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There’s Joy and Then There’s “Joy”

The Bible is full of joy and rejoicing in all kinds of settings. All sorts of lessons are there to guide us from joy to “Joy.”  
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Two kinds of joy can be ours right now. One is related only to this life. The other is related to the things of God. One is only temporal. The other holds eternal promise. One is open to indulgence and abuse. The other is a safeguard against wrong. If the one is joy, the other is “Joy.” God has created us to know both, to know the difference between them, and to gain the Joy that lifts us above everything else.

The Bible is full of joy and rejoicing in all kinds of settings. All sorts of lessons are there to guide us from joy to “Joy.”  

Haman and Esther’s Banquet

Haman is a failure waiting to happen and he doesn’t know it. Esther figures him out and determines exactly how to manipulate this enemy of her people. She lures him with joy to his own destruction.

Then Esther answered and said, “My petition and request is this: If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, then let the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said.” So Haman went out that day joyful and with a glad heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and that he did not stand or tremble before him, he was filled with indignation against Mordecai. (Esther 5:7-9)1

It’s not hard to recognize the kind of joy that entices Haman. It looks like this:  

The immediate source of Haman’s joy is the flattering attention he suddenly gets from Queen Esther.  Beneath it, though, is an enormous ego that can be flattered and exploited while he never suspects a thing. 

The things that drive Haman are a window into the man: riches, pride of family, promotion, advancement above others, attention in high places, and honor (Esther 5:10-12; 6:6). And by his own admission, these are powerless to temper his hatred of Mordecai (Esther 5:13-14). Any joy he derives from position and prestige cannot cope with the other prejudices he harbors in his soul. As a result, he can plunge from joy to indignation in a heartbeat. Some life!

It is good to remember Haman and stop to consider what drives us when we are drawn to the pleasures of the world around us. Rarely will these joys have the power to transcend our other feelings or see us through the next setback in life. Their fleeting nature tells us that they hold no eternal promise for us.

The Wise Men and the Star

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (Matthew 2:9-10).

This situation is very different.  It’s the other kind of “Joy,” and its impact leaves us with much to think about. 

The star came and went and came again, exactly when it was needed and where it was needed. It was from God. And for the wise men, it had everything to do with the things of God. They are looking for Christ. They’ve come a long way on their journey, and God now helps them find him by means over which they have no control. Their “Joy” springs from this immediate realization. The Joy also has eternal promise for them because they know that the child they seek is yet to be the king of the Jews.

The lessons transfer easily. God shows His hand in our lives, too. It may be intermittent, but always happens at the right time and place. Do we see it, even in retrospect? It is cause for exceedingly great “Joy” because He is leading us to Christ. It reminds us that this is the journey He has set us on, and He will see us through to its end.  

And what about the star’s impact and the Joy it brought to the moment? The whole experience was temporary, like so many things in life. But would the wise men ever forget? How could they? This kind of Joy is not easily eclipsed. It will always be different from a banquet invitation that immediately goes bad. It will always be there, if only in the backs of their minds. It will always have the power to remind them, again and again, that God is with them whatever happens in life. This kind of “Joy” is both lasting and transcending.   

Ahab and Naboth’s Vineyard 

The story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard does not hint at joy, but it is a mirror for us to look in.  

Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard which was in Jezreel, next to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.
So Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near, next to my house; and for it I will give you a vineyard better than it. Or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its worth in money.”
But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!” So
Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.”
And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.
(1 Kings 21:1-4).

The story is about acquisition. It’s about trying to get the things that we want in life. What kind of joy is Ahab after when he casts his eye on Naboth’s vineyard? Check the boxes on King Ahab. 

Ahab is hardly after the things of God. In fact, both kinds of joy elude him. He is denied the immediate joy of acquisition, and his petulance reveals a man who knows nothing about transcending Joy. He is completely unable to deal with the smallest setback in life.  

We know how the story ends. Ahab gets what he wants anyway, or does he? The means of acquisition are unconscionable, and instead of joy, he gets rebuke and regret. God sees to it.

Ahab didn’t need Naboth’s vineyard. He needed Joy in God. How differently would the story have ended if he had had it? It would have ended before it began! Godliness with contentment is great gain, and with it, Ahab would not have started down this tragic path. Surely, there are some takeaways in all of this.  


The only thing we know about the prophet Habakkuk is that his name means “to embrace.” Embrace what? Perhaps he is presented this way so we can identify with him and decide what is worth embracing. If this is the case, he certainly tells us:

Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls—Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills. (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

This man covets no vineyard, is enticed by no banquets, and considers these things pointless: there is no fruit on the vines or food to be had. Habakkuk has nothing, and he has everything. He has “Joy” with the largest possible ”J.” 

It is not easy to know this “Joy” when we have everything in life: health, prosperity, and apparent security against the future. An abundance of these blessings can be an end in itself and blind us to the need for much greater “Joy.”

It is often those in deep need who know far better what this Joy is. When everything is gone, when our backs are to the wall, the one thing that can never be taken from us—when we have it—is “Joy” in the God of our salvation. It endures. It stays by us. It transcends everything in this life. And it holds the promise of eternal Joy to come when there will be no want for the people of God. God created us to know what “Joy” is so that we might find this Joy in Him and have it forever, no matter how difficult—or comfortable—our present lives may be.

The Joy of the Resurrection

Christ is alive from the dead. We can measure our faith by the” Joy” that this gives us. Fill in the blanks below.

There is no doubt about the “Joy” that it gave to the earliest disciples as the absolute certainty of Christ’s resurrection took control of their lives.

At the empty tomb:

But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. … So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. (Matthew 28:1-10).

Fear and great “Joy.” They are totally conflicted.

Behind locked doors:

Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb.  And He took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:36-43).

Terrified, frightened, troubled, irrepressible doubts, unbelief, and “Joy” and marveling. “Joy” is struggling for its place within them. And it will prevail. 

At the ascension:

And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen. (Luke 24:50-53).

“Joy” has triumphed over fear and doubt.

And going forward:

When they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:40-42).

Nothing can stop them now. Their Joy sweeps every adversary from the field. It drives them forward in Christ, come what may. It redefines life and is the promise of everlasting Joy to come.  

It is the “Joy” that God created us to have, starting right now.   

Jim Harper,
Meriden Ecclesia, CT

  1. All Scriptural citations are taken from the New King James Version, unless specifically noted.
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