Sounds like: saw’mawkh (verb), saw’may’akh (adjective), sim’khah (noun)
This week has not been the most joyful for our family. We lost a family friend. She went home to meet God, face to face. Shirley (Stuebing) Mandigo was the embodiment of joy on this planet. She was one of my Mom’s closest friends and she was also like a second Mom to me. Her daughter, Jill, and I were great friends growing up, and we still are great friends, even though we are separated by two provinces, 18+ hours of driving and over 1800 kilometres. Jill was a bridesmaid at our marriage ceremony, and Shirley did all our wedding flowers… including my medieval-style bouquet, which I still think is the most perfect arrangement of flowers ever crafted (but I’m biased).
Shirley often took Jill and I to Brucedale beach Lake Huron, in Ontario, where you could walk out into the water for what felt like miles, and it wouldn’t go higher than your ankles. When we turned around to come back to shore Shirley would sit on the beach and wave to us like far distant travellers coming home.
There’s something about being called home that warms the heart. This month Shirley was called home. What a wonderful thing for Shirley, but not so wonderful for the rest of us. For those left behind we recognize that this planet has a little less joy than it had before. There’s a hole in the world that was once filled with joy, and now it is empty.
That must have been what the Hebrew people felt like when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, tore down the Temple, raided its treasures, and yanked the people out of the city as political prisoners. Jerusalem, once joy filled, was an empty hole. For the Jewish people, their world was literally ripped away from them; the music stopped.
The Joy of YHWH is your Strength.
The new wine mourns, the vine decays, all the merry-hearted [sim’kheh lev] sigh. The gaiety of tambourines ceases, the noise of revellers stops, the gaiety of the harp ceases. They do not drink wine with song; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.
The city of chaos is broken down; every house is shut up so that none may enter. There is an outcry in the streets concerning the wine; all joy [kal sim’khah] turns to gloom. The gaiety of the earth is banished.
The Hebrew people lived for 70 years as political prisoners before they were allowed to return to Jerusalem and reclaim their homeland. When they were finally able to return, and celebrate their Jewish heritage, the joy was insurmountable! Just hearing the words of the Torah being read aloud brought many of them to happy tears:
Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to YHWH your God; do not mourn or weep.” (For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law). Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy [khed’vat] of YHWH is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate
a great festival [with great joy: sim’khah g’dolah], because they understood the words which had been made known to them.
Why did they celebrate with great joy?… because they understood the words. They understood that YHWH was their strength, and that the Feast of Booths, (which was what they were celebrating in Nehemiah 8), was a reminder of the time when God dwelt among them in the desert. They were not alone. God was still among them, giving them strength to rebuild Jerusalem.
Joy: Rebuilding & Rededicating the Temple
And rebuild was exactly what they did. They rebuilt the Temple… the sacred space where God would reside amongst the people. When the foundations were laid for the new Temple there was great rejoicing. But the elderly, who remembered the first Temple, felt sadness over its loss and, what must have felt like, an end of an era:
They sang, praising and giving thanks to YHWH, saying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised YHWH because the foundation of the house of YHWH was laid. Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy [b-sim’khah], so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy [ha-sim’khah] from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away.
Sometimes the loss can be too overwhelming… even when we know we should be moving forward, it’s awfully hard to say goodbye. And so it is with the death of a loved one. Those who have a relationship with their God get to meet their Creator! We should be celebrating on their behalf. But the powerful memories we have, of those we’ve lost, tether us to the earth. There is a sadness at the thought of being without them, and at the thought of being alone… and the feeling that life will never quite be the same. This new post-exile Temple would never quite be the same as Solomon’s Temple. For those who would have remembered the grandeur of the first Temple, it would have been a hard thing to let go of:
When YHWH brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting [rinnah]; then they said among the nations, “YHWH has done great things for them.”
YHWH has done great things for us; we are glad [s’mekhim]. Restore our captivity, O YHWH, as the streams in the South. Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting [b-rinnah]. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy [b-rinnah], bringing his sheaves with him.
In the Hebrew language a “shout of joy” had its own word: rinnah (7440). Although the first step in rebuilding the Temple was hard for those who were old enough to remember it, by the time the Temple was completed there were no more tears, only shouts of joy!
And on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced [w-yi-s’makhu] because God had
given them great joy [made them rejoice with great joy: simm’kham sim’khah g’dolah], even the women and children rejoiced [sam’ekhu], so that the joy of Jerusalem [sim’khat y’rushalim] was heard from afar.
They say that time heals all wounds. I’m not completely sure that is true. But for those who trusted in YHWH, there would be a time when grief and mourning would be put aside and replaced with joy; a time when you could not help but be completely filled with happiness! And that joy that you would feel wouldn’t just be here one day, and gone the next, it would be everlasting.
A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it. No lion will be there, nor will any vicious beast go up on it; these will not be found there.
But the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of YHWH will return and come with joyful shouting [b-rinnah] to Zion, with everlasting joy [w-sim’khat olam] upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy [sasown w-sim’khah], and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
When Adam and Eve cursed themselves in the Garden, YHWH had to put a plan in motion to ransom and redeem His people. By the way of a Messiah, through the line of David, He would put them on the path to righteousness, and that path would take them to a place where sorrow and sighing could not exist. It would be a place of eternal gladness and great joy. A place where YHWH resided, waiting to welcome His people back to the Garden.
