Sounds like: ah-lahz, ah’lez
We often associate triumph with the world of sports. Beating your previous record is a personal triumph, winning the Stanley Cup is a team triumph, standing on the top of the Olympic podium makes you triumphant. Historically triumph was more consistently associated with war… winning battles, gaining land, defeating enemies. To show their triumph, winning sides would have parades of triumph and build monuments to their success, such as the Arc de Triomphe.
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate the French success at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Napoleon’s Arc was based on Roman triumphal arcs and the oldest of these to survive is the Arc of Titus, in Rome, which celebrated the defeat of the Jewish people. It has detailed carvings of Jerusalem’s fall to the Romans in 70 AD. The Arc was a symbol of triumph and reflected the jubilation and exultation of being “winners” over the Jewish people. But a careful reading of the Bible tells us that YHWH does not see success as winning a war, or being the best in a sport. What victory looks like for YHWH is a very different affair.
The whole concept of triumph, exultation, jubilation, and celebration is wrapped up in the Hebrew root word alaz.
How Long Shall the Wicked Triumph?
In the ancient world triumph was almost exclusively associated with war and status. Not surprisingly, the people of Israel were jubilant when they won and devastated when they lost. And they lost a lot!
YHWH, God of vengeance, God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, Judge of the earth, pay back retribution to the proud.
How long, YHWH, shall the wicked— How long shall the wicked triumph [ya-a’lozu]?
This was a very frequent question in the Tanakh (Old Testament). Why do the wicked get an easy ride while the righteous suffer? Why do they triumph at all? Why does our God let them win and us lose?
David wondered the same thing, but when his best friend died he simply sang a song of mourning:
2 Samuel 1:17-20, 23-27
Then David sang this song of mourning over Saul and his son Jonathan, and he told them to teach the sons of Judah the mourning song of the bow; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar.
“Your beauty, Israel, is slaughtered on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate [be jubilant: ta-aloz’nah]….
…Saul and Jonathan, beloved and delightful in life, and in their deaths they were not separated; they were swifter than eagles, they were mightier than lions.
Daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with jewelry, who put gold jewelry on your apparel.
How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan is slaughtered on your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been a close friend to me. Your love for me was more wonderful than the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war have perished!”
David recognized that the enemies were triumphant and he called on his people to remain silent about the loss.
Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice…
Gath and Ashkelon were Philistine cities and David didn’t want to give them any more reason to celebrate.
This song of mourning expressed David’s overwhelming grief. He lost his best friend. He did not call on God to give answers; he did not call for a great war of vengeance; he just outlined his pain and sadness.
But in other poems David did call on God to take action:
[David:] May God arise, may His enemies be scattered, and may those who hate Him flee from His presence.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before a fire, so the wicked will perish before God.
But the righteous will be joyful; they will rejoice before God; yes, they will rejoice with gladness.
Sing to God, sing praises to His name; exalt Him [build Him up] who rides through the deserts, whose name is YHWH, and be jubilant [w-il’zu] before Him.
David believed that YHWH would save and YHWH would defeat the enemy… eventually. He understood that wars would be won and wars would be lost, but YHWH would triumph in the end.
The prophet Jeremiah felt the great sting of living as a faithful child of YHWH, in a world adversarial to God. Jeremiah said: I did not sit in a circle of revelers and celebrate. Because of Your hand upon me, I sat alone. (Jeremiah 15:17).
Jeremiah separated himself from his own culture because they were no longer the recognizable children of YHWH. They had turned to pagan worship and they even sacrificed their own children to pagan gods (Jer. 7:31, Jer. 19:5, Jer. 32:35).
[YHWH:] “What right has My beloved in My house when she has carried out many evil schemes? Can the sacrificial flesh take away from you your disaster, so that you can rejoice [ta-a’lozi]?”
YHWH named you “A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form”; with the noise of a great tumult He has set fire to it, and its branches are worthless.
YHWH of armies, who planted you, has pronounced evil against you because of the evil of the house of Israel and the house of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me by offering sacrifices to Baal.
But Jeremiah sat alone, distinct from the Hebrew people who had become worthless in their worship of a worthless god:
[Jeremiah:] You know, YHWH; remember me, take notice of me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. Do not, in view of Your patience, take me away; know that for Your sake I endure reproach.
Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became a joy to me and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, YHWH God of armies.
