Happiness over an unanticipated or present good. In the Old Testament joy (Heb. sama ) covers a wide range of human experiencesfrom sexual love (So 1:4), to marriage (Pr 5:18), the birth of children (Psalm 113:9), the gathering of the harvest, military victory (Isa 9:3), and drinking wine (Psalm 104:15). On the spiritual level it refers to the extreme happiness with which the believer contemplates salvation and the bliss of the afterlife. Unexpected benefits from God are expressed in terms of common experiences. The psalms express the joyous mood of believers as they encounter God. Believers rejoice because God has surrounded them with his steadfast love (32:11) and brought them to salvation (40:16; 64:10). David rejoices that God has delivered him from the hand of his enemies (63:11). Joy is a response to God's word (Psalm 119:14) and his reward to believers (Isa 65:14) and their strength (Ne 8:10).
Fundamental to the Old Testament understanding of joy are God's Acts in history, the most important of which is Israel's deliverance from Egypt (Exod 18:9-11). Israel's return from the Babylonian exile (Jer 31:1-19) to Jerusalem is above the highest joy (Psalm 137:6). The restoration of Israel will be an occasion for joy (Psalm 14:7) in which nature shares (Psalm 98:4-6). 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 from spiritual ones, they are not separated. Spiritual joys are expressed by the metaphors of feasting, marriage, victory in military endeavors, and successful financial undertakings. The joy of the harvest is used to describe the believer's final victory over his adversaries (Psalm 126:5-6). Christ's coming is described by the joy of the harvest and dividing up captured military booty (Isa 9:2-7). In turn, spiritual joys elevate the secular happiness of believers. Secular successes are regarded as unexpected benefits from God.
Old Testament imagery for joy is carried over into the New. Jesus joins the joys of marriage and spiritual ones by describing John the Baptist's reaction to his coming as the joy (chara ) of the friend of the bridegroom (John 3:29-30). This is accentuated by this pericope's proximity to the Cana wedding miracle where the water 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 of the Messiah is an occasion of joy for his father and others (Luke 1:14). The angel's greeting (chaire) to Mary followed by "highly favored, " a word of 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 all people (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's conversion (Luke 10:20). Luke places three parables together in which God, in two instances with the angels, rejoices at the redemption. Upon finding the lost sheep, the shepherd rejoices (15:3-7). The woman rejoices upon finding the lost coin (15:8-10). The prodigal son's return brings rejoicing (15:11-32). The parable of the man who liquifies his assets to purchase the treasure hidden in the field teaches us that God has joy in bringing about the atonement (Matt 13:44). This parallels Jesus who with joy "endured the cross, scorning its shame" (Heb 12:2). Also for believers, trials and persecution are occasions for joy (James 1:2). Peter and John found their scourging an occasion for "rejoicing because they had been counted 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). It is a part of faith (Php 1:25). Joy expresses the relationship between the apostle and his congregations and an opportunity for thanksgiving (Rom 15:32; Php 2:28), with each rejoicing in the other. God's kingdom is described as "righteousness, peace and joy" (Rom 14:17). Certainty of salvation is a cause for joy, as the disciples are commanded to "rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Fellowship with Jesus brings continuous joy (John 15-17).
David P. Scaer
See also Blessedness; Holy Spirit; Holy Spirit, Gifts of
Bibliography. J. Moltmann, Theology and Joy; W. G. Morrice, Joy in the New Testament.
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.