When you think joy, what book of the Bible do you think of? New Testament Christians are pretty much preprogrammed to think of the book of Philippians and the call to rejoice in the Lord always. But, where do we see the first major rejoicing in the Scriptures?
Would it surprise you to see that the first major shout for joy in the Bible occurs in the book of Leviticus? Now, I know, there has been joy before Leviticus. I also know that there has been singing and dancing before Leviticus, so I realize that there is more to joy than what I’m about to say. But, I want to simply point out something that I found fascinating while studying Leviticus 9.
In chapter 9 of Leviticus, Moses and Aaron work through the process of the final ordination of the priests and the beginning of the Old Testament religious system. When all is completed, when the sin offerings are made along with all the rest, God shows up. God displays his glory in fire, just as he displayed his glory in fire at Mount Sinai.
Leviticus 9:23-24 – 23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
In verse 24, we see that God sent forth fire to consume the offerings on the altar. When the people saw this, they “shouted and fell on their faces.” It is the word behind shout that got my attention. That word is not a cry of fear or terror, though such surely would have made sense here. No, it is a shout for joy. It is the kind of shout for joy that God repeatedly commands his people to cry out as part of worship in the Old Testament system. And this is the first time that word is used in Scripture. So, in a sense, this is the first, major, religious shout for joy.
When did it happen? When sin had been atoned for and when the presence of God was manifest, the people of God were overjoyed. When the people saw the power and the glory of God, there was such a joy that they could not contain it. They shouted for joy and fell to the ground in worship.
When we think Leviticus, therefore, we should think joy and worship. As Mark Rooker points out in his commentary on Leviticus:
“When the glory of the Lord appeared, the people responded with joy and bowed down to worship the Lord. It is significant that the first occurrence of the word “joy” in the Bible is in this context. The combination of worship with joy on this preeminent occasion and the frequent employment of the root rānan (“give a ringing cry”) in response to God indicates that the highest mood of the Old Testament religion was one of joy.”1
The mood of worship—yes, the worship in Leviticus—is joy. Why? Worship resulted in two great sources of joy. Worship brought about the forgiveness of our sins through sacrificial substitutes. And, worship brought people to a place where they could experience the glory of God. Nothing in this universe, nothing at all, can give us a greater joy than to know the Lord, be forgiven by the Lord, and experience the glory of the Lord.
So, as you work through a read through Leviticus, let joy spring forth. Every time you read that, after an offering, a person will be forgiven, rejoice. Consider what the hopelessness of life would be like if being forgiven were not an option then or now. When you see the meticulous laws about foods, garments, and cleanness, let your heart sing as you recognize hints of the absolute perfection of God. He cares about every small detail. And, as you see the blood and fire and sacrifice, let it always remind you that this is the shadow of what the Lord Jesus accomplished on behalf of his chosen ones to allow us to enter the presence of the Lord and live in fellowship with him forever.
1 Mark F. Rooker, vol. 3A, Leviticus, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c2000), 155.