Nehemiah 8:5-6 “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
As they heard the reading of God's Word they started to regret their sins and sadness filled their hearts. They were longing to obey God and live right. Because they were sincere and repented, God called them to rejoice and He does the same with us, when we sincerely ask forgiveness for our sins. He forgives our sins and casts them “into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19)
God is a loving Father, the most loving there is and while we may face tribulation as a result of disobedience, when we realize it and repent, He will redeems us from our misery. His plan for us is not to be tormented or live in lack and sadness. On the contrary, when we admit our wrongs and repent He forgives us and wants us to be happy.
The “New JPS Translation Tanakh” (Jewish Old Testament), is closer to the original Hebrew meaning and gives a better perspective of the following verse, than most translations.
Nehemiah 8:10 “He further said to them: 'Go, eat choice foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing is prepared; for the day is holy to the LORD. Do not be sad, for your rejoicing in the Lord is the source of your strength'””
The same is “God's Word Translation”:
Nehemiah 8:10-12 "Then he told them, "Go, eat rich foods, drink sweet drinks, and send portions to those who cannot provide for themselves. Today is a holy day for the Lord. Don't be sad because the joy you have in the LORD is your strength." So the Levites calmed all the people by saying, "Listen. today is a holy day. Don't be sad." Then all the people went to eat and drink and to send portions. They had a big, joyful celebration because they understood the words that had been explained to them."
The above verses are not talking about eating on a diet, but the contrary. God created us to enjoy what we eat, especially on a holy day when we worship Him. God wants us to praise Him for what we have on the table and to enjoy the delicious foods He blesses us with. He does not urge us to be greedy or to eat more than necessary, but He allows us to enjoy the “rich foods and sweet drinks', and also to enjoy sharing our food with others that are in need. By doing so, we may all be happy and blessed.
The following phrase is very important, because it did not get translated by many as well as it could have. In the ancient Hebrew language there were no written vowels, no spaces between words or punctuation.
In “The New JPS Translation Tanakh” and “God's Word Translation”, the transcribers caught the true sense of the original text from the last part of verse 10: “Do not be sad, for your rejoicing in the Lord is the source of your strength””. Most translations read like: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” How can we get strength from God's joy? On the other hand, if we rejoice in the Lord, this rejoicing is based on who God is and what He does for us which is the true source of our strength, no matter what we are going through.
Nehemiah 8:17-18 “The whole assembly that had come back from exile made booths and lived in them. From the time of Jeshua (son of Nun) to that day, the people of Israel had not done this. There was a big, joyful celebration. Day by day, from the first day of the festival to the last day, Ezra continued to read from the Book of God's Teachings. The people celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, they had a closing festival assembly in accordance with the regulations."
The people desired to know God's will and to learn what they needed to do to fulfill it and live in obedience to the Lord. They celebrated the Feast of tabernacles in obedience to the Law, which brought deep and lasting joy to them all.
Being obedient to the Lord is always beneficial for us. The joy and happiness that follows it is far above anything else. Verse tenth speaks about this kind of joy that results in strength for the believer. This is true under the New Covenant with Jesus Christ, too. As children obey their parents and are so happy to see them smiling in approval, so we should be with our heavenly Father.
Being thankful is the right attitude of the heart and is the place where we start to rejoice from. It is a constant choice that we need to make. There are always many reasons to be thankful but it is up to us to do so. The enemy always tries to get us to see the empty half of the glass and be unhappy. We should look at the full half and praise God for it.
By choosing to rejoice in the Lord we will have satisfaction, fulfillment, deep joy and certainly be stronger.
“Do not be sad, for your rejoicing in the Lord is the source of your strength”
For more on this subject, see the article "Rejoice in the Lord and again I say rejoice"