“Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the LORD sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.”
“…the joy of the Lord will make you strong. The Levites helped calm the people, saying, “Be quiet, because this is a holy day. Don’t be sad.”
Two completely different viewpoints, with two effects on our understanding. The first passage traces out for us a judgment which could of been adverted by joy. JOY! And even though joy is a remarkable thing, most will remove it and replace it with ‘guilt’. That seems much more suitable for a Christian. And ‘why’ is that? Is forgiveness that hard to believe?
Austere guilt and sadness seem a better alternative for ‘the sinner saved by grace’. Any display of any frenetic joy disturbs us, and needs to be most definitely eradicated lest some get the wrong idea of us, and our churches. Yet in this verse in Deuteronomy we are impressed with the idea that this is one of the reasons ‘judgment’ will come on to our lives.
I get a trifle nervous whenever an ‘iron yoke’ is talked about in scripture. It means that it is long-lasting. It is a judgment, but with a permanence. And people who don’t walk out in joy are soon walking in bondage. They don’t sing with their hearts out loud. They choose not to sing, but to suffer.
Nehemiah had to reverse the polarity of his people. They leaned toward sadness and grimness. Nehemiah had to change the way these people thought and reasoned. ‘The Kingdom of God is like a wonderful party’, he said. It is for feasting, and not at all for fasting. Nehemiah must reverse the natural direction of the people.
Nehemiah made the connection between joy and strength. When he linked these two a very critical thing happened. As people began to sing, they began to get strong. A transfusion of joy began to work out its magic. The nation was empowered and energized to do things. The Levites had a good idea what was happening, and they proceeded to get them on the right track. When joy is finally added to the mix, the people are prepared to move out in strength.