Happiness over an unanticipated or present good. In the Old Testament joy (Heb. sama[;j;m'f])covers a wide range of human experiencesfrom sexual love ( So 1:4 ), to marriage( Pr 5:18 ), thebirth of children ( Psalm113:9 ), the gathering of the harvest, military victory ( Isa 9:3 ), anddrinking wine ( Psalm104:15 ). On the spiritual level it refers to the extreme happiness with which thebeliever contemplates salvation and the bliss of the afterlife. Unexpected benefits fromGod are expressed in terms of common experiences. The psalms express the joyous mood ofbelievers as they encounter God. Believers rejoice because God has surrounded them withhis steadfast love ( 32:11 )and brought them to salvation ( 40:16 ; 64:10 ). Davidrejoices that God has delivered him from the hand of his enemies ( 63:11 ). Joy is aresponse to God's word ( Psalm 119:14 ) andhis reward to believers ( Isa 65:14 ) andtheir strength ( Ne8:10 ).
Fundamental to the Old Testament understanding of joy are God's Acts in history, themost important of which is Israel's deliverance from Egypt ( Exod 18:9-11 ).Israel's return from the Babylonian exile ( Jer 31:1-19 ) toJerusalem is above the highest joy ( Psalm 137:6 ). Therestoration of Israel will be an occasion for joy ( Psalm 14:7 ) in whichnature shares ( Psalm98:4-6 ). Joy characterizes Israel's corporate worship life ( Deut 16:13-15 ; 2 Chron 30:21-22 )in which the individual participates: "I rejoiced with those who said to me,Let us go the house of the Lord'" ( Psalm 122:1 ).Whereas for the believer the secular joys common to human existence are distinguished fromspiritual ones, they are not separated. Spiritual joys are expressed by the metaphors offeasting, marriage, victory in military endeavors, and successful financial undertakings.The joy of the harvest is used to describe the believer's final victory over hisadversaries ( Psalm126:5-6 ). Christ's coming is described by the joy of the harvest and dividing upcaptured military booty ( Isa 9:2-7 ). Inturn, spiritual joys elevate the secular happiness of believers. Secular successes areregarded as unexpected benefits from God.
Old Testament imagery for joy is carried over into the New. Jesus joins the joys ofmarriage and spiritual ones by describing John the Baptist's reaction to his coming as thejoy (chara [carav])of the friend of the bridegroom ( John 3:29-30 ).This is accentuated by this pericope's proximity to the Cana wedding miracle where thewater changed to a superior wine relieves an embarrassed host ( John 2:1-11 ).Wine, a source of joy, anticipates eschatological joy of which Christ is an endless source( Psalm 104:15 ).Joy is associated with the nativity. The birth of John the Baptist as the forerunner ofthe Messiah is an occasion of joy for his father and others ( Luke 1:14 ). Theangel's greeting (chaire) to Mary followed by "highly favored, " a wordof the same family in Greek, may be taken as a command to rejoice as the Redeemer's mother( Luke 1:28 ).Shepherds hear that news of the birth of Christ is an occasion for great joy for allpeople ( Luke 2:10 ).Luke's cycle is completed with the disciples returning with great joy after Jesus'ascension ( 24:52 ).The Magi, upon finding the infant Jesus, are "overjoyed" ( Matt 2:10 ).
Joy belongs also to the realm of the supernatural. Angels rejoice at an unbeliever'sconversion ( Luke10:20 ). Luke places three parables together in which God, in two instances with theangels, rejoices at the redemption. Upon finding the lost sheep, the shepherd rejoices ( 15:3-7 ). The womanrejoices upon finding the lost coin ( 15:8-10 ). Theprodigal son's return brings rejoicing ( 15:11-32 ). Theparable of the man who liquifies his assets to purchase the treasure hidden in the fieldteaches us that God has joy in bringing about the atonement ( Matt 13:44 ). Thisparallels Jesus who with joy "endured the cross, scorning its shame" ( Heb 12:2 ). Also forbelievers, trials and persecution are occasions for joy ( James 1:2 ). Peterand John found their scourging an occasion for "rejoicing because they had beencounted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" ( Acts 5:41 ).Suffering brings joy as believers are united with Christ in his suffering ( 1 Peter 4:13-14 ).Paul speaks of his joy in the midst of affliction ( 2 Cor 7:4-16 ). Itis a part of faith ( Php1:25 ). Joy expresses the relationship between the apostle and his congregations and anopportunity for thanksgiving ( Rom 15:32 ; Php 2:28 ), witheach rejoicing in the other. God's kingdom is described as "righteousness, peace andjoy" ( Rom 14:17 ).Certainty of salvation is a cause for joy, as the disciples are commanded to "rejoicethat your names are written in heaven" ( Luke 10:20 ).Fellowship with Jesus brings continuous joy (John 15-17).
David P. Scaer
Bibliography. J. Moltmann, Theology and Joy; W. G. Morrice, Joy in theNew Testament.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Joy'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".