Posted on Dec 17, 2021 by Mike LeDuke
How would you feel if you were upset and someone urged you to be happy? This kind of nudging generally has the opposite effect––happiness isn’t something that can simply be commanded. It’s an emotion, and emotions often require much more than just a few words to change. They’ve been hard-wired. They’ve had many years to develop specific triggers.. The fact that happiness can’t be spontaneously willed or commanded makes God’s words to the Israelites all the more puzzling:
Deuteronomy 12:5–7 But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you.
When the Israelites came to worship God, they were to rejoice. There wasn’t a choice in this––they were to acknowledge God’s blessing and be joyful. In fact, God explained later that failure to follow this command had major consequences:
Deuteronomy 28:45–47 All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things.
God required joy, so much so that if His people were not joyful, He would destroy them.
But how could that be? How is it that God, who created us and knows that emotions cannot be commanded or willed, decided to command an emotion and give that command serious repercussions? Further, what implication and meaning does this command for joy have for us today? Is God dictating that all of His servants must be continually happy?
In this next series on joy, we’ll explore what joy really means, why God cares about it, and how it applies in our lives today.
— Jason Hensley, PhD