Asher: The Pursuit of HAPPY

HAPPY (Blessed): asher/esher (Strong’s 833 & 835 & 837). 

Root: אשר

Sounds like: asher/esher/osher/ash’reh

It could be said that the pursuit of happiness is the great obsessions of humanity. If you look up happiness quotes on the internet you are bombarded with pages and pages and pages of words.

There are positive words about happiness:

“There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.” (Charlotte Bronte)

There are cynical words about happiness:

“Happiness is the interval between periods of unhappiness.” (Don Marquis)

There are instructional words about happiness:

“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.” (Andrew Carnegie)

There are warrior words about happiness:

“Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.” (Ayn Rand)

There are words that try to define happiness:

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” (Aristotle)

But do these quotes reflect the Biblical idea of the word happy? Is happiness, like Aristotle indicates, our reason for existence?

The first time one finds happy in the Bible, it was about family… a mother naming a child after the happiness she felt when he was born:  

Genesis 30:12-13

Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, “Happy am I [b-ash’ri]! For women will call me happy [ish’runi].” So she named him Asher [Happy].

Ultimate happiness has a connection to relationship and family. Asher was one of Jacob’s twelve sons, and one of the twelve tribes of Israel… part of God’s chosen family. It was the Hebrew family that would unite humanity back in right relationship with YHWH. 

Happy vs Blessed

There is a bit of a translation confusion with the word asher. It has often been translated as “blessed”, but there’s a completely different Hebrew word for blessed: barak. Happy is an adjective, a state of being; to be blessed is a verb. When someone was blessed they tended to be happy, but many translations have transcribed both asher and barak as blessed, which confuses things.

For example in Psalm 112, where both asher and barak/varak are present, most translations render both as blessed:

Psalm 112:1-2 (see also Psalm 128)

Praise Yah [Hallu Yah]! How blessed [Happy: ash’reh] is the man who fears YHWH, who greatly delights in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed [y’vorak].

If you have a respectful fear of YHWH and you walk in His ways you will be happy and God will confer a blessing upon you. Happy and blessed aren’t the same thing.

Almost every time you read the phrase “How blessed” or “Blessed is” in your English Bible, in Hebrew it is ash’reh which means “happy”. This word is frequently found in the Psalms and, in fact, it’s the very first word of the Psalms:

Psalm 1:1-2

Happy [ash’reh] is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of YHWH, and in His law he meditates day and night.

The Bible gives many clear examples of who is happy:

The Bible always connected happiness to YHWH… being close to Him, following His commandments (such as looking after the poor), seeking His wisdom, trusting in Him. It was from YHWH that we would get our happiness.

Photo by Free to Use Sounds (unsplash.com)

Happiness: Valuing others

As we noted earlier, atheist Ayn Rand said, “Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.” To her, happiness was putting value in oneself, but according to the Bible, happiness was putting value in others.

Psalm 146:5-10

Happy [ash’reh] is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in YHWH his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.

YHWH sets the prisoners free. YHWH opens the eyes of the blind; YHWH raises up those who are bowed down; YHWH loves the righteous; YHWH protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, but He thwarts the way of the wicked. YHWH will reign forever, Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise YHWH!

YHWH championed the cause of the unfortunate, and as His image-bearers on this earth, we are meant to take up that cause. We are the hands and feet of our Creator, to raise up those who are bowed down, to execute justice, to feed the hungry, to protect strangers and support the orphaned and widowed… and in doing any of these things we, who are helped by YHWH, experience happiness. Pure joy is not in taking, but in giving. Job recognized this:

Job 29:11-16

“For when the ear heard, it called me happy [wa-t’ash’reni], and when the eye saw, it gave witness of me, because I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the orphan who had no helper. The blessing of the one ready to perish came upon me, and I made the widow’s heart sing for joy.

I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I investigated the case which I did not know.

Job did all these right and wonderful things, and these things brought happiness to him as the deliverer. But Job also suffered terribly. We can be happy, but it does not exempt us from suffering. A full life on earth, as it exists now, includes both happiness and suffering… and sometimes one enriches the other.

