A Time For Everything

14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” – Matthew 9:14-17 ESV

One of the things I appreciate about the Word of God is that it provides an honest look into the lives of the characters contained within its pages.

They are not sanitized or canonized, making them unrelatable or, better yet, unbelievable. The people presented to us in the Bible are flawed and prone to failure, just as we are. They wrestle with doubts and fears. Their minds constantly struggle with questions about everything, from fairness to God’s faithfulness.

Even the ones who displayed a heart for the things of God found themselves wondering out loud about the seeming incongruities of life. The world in which they lived was not a kind and gentle place, but could be harsh and unforgiving. Even the Jews, the chosen people of God, found their religion, with all its rules and requirements, to be a difficult lifestyle to maintain. This is what prompted Jesus to say, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

Theirs was a religion based on works. Yes, their was faith involved, but essentially, they were required to keep all of God’s commands if they wanted to enjoy His blessing and approval. Rule-keeping was intended to be God-pleasing. So, when some of John the Baptist’s disciples noticed that the men who followed Jesus failed to fast, they were confused and probably a bit shocked.

Both Mark and Luke record this scene a bit differently than Matthew. They indicate that the question regarding fasting came from some anonymous person in the crowd, who asked Jesus:

“John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?” – Luke 5:33 ESV

Mark adds the important detail, “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting” (Mark 2:18 ESV), which leaves the impression that the fasting was taking place at that very moment. If that is so, it is likely that the disciples of John, who were having to go without food, were a bit put out that the disciples of Jesus were free to eat and drink. So, they sent someone to get an answer from Jesus. But their intent was not to seek clarification but to offer a bit of condemnation. This whole scene smells of competition and comparison. As disciples of John, they had viewed the arrival of Jesus and His chosen followers as a kind of turf war. Before Jesus had shown up on the scene, their leader had been the primary show in town. Even Matthew describes the popularity of John.

Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him. – Matthew 3:5 ESV

Yet, with the arrival of Jesus, the popularity of John had faded. His 15-minutes of fame had ended abruptly and now Jesus and His disciples had taken center stage. This probably left John’s followers a bit jealous and feeling as if their decision to follow John had all been in vain. And when they saw that the disciples of Jesus were little more than rule-breakers, that inflamed their sense of fairness and propriety. The wanted answers. They demanded an explanation. And Jesus gave them one.

But notice how Jesus responded to their request. He picked up on a theme their very own leader had used to describe his relationship with Jesus. John had clearly understood his role and the part he had been called by God to play.

“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:29-30 ESV

John understood himself to be little more than a friend of the bridegroom. He was inconsequential when compared to the groom. In fact, he fully realized that he was destined to play a diminishing part in the story surrounding Jesus’ life and ministry.

Using John’s own metaphor of the groom and the wedding, Jesus responds to their request by stating:

“Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” – Matthew 9:15 ESV

Mark and Luke provide a slightly different take on Jesus’ words.

“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” – Mark 2:19 ESV

“Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” – Luke 5:34-35 ESV

Notice that they both put the emphasis on fasting. But Matthew stresses the idea of mourning. The Greek word Matthew used carries the idea of wailing or an outward expression of grief. Fasting was often linked to an individual’s repentance over sin in their lives. It was a physical way of expressing their sorrow by denying themselves such necessities as food and water.

In this case, Jesus reminds the disciples of John that it made no sense for the friends of the groom to mourn while he was still with them. There would be a proper time for them to grieve over the loss of their friend, but right in the middle of his wedding celebration would not be appropriate.

The Book of Ecclesiastes illustrates the need to recognize that there are a proper time and place for everything.

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 ESV

What the disciples of John failed to understand was that denying themselves food or water, while beneficial when done at the proper time and for the right reason, was inappropriate when the Messiah was in their midst.

The Messiah’s arrival should have been a time for feasting and celebration, not fasting and self-denial. By fasting, a man was attempting to restore himself to a right relationship with God. But Jesus had come to take care of that problem by offering Himself on their behalf. And that should have been a cause for joy, not for mourning and asceticism.

Jesus was trying to let them know that a new day had dawned. They were living in a new era when the old ways were being replaced with something far grander and significant. That is why He uses the imagery of a piece of new, unwashed cloth being sewn as a patch onto an old garment. After washing, the new cloth would shrink, causing the old garment to tear and rendering it of no value. The new way of the Kingdom was not compatible with the old way of law-keeping. Gone were the days of trying to earn your way into God’s good graces. Jesus had come to make possible a new means of justification and salvation.

