Old Testament Word Studies
"Rejoice, Shout for Joy"
The psalmist wrote, "This is the day that Yahweh has made, let us rejoice (nagilah) and be glad in it (118:24)." All too often when these words are used in a worship service, the worshipers respond with silence or indifference, partly because they do not appreciate what God has done, and partly because they do not feel free to rejoice in the "sanctuary." The devout Israelites would not have responded in this way; rather, their worship was characterized by enthusiastic praise. The numerous and varied array of vocabulary words for praising witnesses to this fact. A study of the word gil (pronounced geel) will enable us to appreciate more how they rejoiced.
The dictionaries give the basic meaning of the word gil as "to rejoice." But they also suggest more descriptive definitions, such as "to go around, about," or "to tremble" with excitement, or "to be excited to levity," or "to shout exultingly." The survey of uses for this word shows that it can be used for both divine and human activity, but it most frequently describes the actions of people. It seems to describe an outward enthusiastic expression of intense inward feelings.
The word does not occur frequently in the ancient languages. It existed in the Ugaritic texts of ancient Canaan with the same meaning it has in Hebrew. The lexica also suggest the Arabic word gwl is cognate to the Hebrew.
Gil does occur commonly in the later Rabbinic literature. Jastrow defines the word as "to form a circle, to gather, to rejoice." He states that in the assemblies there was to be trembling and rejoicing. Jastrow also lists a noun, gil, as referring to the "clapper" of a bell. This might be explained by the idea of a circle, or of the bell being round, or by the loud peel of the bell alone.
The dictionaries also list a few derivatives for this word, nouns that carry out some of the basic meanings of the verb. The most obvious is the noun gil that means "rejoicing" or "jubilant shouting." The feminine word occurs in Isaiah 65:18, which says that the people of the heavenly Jerusalem will be characterized by their praise.
The lexica also list a second noun with these letters, gil, meaning "circle, age." This noun may be from another root entirely, even though Jastrow seems to put them together in his discussion. The main dictionaries connect this noun to the Arabic root gyl. The Hebrew ben gilu means Aone born at the same time, a contemporary." It occurs in Daniel 1:10. If this is a related word, it is unclear how the idea of physically expressing joy developed.
2 Samuel 15:12 mentions a town called Giloh in the region of Judah, but it is not clear what the name meant at this place. The people who lived here were called giloni).
The following study of the usage of the word will not be concerned with the meanings of another word that means "circle, age."
The word is used 44 times in the Bible, 19 times by the prophets (mostly Isaiah), 19 times in the psalms (20 if 1 Chron. 16:31 is included), and four times in Proverbs and once in the Song of Solomon. These passages show that it describes an enthusiastic expression based on intense feelings. Such an expression is usually a response to something that has happened, something that God has done.
1. Jubilation for Victory in War
If we start by surveying the secular uses of the verb and its noun, we will see just what kind of enthusiasm we are dealing with. Isaiah compares the gladness that Israel will feel at the coming of the Messiah to the jubilation (yagilu) that warriors have when they divide the plunder (Isa. 9:3b).
Habakkuk also uses the word to describe the joy that the Babylonians will have (yagil) when they capture the Hebrews like fish in a net (Hab. 1:15).
Zephaniah extends this jubilation to Yahweh himself: "Yahweh your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy; he will be quiet in his love; he will rejoice (yagil) over you with shouts (berinnah) of victory" (Zeph. 3:17).
This same meaning applies to the victory celebrations of the enemies as well. David prayed, "Consider and answer me, O Yahweh, my God . . . lest my enemy say, 'I have overcome him,' lest my adversaries rejoice (yagilu) when I am shaken" (Ps. 13:5 ).
But Proverbs warns the righteous not to celebrate the fall of enemies: "Do not be glad when your enemy falls; and do not let your heart rejoice ('al-yagel) when he stumbles" (Prov. 24:17).
It is not too difficult to imagine the kind of celebration that occurs at the time of a victory in battle--it is by no means subdued or even orderly. The word gil is perfectly at home in such contests.
