Reaching into the Psalms: 22. The Joy of the Lord
Psa 4:7 Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.
We have had cause already in this psalm to note the difficulty that sometimes comes with having to translate the original, and then cope with different translations. The NIV quote above puts this verse as a desire or request. The ESV and NKJV puts it, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound,” and other more modern versions put it in a similar way but with some different words, i.e. as a declaration of testimony.
Request or testimony? Well; let’s consider both. It is a good prayer to pray to ask the Lord to fill us with joy and we’ll see in a moment the good scriptural grounds we have for asking that. It is also a good thing to declare by way of testimony (assuming we have entered into it, and if we haven’t then we’re back to praying for it). But what both things do is highlight to us something we may take for granted, that joy is a part of the believer’s experience.
Joy? Is joy the same as happiness? Some dictionaries might equate it with happiness but, I suggest, happiness is more a state of mind while joy is a specific outworking of a specific experience. Consider how the verse goes on. The NIV puts it, “when their grain and new wine abound.” The word ‘their’ must refer to the ‘many’ who were asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?” (v.6a) When he then asked the Lord to, “Let the light of your face shine on us,” (v.6b) there clearly was implied in what follows the expectation that when God’s face shines on His people, it brings with it His blessing and so all their fears about prosperity will evaporate when a bountiful harvest comes from the Lord. There is therefore a flow: people worrying – prayer request – God coming and blessing – harvest in abundance – great joy. The joy is specifically in response to the harvest.
The alternative? Now the more modern translations, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound,” removes that flow of prayer, answer, blessing, joy and simply reduces it to a testimony. Having said that, seeing verses 6 and 7 in those newer versions is interesting: “There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” (e.g. ESV) The inverted commas show us they include the ‘lift up’ part of the verse as part of the cry of the other people around him and therefore what follows – “You have put…” becomes a strong contrast in David from that of the unbelievers around him, and we should emphasise the ‘my heart’ that shows that contrast. They may have great joy when harvest eventually comes in, but the joy that David knows in his experience of the Lord, vastly outweighs that.
The Possibilities: So we have two possibilities here (and we won’t know the truth until we get to heaven and ask David which he meant!), one that sees the Lord answering his request to bring blessing to His people which will result in great joy, and the other that sees that David’s joy is greater than that which comes in the natural world of men. There is great truth in both. It is absolutely true that when we pray for God to intervene in our difficult circumstances, and He does, that brings great joy. But there is what almost seems a greater meaning, that as children of God, as believers, we know in our everyday experience of the Lord a joy that is not dependant on circumstances. It is a joy that flows from the Lord and because He is unchanging, it is unchanging.
Jesus’ Joy: At the Last Supper, John records Jesus as saying, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (Jn 15:10,11) Now I have included both verses because Jesus refers to his own joy in the context of obedience to the Father. Even as he had obeyed the Father, abiding in His love, so he now wants us to obey him, abiding in his love. The environment, if we may put it like that, is love, the acts are obedience and the outworking is joy. Later on he prayed to his Father, “now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (Jn 17:13) Again the context was what Jesus has done in his years of ministry and joy flows out of that. Now he wants that same joy to be ours because, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (v.18) i.e. obedience to the will of God releases joy.
Let’s finish with a few additional considerations about this joy. The ‘wise men’ had ‘great joy’ as the star revealed the way to Jesus. (Mt 2:10). The revelation of the kingdom of God – like a hidden treasure (Mt 13:44) – comes with great joy that enables a letting go of the past to enter into a wonderful new future. When we use what the Lord gives us in this kingdom and bear fruit, it brings joy to the Lord and to us (Mt 25:21). A realisation of the wonder of what Jesus has done and of his resurrection should also bring us great joy (Mt 28:8). As part of our relationship with the Lord, answers to prayer, as we noted above, bring great joy: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn 16:24) And so we could go on; joy is an indelible part of the life and experience of the Christian and it all flows out of our relationship with the Lord. Hallelujah! For David it was the same.