God’s presence comforts me. His power reassures me. But His passion overwhelms me. You may not be comfortable with me saying that God is passionate for His people, but there’s simply no way to avoid the force of this text: God exults, delights, rejoices, and sings as the expression of His love.
Some theologians insist that God is “impassible,” that is, He does not have passions. I’m sensitive to their concerns. They want to emphasize that God is not weak or mutable or subject to fickle feelings provoked by others. I have to agree with them on that point. But it simply won’t do to relegate such texts as the following to “figures of speech” or “anthropopathisms.”
Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD. —JEREMIAH 31:20
How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. —HOSEA 11:8–9
No one fully understands the nature of God’s “nature.” But I do believe God feels. I do believe that in some sense God has emotions, passions, affections. In particular He experiences delight and pleasure, dare I say ecstasy, over you and me! Sherwood Wirt goes so far as to suggest that it was out of joy that God created the universe! Personally I think he’s on to something.
When we read Genesis 1:1 and ask, “Why did God create the universe?”, the biblical response is: “So that He might manifest His glory.”
But why did God wish to manifest His glory? The answer must be because it pleases Him to do so. But that is just another way of saying it makes God happy. Theologians rarely speak of joy as a divine attribute. They probably think it is beneath God’s dignity (or theirs). But Wirt contends that “God’s nature expresses itself most characteristically and distinctively through joy.”
It was “for His own pleasure and joy,” therefore, that “in the beginning God created the heavens and earth.” God was delighted with the work of His hands and thus pronounced it “Good!” What
He made pleased Him. If the thought of God experiencing “pleasure” is a jolt to your religious sensitivities, consider what Jesus said in the parable of the talents: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). God is a happy God.
The glory of heaven is wrapped up in our participation in the very joy that floods the heart of the Father. Isn’t this why Jesus came? His desire is for the joy of His own life to become the joy of ours (John 15:11).
One can only wonder at the depths of divine delight in the soul of the Son of God. And Jesus intends for this very joy to fill up and overflow the hearts of his people (John 17:13). We are first to experience joy in God, as well as the joy that God gives, and also the very joy that God Himself enjoys. God’s joy becomes our joy, and in that God takes joy! All this is just another way of saying that God is ecstatically happy in His love for His little ones. If you still balk at such talk, return with me to Zephaniah 3:17 and look closely at the three statements in the latter half of the verse.
First of all, God “will rejoice over you with gladness.” What makes this remarkable is that the same language used in verse 14 to describe our rejoicing over God is here used of God’s rejoicing over us. We are exhorted to sing. God too rejoices with singing! We are to experience joy. God too delights over us with joy. Back and forth, as it were, God and His people take turns enjoying one another!
All of us know what it’s like to get excited over God. We read in Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God.” But God gets just as excited over you! For He Himself says, “I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in my people” (Isa. 65:19).
Better still, God exults over you with “gladness” or in “festive pleasure” or with “great delight.” How else can I say it? When God thinks about you, His child, His heart explodes in glad celebration. There is divine glee and jubilation beyond words when the Almighty God ponders His own. If you think I’m just making this up, look at how the terms in Zephaniah 3:17 are used elsewhere and ask yourself if “glad celebration” and “glee” and “ jubilation” are too strong.
As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. —1 SAMUEL 18:6, (EMPHASIS ADDED)
And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise. —1 KINGS 1:40, (EMPHASIS ADDED)
-The Singing God