The disciples of John were living under the old system of law-keeping and self-produced righteousness. They were still attempting to keep God happy by doing things that proved their spiritual superiority. It seems that the disciples of John viewed themselves as somehow more godly that the disciples of John, by virtue of their commitment to fasting. But Jesus is accentuating the radical nature of the new covenant He came to bring. He even compares it to new wine. This carries the idea of freshness and future fermentation. As wine aged, it would expand, placing great strain on the vessel in which it was contained. Old wineskins were brittle from age and incapable of accommodating the rapidly fermenting nature of new wine. The pressure would cause them to burst.

Once again, Jesus is accentuating the newness and freshness of what He had come to do. It was not that He had come to abolish or replace the law. He had actually come to fulfill it. But it was going to require something altogether new and different. The apostle Paul describes the radically new and regenerative nature of Christ’s work on the cross.

But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. – Romans 7:6 NLT

Paul goes on to describe the law as “spiritual and good” (Romans 7:14 NLT). Jesus even said He had not come to abolish the law but in order to fulfill it. So, rather than fasting, the disciples of John should have been feasting. They should have been celebrating rather than abstaining. There had always been a time and a place for fasting, but Jesus was letting them know that it was now a time for feasting.  The Messiah was in their midst. The bridegroom was with them. So, let the party begin.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Something Worth Celebrating

“You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. 10 Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you. 11 And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. 12 You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.

13 “You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. 15 For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, 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.

16 “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. 17 Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you. – Deuteronomy 16:9-17 ESV

Moses has been reminding the people of their obligation to offer the appropriate sacrifices at the appropriate time and place. Now, he is going to elaborate on the particular feasts and festivals at which these various offerings were to be made.

All the firstborn males that are born of your herd and flock you shall dedicate to the Lord your God. You shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock.You shall eat it, you and your household, before the Lord your God year by year at the place that the Lord will choose. – Deuteronomy 15:19-20 NLT

There were seven annual feasts as prescribed by God. In the Spring of each year, the Israelites were to celebrate the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Weeks. An additional four feasts were to be held in the Fall. These included the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. These annual events were, in part, commemorations or memorial celebrations, intended to help the Israelites retain the memory of God’s miraculous intervention in their lives. But they were also to be annual occasions when the Israelites could offer thanks to God for all that He had done in providing for their needs over the preceding year.

These feasts or festivals were closely tied to the annual spring and fall harvests and were timed to remind the Israelites of God’s faithful protection and provision. But, there is something even more significant about these annual celebrations that is often overlooked. They were intended to serve as prefigurement or foreshadowing of something or someone to come. The Messiah. Each of these annual feasts present a glimpse into the redemptive work of Jesus. And while the Israelites would not have recognized these signs, those of us on this side of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are able to look back and see how the saving work of Jesus was foretold in this seven festivals.

One of the first things we should notice is the inclusive nature of these events. They were non-discriminatory and intended for everyone in the camp.

Celebrate with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites from your towns, and the foreigners, orphans, and widows who live among you.…” – Deuteronomy 16:11 NLT

“This festival will be a happy time of celebrating with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows from your towns.” – Deuteronomy 16:14 NLT

No one was to be left out. The invitation to participate in the joy of the celebration was extended to all. It reminds me of the invitation offered by Jesus:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light. – Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Notice how Jesus incorporated agricultural terms in his invitation. Just as the feasts were tied to the annual harvest and provided the people a much-needed respite from their work of providing for their basic needs, Jesus offered mankind rest from the back-braking work of trying to earn righteousness through self-effort. And this invitation was offered to every individual with no strings attached or restrictions based on ethnicity, gender, or social status.

And for all who accepted the gracious invitation of Jesus Christ, they became part of an all-inclusive family comprised of people from all walks of life. The apostle Paul describes them this way:

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:28-29 NLT

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. – Romans 10:12 ESV

The imagery associated with these annual events is closely tied to Jesus. From the unblemished Passover lamb to unleavened bread, these Old Testament types foreshadow the Messiah, the sinless Son of God. Leaven was a symbol of sin and the Israelites were to spend seven days purging any leaven from their homes. But Jesus came as the sinless Lamb of God who made possible foregiveness for sin – once and for all.

