And Nehemiah, who was the governor, 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 nor 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, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."Nehemiah 8:9-10
We have been going through the book of Nehemiah at our church and when I got to this portion of the text, I asked the Lord why Nehemiah told the people of God not to sorrow. After all, when the Word of God discovers the areas where we have fallen short of His glory, we should be sorry. It's what sparks genuine repentance. So why did Nehemiah, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, say, "Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength"?
One reason might be discovered in verse 2, it was "the first day of the seventh month," the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teru'ah) also known as Rosh Hashanah which is a joyous celebration. That is a very valid point and certainly could be the reason. However, I felt the Lord prompting me to dig a little deeper, and when I did, I discovered in the Hebrew text, another possible reason too. Let me show you what I mean.
Returning to God's Presence and Comfort
In Hebrew, "repentance" is represented by two words shuv which means: to return, to turn back (Strong's #7725) and nacham which means: to feel sorrow, to be sorry (Strong's #5162). Through this, we can see that hearing the Word of God spoken was doing what it was supposed to do. They were sorry that their choices led them away from the Lord, and thus, they wanted to return to Him. That's great! What's the problem Nehemiah?
The problem is that neither of the words for Biblical repentance (shuv or nacham) are in used in Nehemiah 8:10, "Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." The word for "sorrow" used in this text is 'atsab and means: to hurt, to be in pain (Strong's #6087). It is a word that expresses a physical and emotional pain that is like torture.
Beloved, Biblical repentance brings returning to God's presence and comfort, not torture. You see, nacham doesn't just mean to be sorry but it also means: to comfort, console, extend compassion. You see nacham used this way in the beloved Psalm 23:4: "...Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." To David the Lord's rod and staff, symbols of correction and protection, were a comfort (nacham) to him.
Nehemiah might have been sensitive to what the people were experiencing because his name comes from the nacham. His name means: "Jehovah comforts". That is the key component to all this that we can't miss. Conviction is an invitation to true change as we discover our heavenly Father isn't repulsed by our failure but rather rejoices in our return.
Our Father's Arms
Jesus left us a beautiful picture of what this looks like in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. In this parable, Jesus teaches us of a son who left his home and squandered all that he had on wasteful, foolish living. This beloved son sunk to the lowest of low and was keeping company with swine, a detestable animal in Jewish culture.
In verse 17 we read that the son "came to himself" which is an idiom that indicates repentance. He regretted his decisions and wanted to return home and ask his father to allow him to be a servant in his house since he was no longer worthy to be called a son.
Let's pick up the text at verse 20:
"And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against Heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry." Luke 15:20-24
Notice as soon as the father saw the son on the horizon, he ran to greet him. He didn't wait until the son made the long, painful journey back to his presence only to fall at his feet begging for forgiveness. No, the father ran to greet him and silenced the negative confession of not being worthy to be his son anymore with hugs and kisses.
No wonder why Nehemiah said, "Do not sorrow!" If we are so stuck in our shame and sorrow that we can't run into our Father's arms, we will stay in the pigpen forever. Beloved, God does not desire that our repentance be torturous. What He desires is to let the joy of the One who would rather die than live without us be our strength so that even in the middle of our sinful ways we can run to the throne of grace and receive what we need.
Yes, we are sinners but we are sinners that are loved regardless of our past. May the joy of the Lord be the strength we need to run to the Father's arms today. Amen and Amen.
Tiffany Ann Lewis is a prophetic worship leader and Bible teacher with a unique focus on Biblical Hebrew, and whose heart has been passionately awakened by a God who sees us in our shortcomings, loves us in spite of it all, and calls out to us so we can live (Ezekiel 16). Her vision is to create an atmosphere in worship where we can meet with God face-to-face, where the Spirit of God moves freely, releasing emotional, spiritual, and physical healing, and igniting a passion for our Heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus. Tiffany Ann has been ministering for over 15 years in the Body of Christ through worship and the Word. Her newest opportunity will be to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Biblical Hebrew at the Quest Bible Institute in Georgia where she is also a fully matriculated student enrolled in a graduate level Biblical/theological studies program at Quest Bible Institute and Seminary.
Tiffany and her husband Rodney have been married for more than twenty years and have one darling daughter, Ashley, a glorious granddaughter, Gloriana, and two precious pups that are also a part of their family.
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