Why is the songbook of the Bible punctuated with so many commands directed to our emotions? Why do we read:
- Love the Lord, all you his saints! (Psalm 31:23)
- Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! (Psalms 33:8)
- Let all the upright in heart exult! (Psalm 64:10)
- Delight yourself in the Lord. (Psalm 37:4)
- Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous. (Psalm 97:12)
- Be glad in the Lord. (Psalm 32:11)
- Hope in God. (Psalm 42:5)
- Give thanks to the Lord. (Psalm 33:2)
From those verses – Love. Stand in awe. Exult. Delight. Rejoice. Be glad. Hope. Give thanks.
None of those is a testimony. There are plenty of testimonies about our emotions in the Psalms:
“I love the Lord” (Psalm 116:1);
“There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25);
“How sweet are your words to my taste!” (Psalm 119:103).
None of those is a promise. There are plenty of promises about our emotions in the Psalms:
“He satisfies the longing soul” (Psalm 107:9);
“The humble . . . will be glad” (Psalm 69:32);
“The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance” (Psalm 58:10).
None of those is a prayer. There are plenty of prayers for emotions in the Psalms:
“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (Psalm 51:8);
“Gladden the soul of your servant” (Psalm 86:4);
“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14).
Love. Stand in awe. Exult. Delight. Rejoice. Be glad. Hope. Give thanks. These are not testimonies, or promises, or prayers. These are commands. Commands directed toward the emotions — specifically, the positive emotions of delight, and not just delight in general, but delight in God. All of them: Love God. Stand in awe of God. Exult in God. Delight in God. Rejoice in God. Be glad in God. Hope in God. Give thanks to God — for God.
Why? Why is the songbook of the Bible punctuated with so many commands directed to our emotions? Specifically, why are we over and over again in the Psalms commanded to be glad in the Lord (Psalm 32:11), rejoice in the Lord (Psalm 97:12), delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:4)?
Rejoice for Your Life
Here’s one answer from Psalm 1. God commands us to delight in him because, if we don’t, we will perish. And God would save us from perishing. So he commands us to delight in him above all things. Psalm 1 describes two kinds of people. First, there is the blessed man whose “delight is in the law of the Lord” (Psalm 1:2).
Here is a person who puts his tongue to the sweetness of the word of God and tastes that the Lord is good, more to be desired than silver or gold, and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10). But then Psalm 1:4 says, “The wicked are not so.” They do not delight in God or his word. Therefore, “the wicked will not stand in the judgment . . . but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:5–6).
So one answer to the question, “Why do the Psalms command us so often to delight in the Lord and be glad in the Lord and rejoice in the Lord?” is to save us from perishing. If we don’t find God to be more worthy, more valuable, more precious, more satisfying than other people or other things, then we will perish.
The apostle Paul put it like this in 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” And the apostle John, quoting the risen Jesus, put it like this: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
So God commands us over and over again to delight in him above all things, to be glad in him, to rejoice in him, to exult in him — to love and prefer him and experience him as more satisfying than anything else, so that we will not perish in the last judgment, but live forever with him in everlasting joy.