What Does “A Merry Heart Does Good Like A Medicine” Mean?

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine:
but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

I have heard this verse quoted many times. I’ve seen it on cheesy Christian plaques and cross-stitch.

Usually what people mean with the quote is, “Hey, I know everything in life is falling apart right now, but cheer up! Be happy! Turn that frown upside down and you’ll feel better.”

It’s the biblical equivalent of “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

Solomon apparently wrote the verse to give Joel Osteen sermon content.

Proverbs is a tough book because not all the verses have a context. Many times they are seemingly random thoughts thrown together with one verse having no connection to the next.

But that’s not always the case. I don’t think it’s the case with the above verse. Here is, what I believe to be, the context of this verse:

He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the father of a fool hath no joy. A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

I think these two verses were meant to be written next to each other.

If your kid turns out to be a moron you have no joy. Your rotten kid then crushes your soul and this rots your bones. A wise kid brings joy.

Something that makes the link even stronger is that in the Hebrew the word “joy” and “merry” are the same word just a different form.

Solomon is saying, “The father of a fool has no joy, and a joyful heart does good.” It’s the same word, the same context.

Solomon is not advocating happiness at all times, a determination to be happy no matter what. In fact, in Ecclesiastes, Solomon specifically states that seeking happiness all the time is a waste.

Solomon is more specifically saying to raise good kids to have joy, which will help you stay healthy too.

Before taking a phrase and making it mean whatever we want it to, it’s best to stick with the context. Failing to do so makes God say many things He never intended.

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