What Does "the Joy of the Lord Is My Strength" Mean in the Bible?
- Meg Bucher Writer and Author
- 2019 5 Feb
“The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Though chosen, rescued, and promised, God’s people suffered through severe consequence for their continual rejection of Him and His covenant. Ezra read from God’s Word and recited His Law to the people (recorded in Nehemiah 8), and they were shattered by the vast disobedience and rebellion. “Their exile was severe, both in its brutality and how it burned into the minds and identity of the people. Who were they without the land, without the temple? How do they relate to God now? Was their special relationship also lost,” asks Rachel Gilson in her article on desiringGod.org.
Even still, God was willing to rebuild and restore His people. Gilson writes, “The day God reaffirmed to them that they were still his chosen people, and he was still their God. That is a joy that could impart strength.” His love leveled them then as it humbles us now, to consider the New Testament sacrifice of God’s only Son for our own personal restoration through salvation.
What Is the Joy of the Lord?
“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
The joy of the Lord is found on the road to restoration. God convicts us of sin, and often our first reaction is guilt and shame. But those feelings never come from God. Ezra the scribe gathered all the people. He read to them from God’s book and skilled ministers explained the words and their meaning to the people. Nehemiah 8:8 says, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
Once the people understood — really understood — they wept. God's Word was opening their eyes to the way they had failed Him, but Nehemiah was quick to remind them of who the Lord is. “They could delight in the joy of the Lord because he is a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate,” explains the NIV Quest Study Bible Notes.
What Does the Bible Say about Joy?
The original Hebrew for "joy" in Nehemiah 8:10 is "chedvah," meaning joy or gladness. The root word for joy in this context means to rejoice or to make glad. "Strength" in the same verse is a Hebrew word meaning “a place or means of safety, protection refuge, or stronghold.” The root word of strength means “to be strong, prevail; to make firm, strengthen.” The joy of the Lord is a constant gladness and cause to rejoice. It stems from an inner strengthening from our relationship with Him. When Jesus died for us, He restored us to a peace with God that cannot be undone. “Your joy rests on God’s joy,” Tony Reinke explains.
“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).
The above verse is part of Jesus’ prayer to the Father (NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible) and possibly Jesus’ longest prayer (NIV Study Bible Notes). Jesus experienced the fulfilling joy that stemmed from His Father’s strength, and wanted us to be filled and overflowing with it (John 15:11).
The living Word of God wastes no words. Jesus wasted no words on earth. For this to be His longest recorded prayer carries significant weight attached to the message He was delivering. ‘Fulfill’ in John 17:13 implies more than just filling to brim, as explained here. Jesus’ strength perfects our joy. The VOICE paraphrase of John 17:13 reads, “Now I am returning to You. I am speaking this prayer here in the created cosmos alongside friends and foes so that in hearing it they might be consumed with joy.” Biblical joy is the result of a Christ-prioritized life.
The First 15 devotional explains that “we have a great High Priest who constantly intercedes on our behalf. The Son of God and Man loves you more deeply than you can fathom. He prays for you, that you might walk in the abundant life his death affords you.”
What is the Biblical Context of Nehemiah 8:10?
“Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
The first “Lord” means “my lord of men or of God; a title spoken in place of Yahweh in Jewish display of reverence.” LORD, in all caps later in the verse, refers to the root of our joy, which strengthens us. It is the Hebrew word "Yehovah" (YHWH). Jehovah, the existing One. The proper name of the one true God. The root of ‘Yehovah’ is Hayah. Scattered throughout its definition are these phrases: “to be, become, come to pass, exist, happen, fall out; to happen; come to pass; arise; be established; be finished.”
We don’t just do things for the Lord, we live our lives in Him, with Him, and by His strength . . . to honor Him with the submission of our will for His. He is our strength. Nehemiah’s name means, “Yahweh has compassion.” Starting off as a cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah’s close proximity to the king eventually led to his leading the restoration of Jerusalem. Biblically, Nehemiah was illustrating the inward faith that we now know as a relationship with Christ, versus an outward expression in reverence to the Lord. He knew a true expression of worship came from a deeper motivation than outward appearance. In the same way, God forgives us on the same deep and intimate level. It doesn’t end at our heartfelt sacrifice and repentance. He ushers in true change and a heart shifted to the seat of joy. Joy from His strength erases guilt and shame …and the death we deserve for our sin.