In His sermon on the mount Yeshua (Jesus) acknowledged that life was full of persecution, but suffering on earth would be worth the reward in heaven, and in that we should be happy:

Matthew 5:11-12

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad Be happy and exult [Greek: chairete kai agalliasthe], for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

God never said life would be all happy all the time, on the contrary, after Eve and Adam were expelled from Eden, they were told that they would have to work hard to eke out an existence, toiling with blood, sweat and tears; women would experience pain in childbirth; and there would be inequality of the sexes (Genesis 3:16-19). This was not what God wanted for humanity. He wanted them to be in Eden with Him, a place of generous abundance, a place of equality and health. And although humans would have to wander through earth experiencing pain and hardship, YHWH wouldn’t abandon them. He would find a way to get them back to Eden… but it would take a death to restore life to the way it was meant to be.

Happy are the Chosen Ones

And so YHWH chose a human family, the family of Abraham, to kickstart the plan of human salvation into action. This family was chosen to be the ancestors of God’s Anointed One… the One who would sacrifice Himself for the sake of our happiness, and in doing so, reunite God with His children back in the Garden.

YHWH made a covenant with Abram, a promise that a great and blessed nation would come through his line. All the families on the planet would be blessed by Abram’s family:

Genesis 12:2-3

YHWH to Abram: And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed [w-niv’r’ku].”

The Blessing of Salvation would come to all the human families through one particular family: Israel.

Deuteronomy 33:29

Happy are you, O Israel [Ash’reka Israel]; who is like you, a people saved by YHWH, who is the shield of your help and the sword of your majesty! So your enemies will cringe before you, and you will tread upon their high places.”

YHWH had a special plan for these people and He would protect them and save them so that they could fulfill God’s plan.

Even the Queen of Sheba recognized how happy Israel was under the guidance of Solomon’s God-given wisdom:

1 Kings 10:6-9 (see also 2 Chronicles 9 and Ecclesiastes 10:17)

Then she [the Queen of Sheba] said to the king, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. Nevertheless I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I heard. Happy [ash’reh] are your men, happy [ash’reh] are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom. Blessed be YHWH your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because YHWH loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” 

The Queen of Sheba was a foreigner, she wasn’t Jewish, but she recognized that Solomon’s people were happy, and that happiness didn’t come from Solomon, it came from YHWH their God.

The Bible continually reminded the Hebrew people of the reward to come. They were the chosen family to fulfill YHWH’s promise to all of humanity: one day all those who longed for Him would behold YHWH, their Teacher, with their own eyes; one day they would be in the Garden with Him again. 

Isaiah 30:18-21a

Therefore YHWH longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For YHWH is a God of justice; how blessed [happy: ash’reh] are all those who long for Him.

O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it.” 

Following YHWH’s path would lead to the greatest happiness… a reunion between God and His people.

Happiness is Seeking YHWH

However, God’s plan of action wasn’t a quick one and humans would have to learn to cope and garner happiness where they could find it. Regardless of all the pain and hard work, happiness on earth was still achievable.

One good way to find happiness was to seek and experience YHWH. Psalm 119 was an acrostic poem with 22 stanzas, each stanza beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in alphabetical order. The first word of Psalm 119 was ash’reh, which began with the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, aleph:

Psalm 119:1-3 Aleph.

Happy [Ash’reh] are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of YHWH. Happy [ash’reh] are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; they walk in His ways.

Again, seeking, finding and following YHWH was a clear path towards happiness. But happiness wasn’t just for the family that God chose to be the human progenitors of the Messiah; every human was a child of God, they just had different parts to play. They all had equal shares in the happiness that God would provide.

Isaiah 56:1-3a, 6-7

Thus says YHWH, “Preserve justice and do righteousness, for My salvation [Yeshuati] is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed. Happy [ash’reh] is the man who does this, and the son of man who takes hold of it; who keeps from profaning the sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to YHWH say, “YHWH will surely separate me from His people.”…

…Also the foreigners who join themselves to YHWH, to minister to Him, and to love the name of YHWH, to be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath and holds fast My covenant; even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

Happiness in Exile

During the Babylonian invasion of Judah, it would have been awfully hard to remain happy. In fact, happiness had taken a dark and twisted turn. In their great agony and despair the Psalmist used the word “happy” in connection with some pretty startling and miserable imagery. The Hebrew people had lost so much to Bablyon that they prayed for retribution. They prayed that someone should do to Babylon what Babylon had done to them: 

Psalm 137:7-9

Remember, O YHWH, against the sons of Edom, the day of Jerusalem, who said, “Raze it, raze it to its very foundation.”

