I’ve had the pleasure recently of reading through Deuteronomy as I follow my Bible reading plan.
Deuteronomy? Pleasure? you may ask. Well, yes.
While it’s sometimes hard to slog through the books of the Old Testament, there are gems to be found, and I discovered that Deuteronomy had some relevant passages for this season of Thanksgiving.
In fact, the many references to “rejoicing” in the book surprised me! Sprinkled throughout much of the book are commands regarding the feasts that Israel was to celebrate–and celebrate with gusto!
It’s not my intention to give a detailed overview of the feasts mentioned here, but rather I hope to express the elements of God-centered celebration that I have found helpful as we head into the holiday season.
In America, we have only one feast-day that harkens back to agricultural times: Thanksgiving. And while “giving thanks” isn’t really mentioned in Deuteronomy concerning the Jewish feasts, the purpose of these celebrations is clear: to remember and bless the Lord for His provision.
So whether it’s First Fruits (celebrated in late spring) or the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles (celebrated in the fall), the heart of each is expressed in Deuteronomy 8:10, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.”
When you enter the land for the first time, bless the Lord. When you reap its goodness each year, bless the Lord.
We moderns find ourselves a bit far-removed from this kind of dependence upon the land. Not that we don’t eat its produce, but we rarely experience an actual harvest without going out of our way to do so.
I found myself reading about the Offering of First Fruits within a few days of harvesting our first ever (and completely volunteer) pumpkin patch. Nevermind the different time of year and different crops they would have had in Israel (olives, figs, etc), this passage resonated with me.
Here’s what Deuteronomy 26 says about First Fruits:
The Israelites were to bring their offering before the Lord and announce, after recounting the history of God’s provision for their people, “Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me.” And then they were instructed to “set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD you God; and you and the Levite and the alien who is among you shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household.”
Now, when I read about the Israelites giving the first of their produce to the Lord, I can’t help but think of that one, solitary, beautiful, orange pumpkin we picked. Sure, we picked 14 green ones. But that first, ripe orb was our delight! And that pumpkin, and no other, would, in another time and place, be offered to the Lord. It would be His, not ours.
This vivid picture of the pride of our harvest belonging to the Lord began to expand in my mind. Not just fruits of the land. Fruit of the womb, also. The first born son would be the Lord’s (Exodus 34:19-20).
Just like that first pumpkin is the Lord’s and is intended to remind me that all of our pumpkins are His, so too my first child is the Lord’s–and by extension any further children are.
“The earth is the LORD’s and all it contains.”
I’m beginning to get it.
Deuteronomy 26:16 continues: “This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances [immediate context is the feast of first fruits]. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and all your soul.”
What did the statutes and ordinances in this passage involve?
Remembering God’s goodness and covenant
Bringing the first of your produce
Worshiping before God
Rejoicing (with the Levite and alien!) in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household–there is a community giving thanks!
Sharing with the Levite, stranger, orphan, and widow–there is a community being cared for!
“I have not eaten it while mourning”–just in case you missed it, rejoicing is emphasized here by negatively stating its opposite.
Praying for God’s future blessing on His people “Look down and bless”
The Israelites were to do all of these things with all of their heart and all of their soul! “Soul” in the bible usually denotes your whole being, including your body. So, everything within us (heart) and all that we are (soul) ought to go into this remembering, rejoicing, worshiping, sharing, blessing…
Is this not the essence of thanksgiving?!?
The Feast of Ingathering (Deuteronomy 16:13-15) has similar instructions:
You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.
So much rejoicing! Again, this is a feast not only remembering past blessings (the things gathered in) but also awaiting with expectant joy the future provision of the Lord.
I can’t help but think of the Passover, which also looked back at past deliverance and forward to the Messiah. And of the Lord’s Supper, by which we remember and “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” It seems the pattern of biblical celebration looks both backward and forward. It’s a pattern of remembering and rejoicing!
All of this imagery and idealism is wonderful, but what if I’m heading into Thanksgiving with a nasty cold and way too many servings of responsibility and stress on my plate? And what if this is the first major holiday without a dearly loved family member?
This is where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? There are things to begrudge and mourn. A lack of health, a lack of peace, and an empty chair at the table.
For an Israelite to swear, “I did not eat it while mourning” they would have had to push pause on, well, life. Because life is hard and we experience loss and disappointment often. Even in times of abundance.
I don’t have a remote with a quick-and-easy-fix button to literally pause pain so that rejoicing is effortless. But I can remember the Lord’s goodness and provision–past and present, in times of abundance and in times of need.
And I can rejoice. Because I know the One who will “guide the future as He has the past.”
As I went for a walk today (for the first time in what seems like forever) I had to deal with my grumbling attitude that had become my more-often-than-not companion in the past few days. The sunshine and fresh air helped to remind me that the world is still a beautiful place and God is still on His throne–even if I don’t get everything done, even if I’m carrying around my own personal storm cloud.
And as it turned out, being sick forced me to push pause today. I took a nap. In the quiet of a walk, in the quiet of my couch, in the midst of a busy, noisy, frenetic season, the Lord calmed my heart and reminded me of His care and provision.
Perhaps I can leave that storm cloud behind. Remember the Lord. Rejoice in His provision. And share that with those around me this Thanksgiving.
How about you?
Here are a few hymns that refreshed my soul on my walk today as the Lord brought them to mind. Looking to the Lord as a good, sovereign Provider is necessary if we’re to give Him thanks, isn’t it? I hope these songs will bless you as they have blessed me.
God Moves in a Mysterious Way (with added chorus in the video):
And, finally, one that actually gives thanks, rejoicing: For the Beauty of the Earth