"You have filled my heart with greater joy
than when their grain and new wine abound.”
Twenty years ago already, my father-in-law, as if out of nowhere, took me out to the barn one Sunday afternoon and told me he was going to leave the farm. My wife and I had often wondered what her parents would do when the time came for them to retire, but neither of them had ever whispered anything about leaving. In fact, we’d wondered whether her father ever could really quit. The farm—and the land it stood upon and the work it required—was the only home he’d never known. And he’d loved everything about it.
I must have looked shocked that day because I was.
“I just don’t want to go through another harvest,” he told me, and that was about all he said by way of explanation.
But my wife had told me about the noticeable tension her father always carried come fall, when the crops had to get in and everything had to go smoothly, when rain and snow had to hold off until the corn and beans were safely in the bins. I didn’t grow up on a farm, and I had no idea of the tension that can build in someone whose family’s livelihood depends on finally putting up a whole crop and doing it safely.
That tension—the tension my father didn’t want to fight anymore—is my way of understanding the burgeoning emotion embedded in the allusion of verse 7 of Psalm 4, because it seems to me that the tension my father-in-law felt at harvest is probably directly proportional to abundant joy he felt once, in years gone by, the barn doors finally swung shut in the first howl of a winter wind.
But it’s not just farmers who can relate to the joy David speaks of in his heart. Not long ago, a niece of mine was married in a gala celebration that, all tolled, took several days. The wedding ceremony itself was accomplished in a quaint country church, but the reception had more significant proportions: the downtown Yacht Club. You choose: stir fry, roast beef, pasta—all the trimmings. Open bar. It was a feast of biblical proportions, and a grand time was had by all.
When, a month later in a supermarket, I bumped into my niece’s proud grandma from the other side of the family, a woman significantly into her eighties, she was still all smiles. “Wasn’t that something?” she said of the wedding, raising a hand to her mouth, as if feigning embarrassment. “I tell you, that will be enough joy for me for a year.”
It strikes me that that’s exactly what David is saying here in this comparison. My overflowing joy, Lord, is greater even than what others feel at their daughters’ weddings, when the food and the drink abounds. It’s more than that blessed last look back on shorn fields once ripe with corn. It’s better than the best that this world can offer.
David still got his mind on those unbelievers he’s been thinking about in Psalm 4, and what he’s telling the Lord is that he is flat-out bursting with joy, greater than those losers even in their best-of-times.
He’s crowing, really, but not at unbelievers. Instead, he is just braying out his joy at a God who, the Bible says, rather likes being so lavishly praised by who love him.
A full heart always trumps a full belly, David says—which is not to say that a full belly is something to sneeze at.
What the Lord has given him is just that good. Lord God, he says, it doesn’t get any better than this.