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Most languages have lots of words to describe the experience of being in a good mood: words like happy, cheerful, joyful, and so on. The same goes for the languages of the Bible. In ancient biblical Hebrew, there is a variety of words for gladness or joy: like simchah, sason, or giyl. In the Greek New Testament there is chara, euphrosune, or agalliasis. Each word has its own unique nuance, but they all basically refer to the feeling of joy and happiness.
Now what makes these biblical “joy” words interesting is noticing the kinds of things that bring happiness and also seeing how “joy” is a key theme that runs through the whole story of the Bible.
In what types of things can we find joy according to these verses?
However, human history isn’t just a joy-fest. The biblical story shows how we live in a world that’s been corrupted by our own selfishness. It’s marked by death and loss, and this is where biblical faith offers a unique perspective on joy. It is an attitude God’s people adopt, not because of happy circumstances, but because of their hope in God’s love and promise.
Psalm 105 recounts Israel’s history from Abraham through the Exodus. At the end of the Psalm, the psalmist tells of Moses bringing the people out of Egypt – and they rejoice with singing.
39 He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night.
40 They asked, and he brought quail, and gave them bread from heaven in abundance.
41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.
42 For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant.
43 So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing.
- Psalm 105:39-43 -
Where are the people when they sing?
What are their circumstances?
How does this add to our understanding of the nature of Biblical joy?
This “joy in the wilderness” was a defining moment, it was a way of saying that the joy of God’s people is not determined by their struggles but by their future destiny. This theme reappears later in Israel’s story during the exile.
10 Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?
11 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
- Isaiah 51:10-11 -
How does the prophet connect the Exodus to the people’s return from Exile?
As we get to the New Testament, notice how the birth of Christ is announced by an angel:
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
At his first coming, Christ’s life, death and resurrection gave us great reason to rejoice and be glad. As we await his second coming, we can wait with joy.
Read the following passages, and take note of the theme of “joy in the wilderness.” What do these verses say about the joy we can have in this time between Christ’s first and second coming?
1 Peter 1:3-9
In the end, Jesus will come again to judge and finally put things aright. When that happens there will be tremendous joy:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come!” (Revelation 19:6-7)
As we have seen, the joy of God’s people is not determined by their struggles but by their future destiny. This is very different from the trite advice to “turn that frown upside down.” Christian joy is a profound decision of faith and hope in the power of Jesus’ own life, death, resurrection and imminent return.
What about you?
How does Christ’s first coming bring you joy?
How does the hope of his second coming bring you joy?
In a world full of attempts at generating happiness, in a season that attempts to generate sentimentality and “glad tidings”, how is Christian joy different?
How might you explain the difference to a neighbor or friend?