What Makes God Happy?
Jeremiah 9:23, 24
My mother was so excited she could hardly sleep. It was Christmas and it was our family tradition to open gifts on Christmas morning. As usual, I was excited about the gifts I would get from my parents and also the gifts we would get from Canada Packers, which was where my dad worked. But I suspect that I was not nearly as excited as my mom and her excitement was in the opposite direction. She was not looking forward to what she would get, but to giving a gift. She had secretly found a gift for my father that she knew he would absolutely love. You see, she knew what made him happy. He loved hunting and she had purchased a gun for him. She was excited because she knew that by giving him the gun she would make him happy.
Do we know what makes God happy or is it a mystery? If we look for this idea in the Bible, we will find that it is not a mystery. Several times we find the phrase “I delight” written about God. We find that God delights in His people and a number of times it says that he delights in His chosen one. Among these passages is one that is very interesting and has some significant implications for us. In Jeremiah 9:24b we read, “…for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. What is it that makes God happy? Let’s read the rest of the passage, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth,for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.”
What are the implications of knowing what makes God happy?
If we think about how we respond if we know what makes another person happy, there are certain things that will be true in our relationship.
We know what to expect from them. I never have to ask Carla if we can go visit our children because I know that makes her happy. So if the kids phone and ask if we can come over, or if they can come over, I don’t even check with Carla, I just say “yes.”
We also know how to please them. Often when I look for people to serve in some specific thing in the church, for example, telling a children’s story, I know that there are some people who have great joy in it and I will get a positive response because I know they like doing it.
What kinds of things do we think about if we know what God delights in? As we examine Jeremiah 9:23, 24, I would like to focus particularly on the thought of what we can expect from God if we know what makes Him happy.
In the midst of a section of Jeremiah where God has warned the people of coming destruction because of the sin of the people, we have this very encouraging word about what we can expect from God and how we can respond to Him because of what we can expect.
Cathy Lunn-Grossman wrote an article entitled, "American's Image of God Varies," in USAToday.com in 2006; reporting that in September of 2006, sociologists from Baylor University released the results of a study looking into America's different views of God. Part of the study was a survey conducted by the Gallup organization, which identified four distinct views of God's personality and interaction with the world. According to the survey 31.4% believed that God is an "Authoritarian God" who is "angry at humanity's sins and engaged in every creature's life and world affairs." Another 23 percent believed in a "Benevolent God" who is forgiving and accepting of anyone who repents. There were also 16 percent who believed in a "Critical God" who "has his judgmental eye on the world, but he's not going to intervene, either to punish or comfort. And 24.4 % believed in a "Distant God" who is more of a "cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own."
In Jeremiah 9:23, 24, God Himself tells us what He is like when He reveals to us what makes Him happy.
In the second part of Jeremiah 9:24, we learn two important things. There are three things which God delights in, but not only does he delight in these things, but he also exercises them. This is who God is, what makes Him happy and how He acts.
What makes God happy?
God delights in loving kindness. The Hebrew word used here is a well known word used almost 300 times in the Old Testament. It is the word “hesed.” Some of you may have heard of the House of Hesed in Winnipeg which is a mission whose purpose is “to provide a home for persons living with HIV/AIDS, sharing mercy, hope, dignity, and peace. Consistent with the Christian perspective of caring for those in need…” They have chosen the name House of Hesed because of their mission to share mercy and care for those in need.
God loves to show mercy, to be compassionate. God has told us this so many times. I John 4:8b says, “God is love.” But God has not only told us this, He has also demonstrated it. I John 4:9 goes on to say, “This is how God showed his love among us...”
The foundational reality of life for the children of Israel was their deliverance out of Egypt. They were a slave nation in the midst of the people of Egypt. They cried out to God for help and He sent Moses to deliver them. It is practically unfathomable that one slave nation should be entirely removed from the midst of a master nation. When he brought them out he delivered them through the Red Sea, he guided and provided for them through the wilderness. He brought them to Sinai to enter into a covenant relationship with them and he brought them into the promised land. All the way along, they were rebellious and disobedient, but God continued to work with them. In this entire story we see how much God loves to show compassion.
The foundational reality of life for Christians is the deliverance from sin which God has brought through the death of Jesus Christ. Every person on earth is steeped in sin and bound through sin to death. God sent His son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for us. He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all. He has given us forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ, the hope of eternal life and the beginning of that eternal life in the presence of His Spirit with all who trust in Him. In this entire story we see how much God loves to show compassion.
God also delights in justice. The word for justice comes from a word which has to do with ruling or governing. In the “Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament” it says that this word refers to – “what is doubtless the most important idea for correct understanding of government (II p. 948).
Government includes three functions – legislative, executive and judicial. When there is justice, those who make the laws – the legislators – will not play favorites. They do not oppress one people in the nation and favor another. Those who carry out the programs of the land are fully aware of all people and give each what is fair. The judges know all justice and reflect it in their decisions.
If that is what justice means, what does it mean for the reign of God? Perhaps Psalm 146:7-9 expresses it well when it says, “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”
This is sometimes tough for us to fathom. How is God just when He allows a couple who have had difficulty conceiving to become pregnant but then that child miscarries? How is God just when 6 million Jews are killed in the holocaust? How is God just when evil men who earn millions off the drug trade live in luxury and ease?
