I have a friend who loves to study Hebrew from the ancient paleo letters. As many of you know Hebrew was originally a pictographic language like hieroglyphics. You can learn a lot from studying the very basic building blocks of Hebrew, and often times learn the true meaning of a particular word. I am going to show you what a friend taught me about the word for joy in Hebrew. Joy is simcha in Hebrew, pronounced SEEM-kha. There are at least 93 verses in the Hebrew Bible that use this word. It is often translated as delight, joy, rejoicing, pleasure or gladness. But what is true joy?
I don’t know about you, but I can count on one hand the number of people in my life that exhibit true joy on a regular basis. Let’s look at some verses in context and see if we can get a feeling for how God and the Bible defines joy. The first time we see the word simcha is in Genesis 31 when Jacob, his wives, and his children leave Laban’s house to return home. Jacob leaves suddenly and doesn’t tell Laban he is going for fear of how he will react. But when Laban finds out he is very upset. Here is what he says to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have stolen away unknown to me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword? Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and not tell me; for I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp? And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing. It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’” So the first time we see the word simcha in the Bible it is being used in the context of joy even when you are losing loved ones that you may potentially never see again. This is not just a happy-go-lucky personality, it is joy in the face of loss. It is making a conscious choice to see good, and to see God, in your life. Let’s look at another example from Isaiah 35:10. Here God is talking about a time when Israel will return to her land: “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Here again simcha is being defined as joy in spite of exile, death, despair, frustration and hurt.
We often look at people with a sunny disposition and think they must have it all together…they must have all their bills paid, on time and in full, without the pressure of debt, where their families and friends are all healthy and whole, and everyone lives in peace…otherwise, how can they display such joy? I know I don’t feel joy when life’s challenges hit me? How about you? This is, however, TRUE JOY! It is the joy in the trial. It is the peace that surpasses understanding. It is the ability to sleep soundly on a boat about to capsize in a fierce storm (Matt. 8:23-27). Joy is what is seen in contrast to sorrow NOT in spite of it. This is also what makes joy so powerful. When you see someone rejoice before the Lord with all of their heart like King David, it brings a strength to the community, and to the person, that is unsurpassed. This is why Nehemiah 8:10 says, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This is more than a bumper sticker slogan, it is a way of life.
Within the paleo-Hebrew, we can see this true meaning of joy expressed. Although pictures can be subjective at times, this is what my friend showed me that I believe gets to the heart of true simcha. When we put the letters shin, mem, chet, and hay together we get the images teeth, water, fence and a man holding up his arms. Traditional interpretations of these letters shows the true definition of simcha: “to reveal or proclaim when chaos is devoured in the secret place.” WOW! Doesn’t this just make sense! We often think of the storms of life as what is hurled upon us, but the true storms of life are within…in the secret place…in the place we don’t like to talk about and don’t like to show to others. When God does a transformative work in your heart in the “garden enclosed” (Song 4:12) to eradicate the enemy, to tear out the weeds of doubt, and destroy the pestilence that ravages peace, we need to proclaim His works to another! Don’t be shy! Don’t hold back! Declare His mighty deeds! Our God is powerful to save! There is no stronghold He can’t devour. Submit yourself to Him, and allow the areas of your life that He has redeemed to SPEAK VOLUMES! As the iconic song Hava Nagila says, “Awake, my brothers, let us rejoice!”