Answer: God’s precepts! Question: Where does joy come from?
The most beautiful song in the psalter affirms that The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart, Psalm 19:8a.
The Hebrew word translated “precepts” is פִּקּוּדִים (piq•qû•ḏîm): precepts, directions, regulation, i.e., “a principle instructing to do a certain action, which is to be obeyed by all in same society of the covenant.” The precepts are right (יָשָׁר yā•šār: right, upright, i.e., “what is morally innocent and proper according to a standard.”) They conform to God’s moral character; they are pure as gold having passed through the refiner’s fire. They are not only upright, they will set us straight. When we follow God’s precepts, we are set straight: “The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.”
We live in an age of moral relativism. Wrong is right! Evil and corruption become virtues! Vileness and the hideous are considered beautiful! Death replaces life at the heart of culture! Many people live in the world of illusion rather than in reality; they have lied so much they no longer know what is true. People live in a world of confusion; they chase after the wind and are lost in the labyrinth of their minds.
By nature, God’s precepts adhere to a standard. God has the ultimate plumb-line – to measure “upright” and integrity. We can know what is true, good, and beautiful. When we are confused, God’s directions restore our right mind and our right heart. And this leads to the Divine purpose of joy: שָׂמַח (śā•mǎḥ: “rejoice,” “be glad,” delight in,”i.e., “have a feeling or attitude of joy and happiness.”) What is the subject of that joy? Our very heart לֵב (lēḇ: “heart,” “mind,” “soul,” “spirit,” “self,” i.e., “the source of life of the inner person.”)
To be human is to desire happiness. But too often we look in the wrong places. In the modern world we think happiness is to be found in the pursuit of self, in ever increasing material consumption and moral license. But these do not bring happiness. The end of this road is too often emptiness and despair.
It is the precepts of the Lord that bring joy to the heart. Jesus claims for himself this spirit when he quotes from Isaiah 61 which includes these wonderful words,“to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty, instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher who communicated so effectively in word pictures, summarizes the rejoicing heart that has succeeded in the pursuit of happiness: “Mark the progress; he who was converted was next made wise and is now made happy; that truth which makes the heart right then gives joy to the right heart.”
– Darrow Miller
This post is seventh in a series of ten on Psalm 19.