I did not sit in a circle of revelers and celebrate [wa-el’oz]. Because of Your hand upon me I sat alone, for You filled me with indignation.
Why has my pain been endless and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable?
YHWH replied to Jeremiah with these words:
[YHWH:] “If you return, then I will restore you— you will stand before Me; and if you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become My spokesman.
They, for their part, may turn to you, but as for you, you are not to turn to them.
Then I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; and though they fight against you, they will not prevail over you; for I am with you to save you and rescue you,” declares YHWH. “So I will rescue you from the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.”
YHWH would save; YHWH would rescue; YHWH would restore; YHWH would redeem… if they simply returned to Him. Enemies may rejoice around God’s people, but they will not win in the end. We may live the life of a “loser” in this world, where the “bad” appear to be the winners, but we will not lose in the end. God plays the long game! We just need to be patient.
Habakkuk knew what it meant to be patient in adversity. Everything was falling apart around him, but he still felt triumphant with God on his side:
Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble; because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will attack us.
Even if the fig tree does not blossom, and there is no fruit on the vines, if the yield of the olive fails, and the fields produce no food, even if the flock disappears from the fold, and there are no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph [eh-lozah] in YHWH, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord YHWH is my strength, and He has made my feet like deer’s feet, and has me walk on my high places.
Be Humble, Not Jubilant in Your Own Greatness
The followers of YHWH were called to be jubilant in the presence of their Creator; they were to celebrate YHWH’s greatness, regardless of what was going on around them. But when things are going well, people tend to start believing in their own greatness. This was what caused Jeremiah to sit alone. When Israel and Judah relished in their own success instead of praising YHWH, they lost their mission. As a result of their self aggrandizement, the tables were turned and they were overtaken by enemies and forced into exile:
[YHWH:] Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their nobles are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst.
Therefore Sheol has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth beyond measure; and Jerusalem’s splendour, her multitude, her noise of revelry, and the jubilant [w-alez] within her, descend into it.
So the common people will be humbled and the person of importance brought low, the eyes of the haughty also will be brought low.
It wasn’t just the Hebrew people that was the problem. All of God’s image bearers (humans) were to be humble and they were to rejoice not in their own triumphs, but in YHWH’s greatness. Isaiah prophesied that the powerful community of Tyre would fall from triumph:
He has stretched His hand out over the sea, He has made the kingdoms tremble; YHWH has given a command concerning Canaan to demolish its strongholds.
He has said, “You shall not be jubilant [la-a’loz] anymore, you crushed virgin daughter of Sidon. Arise, pass over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest.”
Babylon, of course, was the great boasting nation that would rise and then fall disastrously.
[YHWH to Babylon:] “Because you are glad, because you are jubilant [ta-a’l’zu], You who pillage My heritage, because you skip about like a threshing heifer and neigh like stallions, your mother will be greatly ashamed, she who gave you birth will be humiliated. Behold, she will be the least of the nations, a wilderness, a dry land and a desert.
Because of the wrath of YHWH she will not be inhabited, but she will be completely desolate; everyone who passes by Babylon will be horrified and will hiss because of all her wounds.
Draw up your battle lines against Babylon on every side, all of you who bend the bow; shoot at her, do not spare your arrows, for she has sinned against YHWH.
Babylon would fall and YHWH would use Babylon’s triumphal boasting to bring them down:
“Babylon will become a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals, an object of horror and hissing, without inhabitants. They will roar together like young lions, they will growl like lions’ cubs.
When they become heated up, I will serve them their banquet and make them drunk, so that they may rejoice in triumph [ya-a’lozu], and may sleep a perpetual sleep and not wake up,” declares YHWH.
It would be a harsh end for a society that triumphed in destruction and chaos. Their belief in their own greatness would be their undoing.
YHWH says “I will triumph”!
When Israel was overtaken by enemies it must have felt like their God was not as powerful as the pagan gods. But that was not the point. Humans had failed and their loss was a reflection of their own reliance upon themselves.
When we make our agendas be God’s agendas we must expect sometimes to lose. We can’t pull God out, wave Him around, and expect Him to do our bidding. Who is in charge?
God would triumph in His own way, by His own plans. And our plans are not always His plans.
