We see the word “joy” so often in the Bible and as Christmas nears, it seems to be tossed around so freely, with the very best of intentions, of course. I just can’t help but wonder what all is wrapped up in this little word. It sounds simple enough but I need to “unwrap” this important package.
The first place I looked was the oldest of languages, the language of King David’s psalms where the word is used about three dozen times – Hebrew. Unlike English, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet each have meanings, so looking at this alphabet is similar to looking at a dictionary as we know it. We spell it: j-o-y but in Hebrew it is spelled sin-mem-tav-hei. To avoid a whole lesson on the Hebrew language, the short version is that the meanings of these four letters put together present a meaning for “joy” that tells us we are guilty of deserving judgement (sin) with the shedding of blood (mem) by means of the crossed sticks of Jesus’ crucifixion (tav) revealed to man (hei). Fully comprehending that should certainly cause us to have great joy!
That same great joy the angel told the shepherds about the night God Incarnate arrived in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago. Luke 2:10 (NASB) “But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;”
Remember the joy that Peter speaks of in 1 Peter1:8-9 (NASB)? “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Likewise, Jude tells us in verses 24 and 25,” Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Way back in about 455 BC, Nehemiah used that same precept, although a different spelling of the word translated as “joy”, to teach the Israelites when they came back to resettle Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon. Nehemiah 8:10 (NASB) Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Continuing to read the next two verses reminds us of modern day Christmas. “So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.”
I recently studied Paul’s use of “joy” as he used it describing himself as a Drink Offering in Philippians 2:17-18 (NASB) “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” At the time I thought, “He makes it sound like we should be able to whip up joy on demand.” Most assuredly, that is not what he meant!
The angel understood it. Peter understood it. Jude understood it. Paul understood it. And now that I have unwrapped this little bitty word, I understand that it spells out the very essence of truly being a child of God…the JOY of The LORD!