Joy: Rules, Regulations, and Joy? Pt 1

It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to really sit down and work on my study of joy. So the other day, even though I wouldn’t have time to write about my findings, I was ready to get back into it. I was not ready, however, to discover that the next twelve occurrences of the words “rejoice” or “joy” (including one “joyful”) occur in the book of Deuteronomy. In fact, the next three instances – all “rejoice” – all occur within a single chapter! The name by which we know the book, which is taken from the Greek translation, means “second law,” and it is certainly a fitting name at that! As Wikipedia describes it, the book’s “central element is a detailed law-code by which the Israelites are to live within the Promised Land” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Deuteronomy). In other words, this is a book of laws, rules, and regulations.

Talk about a subject which would seem absolutely contrary to the idea of joy! There’s a reason normal people don’t sit down and read volumes of the Iowa (or any other) Code: it’s anything BUT joyful! And yet, among the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, when tallying up instances of “joy” and/or “rejoice,” etc., Deuteronomy’s twelve occurrences place it in a tie for fifth place, behind only Psalms (90 times), Isaiah (42 times), Proverbs (19 times), and Luke (17 times). Interestingly, the other book with twelve occurrences is Job, which documents the extreme travails and struggles of a man of God, but I suppose I’ll get to that another day.

This observation leads me to what may be a revolutionary conclusion for some people. Laws, rules, and regulations are not actually the antithesis of joy. On the contrary, could it be that they are important – even integral – components of realizing joy? To find out, I started sifting through the book of Deuteronomy to find out how it talks about joy, and here’s the first thing I found.

There are three instances of “rejoice” in Deuteronomy 12 alone. That accounts for fully 1 in 4 of the instances in the book. And what is Deuteronomy 12 talking about? Primarily, making sure that the Israelites attend the one place that God would choose as His dwelling place. Indeed, when it appears first in vs 7, it’s following a warning that the people would not worship God willy-nilly on any hill or under any tree they could find, as had the previous occupants of the land. Instead, they were to bring all of their offerings and households to the one place that God would choose, and there, they were instructed to eat before the Lord and “rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you” (NASB). In other words, my entire family and I should attend the one place God has chosen as His own, support it with our offerings, and rejoice there for all the blessings He has poured out on us. As though that wasn’t clear enough, though, Moses continued in vss 8-12 by telling the Israelites that they shouldn’t do as they had been in the camp at Shittim, but that they should make sure to bring their offerings to the place the Lord chose and rejoice before Him with their kids, servants, and the Levites (i.e., temple servants and priests). And then, in vss 13-18, while allowing for people to eat their ordinary meals at home, Moses reiterated yet again that offerings and such needed to be brought to the place the Lord chose and celebrated there with the entire household as they rejoiced before the Lord in all their undertakings.

I don’t know that you could find a more compelling argument for attending and supporting a local church! And further, I don’t know that you could find a better prescription for what church services should look like! If we want to have real, Biblical joy in our lives, we must attend church resolved to rejoice in all that God has done in our lives! Our church services should be celebrations that we want to go to, rather than obligations that we must attend.

As a pastor, this strikes me on two levels. Personally, I should want to be in church, and rejoice once I’m there. Generally, this isn’t a huge problem for me, but I am keenly aware that there are times when I could certainly improve. And corporately, as a leader in the church, I need to foster a worship atmosphere where others will do the same! There are many days when I’m not sure I do this all that well. So I guess this is an area where I will work.

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