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WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TEACH ABOUT JOY?
Many thing are taught, of course, but these are probably best seen personally in the lives of the people who are mentioned most in the Bible. So the various short character studies below are based on a careful search through the Scriptures for joy, gladness, happiness, thankfulness, dancing, singing, and the like in the lives of some of the Top 55 people.
HOW TO USE THIS MATERIAL
The studies on joy below are not just to be read. Nor are they to be used as sermon points. They are intended to help Bible study leaders prepare to lead lively discussions on joy using the Bible Top 55 list and cards. The Top 55 Booklet also should be referenced concerning lesser-known characters.
There is little joy in the book of Genesis, and the main reason for this is probably because of sin which, of course, began with Adam (#53). The birth of Isaac (#14) was undoubtedly a joyful occasion as indicated by his name which means to laugh (Gen. 21:6), but otherwise a term of joy is never directly linked to Abraham (#7) and Sarah (#37). Their faith is commended in Hebrews, but the full realization of faith is not seen other in regard to the birth of Isaac. Their earlier attempt to obtain a son through Hagar was, of course, a disastrous mistake which led to sorrow rather than joy.
There is much more joy and rejoicing in Luke's Gospel than in Genesis, and this is undoubtedly because the fullness of time had come and Jesus the Messiah (#1) had been born. (See John 8:56.) Therefore there is more joy with Mary (#52) in the early chapters of Luke than with Sarah in Genesis.
Jacob (#6), the son of Isaac (#14), is the sixth most mentioned person in the Bible. Yet, there is not a single reference to joy, gladness, happiness, dancing, or singing in his life. The closest to such in the Genesis record is in the naming of his sons Judah (meaning praise, Gen. 29:35) and Asher (meaning happy, Gen. 30:13). These names were chosen by Leah, however, rather than by Jacob himself. Leah was happy when she felt that she was winning the competition with her sister Rachael (#48) by bearing more children. Obviously, polygamy did not bring happiness.
Moreover, near the end of his life, Jacob said that his days and years had been few and evil (Gen. 47:9). The competition within his family, including in what had been done to Joseph, probably was part of his negative summary. In addition, Jacob's selfish dishonesty toward and manipulation of Isaac and Esau had led to separation and sorrow. Though Jacob was blessed of the Lord in various ways, his sin had caused much sorrow.
Like his father, Jacob (#6), Joseph (#11) had many difficult years because of the division within the family. Yet, when Joseph was suddenly made prime minister of Egypt in Genesis chapter 41, one might have expected to see a great outburst of joy. Instead, Joseph spoke of the need to build warehouses and prepare for the coming famine. He was all business. Later when his first son was born he said that he had been able to forget what had been done to him by his brothers (41:51). This was somewhat joyful, but the greatest expression of joy in Joseph's life was when he shared tears of joy with Benjamin (#50, Gen. 45:15). The repentance of his other brothers and his reconciliation with them also undoubtedly was a source of joy, but Joseph's gracious forgiveness is what is stressed (Gen. 50:19-21) rather than joy.
Personal expressions of joy and gladness are nearly impossible to find in the life of Moses (#3). One reason for this was probably because he had a difficult ministry. However, there was national rejoicing after the great deliverance and victory that the Lord gave at the Red Sea, and Moses was involved in this. See Exodus chapter 15 which is in line with Moses' instruction regarding observing the feasts of the Lord with joy seen in Deuteronomy 16:11-15. Thus Moses was not morbid without joy. Rather, he was focused on the Lord's people so that his personal joy was never expressed independently.
Aaron (#8) was glad to meet Moses (#3) and begin to work with him (Ex. 4:14). This meeting and help was probably encouraging to Moses as well. This is one of the very few times personal gladness is hinted at in relation to Moses. (Also see Ex. 18:9.) More importantly, through Aaron's gold calf in Exodus chapter 32, we see sinful personal expressions of superficial and fleshly joy. The love of pleasure that Paul spoke of in 2 Tim. 3:4 is along the same line.
It is not surprising perhaps that joy seems to be missing in the book of Joshua (#12), since the record is mainly about war. Some might think of the great shout at Jericho (Joshua 6:20) as an expression of joy, but it was not. Encircling Jericho for seven days was an act of faith (Hebrews 11:30). So the great shout must have been as well. It was not an expression of joy after the fact. There was still more fighting to be done, and that was the case in chapter in chapter ten as well when the sun stood still for hours to enable a greater victory. Undoubtedly the people were thankful on both occasions, but that is not what is reported. The focus is on what God did rather than on how the people felt about it.
