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The Joy of God's Word

by Tim O'Hearn

There is a holiday on the Jewish calendar called Simchas Torah (the Joy of Torah). It falls just after the day after Succoth (September 29 in 2002), on or after the holiday of Shemini Atzeres. Simchas Torah is not one of the holidays prescribed in the Law, but is of rabbinic origin. There is a lesson, however, that we can learn from it.

For every week of the year the rabbis have assigned a reading from the Torah, the five books of Moses. The cycle of readings ends, and begins again, on Simchas Torah. On that day everyone in the congregation is given the opportunity to read part of the passage, unlike most holidays and Sabbaths in which only seven men are called to the reading. On that day the Torah scrolls are brought out and paraded around the sanctuary of the synagogue while the congregation sings and rejoices. The point of the holiday is rejoicing in the word of God.

Many Christians I know (and, to be honest, many Jews) do not read the entire Bible or even five books of the Bible through in a year. Some, if they didn't listen during the sermon, might not get the equivalent of a good chapter. One reason for this lack of interest in reading the Bible may be found in the holiday of Simchas Torah.

Americans, especially, have gotten used to being entertained. We want to be happy, but we want that happiness to come from something external. There are situation comedies on television to suit almost any taste in humor. Even our television commercials tell us that happiness is the right mutual fund/mouthwash/beer/chewing gum. But joy comes from something internal. Perhaps many don't read the Bible because they have no joy in it.

That may sound contradictory. Am I not talking about joy in reading the Bible? Is that not something external? Yes, and no. Yes, the Bible, as a book that can be read, is something external. However, the word of God is something we must make internal in order to get joy from it.

Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is the word of God (Eph 6:17). That Holy Spirit is to dwell in us (Col 3:16). If the Holy Spirit is purely external to us-if we read the Bible, but don't let it into our souls-then there can be no joy in Torah.

When was the last time someone came up to you and said, "Rejoice with me. I just finished reading the Bible!" When was the last time you said that to somebody? Some of us go through the Bible quickly; others may take over a year. But what would be wrong with inviting someone to share your joy when you finish, and start again? When our children read it through for the first time, why not throw a party? That would show how enthusiastic we are about the word of God. If a congregation has set a goal of reading the Bible through in a year, celebrating with those who met that goal would only enhance the joy.

Of course I am not saying this is something that we should require of others. I have no right to legislate church holidays. On the other hand, if we truly rejoice in the word of God, why not share our joy with others? Who knows what influence that might have? It might even make us want to study God's word more often.