In Phil 4:4, we read, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” In Nehemiah 8:10, we read, “For the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
I have been a mainstream Christian for almost 20 years now, and during that time, I have heard countless sermons on these two verses. Every sermon has told me to rejoice in what Jesus did for me (Phil 4:4) and how the cross is my strength, and I should rejoice because of it. (Nehemiah 8:10.)
When Paul wrote Philippians, the New Testament did not exist. Pauls Bible was the Old Testament, and if you had the opportunity to tell him his letters would one day make up half of the New Testament, he would probably not have believed you. Paul did not set out to write the Bible; his mission was to teach believers in Yeshua how to obey the Bible they already had, the Old Testament. There is no question God inspires Pauls’s letters, but to understand them, we have to keep in mind they are instructions on how to obey the Torah.
This is why, if we want to understand what Paul meant when he wrote Phil 4:4, we must first read and understand Paul’s Bible the Old testament.
The verse Paul is quoting in Phil 4:4 is Habakkuk 3:18, where we read, “yet I will rejoice in Yehovah; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!” When Habakkuk, the prophet, lived, Israel had rejected the Torah. Because of this, sin was rampant in the land, and evil increased. Habakkuk asks Yehovah why He allows this to continue, to which Yehovah replies, He will send the Babylonians to punish Israel for rejecting His Torah. Still, then He is going to judge the Babylonians more severely for what they did to Israel. Habakkuk questions this and says he does not understand why, but even so, he chooses to trust Yehovah because of what Yehovah has done in the past for Israel. From Israel’s history, he knows that if you obey the Torah of Yehovah, it will give salvation, and Yehovah will fight for Israel. So even though he does not understand what is happening, he knows that those who obey the Torah will be saved in the end. This is why Habakkuk says, yet I will rejoice in Yehovah, the God of my salvation. He knows the Torah is the key to deliverance from Israel’s troubles, even if he does not understand what is happening right now and why.
In Phil 4, the church in Phillipi is being persecuted for the Gospel. This has also lead to descensions and strife within the church. Paul continually encourages them to imitate Christ as he imitates Christ. What does it mean to imitate Christ? 1. John 2 says we imitate Christ when we live our lives as He lived His life. How did He live His life? He kept the Torah, and He told His disciples in Matt 23:2-3 to keep Torah. So what Pauls says in Phil 4 is a call to repentance, so it seems that some of them are close to rejecting the Torah or perhaps have already done so. He then tells them not to worry about what is happening, not to question why it is happening, but instead pray, tell Yehovah what they need, AND rejoice in Yehovah.
So the situations in the book of Habakkuk and the book of Phillipi are the same, things are happening, and they do not understand why. To this, Paul and Habakkuk say, rejoice in Yehovah.
Now, we need to understand what it means to rejoice in Yehovah, which brings us to Nehemiah 8:10.
What happens in Nehemiah 8:10 is explained in Nehemiah 8:12. The joy they have in 8:10 is because now they understand the Torah and know how to obey it. Now that they understand the Torah and how to obey it, they rejoice because they know this means they will be delivered, and Yehovah will once more be their God. This shows us the joy of Yehovah is the joy we have for the Torah. If you rejoice in Yehovah, you rejoice in the Torah, and the joy you have for the Torah is your strength.
How is it possible to feel joy for the law of Moses (the Torah)?
This brings us to Deut 28:1-13, Ex 6:7, and John 14. The Torah and the New Testament say when we obey the Torah, Yehovah promises to be our God. He promises, on account of our obedience, to bless us the way He describes in Deut 28:1-13. So because we obey the Torah, we can know in every situation no matter what happens, live in joy knowing Yehovah is on our side, and He will help.
Now we understand Habakkuk 3 and Phil 4.
Habakkuk and Paul are both saying that even if we do not understand what is happening to us, or why it is happening, we should always rejoice to know that Yehovah is on our side and He will deliver us as long as we obey the Torah.
