Titles of the Father – The Joy of My Gladness

Titles of the Father – The Joy of My Gladness

Titles of the Father – The Joy of My Gladness.

Then Manoah, father of Samson, asked the Angel of Yahweh, ‘What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?’ The Angel of Yahweh replied, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is a name of wonder. It is unknowable, and too wonderful for you to understand!’” (Judges 13:18).

Trying to determine a list of God’s titles in the Hebrew Bible can be a tricky business, a daunting task. For one thing, the differences between a name and a title are unclear and they often overlap. There are times, too, when one is tempted to consider a common noun or adjective or metaphor to be a title if it happens to reference God. And there are plenty of times when we read of a character description of God, or a unique ability of God, and we find ourselves turning them into titles. So the titles of the Father that I will highlight in this series is a list, not the list. For all I know, there may not even be a definitive list of God’s titles. I aim to provide varied glimpses of God the Father in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament… who He is, what He can do, what He represents, what He has done. Most importantly, I pray the readers of these titles are able to maintain the Jewish tradition of using God’s titles as ways of addressing the Almighty. As we address God in prayer and worship, may we feel free to put a capital letter at the beginning of each title, making the title an aspect of His identity. In that way each title could be another way to honor God and recognize His greatness.

“Send out your light and your truth, for they shall be my guide to lead me to your holy mountain, your dwelling place. Then I shall go to the place of worship, to God, joy of my gladness. I will rejoice and praise you on the harp, O God, my God.” (Psalm 43:4).

Joy of My Gladness – Simhat-Giyl; two Hebrew words taken together mean literally, to spin around in joy; translated in a variety of ways, including ecstatic joy, the gladness of my delight, the God who makes joyful my youth, exceeding joy, keenest delight, exuberant joy, the joy of my gladness.

When Jesus revealed His desire to give joy to His disciples, that He wanted His disciples to experience deep soul-satisfying joy, He was quite serious. Joy was vital to Jesus, because it was an entrenched quality in Judaism, a fundamental attitude toward life that all Jews had shared for thousands of years. Being fully Jewish, Jesus reflected that biblical value in His own life, and his words support that conviction: “I pray that they will experience and enter into my joyous delight in you, Father, so that it is fulfilled in them and overflows.” (John 17:13). Jesus wanted the joy that He experienced to “fill their hearts with overflowing gladness.” (John 15:11). He desires that His followers find joy in their salvation, that their names were written in the Book of Heaven, glad that they were members of God’s kingdom. (Luke 10:20). Jesus wants us to experience overwhelming joy after times of sadness and sorrow. (John 16:20-22). He promises unlimited joy to us when we approach the Father in prayer. (John 16:24). Ironically, the Lord will bless us with overflowing joy while undergoing persecution in His name. We are promised by Him to experience deep joy when we have been seen as worthy to undergo slander and hatred due to our love of Jesus. (Luke 6:22-23).

There may be doubts about this, since Jesus was also a “man of sorrows,” but Jesus was serious about fleshing out the importance of joy in a believer’s life. The fruit of joy is a delicious aspect of the tree of Jesus, and the roots of that tree are found in the traditional Jewish priority of joy. Torah, God’s Word, established that fact very clearly, but before we take a look at Torah and joy, let’s try to describe what biblical joy looks like; a deep-seated delight because of the settled assurance of God’s love; an encouraged understanding of God’s personal presence; an inner gladness based on the spiritual realities of God’s trustworthy character; a confident pleasure felt in our deep innards; an abiding satisfaction that all is well with God, that we are at peace with the Lord of the universe; a hopeful sense of well-being that rejoices in gratitude; a holy optimism that affects the whole personality. The only dependable source of our joy is the God of gladness, and the joy of our faith is our most dependable and accurate foretaste of heaven.

“How I love your teaching (torah)! All day long it is my theme. Your commands, Lord, make me wiser than my enemies; I have understood more than all my teachers; I have gained more insight than the elders; how sweet to my tongue is your Word, more than honey to my mouth. From your directions I have gained discernment, therefore I have hated all the paths of lies and deceit… May your mercies fall on me, that I may live, for your teaching (torah) is my delight!” (Ps. 119:97-109, 77). 

