As expressed by the writer of Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is an appointed time, . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to wail and a time to skip about.” (Ec 3:1, 4) The word “laugh” here translates the Hebrew verb sa·chaqʹ. Though the basic meaning is “laugh,” this word and the related word tsa·chaqʹ are also translated by expressions such as “celebrate,” “play,” “make sport,” ‘offer amusement,’ and “have a good time.” (2Sa 6:21; Job 41:5; Jg 16:25; Ex 32:6; Ge 26:8) Forms of the verb sa·chaqʹ are used at Proverbs 8:30, 31 with regard to the “master worker” as “being glad” before Jehovah following the earth’s creation, as well as to describe the “play” of the animal creation in the sea and in the fields.—Ps 104:26; Job 40:20.
Expressions of Joy and Pleasure. The amusements and diversion of the Israelites are not prominently portrayed in the Bible record. Nevertheless, it shows them to be viewed as both proper and desirable when in harmony with the religious principles of the nation. The principal forms of recreation were the playing of musical instruments, singing, dancing, conversation, as well as some games. The propounding of riddles and difficult questions was much esteemed.—Jg 14:12.
Singing, dancing, and the use of tambourines broke forth in praise of Jehovah right after Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea. (Ex 15:20, 21) Later, when Aaron proclaimed “a festival to Jehovah” after having made the golden calf, the people ate and drank and then got up “to have a good time [letsa·cheqʹ].” Their dancing and singing in this case, however, were coupled with false worship, causing disgrace.—Ex 32:5, 6, 18, 19, 25.
The three annual festivals provided occasion for enjoyment along with the observance of the requirements of worship set forth in the Law. “Circle dances” are mentioned with regard to the yearly festival held in Shiloh. (Jg 21:21) Other occasions were the victory celebrations (Jg 11:34; 1Sa 18:6, 7) and the coronation of a king. (1Ki 1:40) While dancing was engaged in more particularly by women, men also danced on occasion, as did David when bringing the Ark up to Jerusalem. (2Sa 6:5, 14, 21; 1Ch 13:8; 15:29) The vintage time and also sheepshearing time were occasions of joy and feasting. (Jer 25:30; 2Sa 13:23-28) Marriages, too, were times for enjoyment, and Jesus contributed toward such at a marriage held in Cana. (Jer 7:34; 16:9; Joh 2:1-10) At Luke 15:25 a music concert and dancing are mentioned as part of the festivities celebrating the return of the prodigal son.
In Egypt slaves were taught music and dancing to entertain the family and their guests. The Greeks also employed professional female dancers and musicians to entertain guests. There was dancing for entertainment on Herod’s birthday when he was asked for the head of John the Baptizer. (Mt 14:6-8) Dancing was popular among the Greeks as an amusement, though Greek dancing was originally associated with religious worship.
Proper Balance in Amusement. Warnings against improper forms of amusement and the need for keeping entertainment in its place are set forth in certain texts. Proverbs describes the stupid one to whom the carrying on of loose conduct is like “sport [sechohqʹ]” and the man who tricks his fellow and says, “Was I not having fun [mesa·cheqʹ]?” (Pr 10:23; 26:19) Showing amusement’s relative worth to be small, Proverbs 14:13 says: “Even in laughter [bi·sechohqʹ] the heart may be in pain; and grief is what rejoicing ends up in.” (Compare Ec 2:2; 7:2, 3, 6.) The merry Philistines called out blind Samson to offer them amusement (sa·chaqʹ), only to have him bring the house down on them.—Jg 16:25-30.
Jeremiah, aware of the seriousness of the times and undergoing persecution for his preaching, states that he did not sit down with “those playing jokes [mesa·chaqimʹ]” and exulting. (Jer 15:17) Though he foretold doom for Jerusalem, he also prophesied of the time when her inhabitants would again go forth with rejoicing in the dance of those laughing, decked with tambourines. (Jer 30:19; 31:4) Zechariah similarly foretold the day when the public squares of restored Jerusalem would be filled with children playing.—Zec 8:5; see DANCING; GAMES; THEATER.