By Danny R. Von Kanel
We all know of those corny jokes where people use Scripture to spark a laugh, like: Did you know Santa Claus is in the Bible? It says, “Ho, Ho flee from the land of the north” (Zechariah 2:6, American Standard Version). Or did you know baseball is in the Bible? Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning” (big inning).
Yet God has a sense of humor without our misappropriating Scripture. Here are some places where we can see it in action:
In Numbers 22 we read that Balaam angered God for joining the delegation to see Balak, king of Moab. Balaam, the seer, could not see an angel of the Lord with sword in hand, but his donkey could. Three times the beast of burden turned away, once in a field, then against a wall, and finally, with nowhere to move, it laid down.
Each time Balaam reproved his donkey, beating him severely. Then the donkey spoke. God used the normally dumb beast to make a lot of sense. “What have I done to you to make you beat me three times? . . . Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” (vv. 28, 30).
Balaam talked back to the donkey, saying that it made him look stupid and he wanted to kill the animal. Yet the angel had a sword and would have killed Balaam if his donkey hadn’t saved his life. Few people ever look or act dumber than a donkey . . . unless you’re Balaam. I just can’t imagine Balaam’s two servants witnessing this hilarious encounter and not cracking their sides laughing. Dumb and dumber had a conversation.
Ark v. Statue
In 1 Samuel 5 the Philistines captured the ark of God and took it to Ashdod, thinking God’s glory would depart from Israel with its capture. The ark of God rested next to the statue of Dagon, a pagan god. That powerless piece of stone proved no match for God’s presence.
First the Dagon statue fell on its face before the before the ark of God. The Philistines set it back up. The next day, Dagon was bowing before the ark again, this time with its head and hands broken off. The poor Philistines couldn’t risk a third time because a stump does not make much of a statue.
God has a humorous way of making our man-made gods worthless as a stump. There existed a cheap Dagon stump for sale that next week, but Philistine buyers probably had no interest in such a powerless relic. God’s humor showed up that day in that Dagon temple.
The Prophets of Baal
In 1 Kings 18 we read that Elijah was on Mount Carmel and challenged 450 Baal prophets to call on their god to answer by fire to consume a sacrifice. From morning till noon they called. Nothing happened. Then Elijah mocked and made fun of their god:
“Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (v. 27).
Here Elijah has challenged Baal’s very existence, wondering if the deity was wallowing in his thoughts or sleeping. Hey, he may be busy? (Some translations say he may be relieving himself.) Shout louder. Now all 450 of you shout louder because a traveling god may not get the message.
And they did to no avail. The angels of Heaven must have been laughing. God gave Elijah a sense of humor that day and poked fun at the things people worship as gods.
A Fish Coughs Up a Prophet
The premiere fish story of God’s humor is Jonah and the big fish.
Albert Barnes’s Notes on the Bible says this about Jonah: “The sailors gave him over to the sea, the sea to the vast fish, the fish to God, God to the Ninevites, and through this long circuit brought back the fugitive; that he might instruct all, that it is impossible to escape the hands of God.”
That is funny. Jonah went full circle to finally do God’s bidding. Being swallowed by a fish, now that’s funny. Living there three days, even funnier. What do you do three days in the belly of a fish? He probably played a number of games: Blowfish, Tongue in Cheek, No Way Out, and If I Had Only Listened.
The fish, realizing he swallowed something unexpected, probably thought, Tastes like an Israelite but I’m not sure. Best to spit him out and find out. The prophet spits out words. The big fish spits out a prophet. Both have lasting consequences. The fish had his fill of a prophet. The prophet had his fill of a big fish. Both coughed up God’s will—a funny way to get there.
A Fish Coughs Up a Coin
When Jesus was on earth, another fish became a vehicle for God’s power.
In Matthew 17:24, the tax collectors questioned whether Jesus was going to pay his taxes. Jesus knew he and Peter had to pay tribute to the Roman government. To keep from offending them, Jesus told Peter to go to the sea, cast a hook, look in the mouth of the first fish, and find a coin. Jesus could have said, “Go to Mary’s house, find the tallest chicken, look in his mouth, and you will find a coin.” But he didn’t. A fish brought the coin.
Peter’s faith exceeded mine. My response would’ve been: “Are you kidding, Lord? A fish will cough up our tribute? Doesn’t Judas have money for this? Don’t you know how many fish are in the sea, and I’m to find the one with the coin? Surely, Lord, you jest?”
Peter apparently did as asked but he had to have smiled or laughed out loud when that first fish jumped into the boat, and a coin, worth enough to pay both of their government tributes, rested in his hand. And that’s not to say anything about what the fish thought. Jesus’ humor does get a bit fishy.
The Virtue of Laughter
God inspired the writers of both Psalms and Proverbs to extol the virtue of laughter:
• Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Medicine heals. Laughter heals. Truth be known, we can’t laugh enough. A cheerful heart is a happy heart.
• Proverbs 15:13 says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful.” Christians should be the happiest folks in town. Laughter and merriment bring cheerful expressions. It’s hard to laugh and not smile. Smiles are contagious.
• Psalm 126:2 says, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, The Lord has done great things for them.” The return from captivity in Babylon brought joy. Laughter and singing burst forth when joy was complete and overwhelming. God’s rejoicing people caused the pagans of this world to see when God did great things for them.
Laughter in the Bible? You bet! One can’t imagine God giving us the ability to laugh and have fun and not give his full blessing in Scripture. These biblical accounts paint a clear picture, one that should make us laugh. Go ahead—let God fill you with merriment.
Danny R. Von Kanel is a freelance writer in Franklinton, Louisiana.