Posted by Worldview Warriors On Saturday, September 20, 2014 0 comments

by Nathan Buck

I recently heard the term “gob-smacked” and just thought that was a funny expression. It is British slang meaning: “utterly amazed, astonished, etc.” It combines the Scottish word for mouth “gob” with the verb “to smack,” in order to create a picture of astonishment. Instead of saying, “well shut my mouth,” like a southern U.S. expression, it simply paints the picture of someone smacking or covering his mouth in amazement or shock. It’s fun to say, go ahead try it… ”Gobsmacked.” See? Now try it with a British accent… just kidding.

Anyway, gobsmacked is what I think of when I read Nehemiah 8:9-12. Take a moment and read those couple verses if you are unfamiliar with the passage. Israel is returning to Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah, to rebuild their place of worship and their city. In the process, they discover the scrolls from the temple that contain God’s Word. They publically assemble to read them, and then are gobsmacked at what they hear. As they encounter God’s Word, they are shaken to the core and start to weep. We do not know specifically what they heard, but their attitude of excitement became weeping as the truth of God’s Word sunk in. Perhaps they were reading the consequences God warned them would come if they turned away from Him. Perhaps they realized how far from God they had chosen to be, and they felt the weight of their own choices that lead to the destruction of their city and their deportation into Babylon. All we know is they were weeping, sobbing, and wailing. Nehemiah has to encourage them to focus on worshipping God, rather than grieving for their losses or the past.

So what happened there? Why were they so distraught? It struck me that I have seen similar gobsmacked reactions with people who hear about Jesus for the first time. I have also seen it when people are reminded of what God’s Word actually says, instead of what they have decided to believe. The reactions I have seen are not always weeping or wailing – it is often anger, frustration, denial, physical attack, bargaining, reasoning, etc. I am convinced there was something here in this passage that God’s Word exposed and all of Israel instantly knew they had brought their current situation on themselves in their rebellion against God. And I am convinced of the same when I see people react strongly to God’s Word in the world today.

Truth has a way of piercing through all of our carefully constructed justifications for why we do what we do. And when God’s truth exposes all of our willfulness or self-oriented living, we instantly see ALL the places of our sin. Our minds are so adept at connecting things that when the truth of God’s Word hits our ears, we instantly take stock of a number of things: what we believe, where we have departed from what God said, how we feel about it, how we think God feels about it, whether we want to change it, whether we think we can change it, whether we are being judged for not changing it, how we can rationalize that our way is good (for us), examples of others who have lived the way we are, etc. So much passes through our minds in a split second, that we literally are gobsmacked with a comparison between our life and God’s plans.

Look what Nehemiah does in verse 10. He says to Israel, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Joy is overwhelming delight. It is fueled by grateful awareness and humble appreciation. For Israel at this moment, staring in the face of the results of their rebellion, instead of hearing God’s Word as a rallying cry to move forward with Him, they were grieving. Instead of being grateful for God’s direction and truth being spoken, they are weeping. The attention moved from hearing God speak and celebrating His presence, to “woe is me/us.” Nehemiah reminds them that the JOY (delighting in and with God) is their strength.

God’s Word and guidance produces strength and courage in us when we hear it as a message of hope and a calling forward. God’s Word can produce sorrow, fear, and weakness in us, if we only hear it as judgment. God’s Word is meant to get us where we are going - with Him. When we hear his guidance we should experience JOY that God has not forgotten us and is still calling us forward. That JOY in God’s guidance and presence is a strength that cannot be matched by any circumstances we face – because nothing can stand in the way of what God has planned. That confidence and delight in God’s calling forward literally puts strength into our bodies for the job we have to do.

So the question comes to you. When you hear God’s Word and you are gobsmacked by it – do you receive it as an encouraging call forward in grace? Are you strengthened by the overwhelming delight that God has in who he has made you to be? Or do you grieve the gap between where you are and where God is calling you to be? Do you indignantly pout about what you think you will be missing?

The choice is yours. The strength to move forward relies on trusting HIS love and being filled with delight for what He has planned. The JOY of the Lord is your STRENGTH.