Proverbs 15:13 “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.”
A paraphrase of this verse after looking at the Hebrew word meanings is “A joyful attitude makes for a beautiful face, but through a wounded attitude the life is broken.”
To be without spirit or life is to lose courage. Why is there this loss of courage, this sense of hopelessness? Well, looking at the Hebrew meaning for “sorrow” gives a great insight. The root Hebrew word from which the Hebrew word for “sorrow” is derived means, “idol, worry, worship.” Thus a person who has made someone or something an idol considers it worthy of their attention. Their mind is focused on this idol and it consumes them. When this idol does not bring satisfaction as expected, this person is discouraged. If this discouragement is not resolved, it can lead to a broken spirit, that is, despair.
The Hebrew word here for “broken” (H5218) is used only four times in the Old Testament. AMG’s Dictionary defines this word as the following: “An adjective meaning broken, beaten, crushed. It describes the life, the vitality, the drive, the spirit of a person that has been oppressed, broken by a grieved heart. A spirit broken, crushed, renders a person hopeless (Prov. 15:13; 17:22; 18:14).” – Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary – Old Testament, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
This broken spirit is despair and is to be distinguished from the broken spirit that God does not despise which is translated from a different Hebrew word (Psalm 34:18, 51:17) The one is hopelessness without God. The other is hopelessness in self that causes one to turn to God in faith.
The hopelessness without God is not only detrimental a person’s emotional and spiritual health but also to one’s physical health. It causes one’s bones to age prematurely (Prov. 17:22).
On the other hand, a merry or joyful heart makes a cheerful countenance and is like medicine. It gives emotional, spiritual, and physical vitality to those who have it (Prov. 15:13, 17:22). We as Christians all ought to have merry hearts. God ought to be the health or life of our countenance. Is He the health of your face because of the joy you have in Him? When He is not, let’s say as David did, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” (Psalm 42:11).