An Exchange of Joy -- By: Tom Wells
RAR 13:3 (Summer 2004) p. 43
An Exchange of Joy
Many of us are used to seeing large numbers of people laughing on TV or elsewhere. Making people laugh is big business in the Western world. Most of us like to laugh, whether alone or with others. It is a funny world in more ways than one, so we laugh.
Equally important is the fact that we live in a tragic world. Since Adam’s fall this world has been the scene of tragedy brought on by sin—individual, institutional, and societal. Even in the best of times tears often alternate with laughter. Our television producers work hard to give us reasons to laugh, but their news broadcasts amply supply us with scenes of sorrow, weeping, and wailing. Sympathetic spirits respond to those tears with tears of their own.
Let me take you back more than 2, 400 years to a scene of weeping and crying in Israel. As the world sees things, Israel, a satellite of the Persian empire, was a minor player on the international scene. But god kept his eye on her and in his good providence he had returned three waves of exiles to their native land. The latest group, descendants of men and women that had been carried off to Babylon more than a hundred years before, had returned to Jerusalem with Nehemiah, the Persian governor. They found a dispirited Jewish community surrounded by bold enemies who mocked their efforts to
RAR 13:3 (Summer 2004) p. 44
rebuild the walls of the city. And their foes did more than mock! As the Jews worked to the point of exhaustion their enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work” (Nehemiah 4:11). Clearly this was a time of crisis. Though Nehemiah himself was a target of hatred, the wall was completed. With that bit of background we come to the tears.
After rebuilding the wall Nehemiah saw to it that the Book of the Law of Moses was read to the people.1 For a half-day the people listened attentively to the reading. Here is the sequel:
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and 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 or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:9–10).
The people wept and mourned. Why? Perhaps they saw that they had not kept the law God had given. Tha...
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