So the joy of the Lord, which is our strength, is not the cross; it is the Torah because the Torah is our guarantee for Yehovah’s help. And now we know that what Paul says in Phil 4 is to rejoice in the Torah because the Torah is our guarantee for Yehovah’s help.
Is it wrong to feel joy over the cross? No, not at all. The cross is a gift, and we should be thankful and rejoice over the fact that He has saved us. But, as we learned, faith in the cross with no obedience to the Torah can not save us (James 2.) The cross is the gift; the Torah is the instruction manual on how to use that gift. Rejection of the Torah is a rejection of the gift just as our forefathers in the desert rejected the Torah and never saw the promised land.
So how do we apply this to our lives?
Yehovah has given us a valuable tool in the Shema (Deut 6, Mark 12:29.):
Hear, O Israel, the Yehovah is our God, Yehovah is One.
You shall love Yehovah, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.
And it will be, if you diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love Yehovah your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then, the Yehovah’s wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which Yehovah gives you. Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates – so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the Yehovah swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.
Yehovah spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to attach a thread of blue on the fringe of each corner. They shall be to you as tzizit, and you shall look upon them and remember all the commandments of Yehovah and fulfill them, and you will not follow after your heart and after your eyes by which you go astray – so that you may remember and fulfill all My commandments and be holy to Yehovah. I am Yehovah, your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I, Yehovah, am your God. True.
How do we apply the Shema to our lives, to remind us to rejoice in the Torah?
As you can see, the Shema has a lot of words. On a good day, when everything is ok in our lives, we might be able to pray the entire Shema. In my own life, I have seen how praying the Shema helps me time and time again to build trust in Yehovah and return to the joy of the Torah.
On a bad day, when everything goes wrong, and you are tired, stressed, unable to focus, it is almost impossible to pray sometimes, but that is also when you need strength and the joy of the Torah the most. In Mark 12:29, Yeshua says the most important commandment is: Hear o Israel, Yehovah is our God, Yehovah is one.
As with everyone, I have good days and bad days. Days when I am rested, at peace, and have nothing to worry about. Then there are days when I feel tired, exhausted, have good reason to worry, and everything seems to go wrong. On those days, I am not able to pray all the words in the Shema. So what I do, is that I focus on the first part: Yehovah is my God, Yehovah is one. I make an effort to say Yehovah is my God when I take a breath, and when I breathe out, I say Yehovah is one. When I pray the first line of the Shema while I am breathing, it becomes easier for me to mentally focus on what I need to do and, at the same time, pray. In my own life, I have seen how praying just the first line of the Shema helps just as much as praying the entire Shema.
How you choose to pray the Shema is up to you, but I hope you will use the tool Yehovah has given us to draw the strength we need from the Torah.
Is praying the Shema a “magic bullet” that makes everything go away? No, praying the Shema does not change the situation. Instead, it helps you to return mentally to the Torah and the Torah’s joy, knowing that because you obey the Torah, you have the right to be healed, the right to be delivered, the right to be prospered. (Deut 28:1-13) So the Shema is not a magic bullet; it is the tool Yehovah has given us to regain our strength and faith that can only come from our obedience to the Torah.
And this is something I have seen time and time again in my own life. When I pray the Shema, no matter how I pray it, my mood shifts from being anxious, stressed, fearful, tired to peace, joy, filled with faith knowing Yehovah is on my side. He is working on my behalf, knowing I have the right to claim healing, prosperity, and Yehovahs help because I obey the Torah.
So all the sermons I heard, telling me to rejoice in the cross and how the cross is the source of my strength and joy were wrong. Yehovah’s joy is our strength, but that joy and strength are only found in your obedience to the Torah. Is it wrong to rejoice in the cross? No, not at all. We should rejoice and be glad that the cross saves us, but the cross is not the source of our strength. The Torah is the source of our strength, and without the Torah, our faith in the cross can not save us (James 2, Matt 7:21-23, 23:2-3)
So make the Torah the source of your joy, and use the Shema as an effective tool to help you to focus mentally on the Torah instead of your circumstances. Then you are walking by faith and not by sight, in the strength and the joy of Yehovah.
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