Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.
Is God your exceeding joy? Occasionally I wondered, why is it such a challenge for us to go to God, to turn to Him, to return back to Him? It struck me that, perhaps, we haven’t been treating God as my exceeding joy. Psalms 42 and 43 are often spoken of together, but even in trying and downcast times, we can still find our source of joy – exceedingly so – when we turn back to the altar of God. In this study, we will examine what it means to let God be our exceeding joy; and doing so will affect our relationship with him.
My exceeding joy – I chose the KJV to do this study because there’s just a mysterious, romantic, lyrical vibe to Old English in poetry. And, well, admittedly not all versions had the phrase ‘my exceeding joy’ which is the focus of my study today. Most versions rendered joy together with a quantifying adjective, but I felt exceeding was most apt, no? Exceeding don’t just mean great, or massive, or plentiful – it gives an instant image of an overflowing cup. It is not just adequate, but a lot more than enough; it is not just good, but extremely good; it is not just joy, but overwhelming, overflowing, bountiful, wholesome, joy. You know those hammer games in fun fairs and theme parks? If God hits the hammer of Joy, the needle will instantly break out of the meter. Have you ever felt that kind of joy? Maybe when your first kid was born? Maybe when your girlfriend accepted your proposal? I don’t know. It’s probably incomparable to how exceeding The joy that comes from The Lord can be. The Psalmist says, you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand [Psalm 16:11].
go unto the altar of God – the altar of God was within the walls of the tabernacle, where sacrifices of incense or burnt offerings were offered as praise and thanksgiving to God for his blessings and grace. That was then, though, when tabernacle and altars were still the custom. Through the gospel, our altar today is Christ – We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat [Hebrews 13:10] – that is Christ, who was the sacrifice instead of a simple burnt offering. Today the phrase ‘run to the altar’ has been made common by Christian songs and books alike – and I rather like that phrase, though ‘go to the altar’ was probably where it was inspired from. It’s fine not to run. As long as you end up at the altar.
This verse uses joy as a reason why we should go to the altar; ie, go to Christ. Sorry, not just joy, but exceeding joy. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? If you enjoy watching television, you’ll find your hands glued to the remote control. If you had fun in a certain restaurant, you’ll go back again even the food is not special. If you derive great joy in gaming, you keep playing games. If somebody wrote you a letter that made you smile, you’ll read it again and again and again. We all tend to go back to what delights us, we all tend to go back to what we’ve enjoyed. So if God is our joy, our exceeding joy, then we would simply want to keep going back to him exceedingly.
There are a lot of reasons why we should keep returning back to the Lord. To gain strength and be encouraged, be empowered and to take comfort and so on – but the one greatest motivation that would naturally draw us back to God is if we truly perceive Him as the source of our joy and delight. It’s not so much – I turn to God so that I can gain joy; but more of – God is my joy so I turn to him, and when I turn to him, I gain more joy.
When God becomes a source of joy for you, hope becomes greater, faith becomes stronger, love becomes more sincere – and then, you become more joyful. It goes on and on, until your joy extends to the point of it being ‘exceeding’. How, then, can we seek this joy? How, then, can we possess this joy? It’s largely the same principles, no? Place your hope in the Lord and be freed of your worries and fears. Whatever saddens you, whatever upsets you, whatever steals your joy away from you – lift them up to the Lord. Well, before all that perhaps we need to learn to view God as a source of joy. A source of exceeding joy.