2. Domestic Celebration
The same kind of enthusiastic rejoicing may be found in domestic activities, although perhaps somewhat restrained in accordance with the occasion. For example, it is used for the delight that parents have when a child is righteous and wise: "The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice (gil* yagil*), and whoever begets a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her rejoice (wetagel) who gave birth to you" (Prov. 23:24, 25).
It is also used in the celebration of marriage. In the Song of Songs we read, "We will rejoice (nagilah) in you and be glad" (1:4a).
Unfortunately, the word is also used in contexts where people are delighted in evil. Proverbs warns the naive young person about this: "Discretion will guard you; understanding will watch over you, to deliver you . . .from those who delight in doing evil, and rejoice (yagilu) in the perversity of evil" (2:11, 14).
3. Cultic Shouts in Worship
The word gil is used most frequently in worship settings, both in idolatrous activities as well as in the true worship of Yahweh. For example, Hosea describes how the idolatrous priests and people of Samaria will mourn the loss of their calf-idol to Assyria. He writes, "Indeed, its people will mourn for it, and its idolatrous priests will cry out (yagilu) over it" (10:5).
But the majority of the uses occurs with the worship of Yahweh; in these passages the praise may be for the works of God, or for his nature, but when gil is used that praise will take the form of a fervent shout, jubilation, or enthusiastic cultic celebration. The following samples will be sufficient:
Ethan, the Ezrahite, says, "How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound . . . in your name they rejoice ( yegilun) all the day" (Ps. 89:15b, 16 [l6b, 17]).
David encourages all the righteous to praise Yahweh: "Be glad in Yahweh, and rejoice (wegilu) you righteous ones, and shout for joy ('ranan) all you who are upright in heart" (Ps. 32:11)
Isaiah (65:18) says that God creates Jerusalem for rejoicing (gilah); therefore, Israel should be glad and rejoice ('gil).
David will rejoice ('agilah) and be glad because of God's faithful loyal love (Ps. 31:7a [8a]).
Joel exhorts Israel to rejoice (gili) in view of the great things that God has done (Joel 2:21).
The word also occurs in Psalm 2:11, but many modern critical scholars do not think it fits with the idea of fear. The verse says, "Serve Yahweh with fear, and rejoice (wegilu) with trembling." In both parts there is a positive word and a negative word, if we can put it that way. The positive "serve" is balanced by "fear," and the positive "rejoice" is with "trembling." If the idea of rejoicing refers to a cultic shout in the sanctuary, the trembling would certainly ensure that it did not get out of hand. But some modern writers argue that the word "trembling" (ra 'adah) here has a greater notion of utter terror, and so would choose the category of meaning "mourn" (as above in Hosea 10:5) for the verse and render it "repent in trembling." I am not sure we can move from "mourn" to "repent" that easily; and the idea of repenting introduces an idea that does not parallel the first part of the verse. This is a verse that has to be studied very thoroughly because it has several difficulties that have to be solved.
Synonyms and Antonyms
There are many words for praise in the Old Testament, but one of them comes the closest to gil in meaning. That is the word ranan, to "give a ringing cry." But we also have some overlap in meaning with samakh, "rejoice, be glad," sus, "exult," and halal, Apraise spontaneously."
The only antonyms that might be appropriate in this discussion would be words like kharas, "to be silent, dumb" (often of not praising), or 'lam, Abe dumb" along with its derivative 'elem, "silence."
In the Greek Old Testament several words were used for this word. First is the word agalliaomai, "to rejoice exceedingly" (see Rev. 19:7), a word that also captures the actual sound of gil. Second, there is the word euphraino, "to gladden, cheer" (see Luke 16:19). And there is also chairo, "to rejoice, be glad." There is no major distinction in meaning for these.
When the Bible uses gil, it signifies "rejoicing, exulting, being glad." It refers to expressing joy energetically, perhaps even without words. In many situations it may a have the idea of a "yell, or a shout, or roar," or form part of a cultic cry.