Joy: Celebrate (just) enough, forget the rest

So yesterday, I discovered that Biblical joy is not necessarily caused by things that are going on in my life, but should definitely be the result of seeing the awesome things God is doing, regardless of whose life they’re happening in. I guess that, as a pastor, I can verify that notion because I feel a real surge of joy every time I see one of the people in my church trumpeting what God’s up to in their lives. I love to see and hear about all that He’s doing around our church! And for the record, if you’re a member or attender of DHWC, He’s doing a lot!

Today, as I continue my study of joy, I came across Leviticus 23:40. Nestled right in the middle of a book that is generally considered one of the most boring of the entire Bible, Leviticus is a record of all the rules and regulations, the Law, which God gave Moses to hand on to Israel. In fact, up until just a couple of years ago, I had never been able to read through Leviticus in a straight shot because I got tangled up and lost in all the minutiae. A couple of years ago, though, I realized that I was leaning heavily toward the New Testament in my personal devotions and preaching and that, as a result, I would always be missing a significant chunk what the Bible had to say, so I embarked on a deliberate exploration of the Old Testament. In the course of this investigation, I discovered that, in between all the rules and regulations, Leviticus, among other books, provides a fascinating look at ancient Jewish culture and tremendous insight into the heart and mind of God.

Leviticus 23:40 is no different. Appearing toward the end of a chapter dedicated to detailing the seven “holidays” of the Jewish calendar, this verse is speaking of the Feast of Tabernacles, during which the Jews would leave their homes and spend a week camping in “temporary shelters” (vss 42, 43 NIV) as a way to remind themselves of all that God had done for them while they wandered in the desert from the time they left Egypt until the time they reached and conquered Canaan.

Here, the Jews were told, “On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees – from palms, willows and other leafy trees – and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (NIV).

A couple of things jump out at me from this verse. The first is that they were to rejoice before God. The truth is, it’s easy to rejoice before other people. It’s not particularly difficult to throw a party that people will enjoy. Some good food, a little drink, some music, and you have an instant hit. But is there a difference between partying before people and partying before God? Clearly, there must be some obvious differences. For example, you can’t be engaged in sinful behavior when you rejoice before the Lord. But beyond that, I honestly don’t know. I guess I’ll add that to my list of questions to ask as I go on here.

A second thing which jumps out at me about this verse is that the rejoicing is to continue for seven days. Talk about a real shindig! I usually have enough partying after an hour or two. A party that lasts seven whole days would be nuts! So clearly, we’re not supposed to rejoice with a grunt and a nod. Godly rejoicing isn’t supposed to be a smile or even an evening of celebration. It’s supposed to be an all-out festival in which we celebrate what God has done and is doing!

And a third thing that strikes me is the reason that the Israelites were celebrating, as we discover in vs 43: “All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so that your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Unpacking this statement just a bit, we realize that the reason the Jews were to spend seven days rejoicing is because God had provided for them food, clothing, shelter, and protection the entire time they were in the desert.

Notice, though, the details of that statement. The food that they had was manna and quail. Surely, these two things provided sustenance, but they had them each and every day. Day in and day out. I can only imagine that, in the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert, they became pretty creative in preparing dishes with these two ingredients. They had baked quail over manna. Quail with manna stuffing. Roasted quail on manna sandwich. Stewed manna and quail. Manna-breaded quail, fried. And yet, at the end of the day, it was still manna and quail. Surely, the monotony of diet was tongue-numbing! But God supplied the need.

Further, the clothing the Israelites had in the desert was not Gucci or any other name brand. In fact, it wasn’t even Wal Mart. The clothes that they had were the clothes they had had when they left Egypt. Back then, God had arranged so that their clothes would not wear out. So they wore the same clothes day after day after day, for forty years. There was no variation of color. No change in cut. The best they could manage was to run the clothes through the wash and then put them back on! Now, I’m not by any means a clothing connoisseur, but even I would be bored with a wardrobe like that! But God supplied the need.

The week-long camping trip was set up specifically to remind them of the temporary shelters they had lived in for forty years. That’s right. For forty years, the whole nation of Israel lived, essentially, in a tent city. There were no solid walls. There was no fixed roof. There was just, essentially, a tent. Now, I prefer to camp in a tent, but I don’t think I want to live in a tent for forty years! But God supplied the need.

And God provided all of this stuff in the middle of the desert. Where it was hot. And dry. No air conditioning, no swimming pools, no ice water or iced tea. Just hot. And for a guy like me, who loves to sit back with a tall glass of iced tea, lemonade, or just ice water, this would be excruciating! But God supplied the need. God supplied the need. God supplied the need.

And that’s what this verse is all about. Joy isn’t something that’s reserved only for those who have tremendous amounts of excess! It’s not even designed exclusively for people who have everything they want or need. No, Biblical joy stems from recognizing that God has provided enough. Maybe – probably – just enough. In fact, it might not even be enough for tomorrow or the next day (like the manna and quail), but it is at least enough for the immediate need, today.

It occurs to me that, if this is true – that joy stems from recognizing that God has provided even just enough, then an obvious joy killer would be worry. Maybe this is why Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25, 33-34 NIV).

So if I want true joy, I must celebrate that God has provided me with enough for today and resolve to not worry about tomorrow or all the rest. It’s not exactly easy, but it’s something I can do.

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