God for various reasons. I cited one reason in my previous blog where I spoke of religious groups that make conforming to human created social structure of the group so important that knowing God is missed. There are other reasons. Many other reasons. Sometimes being in that dark place is where God has us for reasons we don’t understand. Sometimes it is hard finding God in those dark places and a determined clinging to faith and reciting truths from the Bible does not help. Sometimes you can look at Galatians 5:22 and wonder when those fruits of the Spirit may come to you because you don’t have them all. It is often in those times that joy seems to be particularly absent.
Maybe we are not supposed to experience all the fruits of the Spirit all the time. Maybe we experience them all the time in ways we don’t expect. Maybe Joy does not always feel so joyous. Maybe it is that quiet confidence in God that Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians 4:7. Maybe the extremely happy and joyous type of Joy is something we only experience sometimes. Maybe there is a time for us to feel more sober, more concerned about the ways of the world (see Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
There are those who believe you have to be joyous all the time. If you are not, then you are being punished by God. I don’t believe that. I believe God gives us Joy when we need it. I believe it is unrealistic to expect to feel Joy all the time. I believe we sometimes go through dark times. There are instances in the New Testament where Jesus was sad, not joyous. Times when Jesus felt pain. One of the most cited is the story of Lazarus (John 11). Lazarus died. Jesus wept. Even though He knew He would be raising Lazarus from death, He was still sad at Lazarus’s death. His reaction was an example to all of us of the need to honour those we love with grief. Of the fact that life is not always about being happy. If you read about Jesus’ final hours in the Garden of Gethsemane, you can see the truth of that. Sometimes we don’t feel joy.
If you are going through a period where Joy is a distant memory rest assured your time to experience Joy will come. For now, trust God and rest in His love.

Posted By Nan

Nehemiah 8:13-18

Coming back to God is the best way to describe this section. The people had forgotten what God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt and preparing them in the desert. They had forgotten the forty years their ancestors had wandered in the desert while they came to know God. The God they had largely forgotten during their time living in Egypt. The people leaving Egypt. The people returning from exile. They had lost touch with God. They no longer knew Him. This is as true today as it was then. We get caught up in society’s rules and the pressures of belonging to a group and conforming to the group, including not acknowledging (or being allowed to acknowledge) wrongdoing on the part of some group members. We get caught up in the ways people avoid taking responsibility and cover up for it. We get caught up in behaviours we don’t understand have nothing to do with God and everything to do with avoidance of responsibility, controlling behaviours and ignoring God. We get caught up in the desire to do it all ourselves and not wait for God. We get caught up in not liking where God leads us and deciding our way is better. We get caught up as individuals and as a group. We get so caught up in organising our lives the way that suits us that we forget that is not how we should lead our lives. We allow God to organise our lives the way He wills, no matter how awful that may seem, no matter how far from what we have decided we want it is. We stop asking God. We cling to traditions that have nothing to do with God. We forget to ask God. We start allowing traditions and beliefs that are generated by humans, not God. As time goes on, we don’t even notice we have stopped communicating with God. We don’t realise we don’t know God anymore. We are caught up in our religious practices and carefully planned music programs designed to give us a buzz to think we have the anointing of the spirit. We don’t even know what it feels like anymore to truly worship God. To know God.
This is what happened to the people returning from exile. They had generations of not truly knowing God. Much as many in the churches have today. They did not know or did not care that they didn’t know God. They had their practices and they made them feel safe. But it brought them emptiness and despair in exile.
Now God had allowed this remnant to return. They heard, probably for the first time, the word of God. The listened hungrily to God’s words. They celebrated the festivals decreed by God that remembered what God had done for their ancestors. That reminded them why they should worship God. They immersed themselves in listening to God’s word and thinking about it. And the most wonderful thing happened. They experienced true Joy. God’s joy.
God’s Joy is there for us all. When we truly know Him and acknowledge Him, then we can truly experience Joy.

Posted By Nan

Nehemiah 8:12

This verse follows on from those covered in my previous blog. The people have been told to not grieve or cry. They have been told this day, this time of reading the Law of Moses is a sacred time. This day set aside for God is sacred.
The verse notes that the people went away and celebrated with great Joy because they understood the words that had been made know to them.
The people heard Ezra read the Law of Moses and the Levites were there to explain those words to them.
Now the people understood God’s word. Now they understood what was expected of them. Now they understood God and His plan for their lives. Because they now understood they felt great Joy.
We need to read the Bible. We need to understand it. This does not mean every person who explains it is correct. Note for the people in this verse the Levites had consecrated themselves to God. They had spent time focusing on God and His word. They had opened themselves to the direction of the Holy Spirit to give them the insight to know how to explain the practical aspects of God’s word to the people.
Remember, it is important we know how to apply God’s word in our lives.
Remember when you read the Bible to pay attention to the context of the book you are reading. Read verses around the one you are focusing on. It is important to understand what was happening at the time, what was being spoken about and how the verse fits into that context. Read the passage in other versions of the Bible. Don’t rely on one translation. Then ask God for insight. Pray about the verses.
Remember when you aim to understand a Bible verse, God may give you a meaning to that verse that others do not share. That does not mean you are wrong. It means God has a different meaning for you. Also remember that the next time you read this verse, God may give you another meaning to it. The Bible is the living word and its nuances are only felt with regular reading and the passage of time.

Posted By Nan

Nehemiah 8:1-11

Nehemiah was appointed governor over Judah. As we saw in the verses in Ezra. Ezra was appointed the priest and scribe. The Levites reconsecrated themselves to service to God. All these men are present in the verses here.
The people have gathered in the square before the water gate and asked Ezra to read to them the Law of Moses. After so long, the people want to hear God’s instructions. There is some debate about what exactly Ezra read, but it took all morning so may well have been the entire Torah.
The Levites were also present to instruct the people on the meaning of Ezra’s words.
It is likely the people wept at hearing the words convicting them of turning their backs on God. Convicting their ancestors of turning their backs on God. The collective guilt of the people of Israel weighted heavily on these people. And they needed to feel that guilt. They needed to realise their need for repentance. They needed to realise how great God is. They needed to realise how much they needed to turn to God. So they wept at their sin and they mourned for what had been done against God.
Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites told the people not to mourn or weep. Instead they were told to mark this day as sacred to God. They were to celebrate with food and drink. They were to focus on the Joy of God being their strength.
There are two points in verse 10 that are important here. The first is that the day was marked as being sacred to God. As part of that sacredness, the people were to celebrate and experience joy. Our response to God should be one of knowing we are in a sacred place. And that sacred place is a source of joy.
The other point is that the joy God gives us is our strength. No matter how awful life is, God gives us Joy. As I have said earlier, Joy is not happiness. It runs deeper than that and is able to be felt even when we aren’t happy.
Over the past few months I have been grieving some inexplicable break in relationships between some family members and me. This has been devastating and I have struggled with deep depression and grief at these events. I don’t know what the future holds with these relationships. God has his plans and these breaches are part of the journey of those family members. All I can do is hand it to God and trust Him for the outcome. And I have to accept that these relationships may not mend this side of heaven.
Through all this I have endeavoured to feel God’s Joy. That hasn’t always been easy, but I know that Joy is from God and is not dependant on my circumstances. I have treasured the moments God has poured His joy on me.
Joy is about God. It is sacred. It honours God.
I can still feel depressed and sad. But I can also feel the Joy of God.



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