“And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 6:22, ESV)
Several key thoughts from this passage:
1) As students of history, we have the advantage of hindsight. We know the story and the after-story. We know, for instance, that though the Israelites responded in joy, their joy did not last. Eventually, they lapsed into rebellion again. But is this really abnormal? Joy, for most of us, is temporary. It is a “now” emotion. It can be summoned by memory but this is only remembering joy. The experience of joy itself is always high, electric, and now. It can last for seconds or, in the case of this verse, it can last for days. But eventually, it passes. The “now” must always conclude and transition into another moment…and another…and another. And these succeeding moments may not be positive, causing us to lose the experience of joy and doubt the God that once lifted us so high.
2) There was one cause of their joy: God and God alone. God made them joyful AND He turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them. In other words, God worked on them both internally and externally to make their joy complete. He did not leave them with the temporary joy of endorphins due to the miraculous change in the political landscape. Rather, God MADE them joyful. He worked in their spirit, pointing them to a joy rooted in Him more than the kings of Earth. This is God-centered joy, the everlasting spring that pours out joy as a response to the person and work of the eternal God. And since He is eternal this joy does not fade away like historical joy.
3) That is why we do not build a theology around the “now” moments of joy but rather around the God who completes our joy, the One to whom we can sing, “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.” (Ps. 92:4) and the One in whom we can proclaim, even in life’s darkest moments, “The joy of the LORD is [my] strength.” (Neh. 8:10)
So, here’s my question: Where is your joy? In what or whom do you find yourself rejoicing? What makes you glad? Is it when your moments temporarily align with your agenda or will? Or is it in the eternal God who moves the hearts of His people, and of kings, to accomplish His agenda and will? Let’s be honest here. Who rules your joy? You or God?