One of the traits of a supervillain in films is their scary laugher. It doesn’t matter if they happen to be a mad scientist or a monster clown, a wicked witch or a cool criminal. At some point, usually just before explaining their diabolical plan, or enacting the final phase of it, they’ll release the laugh.
It might surprise you to learn that God in the Bible has scary laugher too. It might surprise you more that the God of the Old Testament smiles. This is usually described in Hebrew image of the light of God’s face shining on his people (Numbers 6:25-26; Psalm 4:6). But God’s laughter is different; it’s reserved solely for his enemies.
Scary Laughter at Bosses
Because God is good and not evil, his laughter takes a different direction to that of a traditional supervillain. Supervillains laugh with delight at their own plans. God laughs in derision at the plans of those who oppose him. Psalm 2 shows the leaders of earth gathered together to plot against God and his Christ. God doesn’t seem too worried.
He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.Psalm 2:4
Psalm 37 is interesting because it looks at this from the perspective of God’s people, who might be tempted to despair when they see the wicked taking over all the positions of power in the land (v35). The poet assures them that the meek – the strong-but-patient, not the weak – will inherit the earth (vs 9, 11, 22, 29, 34 – Matthew 5:5). In the middle of it all, we get this:
The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes on him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him: for he sees that his day is coming.Psalm 37:12-13
Again, God laughs at the plots of others, not at his own plans. They aren’t two equal sides in some high-stakes chess match. God knows what they don’t. God sees that the wicked will be quickly cut off (v2) and their schemes will turn on themselves (v15).
Scary Laughter at Minions
A more low-level bad guy is the subject of Psalm 59, a supervillain’s muscle, a thug, a minion. The poet calls them bloody men who belch like dogs (v7) and bark to scare others. They stalk around the city, waiting for their prey. How God deals with them is revealing.
But you, O LORD, shalt laugh at them; thou shall have all the heathen in derision.Psalm 59:8
God doesn’t kill them. He takes away their power by scattering them (v11). He changes them from pack hunters to begging mongrels (vs14-15). God takes pleasure in making the punishment fit the crime and turning the methods of the wicked on their own heads.
The wicked have drawn the sword and bent the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.
Others Join In the Joke
There are several references in the Bible to the righteous laughing at the wicked. Elijah laughs in mockery at the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:37) and Isaiah laughs in scorn at the fall of Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:22), an Assyrian king who attacked Jerusalem. But one of the most striking instances is when Wisdom herself warns against the simple and scornful who reject her call.
But you have set at nothing all my counsel, and would have none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear comes.Proverbs 1:25-26
The wisdom of God isn’t to scheme against the wicked but merely to withdraw from them. You don’t want my help? Okay then, I’ll sit back and laugh as you make a mess of things. Have it your own way.
Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.v 31
Irony is a contrast between how things appear and what is actually the case. It has both a serious rhetorical use in tragedy and a lighter, comedic side. It seems that God employs – and enjoys – both. The wicked intend with their plans to destroy the righteous, but in fact the opposite happens – their plans destroy themselves and benefit the righteous. Delicious! As Charles Ellicott puts in his comments on Psalm 2.
We speak of the “irony of events “; the Hebrew ascribes irony to God, who controls events.
Or, to quote the well-known Yiddish expression:
Der Mensch Tracht, Un Gott Lacht (Man plans and God laughs)