O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how blessed happy [ash’reh] will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us. Happy [ash’reh] will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.

There was nothing happy about this, it was in utter despair that they called for such horrific punishment. These people had lost everything, and it seemed like all they had left to hold onto was a hope for retribution.

Paul, as a follower of Yeshua and His teachings, could not agree with vengeance of any kind:

Romans 12:14-18

Bless [Eulogeite] those who persecute you; bless [eulogeites] and do not curse. Rejoice Be happy [chairein] with those who rejoice are happy [chaironton], and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 

Seventy years after the exile to Babylon the Jewish people were allowed to return home, but they still remained under foreign control. And even though they were back, they still felt anger and resentment. Time doesn’t always heal wounds. 

Malachi 3:10-12

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says YHWH of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says YHWH of hosts. “All the nations will call you blessed happy [w-ish’ru], for you shall be a delightful land,” says YHWH of hosts.

YHWH called on them to test Him and He would reward them, and with that reward all the nations would call them happy. But all they could focus on was the undeserved happiness of their enemies:

Malachi 3:13-15

“Your words have been arrogant against Me,” says YHWH. “Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before YHWH of hosts? So now we call the arrogant happy [m-ash’rim]; not only are the doers of wickedness built up but they also test God and escape.’”

The post-exilic Jewish people were bitter: wicked people were experiencing happiness, while they, themselves, were miserable. How could the wicked prosper and relish in such joy, when the followers of God suffered so much? How was that fair?

Happiness: The Messiah

About 400 years after the writings of Malachi, Yeshua wandered through Israel, but this time it was the Romans who had political power over the Jewish people. 

As a people under foreign control, they prayed for freedom, and praying for freedom meant praying for the Messiah to come. To them, true happiness would be an independent Jewish country and the Messiah would certainly be the one to accomplish the task. In their eyes the Messiah would be a triumphant militant King who would utterly defeat Rome.

The Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries, and they expected the great King to be like a new David: militantly dominant, powerful and wealthy. So when Yeshua (Jesus) came, in such a humble way, it did not match up with their vision of a triumphant king.

Yeshua arrived on this planet as a little, needy, baby. And although He was no jacked-up militant King, His presence immediately brought happiness to those who recognized Him:

Matthew 2:9-12

After hearing the king, they [the magi] went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced [Greek: echaresan] exceedingly with great joy happiness [charan]. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

The magi didn’t know exactly why they were going to see this little baby, but when they saw Him they had exceedingly great happiness because they were looking at the key to ultimate happiness. Happiness wasn’t the meaning of life, as Aristotle tried to claim. Salvation, through Yeshua, would reunite us with YHWH and that would result in abundant and everlasting happiness.

Death and Happiness

One wouldn’t think that death and happiness should coincide at all, but Yeshua consistently tied the two together. Almost every time the Gospel writer, John, used chairo (happy in Greek) it was associated with conquering death:

John 8:51-58

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death.” 

The Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.’ Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?” 

Jesus answered, If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced [egalliasato] to see My day, and he saw it and was glad happy [echare].” 

So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” 

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” 

Yeshua noted that Abraham would have been happy for the Messiah’s arrival and His ministry, so why couldn’t the Jewish leaders be happy? Well, for starters, they wouldn’t recognize Yeshua as the Messiah, and His announcement that He would conquer death just angered them. These cryptic things that Yeshua kept saying were words of blasphemy in their eyes, and it gave them fuel for their fire of hatred.

Later in His ministry, when Yeshua found out that His dear friend Lazarus had died, He said something rather puzzling to the disciples.

John 11:11b-16

Jesus: …“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 

The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 

Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, Lazarus is dead, and I am glad happy [chairo] for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 

For Yeshua to say, Lazarus is dead and I am happy, would have made the disciples take notice. Those words seem at odds with each other, but He went on to explain: Lazarus’ death, and miraculous resurrection, would be a powerful tool to help many believe… and that would bring Yeshua happiness.