Isaiah 51:3, 11, 14-16
Indeed, YHWH will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the Garden of YHWH; joy and gladness [sasown w-sim’khah] will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody…
…So the ransomed of YHWH will return and come with joyful shouting [b-rinnah] to Zion, and everlasting joy [w-sim’khah olam] will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy [sasown w-sim’khah], and sorrow and sighing will flee away…
…The exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his bread be lacking. For I am YHWH your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar (YHWH of hosts is His name). I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’”
We are exiled people; we were sent out of the Garden of Eden, which is our natural homeland. It’s where we were meant to be. There is a separation between us and God, a wall that we put up ourselves, but Yeshua has broken the barrier so that we can make our way back! Also, YHWH did not leave us without a guide book so that we can turn back in the right direction. The Bible shows us the story of humanity… our fall and our redemption. It is a book filled with God’s words, available for us to study and explore. If you are a follower of God it’s important that you dive in and devour the wisdom that has been placed in front of you:
Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart [l-sasown u-l-sim’khat l’vavi]; For I have been called by Your name, O YHWH God of hosts.
The Word is Salvation. The Word is Joy.
It’s important that we study God’s word, but there is another connection to the Word which we must consider. Isaiah 55 spoke of God’s Word which was uttered from His mouth, and through this Word all that He desired would come to fruition. The word was scripture AND the word was Yeshua, which means Salvation:
“So will My Word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. For you will go out with joy [b-sim’khah] and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy [rinnah] before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
In YHWH’s covenant with David He promised an Anointed One (Messiah) from the line of David who would fulfill God’s plan of Salvation. He was the Word, sent by God, who would accomplish God’s desire… and that desire was to have His children return safely to Him, back to the Garden. Yeshua (Jesus) was sent to the world to be the Word and the Light to humankind, and restore us to God’s Kingdom, a place of everlasting joy:
John 1:1-5, 9-12a
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…
…There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…
Yeshua, the Anointed One from the line of David, was a joy-bringer. He would lead the children of God back to the Garden, like a great light leading the way:
Isaiah 9:2-3, 6
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.
You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness [ha-sim’khah]; they will be glad [sam’khu] in Your presence as with the gladness [k-sim’khat] of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil…
…For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
At the very beginning of Yeshua’s ministry (Luke 4:16-21) He read from the scroll of Isaiah in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth:
Isaiah 61:1-3, 7
The Spirit of the Lord YHWH is upon me, because YHWH has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favourable year of YHWH and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of YHWH, that He may be glorified…
…Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy [ya-ronu] over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, everlasting joy [sim’khat olam] will be theirs.
After Yeshua read this portion of the Isaiah scroll He said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Yeshua knew His role. He knew that He was the final piece of the puzzle which would open up full eternal joy and love to anyone who sought it:
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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 so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
Ultimate Joy (in YHWH’s Presence)
Yeshua came to give us full joy… and true joy is being enveloped in YHWH’s presence. Yeshua fulfilled His mission of salvation. He died so that our soul would not be extinguished in Sheol, but that it could go back to the Garden in the presence of YHWH, where it belonged. The greatest joy will be seeing YHWH face to face.
Therefore my heart is glad [samakh libbi] and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy [s’makhot]; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
We are waiting to be in God’s presence. That is where we are going and that is the one thing that will bring us FULL joy forever and ever.
But we, today, have become pleasure junkies. We are always looking out for the next best thing to make us feel good and joyful. But this kind of joy is fleeting; it does not last. When the item or event is finished, so is the joy:
So YHWH God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy [sim’khah g’dolah] about the plant. But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.”
Jonah felt great joy for a plant, but the next day it withered and Jonah withered right along with it. His joy was perishable, and in less than twenty-four hours he went from great happiness to overwhelming misery. To Jonah, death seemed a better option than life, because his understanding of joy was completely misplaced. That is what happens when your happiness or joyfulness is reliant on things that do not really matter… things of this world that give short bursts of pleasure: money, food, a comfy chair, shopping, recognition, games, good grades, and a nice living space. These things cannot give eternal joy, especially when we start comparing our joy to other peoples joy. Maybe we’re not as happy as we thought we were? They have a better house, they have more money, their grades are better than mine. But those things mean nothing when it comes to true happiness. Only by being in YHWH’s presence can we be forever joyful and unendingly happy.
After a very humbling moment in king David’s life, he wrote the following:
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness [sasown w-sim’khah], let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.
David understood what joy really was… to be in God’s presence and to be wholeheartedly grateful for the salvation that God promised.
All moments of joy in the Bible pointed to, or alluded to, the victorious end of this epic story of humanity… whether it was joy over vanquishing enemies (1 Samuel 18:6), joy of the great appointed feasts (2 Chronicles 30:21-23, Ezra 6:22, Deuteronomy 16:13-15, Nehemiah 8:14-18), or joy in celebrating the coronation of a King (1 Kings 1:39-40, 1 Chronicles 29:17-19, 22). The end of this story would be a joyful ending… and you are part of it. All who put their trust in YHWH will be greeted with the most joyful ending imaginable. That is where my friend Shirley is right now… face to face with her Creator, existing in the fullness of joy beyond our comprehension. What a beautiful ending that is… and a beautiful beginning.
Shout joyfully [ha-riu] to YHWH, all the earth. Serve YHWH with gladness [b-sim’khah]; come before Him with joyful singing. Know that YHWH Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For YHWH is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.
Next week: Behold, Here I Am