The Israelites choose a path apart from God. As a result, they get exiled from their land and dominated by foreign nations. But the prophet Isaiah knew that sorrow would not have the final word with these people. He looked forward to the day when Yahweh would end pain and corruption to lead them into endless, joyful living. Read Isaiah 49:13 and Isaiah 51:11. What does Isaiah tell us about God’s character in these passages? What does Isaiah say will happen to God’s people?
The prophet Isaiah looked forward to the coming of Israel’s redeemer. His prophecies were fulfilled with the arrival of Jesus. Read Luke 2:9-11. Why were the shepherds afraid? What reasons did the angels give for them to rejoice instead?
Joy can persist in the harshest of circumstances because it depends on God and his promises. Read Matthew 5:11-12, Acts 13:50-52, and Hebrews 12:1-3. According to these passages, what specific truths about God can sustain joy even through painful or dire situations?
When we see how Jesus’ loving way of life has overcome death itself, joy starts to become strangely reasonable. But this doesn’t mean it is wise to ignore or suppress sorrow. Read 2 Corinthians 6:3-10. How did Paul integrate both joy and sorrow?
Take time to discuss any other themes, questions, or key takeaways from what you learned together.
Being in a good mood is really great, and most languages have lots of words to describe the experience, like happy, cheerful, joyful, and so on.
The same goes for the languages of the Bible. In ancient biblical Hebrew there’s a variety of words, like simcha, sason, or giyl, and in the Greek New Testament there’s khara, 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.
Biblical Joy [00:39-02:26]
Let’s start with sources of joy. On page one of the Bible, God says that this world is “very good.” And so naturally people find joy in beautiful and good things of life, like growing flocks or an abundant harvest on the hills.1 The poet of Psalm 104 says a good bottle of wine is God’s gift “to bring joy to people’s hearts.”2 People find joy at a wedding3 or in their children4. There’s even a Hebrew proverb that compares the joy that perfume brings to your nose with the joy a good friend brings to your heart.5
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’s an attitude God’s people adopt, not because of happy circumstances but because of their hope in God’s love and promise.
So when the Israelites were suffering from slavery in Egypt, God raised up Moses to lead them into freedom, and the first thing the Israelites did was sing for joy. Even though they were in the middle of a desert. They were vulnerable; the promised land was still far away. They rejoiced anyway. Later biblical poets looked back on this story and they remembered how the Lord “caused his people to leave with joy, his chosen ones with shouts of joy.”6
This “joy in the wilderness,” this was a defining moment, a way of saying that the joy of God’s people is not determined by their struggles but by their future destiny.
This theme appears later in Israel’s story when Israel suffered under the oppression of foreign empires. The prophet Isaiah looked for the day when God would raise up a new deliverer like Moses. That’s when “those redeemed by the Lord will return to Zion with glad shouts, with eternal joy crowning their heads; happiness and joy will overtake them."7 And while the Israelites waited, they chose joy to anticipate their future redemption.
Jesus Brings Great Joy [02:27-04:05]
This is why it’s significant that when Jesus of Nazareth was born, it was announced as “good news that brings great joy.”8 We’re told that Jesus himself “rejoiced and gave thanks to God his Father"9 when he began to announce the Kingdom of God. He even taught his followers the same joy in the wilderness, saying, “When people reject and persecute you for following me, rejoice, be very glad, because your reward is great in heaven.”10
After his death and resurrection, Jesus commissioned his followers to go out and announce the good news that he was the risen King of the world. And as they did so, the early Christian communities were known for being “full of joy,”11 even when they were persecuted.12 Like when the apostle Paul was sitting in a dirty Roman prison, he could say that he’s chosen joy even if he gets executed.13 He called this the “joy of faith,” or “joy in the Lord.” He believed it was the gift of God’s Spirit14, a sign that Jesus’ presence is with you, inspiring hope in the midst of hardship. And when you believe that Jesus’ love has overcome death itself, joy becomes reasonable in the darkest of circumstances.
Now this doesn’t mean you ignore or suppress your sorrow. That’s not healthy or necessary. Paul often expressed his grief about missing loved ones or losing friends or his own freedom. He called this “being full of sorrow and yet rejoicing.”15 As he acknowledged his pain, he also made a choice to trust Jesus that his loss wouldn’t be the final word.
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 and love. And that’s what biblical joy is all about.