What Is Nehemiah Trying to Tell Us about How We Should Live?
Nehemiah was not only concerned with rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He was passionate about restoring the hearts of the people. Just as we scroll through modern-day social media with the knowledge there is more to a life than what we are able to see, so Nehemiah knew true joy and restoration could only come from an inner strength provided by the Lord.
“They refused to obey and did not remember the miracles you had done for them. Instead, they became stubborn and appointed a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them” (Nehemiah 9:17).
Jewish ancient custom was to remember those less fortunate than oneself during feasts. Joy isn’t something we create, earn, or deserve. Though we have nothing to give, and no ability to stop sinning, Christ reached down . . . He came down and died for us. Like Nehemiah, we need a plan to reconstruct ourselves from the inside out. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross allows us the opportunity to come to the end of ourselves and submit our efforts to "fix" and "do" with His strength to carry out God’s purpose in our lives. Joy doesn’t just happen. It’s a product of a plan to restore our souls. An active choice to seek God’s wisdom in exchange for our own. Joy is a result of a disciplined, prioritized life guided by the Holy Spirit.
Where Else Does the Bible Talk about the Lord's Strength?
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13)
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29)
“The way of the LORD is a stronghold to those with integrity, but it destroys the wicked” (Proverbs 10:29)
“The LORD gives his people strength. He is a safe fortress for his anointed king” (Psalm 28:8)
“The LORD is my light and my salvation- so why should I be afraid? The LORD is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?” (Psalm 27:1).
“God is my strong fortress, and he makes my way perfect” (2 Samuel 22:33)
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30)
“But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
How You Can Find Joy in the Lord
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
In Mark 12:30, Jesus recites a well-known cornerstone passage from Deuteronomy. Why would He reiterate this truth, when they sought to understand something new? Jesus didn’t come to replace the Father’s original commands, but to free us from the burden of never being able to live up to them. We can propel ourselves forward into this verse with everything we have physically, mentally, and spiritually and still fall short. We lack the ability to be fully devoted. We all fall short. (Romans 3:23)
“For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Paul famously quoted, he did what he hated and hated what he did. All of us arise each day with repeated sins. Whether it be losing our patience or a losing battle with addiction, some cycles of thought, habit, and sin \are too big to cease on our own strength. Through those areas of helplessness, we find the very freedom in Christ that leads to strength and joy.
Joy in Christ isn’t a giddy feeling of cracking up at a joke or a triumphant banner of victory when we accomplish a goal or soar ahead in an area of struggle. Joy is there in those moments, but true joy stems from the unwavering strength of the Lord. It remains to remind us how far we have come and encourages us throughout the long road of refinement we have yet to travel. The hope of salvation in Christ is rooted in what has already been done. “It is finished.”
Nehemiah knew that to experience joy an inner restoration had to supersede the exterior rebuilding of the city. We, too, must rebuild from within, so that the joy of the Lord, our strength, can radiate through and propel us to the next step on God’s path of purpose for our lives.
Rachel Gilson explains that "We have been secured forever because Jesus perfectly kept our end of the vows. And that love transforms us into vow-keepers (albeit imperfectly for now). Your string of failures can be obliterated by confession. Your days of apathy can drop off your record through affectionate forgiveness. I breathe that in, and I feel strength rise — the strength of not merely being known, but being treasured by the Lord."
Joy shifts our hearts to a position of worship regardless of current circumstance. It doesn’t change, fade, or expound based on anything we do or go through. He is a constant safety and peace in our lives. A safe harbor, in a tumultuous world. Through the filter of His joy and by the power of His strength, we are able to witness the surrounding beauty of life in deep and complex layers . . . all in His time.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.
"Be Still and Know that I Am God"
"Pray Without Ceasing"
"Fearfully and Wonderfully Made"
"Faith Without Works is Dead"
"Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart"
"All Things Work Together for Good"
"Be Strong and Courageous"
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