That said, however, there was great sorrow among the people because of the defeat at Ai in chapter seven. The sin of Achan led to death, defeat, and mourning. Sin always brings sorrow in the end, and as Jeremiah said, it leads to the removal of gladness (Jeremiah 7:34, 16:9, 25:10).
There was rejoicing early in Saul's (#4) reign, because of the victory over the Philistines and the deliverance of the Jabesh Gilead (1 Sam. 11:9-15). Later, there was joy in Israel because of David's victory over Goliath, and even Saul is said to have been happy about it (1 Sam. 19:5). Soon thereafter, however, Saul's jealousy of David came to the forefront and the rejoicing ended (1 Sam. 18:6-9).
There is much to learn about joy and sorrow from David (#2), especially in the Psalms. Though his sin with Bathsheba and toward Uriah brought great sorrow and pain, David's repentance and divine forgiveness led to the restoration of joy (Psalm 51). In all, there are over one hundred expressions of joy in psalms that are attributed to David. For examples, see Psalm 4:7, 5:11, 7:17, 9:2,11,14, 13;6, 14:7, 16:9,11, 18:49, 19:8, 20:5, 21:1,6, 22:26, 27:6, 30:4,5,11,12, 31:7, 35:27, 40:16, etc.
In addition, David's rejoicing when the ark of the covenant was brought into Jerusalem is one of the greatest displays of joy in the entire Bible. (See Second Samuel chapter six, First Chronicles chapter 16, Psalm 96, and Psalm 105.) Sadly, Saul's daughter, Michal, did not share David's joy (2 Sam. 6:20-23). Unshared joy because of jealousy or unshared faith is tragic, as seen in Saul as well in 1 Sam. 18:6-9. In fact, the contrast between Saul and David regarding joy is powerful and instructive.
David's thankfulness for God's great promises regarding his line, the messianic line, is also important to note. (See Second Samuel chapter seven and First Chronicles chapter 17. This too contrasts sharply with Saul's line which was largely cut off, aside from through Jonathan. Joy in the Messiah (#1) is especially important and may also be expressed in Psalm 138 and Psalm 145.
One reason why David's joy stands out is because of the backdrop of persecution. For instance, see Psalm 18 and Psalm 144. This is somewhat like Paul's emphasis in Philippians, a prison epistle, on rejoicing in the Lord.
There is much to learn about joy from Solomon, especially from his writings. Happiness is a central theme in both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. So it is not surprising that verses in Ecclesiastes about it being good to rejoice in the fruit of one's labor (Ecc. 2:10,24, 3:13,22, 5:18-19) are in line with Proverbs 6:9-11 and 20:4 which are warnings against being lazy lest one come to poverty. Moreover, both books teach that lasting joy requires wisdom (Proverbs. 3:13, 10:1, Ecc. 2:26) and show that wisdom is based on the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7, 10:27, Ecc. 8:12, 12:13). In addition, those that fear the Lord will avoid sin, and that too is the way to have a happy, joyful life.
The Song of Solomon is about happiness in marriage, and this topic is covered in Proverbs to some degree as well. Solomon's personal joy when he married the Shulamite, his beloved first wife, is seen in Song 3:11 and this is much like the rejoicing that is called for in marriage in Proverbs. 5:18. Both of these verses show that joy is to be found in monogamy rather than polygamy or promiscuity. Paradoxically, Solomon confirmed the truth of these verses the hard way through his many marriages which did not bring joy.
Other aspects of joy that stands out in the life of Solomon are the joy that was possible because of peace and the completion of the temple (1 Kings 8:66). These were a foretaste of the millennial kingdom during which Gentiles will come to Jerusalem with gifts much like the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon. (See First Kings chapter ten and Second Chronicles chapter nine.) Solomon's age of peace did not last, and true lasting peace and joy for the world as a whole awaits the Lord's return.
There were many miracles in the ministry of Elisha (#24), but somewhat surprisingly joy, gladness, and thankfulness are never directly mentioned. Naaman must have been happy and thankful to have been healed, but his confession of faith in the Lord as the only true God in all the earth is what is stressed (2 Kings 5:15). Why? The simple reason probably was because genuine faith was more important than feelings of gladness. Corruption within Israel, including that of Gehazi, was evident, and this, of course, saddened the prophet (2 Kings 5:26).