At the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, the Israelites were instructed to build temporary shelters in which they were to live during the days of the festival. These structures were intended to remind them of their nomadic existence during the days of the exodus. But they are also a foreshadowing of something greater to come. With His arrival on earth, Jesus became Immanuel, literally “God with us.” He came to tabernacle among His people and to provide a means by which they could enjoy a permanent and eternal existence with God the Father. No more temporary shelters. No more wandering in the wilderness of sin. God has a permanent place of shelter and refuge planned for all those who place their faith in His Son.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. – Revelations 21:3 NLT

“I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – Ezekiel 37:27 NLT

These feasts were temporary occassions and the Israelites were required to observe them on an annual basis. But the sacrifice of Jesus was once-for-all, providing a permanent means of salvation for all who who accept His gracious invitation. No more feasts and festivals were necessary. No more sacrifices were required. There was no more need to remove the leaven of sin or to find the spotless lamb to offer as atonement for that sin. Jesus became the sole source of redemption. And the celebration of these annual feasts was one day replaced by a much more simple, yet highly significant event that would commemorate His death on man’s behalf.

At the Feast of Passover, Jesus would gather with His disciples in the upper room and share the Passover meal with them. But during their celebration of that annual event, Jesus would institute another, much more important, celebration which would take its place: The Lord’s Supper.

…the Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NLT

Moses said of the Feast of Tabernacles, “This festival will be a time of great joy for all” (Deuteronomy 16:15 NLT). But it is the sinless sacrifice of Jesus that provides true cause for joy and celebration. His death made man’s restoration with God possible. His sacrifice provides all who accept it with complete forgiveness from sin and the replacement of their guilty verdict with the announcement of their justification before God. And that is truly cause for celebration.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Never Forget

1 “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the flesh that you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain all night until morning. You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, but at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice, in the evening at sunset, at the time you came out of Egypt. And you shall cook it and eat it at the place that the Lord your God will choose. And in the morning you shall turn and go to your tents. For six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God. You shall do no work on it. – Deuteronomy 16:1-8 ESV

Moses has been reminding the people of their obligation to offer the appropriate sacrifices at the appropriate time and place. Now, he is going to elaborate on the particular feasts and festivals at which these various offerings were to be made.

All the firstborn males that are born of your herd and flock you shall dedicate to the Lord your God. You shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock.You shall eat it, you and your household, before the Lord your God year by year at the place that the Lord will choose. – Deuteronomy 15:19-20 NLT

The first, and most important one, was the Feast of Passover. This yearly celebration was instituted while the people of Israel were still in Egypt and was closely associated with the final plague: The death of the firstborn. On the night the very first Passover was held, God spared all those whose homes were marked by the blood of an unblemished lamb. This sign, placed on the doorposts of their homes in an act of faith, provided those inside with protection from the judgment of God. Their homes were “passed over” by the Death Angel and their firstborns were spared. And God had told the people that this momentous event was to be celebrated on an annual and perpetual basis for generations to come.

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” – Exodus 12:14 ESV

Passover began with the sacrifice of the lamb and the sprinkling of its blood, followed by a meal at which the lamb was to be eaten

“They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover.” – Exodus 12:8-11 ESV

The consumption of the lamb was to be followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven-day-long period of time in which all leaven, a symbol of sin, was removed from the homes and from the diets of the Israelites.

“For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.” – Exodus 12:19-20 ESV

And Moses had instructed the people to faithfully observe this God-ordained series of celebrations and commemorations each and every year.

“You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord‘s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” – Exodus 12:24-27 ESV

Now, some 40 years later, the Israelites were preparing to enter the land and Moses reminded them once again of their obligation to keep these important feasts and festivals. But it was essential that the Israelites not allow these holy days to devolve into nothing more than glorified holidays. They were intended to be commemorations or memorials of all that God had done for them. They were meant to be links to the past, reminding the people of God’s greatness and goodness. And as each successive generation found itself further and further from the original Passover, it was going to be essential that the memory of God’s gracious deliverance be retold and their gratitude for His kindness be rekindled.

