I was studying Isaiah 35: 1-10 a while ago and was doing so for a sermon on Joy in Advent but titled the sermon, “Joy in Transformation.” While studying this passage, I focused in on the occurances of gladness, joy, shout for joy in the passage and found out some really interesting stuff about how the Hebrew Bible uses at least three different words for joy, shout for joy or glad/gladness. I’ll share some of my exegetical notes and then make some comments:
There are several Hebrew words in this passage for joy – they are synonyms yet they have slightly different nuances (though of course some overlap).
Joy is characteristic of the life of faith. It marks both the life of the community of faith and the life of the individual believer. Joy is a quality and not simply an emotion. Above all God is both the object and giver of our joy!
The first word is gil (גיל), which refers especially to joy before God and is associated with rejoicing. It has to do with a person’s expression of jubilation and joy because of what God has done on behalf of his people.
The next word is ranna (רנן). It’s basic meaning is to yell. On most occasions it describes an emotional and physical response to the presence and provision of God. It often indicates a loud, enthusiastic, and joyful shout; So how this word is used (because it can mean yell) is determined by the context – in this case it is the joyful, enthusiastic shout in praise to God for his redemptive provision. Despite the root being related to yelling, there are over fifty occurrences, in the OT where it expresses happiness, joy, or relief, occurring in association with other verbs that express a similar joyful emotion.
While there may be many reasons for joyful expression, by far the predominant object of the shout of joy in all its OT occurrences is God!
God evokes shouts of joy from his people because of his acts of redemption. In our passage we see that God will rescue his people from their dispersion among the nations, and they will respond with shouts of joy especially as they see the tremendous bounty of grain, wine, and oil that God will provide for them.
In the Bible, a multitude of voices shout for joy to God. Most often the ones who shout are God’s people.
Proverbs 29:6 tells is it is only the righteous who can shout for joy; the wicked are unable because of their sin.
In Isaiah 26:19, we see it described that the dead rise out of their dusty graves to “shout for joy” before the Lord.
Job 38:7 describes the angels as shouting for joy at the sight of God creating the world.
In our passage and throughout the Psalms and Prophets, different parts of God’s inanimate creation also take part in the symphony of praise. In our passage it is the wilderness and dry land;
In Isaiah 44:23; 49:13, the heavens give praise to God; the mountains do the same in Psalms 98:8; as well as the trees in Ps 96:12; Tabor and Hermon [89:12 (13)]; and Lady Wisdom [Prov 1:20; 8:3]).
Finally, there is samach (also simcah). It signifies a spontaneous and vocal expression of joy rather than a restrained frame of mind. In verse 10 we see the redeemed of the Lord are overtaken by joy in being able to return to Zion and worship God! Sometimes we need to realize it is okay to shout to God in joyful exaltation to him for his miraculous provision in our lives! And that it is okay to be happy; to be joyful!!
When samach occurs we often see the expressive nature of the word: for example in 1 Chronicles 15:16 and Ezra 3:12 it means to lift up one’s voice and make a joyful sound with music. In Genesis 31:27, 2 Chronicles 23:18, and Psalms 137:3 there is singing. Psalm 9 and 68 tell us to sing praise.
In such texts as Genesis 31, Deut 12; 1 Chronicles 29; in Esther and the Psalms samach often serves as part of a festive celebration that entails eating and drinking and the playing of various instruments. Other expressive activities that occur along with samach are dancing which we see in 2 Samuel 6:14-16, clapping the hands as in Isaiah 55:12 and Ezekiel 25:6, and stamping the feet.
In fact, samach serves as the polar opposite for mourning (Psalm 30:11 ) and gloom (Isaiah 24:11).
These words for joy also indicate a sense of future rejoicing. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah (as in our passage) affirm that the day when Yahweh restores Israel to her land inheritance will be a day of joyful shouting and gladness. Zechariah 8:19 draws attention to the abundant blessings awaiting Israel by making a contrast between the present days of fasting and future feast days. In this passage, the Lord will transform the fasts that commemorate dark days in Israel’s history into joyful days of feasting. Instead of mourning (as was the case with Israel during and following the exile), these days will be characterizes by joyfulness and festive celebration because of the redemption Yahweh will accomplish on Israel’s behalf. In fact, in Zephaniah 3:17 God himself will rejoice over his covenant people.
There is one other word I want us to look at in this passage. In our passage, in verse 10 we see that the redeemed of Yahweh who will return to Zion with singing will be overtaken, or overwhelmed by joy and gladness and, with the departure of sorrow and sighing, will experience uninterrupted happiness (Isaiah 35:10). In this case, the salvation of the Lord will be so great that the people of Israel will simply be overtaken by the joy of their newfound freedom and redemption.
At the same time, this idea of overtaking could equally well be translated “they overtake gladness and joy,” in which case the meaning would be that the joy that had been previously eluding their grasp will now at last be caught and possessed. They have longed to walk in the joy of the Lord and in his redemption they have finally obtained it!
In this season of Advent there are plenty of reasons for allowing ourselves to be overtaken by joy and gladness.
So, while I understand that in this passage in Isaiah it is in reference to the people of Israel returning to the Land after exile, and that it also hints at future rejoicing, my thought is, why would the energetic and often joyful charismatic worhsip style be inappropriate in a corporate worship setting?
Charismatics often get accused of emotionalism and over-focusing on the experience and such. My question is, well why not? Is that not part of the joy of worshipping God? Experiencing joy and the emotions that go with it seems to be not only okay in Isaiah, but even encouraged. What is wrong with times of joyful worship in the congregation before the One who has brought us out of our own spiritual exile and slavery sin and death??!! (and that most notably through the Cross of Christ!).
Obviously it is there is a time for this and that but I think there is a pretty solid biblical case for the appropriateness of occasions of joyous, festive, and dare I suggest “emotional” worship “experiences” (oops, there goes that dreaded “e” word again…). 😉
Please know I am not putting down the more quite reverent forms of worship – I like those times too and think they can equally evoke in one deep emotions of joy and greatfulness to God for his redemptive work in and through Jesus Christ. I think there can and should be times for both joyous celebrative worship and the quiter moments – and believe it or not, in most healthy charismatic or pentecostal churches (and there are healthy ones out there, believe it or not), such as the Assemblies of God, Foursquare, even the Vineyard churches, in one worship service one can expereince a variety of styles of congregational worship – and it should be that way – I don’t think it should be all one or all the other all the time. Healthy congregational worship will go back and forth as led by the Spirit of God.
What say you?