But it was also Lazarus’ death which brought Yeshua back to the area surrounding Jerusalem, where there was a price on His head, and this miracle would set a spark amongst those who already wanted to kill Him. It was a spark that would ignite the trip-wire leading to His death on the cross.

Only days later Yeshua announced that He would not be with them for much longer… and if they loved Him, they would be happy for His death:

John 14:27-29

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would be happy [echarete] because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.”

But Yeshua understood that the disciples would grieve before they could find happiness:

John 16:19-22

Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, “Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will be happy [kosmos charesetai]; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labour she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will be happy [charesetai], and no one will take your joy away from you.”

Hail! Happiness!

The Greek word for happiness (chaire) was also used as a greeting (often translated as “Hail”). It was like starting off a conversation with a wish: “Happiness to you”. The Messenger Gabriel used this word when he first visited Mary:

Luke 1:26-28

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings [Hail: Chaire], favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

It was equivalent to saying, “Happiness to you, favoured one!” But the same word was also used during Yeshua’s day of execution:

John 19:1-5 (see also Matthew 27:29Mark 15:18)

Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail [Happiness: Chaire!], King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face. 

Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” 

Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!

To cry out this greeting of Happiness was a complete mockery of Yeshua; in fact, the whole event was a farce, from the greeting of joy, to the robes and crown. It was a mockery and, at the same time, it was an announcement of Yeshua’s Kingship. The crucifixion was Yeshua’s coronation, just as it needed to be. Out of such suffering and sorrow would come great happiness. “Happiness, King of the Jews” was a tragic, prophetic, and ultimately beautiful announcement.

Love & Forgiveness = Happiness

For the disciples, male and female, the ultimate happiness came when Yeshua returned to them and they could see the resurrected Yeshua, face to face:

John 20:19-22

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced were happy [echareson] when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We are all children of God, but are we all happy children of God? No. So many are only holding onto happiness in micro-moments… quick little jolts of pleasure that last only a small amount of time… and then we scramble, trying desperately to find the next jolt of short-lived happiness. Is it any wonder that billions of people suffer with depression and anxiety and millions of people suffer with addiction? It’s crippling our planet; we are always reaching for happiness and never fully obtaining it… and falling farther away from it when we can’t reach it.

But Yeshua came and announced that long-lasting happiness was being in a relationship with YHWH and He would be the One to get us back there.  It seemed like there was a wall of death between us and God, and the wall just kept getting thicker and taller. Yeshua came and broke down the wall that was separating us from YHWH and now anyone, who wanted to, could climb over any barrier and face their Creator when their day on earth was done.

Yeshua came to forgive and cover our sins so that we could be purified and reunited in the presence of YHWH. Forgiveness would be the key to happiness:

Psalm 32:1

Happy [ash’reh] is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!

Yeshua not only covered over our sins, but He completely forgave us… so that we could be daughters and sons of YHWH, without deceit:

Psalm 32:2

Happy is the man [ash’reh adam] to whom YHWH does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!

When Yeshua met the disciple Nathaniel, He said, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47) But it was Yeshua who was the Israelite with no deceit. Nathaniel wasn’t perfect, but with Yeshua’s sacrifice, he would be fully forgiven and purified. Yeshua recognized Nathaniel as a willing child of YHWH, who would, one day, face his Creator with a pure heart.

This was YHWH’s great love-letter to humanity… He would send His son to die and conquer death, so that we could be exonerated, redeemed and experience true living. That’s the kind of sacrificial love that YHWH has for His creation.

The novelist Victor Hugo wrote, “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” Victor had the right idea: happiness was ultimately tied to love. From the moment that humanity turned away from Him in the garden, YHWH immediately put a plan in place to reverse the exile of humanity from Eden, His dwelling place, where He waits for His children. Our God loved us so much that He sent a part of Himself to die for us… breaking down the barrier so that we could reunite with Him, face to face, despite all of our substantial faults. It would be YHWH’s greatest happiness to bring us home. 

Next week: deep/sea/abyss 

2 thoughts on “Asher: The Pursuit of HAPPY”

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