That’s why Moses was so emphatic in his reminder that they keep these feasts. He knew that, once they arrived in the land, they would be tempted to leave the past behind. As they acclimated to their new home, they would find their former condition as slaves a distant and quickly fading memory. These feasts were meant to be reminders of God’s deliverance and a constant call to remain faithful to Him alone. The removal of the leaven would provide a visual lesson of the ever-present and pervasive nature of sin. It would always be with them. And while God had delivered them from slavery and provided the land of Canaan as their inheritance, they were to keep themselves holy and totally dedicated to God.

“Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 16:3 ESV

There is a sense in which God’s people are to live with their heads on a swivel, constantly looking back in an effort to recall the past and all that God has done, but also looking forward in faith, eagerly anticipating all that God has promised to do.

The apostle Paul was constantly reminding the churches to which he wrote of their past condition, prior to their coming to faith in Christ.

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT

He told the believers in Ephesus:

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!). – Ephesians 2:1-5 NLT

Looking back is an essential part of the Christian’s growth experience. If we fail to remember our pre-salvation condition, we will end up taking our faith for granted. The miracle of our spiritual transformation will lose its impact. The sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf will tend to diminish in its value. But if we recall the helplessness and hopelessness of our former condition, the grace and mercy of God will retain its glory and wonder.

God had miraculously and graciously liberated the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. He had faithfully led them through the wilderness and placed them on the edge of the very land He had promised to give them as their inheritance. But it was going to be vital that they remember their past. These annual feasts and festivals were to be celebrations and commemorations. They were intended to be times of rejoicing and recalling, feasting and reflecting.

When it comes to the goodness and graciousness of God, forgetfulness is a dangerous tendency that is to be avoided at all costs. That’s why Moses was constantly reminding the Israelites to never forget. Because he knew that forgetfulness would ultimately lead to unfaithfulness.

When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.

“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the LORD your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 8:10-14 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Reason to Rejoice

22 “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. 23 And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25 then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 27 And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.

28 “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. – Deuteronomy 14:22-29 ESV

The people of Israel were prohibited from eating certain foods, as determined by God. Their adherence to this command would help to enhance their status as God’s chosen and set-apart people. It would further differentiate and distinquish them from the pagan nations living within the land. But it would also enable them to bear or carry their designation as God’s people without fear of compromise or the risk of bringing shame to His name.

While they were to set themselves apart by refraining from the consumption of certain foods, they were also expected to display their holiness or set-apartness by observing the Sabbath and all the ritual observances associated with it. This included the annual tithe as well as the once-every-three year tithe. Moses reminded them to:

“Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds.” – Deuteronomy 14:23 NLT

Food was a vital part of their existence and they were to recognize God as the source of all their needs. By refraining from eating certain foods, they displayed their faith in God’s ability to provide more than enough non-prohibited food in order to sustain them. And when God blessed them with grain, wine, olive oil, flocks, and herds, their willingness to offer a portion of their bounty back to Him was an additional sign of their reliance upon Him.

Moses had already specified that God was going to choose a specific place within the land where the Tabernacle was to be set up. It would be there, and there alone, that the Israelites would bring their tithes and offerings.

“There you will bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your offerings to fulfill a vow, your voluntary offerings, and your offerings of the firstborn animals of your herds and flocks. There you and your families will feast in the presence of the Lord your God, and you will rejoice in all you have accomplished because the Lord your God has blessed you.” – Deuteronomy 12:6-7 NLT

Moses was assuring the people that God was going to bless them and, when He did, they were to return a portion of all He gave them as a sign of their gratefulness and as further proof of their reliance upon Him. These annual events were additional ways in which God chose to set the people of Israel apart. These feasts and festivals would be unique to them as a nation, and their observance of them would further enhance their status as God’s chosen people.

God had already dictated His will concerning these annual events, making them a part of the commandments He had passed on to them through Moses.

“Each year you must celebrate three festivals in my honor. First, celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast, just as I commanded you. Celebrate this festival annually at the appointed time in early spring, in the month of Abib, for that is the anniversary of your departure from Egypt. No one may appear before me without an offering.

“Second, celebrate the Festival of Harvest, when you bring me the first crops of your harvest.

