I remember distinctly two stories about laughter.
One of my seminary professors told the story to his students about when he was preaching on the humanity of Jesus Christ and mentioned the human things that Scripture says Jesus did. After stating that Jesus ate, drank, wept, and tired, he said that Jesus laughed. After the sermon a sharp-eared member of the congregation told him that the Bible never says that Jesus laughed, but calls him the Man of Sorrows. This made an impression on my professor, and he never preached that again. It also made an impression on me in seminary, and I have never said that off the pulpit either.
Although we never read that Jesus laughed during his earthly ministry, we do read that Jesus addressed the subject of laughter: “Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6: 21, 25).
The second story about laughter came after I preached on the sovereignty of God. A member of my congregation told me about a sermon on Psalm 2:4 that he had heard in his youth. Preaching on the text “he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision,” the minister leaned profoundly over the pulpit as though he had something important to tell his congregation, and he said something like this: “Beloved, we know that God does not laugh at the wicked, because we read in John 3:16 that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” When he said that, he denied the text in Psalm 2. He also gave the reason: the teaching that God laughs did not fit with his Arminian theology. He inadvertently showed too that he grasped the heart of Scripture’s teaching about the laughter of God: his hatred of the reprobate wicked. This incident showed my parishioner where his church was at that time in relationship to the gospel. Among other things, this sermon was instrumental in his eventual membership in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The outstanding scriptural passage that teaches about Jehovah’s laughter is Psalm 2:4. There are other passages in Scripture that speak of God’s laughter: “The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming” (Ps. 37:12–13); “But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them; thou shalt have all the heathen in derision” (Ps. 59:8). In the Lord’s laughter, Wisdom joins in: “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh” (Prov. 1:26). The righteous laugh too: “The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him: Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness” (Ps. 52:6–7).
These passages about God’s laughter all occur in the context of the wickedness of the ungodly. After telling us of the raging of the heathen, their vain imaginations, and their taking counsel together against the Lord and his anointed in order to break the bands of God and cast away God’s cords from them, Psalm 2 says that God laughs. In Psalm 37, God’s laughter comes in the context of “evildoers” and “workers of iniquity,” who “prosper” and “bring wicked devices to pass,” and especially who plot against the just and gnash on them with their teeth. “The Lord shall laugh” at these evildoers. The uninspired but ancient title of Psalm 59 describes it as a psalm of David “when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him [David].” There David describes “mine enemies,” “workers of iniquity,” and “bloody men” who “lie in wait for my soul” and “belch out with their mouth” with “swords…in their lips.” The believer sorely pressed in such straits confesses that Jehovah “shalt laugh at them…[and] have all the heathen in derision.”
Those at whom Jehovah laughs are the reprobate ungodly.
The iniquity to which these texts refer is the history-long, general abounding of iniquity, together with animosity and persecution of God’s church, with Christ as its head, driven by the hatred of the wicked for God, his Christ, and his church, in which the goal is the complete destruction of the kingdom of God and the establishment of the kingdom of Satan.
This opposition culminated at the cross. In explaining the cross of Jesus Christ, the church confesses in Acts 4:25–28:
Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.
The church confesses that the gathering together of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews against Jesus Christ to condemn and to crucify him was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 2 of the nations’ raging and gathering together.
This was the culmination of animosity first evidenced in the relationship between Cain and Abel in which Cain murdered Abel because his works were righteous. To the continuation of this enmity the Old Testament Scriptures give abundant witness. It was the enmity of the world against Enoch because he walked with God. It was the hatred of the world for Noah. It explains Ishmael’s persecution of Isaac, Esau’s hatred of Jacob, and Egypt’s attempt to destroy Israel. It explains the actions of Doeg the Edomite in Psalm 52, of Saul in Psalm 59, and of the repeated attempts throughout the Old Testament by the wicked nations surrounding Israel to swallow her up: Midian; the coalitions of apostate Israel, Ammon and Edom; and the great nations of Egypt, Syria, Assyria, and Babylon.
This opposition continues today in abounding lawlessness. When the believer sees the sexual revolution taking place by the aggressive promotion of homosexuality in the courts and at the ballot box, by the toleration of every kind of sexual perversion, and by rampant divorce and remarriage, he sees wicked man carrying out his counsel to break God’s bands. When the believer witnesses the rise of the god-state or the overthrow by revolution of every authority—state, parental, and employer—he witnesses man’s counsels to cast God’s cords away from him. When he sees the multiplication of false doctrines and the falling away of many, he is seeing that same opposition in the realm of the church. The rise of false doctrine, the love of many waxing cold, and the abounding of iniquity is wicked opposition aimed squarely at the church in order to swallow her up and to destroy her.
The final manifestation and culmination of this opposition will be the kingdom of the beast from the sea (Rev. 13 and 17). He will oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped and will sit in the temple of God showing himself that he is God (2 Thess. 4:2). He will demand and receive the honors of divine worship. In his opposition to God, he will think to change times and seasons (Dan. 2:21). He will cast the church out of society by instituting the most vigorous and systematic persecution of the church that the world has ever seen.
At all of this Jehovah will laugh. He will have them in derision.
Jehovah’s laughter is not that of many professing Christians whose laughter is worldly pleasure with the wickedness of the ungodly. They entertain themselves with the world’s movies, television shows, comedy routines, and jokes. They laugh hysterically at the world’s taking God’s name in vain, and its profaning holy things, so that all that is holy is made the butt of their jokes. They take pleasure in the unfruitful works of darkness, in direct contradiction to the command of Scripture to have no fellowship with them, but to rebuke them (Eph. 5:11). Such laughter by these professing Christians explains their refusal to rebuke and the subsequent friendliness of the world toward them. If they will not rebuke, they will not incur the wrath of the world.
Neither is Jehovah’s laughter an expression of his pleasure with the wicked, as many teach today. They say that God is pleased with the deeds and accomplishments of the ungodly, and they themselves have a good word for the ungodly deeds of the wicked. That Jehovah’s laughter is not pleasure is clear, because his laughter always occurs in Scripture in the same context with his anger, wrath, and destruction of his ungodly enemies. In no way does Jehovah’s laughter either conflict with or mitigate the anger and wrath of God at the opposition, wickedness, and hatred of the ungodly. Psalm 2:5 makes this clear: “Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.”
Rather, the laughter of Jehovah God is a vivid anthropomorphism along the lines of Scripture’s description of God’s repentance. The laughter of God is the powerfully descriptive revelation of the relationship between the holy God and the ungodly and their opposition to him, his Christ, and his kingdom.
To be continued…