“And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son, and your daughter, and your male slave, and your female slave, and the Levite, and the alien, and the fatherless, and the widow that are inside the gates.” Deuteronomy 16:14
Shall Rejoice – “Yeah, I see what it says, but what if I don’t feel like rejoicing. I mean, sometimes I just don’t feel so happy. How can God command me to feel a certain way?” Answering this question requires a look at the usage of this Hebrew verb, samach.
Two-thirds of the occurrences of this verb in the Hebrew text are found in theological contexts. Forty of these 180 occurrences are direct statements about God. We can conclude that this verb reveals something important about the God-Man relationship. Furthermore, despite our understanding of “rejoice” as a feeling, this Hebrew verb expresses actions. What we discover when we look carefully at the texts is this: rejoicing is associated with dancing, singing, clapping, playing and external movement consistent with festival celebrations. In other words, samach is party language.
Why can God command you to rejoice? Because once again it is not about how you feel. It’s about what you do. God tells you to get out there and party! When its time for one of the feasts, it doesn’t matter if you feel blue. You are supposed to clap, sing, shout, dance, jump up and down and act as if you are having a great time even if you don’t feel like it. Why would God command you to do these things despite your feelings? Because He knows that you are a nephesh – an embodied manifestation of His living breath – and what you do in the body affects your emotional makeup and your mental state. If you don’t feel joyful, go act like you do and pretty soon you’ll find a smile on your face and a renewed spirit in your heart.
There’s one other important lesson in this verse. Did you notice that rejoicing is commanded of everyone in the camp? Rejoicing is a community affair. Why do you suppose God specifically requires even children, foreigners and slaves to participate? Why would He require widows and orphans to rejoice? If there are any groups of people who are the least likely to have something to jump for joy about, it would be these. But God insists. Why?
You could suggest that God’s festivals are inclusive. He requires participation for theological reasons. All are under His covenant commitment. That’s true, of course, but there might be another, more practical, reason. If you don’t feel like it, someone else might. And enthusiasm is contagious. Get children laughing and playing and dancing and singing, and it’s pretty hard to stay blue. See those much less fortunate jumping up and down for joy and your perspective might change. This is group think. After all, what good is a party for one? God loves a good party. He invites everyone, but He expects us to get into the spirit of the celebration and have a good time at His event. Are you ready to dance?
Topical Index: samach, rejoice, community, joy, Deuteronomy 16:14