As with Joshua, it is not surprising that Jeremiah (#19), the weeping prophet, did not write much about joy. However, there are some instances of such. The Babylonian captive brought great sorrow, but Jeremiah was able to rejoice in God's word (Jer. 15:16) in a way which sounds much like Psalm 119. The prophet also wrote about the restoration of joy that would come to Israel in God's future kingdom (Jer. 31:4-13). This was an aspect of his greater emphasis on hope. Obviously, hope and joy are closely related.
Daniel (#35) was said to have given thanks to God three times a day (Dan. 6:10) and King Darius's sadness was turned to joy when he learned that God had delivering Daniel from the lions (Dan. 6:18-23). Otherwise, however, there are no outwardly expressions of joy in Daniel. Why? Perhaps it was because of the seriousness of the things that are prophesied in chapters seven through twelve. Thankfully, Daniel's resurrection at the end of days is prophesied in the final verse (Dan. 12:13), but his death was as well.
There were lavish banquets but no true joy in the first half of the story of Esther (#42) because the forces of evil prevailed in the Persian kingdom. Only evil and moody Haman (#54) seemed to be happy to some degree (Est. 5:9). Through divine providence and the wise actions of Esther, however, Haman was executed and gladness came to the Jews and others (Est. 8:15-17). The joyous feast of Purim was created to commemorate deliverance (Est. 9:17-22). This is reminiscent of the joyous feasts that Moses established.
According to Luke chapters one and two, there was great joy because of the long-awaited coming of the Savior (#1). There are more joy related terms used in these two chapters than in any other two chapters in the four Gospels. Later in Luke 10:21, Jesus spoke of his joy because of salvation being revealed to ordinary people within the nation. Then in three well-known parables in Luke chapter 15, the Lord spoke of the great joy that God has whenever a sinner repents. Finally, at the end of Luke's Gospel, there was great joy because of the Lord's resurrection (Lk. 24:52-53). The sadness of the disciples was turned to joy, just the Lord himself had predicted earlier (John 16:20-22).
So the Gospels show that biblical joy is possible because of Jesus, the Savior and that it came after a long time of waiting and after the night of sorrow has passed. (Cf. Psalm 30:5.) Therefore, it is not surprising that there is more on joy in the New Testament than in the Old Testament, though Psalms seem to be a special case.
In addition to the Gospels as a whole, Hebrews 12:2-3 also shows that Jesus' joy was doing the will of God the Father in suffering and enduring. Of course, the Lord also spoke about rejoicing in suffering and because of persecution in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5:12).
Like the other disciples, Peter (#13) rejoiced in the Savior (1 Peter 1:6-8) and the resurrection (Lk. 24:52). Moreover, he helped other believers rejoice despite persecution (1 Pet. 4:13). First Peter is an important book on joy.
In Acts chapters two, Peter brought the gospel and the joy of salvation to thousands. Then in chapter three, he brought healing and the gospel to a lame man and other through him. The leading apostle was persecuted by the Jewish leaders in chapter five but rejoiced in such (5:41). So his personal suffering and joy underlay his teaching about such in First Peter.
Paul (#10) is well-known for his teaching on joy in Philippians in which there are 15 verses with terms associated with joy. Of these Phil. 4:4 is probably the most famous. "Rejoice in the Lord always, Again I will say, rejoice!" (Cf. 1 Thes. 5:16.) It is common to speak of this verse as if it were written for Paul, since he was in prison at the time. However, the epistle was written for the Philippians, and it was safe for them to rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3:1). They needed to have the Lord's soon return in view (Phil. 4:5) and not set their mind on earthly things because their citizenship was in heaven (Phil. 3:17-20). Therefore the emphasis in Phil. 4:4 was probably on rejoicing in the Lord rather than in Roman citizenship or earthly position and honor. As a result, being associated with a prisoner like Paul would not be a problem (Phil. 2:17-18).
Romans 12:15 is another famous verse on rejoicing. Believers are to rejoice with others who are rejoicing and weep with others who weep. In a way, this balances out Phil. 4:4. Sorrow and weeping are not to be overlooked or despised.
Finally, in 2 Cor. 9:7, Paul taught that God loves a cheerful giver. There is to be joy in giving as well as in salvation despite persecution and difficulties.
© 2022 by Jon F. Mahar, Hakusan City, Japan