The Hebrew Bible, commonly called the Old Testament, is the Bible of Jesus, the Scripture that He loved so much. It is full of references to how God’s Word, the Torah, was a source of delight for the Jews. The Hebrew Bible has been an invaluable source of joy for the Jews for thousands of years. Faithful Jews knew that the Torah was their way of discovering God’s will, God’s instructions for how they should live, their only true guidance in a confusing world. The longest chapter in all of Scriptures is Psalm 119, with its 176 verses. The entire psalm is dedicated to honoring the Torah, and it centers on how much joy and delight a believer takes in God’s word. The word Torah has been translated as the “Law” by most English translations for some reason, and that is unfortunate. Jews do not understand Torah to mean Law, but instead God’s teaching, instruction, guidance, direction. The Jews are so thankful that the Lord graciously didn’t leave them on their own to try to figure out life with God. They didn’t have to guess how to please their Lord, how to follow His direction for a blessed life. So, to the faithful Jews, Psalm 119 is a heartfelt celebration of the virtues of Torah, and its importance in their daily life with God. Rather than the straightjacket of the Law with its primary focus on rules and regulations, Torah was a life-giving, practical, tangible sign from God that He loved them and would be a faithful Lord for them through life.

Faithful Jews celebrate Scripture as a tangible sign of God’s mercy and wisdom. This ethic of celebration of Scripture has been wonderfully amplified since the early medieval era when the Simchat Torah became a valued tradition in Judaism. Simchat Torah means “the joy of Torah” or “rejoicing in the Torah.” It is an ecstatic ceremony in the synagogue that celebrates their gratitude for Scripture and their love of God’s Word. The celebration is sheer joy and merriment. Some aspects of Simchat Torah:

(1.)  As is customary in the synagogue, Jewish worshippers read a portion of Torah each week from the first five books of the Bible, so that by the end of a religious year, the entire Torah would be read. It is time then to celebrate the Torah! The ceremony always brings an end to the High Holy Day season in Judaism, a joyous closure to all those feasts and festivals.

(2.)  The ceremony occurs in the evening at the synagogue, when the rabbi takes the Torah scrolls out of their special holding place called the ark, and all the people form a single file line behind the rabbi as he holds the Torah up high for all to see. They then begin to raucously dance and sing as they complete seven circuits around the stage on which the pulpit rests. It’s similar to a long exuberant conga line as they continue to make their rounds in the boisterous celebration. During these seven circuits around the stage, they are whistling, singing, dancing, clapping hands, hoisting children onto the adults’ shoulders, and generally getting lost in the joy and mayhem. Men and women both participate, men with men, women with women, and young daughters with their fathers. Many participants in the Simchat Torah have said that, “You have never seen joy until you have seen the Simchat Torah!”

(3.)  The completely unbridled joy of the ceremony expects everyone to participate for as long as it takes, sometimes several hours. There is no need to be self-conscious, because no one is self-conscious! We are rejoicing in the Torah, they sing, God’s Word for us! Rabbi Solomon Schecter once said about the Simchat Torah: “Think of King David dancing before the ark! David praised God with every limb in his body, and with his head, his eyes, his mouth, his ears, his throat, his tongue, his lips, his heart, his hands, and with his feet!” (as told in Marvin Wilson’s great book, Exploring our Hebraic Heritage).

(4.)  It is commonly understood that the participants become the “feet” of the Torah as it is carried around the synagogue. Many a time the celebrants bring the Scrolls out into the street to continue the celebration in full public view, sharing their joy in God’s Word.

(5.)  Just before dancing begins, the end of Deuteronomy is read, and then the beginning of Genesis. There is much joy in completing the reading cycle each year, just as there is an exciting sense of anticipation as they begin a new year of reading the Torah once again. While dancing and singing the traditional chants, biblical prayers and even children’s songs, the participants have time to think about what they have learned in the past year as they rejoice at what new truths they can learn from Torah the next year. The participants have plenty of time to think, as the celebration often lasts into the early hours of the morning.

(6.)  The energetic celebration of Simchat Torah is also an act of gratitude for the privilege of being given the Scripture from the holy God, and an act of faith that they will submit to God’s will as revealed in the Torah. This is known as “glorifying the Torah,” holding the Scripture high in honor of its glorious presence in the world. The Torah is considered the most important knowledge in all the earth, and the study of Torah is considered the highest act of worship. Scripture is a heavenly treasure brought to earth, and brings profound joy and fulfillment to those who believe it and digest and live it out. The faithful Jews are indeed the People of the Book.

“Then Ezra the priest brought the Torah before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. And he read from it from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women and those who could understand, and all the people were attentive to the Book as it was read. And Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for this purpose…… And Ezra opened the Book once again in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it up, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord Yahweh the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen! Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. And they read from the Book, from the teachings of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. Then Nehemiah said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord Yahweh your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people were weeping when they heard God’s Word… ‘This day is holy to the Lord, so do not be grieved. For the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:2-10). 

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