In modern society, we use the words joy and happiness as if they are synonyms, and if you look them up in the dictionary or thesaurus you will find it to be so. However, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this study on the fruit of joy, I am finding two different concepts in scripture. Joy seems to be an attitude, or way of life, that breeds contentment. Happiness seems to be something that is based on what happens to us in life. Happiness and happens, words I used in that last sentence, are both words derived from the same Old English word, hap, meaning chance or luck.
There are so many examples of this contrast in scripture that you could write a whole book about it and still not cover it all. So this post will focus on Solomon, whose luck in life (provided by God as a reward) afforded him great wealth and honor. Solomon had everything, but still had to learn how to be joyful. The next post will be about Paul. Paul was born to privilege but as a result of his conversion to Christianity, his life became tumultuous and he had little earthly pleasures to bring him happiness. Interestingly, both men wrote a significant portion of scripture, so we can glean much from their lives.
Solomon is significant to this study of joy as his perspective is one of a man who gained everything but still sought something He felt was missing. Ecclesiastes, one of the books that is traditionally believed to be penned by the great and wise King Solomon, starts out on a melancholy note and leads one to believe that no study of joy should include this seemingly pessimistic book. In verse 2 of chapter 1, he says, “…Utterly meaningless! Everything is Meaningless!” However, if you persevere and read this book through, the contrast it offers gives what I believe is the very key to joy. So, Let’s do a quick walk through of Ecclesiastes. It is a short book with just twelve chapters ,so I encourage you to take the time to read it through. You will probably find it an easy read because it puts words to some of the thoughts you may have had if you have lived for awhile as an adult.
King Solomon starts out in the first two chapters by pointing out the futility of pursuing knowledge, pleasure, wealth, wisdom, folly, and hard work. He likens it all to chasing after the wind; which if you think about it, the wind can’t be caught by chasing it – hold onto that thought for a minute and build a mental image of it. Solomon determines after some deliberation that whether or not you pursue these things, you aren’t content with things, and you will still die. Downer!
So where’s the joy, you say? Not there yet! Chapter 3 starts out okay, lining out maybe the most popularly quoted passage from Ecclesiates. Verse 1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”. It goes on to list several contrasting seasons of life. Then, slam! Back down in the depths of futility we go! To sum up what Solomon writes, despite the fact that God made it all and will at some point in the future bring past evil to judgment, evil is currently present for as long as our future here on earth lasts; until God says so. Until then, we live and die just like the animals and are left to wonder about heaven and the great beyond. Ouch. No joy in these thoughts.
In Chapters 4 through 6, he delves into more despairing thoughts. The seemingly negative stuff – oppression, toil, loneliness, etc. – all meaningless. The seemingly positive stuff – advancement, sacrificial vows to God/church, riches, relationships, etc. – all meaningless. It can all be taken away in a breath.
Here’s something I found interesting. The theme for the next few chapters seems to be that the wisdom we think is wisdom is just folly because, next to God’s greatness, we know nothing. Ecclesiates 7:14 in the Amplified says, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider that God has made the one side by side with the other, so that man may not find out anything that shall be after him.” The next verse picks up a whole other thought so we don’t get a good explanation of why He doesn’t want us to know our future.
This can be frustrating as it pertains to our Christian walk. I mean, we know truth and good judgment one day and the next we realize we don’t even know what is going to happen next, so all our good intentions have brought us right back to set squarely at the feet of God, waiting on Him. It is so true isn’t it? Life’s down days bring us to the feet of Jesus. Just when we think we are on the right path and we have a handle on this walk, we come up against a wall – or a mountain – and we realize, we didn’t know as much we thought we did. Happiness is fleeting, right? Happiness is based on our circumstances, on how we feel at any given moment. But what of joy? Can we still have that? If so, where do we find it?
Let’s ask some leading questions.
Q. Where does the lack of knowledge of our own future bring us? A. To the feet of Jesus.
Q. Who covets our love and devotion? A. Jesus (God).
Q. Who has pursued us and offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sin, so that we can be in a personal relationship with Him? A. Jesus.
God is the answer to all of the questions we have about joy. That very answer is there hidden in Ecclesiastes 8:12. “Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly.” (NASB)
It will be well. For those who fear God. The Hebrew word translated as “well” here is “towb”, pronounced tobe, which means beautiful, best, better, bountiful, cheerful, at ease. Also, to be in favor, fine, glad or good. Sometimes it feels as though we are doing all the right things, reaping no benefits, and all those who are not doing the right things get all the good things. But, God is the good thing. The Hebrew word translated here as “fear” is “yare”, pronounced yah-ray, which means reverent, or to be in reverence. So we could say, “I know those who revere God, will be fine, cheerful and at ease.” I believe Solomon may have learned that joy was simply reverence for God. Seems to simple doesn’t it?
This “wisdom is folly” theme continues on through the rest of the book of Ecclesiates, including most of the last chapter; until the last two verses. Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NASB) says, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” (Here is a NASB & KJV Lexicon for your studying enjoyment!) He confirms what we gleaned earlier from 8:12. Our joy is in keeping God’s commandments; in revering Him. We live in His presence by grace. His glory is our abiding joy. Without His glory, hope does not exist and the fleeting happiness that life’s pleasures afford is incomplete.
While Solomon found temporary happiness in the comforts of life, he was also plague by the turmoil that naturally abounds in our world. He was keenly aware of the delicate balance between happiness and unhappiness and he believed there must be some overarching theme that brought it all into focus. We know from what is printed in scripture of Solomon’s life, that God had granted him extraordinary wisdom. In the end, the only wisdom he found sound was that joy and contentment came in the only constant in life. God. The God who created us and loved us enough to die for us.
Stay tuned to see if we draw the same conclusions from Paul’s life!
To read more about Solomon’s life, click the links below:
2 Samuel 11 & 12 (The story of his conception)
1 Kings 1 – 11 (The story of his kingship)
1 Chronicles 22-29 (Chronicle of his life)
2 Chronicles 1-9 (More on his life)
Songs of Solomon (Solomon in love)
Proverbs (Some of the proverbs written from his God-given wisdom)