What it tells us is that God does not delight in these things. Abraham had a good understanding of that when he pleaded for Lot’s life when Sodom was about to be destroyed. In Genesis 18:25 we read, “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The wonder of the justice of God is revealed in the story of salvation. If God is absolutely fair, it seems right that everyone who does wrong must be punished. Since that is everyone, the sentence of death on every human being is justice. But in His compassion God does not want everyone to die. How can God exercise the compassion which is at the core of His being and still be just? Romans 3:25, 26 tells us, “God presented Him(Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
God delights in justice!!
The third thing we learn is that God delights in righteousness. What is the difference between justice and righteousness? Justice could be described as fairness, whereas righteousness could be described as goodness. One definition is that righteousness is that which is “ethically right.” God is consistent with the standard of holiness which identifies Him as God. In contemporary terms we might say “it’s all good!”
God delights in righteousness, in what is good.
This is God! Loving kindness, justice and righteousness make Him happy.
God not only delights in these things, but does them!
God not only delighted in loving kindness, justice and righteousness. He delights in them now. God has not changed. This is what God is like.
What happens if we understand and know this? In Jeremiah 9:23, 24 we are invited to understand and know these things.
There are two words for knowing in verse 24 which says, “understands and knows…” These two words reinforce that we are not just talking about head knowledge, but also an understanding in our hearts.
I suspect that not many of you would say that this is new information. But I wonder whether we really know it and understand it in our hearts. We have heard before that God is loving and just and righteous. We understand the truths, we recognize the facts. However, our knowledge sometimes is a head knowledge which is nice to bring out when there is a Sunday School discussion or a debate about theology. But God is inviting us to something deeper. He is inviting us to understand and know that this is what makes God happy. He invites us to give attention to, to consider and ponder these truths about what delights God.
If we know these things about God in this way, the wonderful thing is that then we know what to expect of God.
And if we can expect this of God, how do we respond? The word “boast” is repeated 4 times in a verse and a half, and tells us how we can respond to the knowledge of what God delights in.
We often see boasting as a bad thing. When someone boasts that their team has won the championship, they are broadcasting that their team has proven themselves to be the best. When a child says, “my dad is stronger than your dad” he is boasting about his dad and indicating that he trusts his dad to take care of him. The Hebrew word has these meanings, but there also seems to be something more. The root word is the word that is often translated “praise.” The KJV translates it “glory” suggesting praise and confidence. All of these pictures help us understand what it means to boast. It means confidence in something or someone, praise of someone or something, hope and trust.
It is possible to boast in many different things. Jeremiah suggests some things that people boast in.
Some boast in wisdom, but 1 Corinthians 1:19-21demonstrates the folly of human wisdom when it says, “For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.”
Others boast about their strength. Goliath thought he could defeat any foe and challenged any man who would dare to fight against him. When David came out against him, he laughed at him because he saw a puny little puppy coming against him. But he did not last because he found out that boasting in our strength does not always help. (1 Samuel 17:4-10)
Some boast in riches. Remember Nebuchadnezzar? He was very boastful in all he had achieved. In Daniel 4:30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” but then we read in verse 31, “The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you.” After he had been humbled we read in Daniel 4:37, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
Theodore Laetsch says, “Wisdom, power, riches – that is the trinity in which man glories.”
Boasting in wisdom, strength or wealth will not always lead to the best results. Because we know what God is like, we are invited and have every reason to boast in Him.
Boasting in the Lord means that we don’t just know what makes God happy, but we trust that He is going to act in accordance to what makes Him happy. God isn’t going to suddenly hate someone. Sometimes we feel like God is against us and some even express that “God has it in for me.” Some see God as mean and vindictive. Some believe that if everything is going along well, all of a sudden, “the other shoe will drop.” Their feelings are based on a mistrust of the compassion, justice and righteousness of God. To glory in the Lord means that we will not go there. We will know for certain that God could never do that because it would go against His essential nature.
There are some great words in Psalm 37:3-7 which help us understand what it means to boast in the Lord. Here we read that it means to “trust in the Lord” to “do good” to “delight in the Lord” to “commit our way to the Lord” to “be still before the Lord” to “wait patiently for Him” and to “not fret when evil men succeed.” Each of these concepts expands what we do when we boast in the Lord.
We understand the power of what it means to relate to someone when we know what makes them happy. It seems to me that it is a powerful thing to understand what makes God happy. Since God delights in loving kindness, we can rest in the fact that He will pursue compassion. Since God delights in justice, we don’t have to fear that what is fair will be suspended and God will be unjust. Since God delights in righteousness, we know that anything that has to do with God will move towards what is good.
Since we know this about God, we have reason to trust in Him. I know that there are many challenges which face each family in our church. Some of them are very hard and we can’t understand how they will work out. We may be tempted to trust in wisdom, to seek someone’s strength or to find the financial resources to resolve our problem. These things may help, but not always. What does it mean in your life to boast in the Lord, to trust Him, to commit your way to Him, to recognize that He will be consistent with what He loves? May we respond to this invitation with confidence and hope.