And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.
Nehemiah 12:43 ESV
I used to live in an apartment whose back windows faced the back door of a storefront church. In the spring and summer, I would often open my windows and on Sunday mornings the church would open their back door, and I could hear them singing God’s praises. Because it was a predominantly African immigrant church, they often sang in words I didn’t understand, but there was no mistaking their joy in the Lord.
When God brought the Jews back from captivity and allowed them to rebuild Jerusalem, many wondered if the job would ever be finished. They faced opposition from without and despair from within, but in the end they rebuilt the miles-long wall around Jerusalem. With their physical defenses restored, the people turned back to their spiritual defense and rededicated their lives to the Lord God of Israel.
In Nehemiah chapters 8 through 12, we read about how the Word of God was read to the people of Jerusalem, how they swore to the covenant with God again, and how the priests and Levites led the people in worship. It would be decades before the Temple itself was rebuilt, but on the day of the dedication of the rebuilt wall around Jerusalem, the people turned their hearts to the Lord and rejoiced.
There are two things to note about Nehemiah 12:43:
• God had made them rejoice with great joy.
• The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.
They rejoiced because God’s deeds gave them great cause to rejoice. God gave them not only the reason to rejoice but also the heart to rejoice.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
Psalms 126:1-6 ESV
And they did come home with shouts of joy! In fact, their joy was heard far away! Like the church out my back window, the joy of the returned exiles was so great, it was heard not just in their city, not kept privately among them, not heard only by God. The joy which they got from the Lord was heard far away, heard by people who didn’t know the Lord, by people who likely were their enemies.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Psalms 23:5 ESV
Does your cup of blessings and joy overflow? Is your joy in the Lord so great that it is heard far away? We are not just talking here about singing louder in church. We are talking about living a life so full of gratefulness and joy that others see it and are amazed. As the Psalmist said in Psalm 126, do people around you see your life and say “The Lord has done great things for them”? Do you spend the day grumbling about loss and trouble, or do you rejoice that Jesus came to die and live again for you? Do you share your worries with the world, so all they see is uncertainty, or do you take them to God, allowing Him to deal with your difficulties, and share your joy in the Lord with the world?
Jesus is our strong tower, our ever-present help in times of trouble. As the Levites assured the people when they wept at the reading of God’s Word, “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Since the joy of the Lord is our strength, let us use that strength to rejoice so loudly that our joy is heard far away.
Heavenly Father, You have given us great cause to rejoice. You sent Your Son to live and die and live again for us. And Your Holy Spirit dwells within us, guiding us, assuring us, and giving us a heart to rejoice. Thank You, Lord, for being our joy. May our rejoicing in You be heard far away so that others may know You and be drawn to You. Amen.