Psalm 60:6-8 (see also Psalm 108:7-9)
God has spoken in His holiness:
“I will triumph [e’lozah], I will divide up Shechem, and measure out the Valley of Succoth. Gilead is Mine, and Manasseh is Mine; Ephraim also is the helmet of My head; Judah is My scepter. Moab is My washbowl; I will throw My sandal over Edom; shout loud, Philistia, because of Me!”
All those nations who put war as the height of triumph, YHWH humbled. War was not the measuring line of triumph and victory. Victory was following YHWH. According to the Proverbs, here’s what makes a good father celebrated a good son:
My son, if your heart is wise, my own heart also will be glad, and my innermost being will rejoice [triumph: w-ta-aloz’nah] when your lips speak what is right.
Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of YHWH always.
Certainly there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way.
True triumph was respecting YHWH, speaking truth, being wise and following God’s path. Triumph was about being in alignment with YHWH and not aligning with the human desire for power and control.
When humans turn their hearts to God’s will (and not their own) God hears and reacts:
Blessed be YHWH, because He has heard the sound of my pleading.
YHWH is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart triumphs [wai-ya-aloz], and with my song I shall thank Him.
And it’s not just humans, all of creation celebrates the plans of YHWH:
May the heavens be joyful, and may the earth rejoice; may the sea roar, and all it contains; may the field be jubilant [ya-a’loz], and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before YHWH, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness.
YHWH will judge, not by who won the most wars, who caused the most chaos, who dragged other humans down and who raised themselves above the lowly. That is what winning looks like for the Adversary (ha-Satan).
YHWH is our victorious warrior, but the battle He fights is the opposite of chaos and destruction. He gathers the “losers” (the lost and the lame) and turns their shame to triumph:
Shout for joy, daughter of Zion! Shout [in triumph], Israel!
Rejoice and triumph [w-al’zi] with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! YHWH has taken away His judgments against you, He has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, YHWH, is in your midst; you will no longer fear disaster.
On that day it will be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not be afraid, Zion; do not let your hands fall limp. YHWH your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will rejoice over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
[YHWH:] I will gather those who are worried about the appointed feasts— they came from you, Zion; the disgrace of exile is a burden on them. Behold, I am going to deal at that time with all your oppressors; I will save those who limp and gather the scattered, and I will turn their shame into praise and fame in all the earth.”
Yeshua (Jesus) reflected God’s vision of victory when He told the parable of the prodigal son. A man had two sons. One remained loyal to his father and worked hard maintaining the family farm. The other son asked for his inheritance early, left his family, and lived the life of decadence until his funds ran out. He saw victory in lust and chaos. But when he fell hard he returned home, humbled.
By our standards, his father ought to have been mad and turned him away. But this father rejoiced at his lost son’s return. He welcomed him home and celebrated with a feast. But the oldest son didn’t feel like celebrating:
“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’
But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you never gave me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’
And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”
This was the biggest thing to celebrate. Our old life here will die and fade away, but we will return to the Father in the Garden, and there we will truly live. We may be lost in this world, but we will find our way back to God, and walk with Him in the Garden, face to face, when our time on earth is done. Life is the victory! For YHWH that is the thing worth celebrating; that is what being triumphant looks like… and that is the jubilant ending to our story!
Paul, who always put Yeshua (Jesus) in the spotlight, understood that Yeshua’s sacrifice turned the tables. We were the living dead, walking around on this earth and waiting to perish. But Yeshua’s death brought us life beyond our wanderings on this earth; His death paid our entrance fee back into the Garden; He purified us so that we could walk face to face in YHWH’s Presence:
And when you were dead in your wrongdoings and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our wrongdoings, having canceled the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed [Greek: thriambousas] over them through Him.
Yeshua triumphed. He won the victory. But His victory did not look like any human victory. Death on the cross looked like a great defeat, but it was the only way to win. And although He did the work, Yeshua allowed us to claim the victory… and for that we ought to be jubilant!
Praise YHWH! Sing a new song to YHWH, and His praise in the congregation of the godly ones.
Israel shall be joyful in his Maker; the sons of Zion shall rejoice in their King. They shall praise His name with dancing; they shall sing praises to Him with tambourine and lyre.
For YHWH takes pleasure in His people; He will glorify the lowly with salvation.
The godly ones shall be jubilant [ya-a’l’zu] in glory; they shall sing for joy on their beds.
YHWH is our King. He is our Maker and He loves us and He wants to save us and bring us home! That’s something to celebrate!
Next week: Rethinking COMFORT