“Finally, celebrate the Festival of the Final Harvest at the end of the harvest season, when you have harvested all the crops from your fields. At these three times each year, every man in Israel must appear before the Sovereign, the Lord.” – Exodus 23:14-17 NLT

In a sense, these feasts and festivals were to act as tests to determine the obedience of the Israelites, but also to measure the degree of their trust. In an agrarian culture, giving back a portion of your produce was a literal sacrifice. They were giving up their source of livelihood and displaying their faith that God would continue to meet all their needs. In doing so, they were showing that they were not trusting the gifts more than the Giver.

But one of the things that gets overlooked in all of this is God’s gracious allowance for celebration in the midst of all the sacrifice. While they were expected to give back to God, He wanted them to rejoice in the blessings He had provide. So, these annual events were to be celebrations where the people enjoyed the blessings of God. Moses told them to “feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and celebrate with your household” (Deuteronomy 14:26 NLT).

There was a communal aspect to these celebrations. While the nation of Israel had been divided into 12 tribes and those tribes would end up living in 12 separate regions within the land, they were to gather as a nation on these feast days and celebrate the goodness of God together. And no one was to be left out. God demanded that the Levites, the only tribe not given a portion of the land as an inheritance, would be provided for by the 11 other tribes. And every single foreigner, orphan, and widow was to be included in these annual celebrations. No one was to be left out or allowed to go without. God’s goodness was to be shared with all.

Once again, these God-ordained events were meant to set the people of Israel apart as belonging to God. These feasts and festivals were unique to the nation of Israel, further differentiating them from the rest of the nations around them. and enhancing their reputation as God’s chosen people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

A Day Worth Celebrating.

Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and got relief from their enemies and killed 75,000 of those who hated them, but they laid no hands on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another.

So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them.  But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. Therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, the Jews firmly obligated themselves and their offspring and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.

Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent to all the Jews, to the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, in words of peace and truth, that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther obligated them, and as they had obligated themselves and their offspring, with regard to their fasts and their lamenting. The command of Esther confirmed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing. – Esther 9:16-32 ESV

It seems a bit strange that the Jews would set aside the day when they killed 75,000 of their Persian neighbors as an annual day of celebration, feasting and gladness. From that day forward, they would commemorate the thirteenth day of the month of Adar by giving one another gifts of food. It became a holiday. Again, this seems a bit odd to us, but it is important to remember that this letter is an historical document that chronicles the events surrounding the decree of Haman to wipe out the Jews. But it also explains to its Jewish audience how they came to celebrate the feast of Purim, the name by which this day would be called.

“Purim” is the plural form of the Persian word pur, meaning the “lot” (cf. 3:7). The name “Purim” became a symbolic reminder to the Jews of how God used circumstances, specifically casting the lot (cf. 3:7), to deliver them in 473 B.C. – Thomas L. Constable, Notes  on Esther, 2009 Edition

Haman had plotted to wipe out the Jews and had chosen the day to do so by the casting of lots. What would appear to have been a random act of chance turned out to be divinely decreed. Haman was casting lots in a misguided attempt to seek astrological assistance. To him, casting lots was not an act of chance, but was a common practice among the people of the ancient Near East. It was believed that there were outside, unseen forces that acted upon the lots, providing mere mortals with a form of spiritual guidance in making difficult or weighty decisions. Little did Haman realize that the unseen force behind the lots was the God of the very people he was attempting to wipe out. And the date chosen would become a day of celebration, not for Haman and the Persians, but for the people of Israel.

Mordecai and Esther made the feast of Purim an official holiday by sending out yet another edict, in the form of a letter to the Jews living throughout the land of Persia. They were commanded to observe the thirteenth and fourteenth days of Adar throughout the land in perpetuity, from generation to generation. And the people gladly obliged. They had cause for celebration, because they had escaped annihilation. Their God had intervened and the plans of the wicked had been overturned. Even living as exiles in the land of Persia, far from their homeland, they had witnessed the sovereign hand of God rescuing them from the evil intentions of their enemies. While they had forsaken God, He had not forsaken them. These were not people who were known for their faithfulness to God. They were the descendants of those who had been sent into exile by God because of their disobedience and refusal to repent. Now, generations later, they had acclimated themselves to life in Persia, even refusing the opportunity to return to the land of Judah with those who went to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. They had chosen to stay. Life in Persia was preferable to the risky proposition of returning to their homeland and trying to rebuild a dilapidated and defenseless city.

Yet, they would discover that life in Persia was not as safe and serene as they had hoped. The enemies of God and His people are everywhere. The forces of evil are ever-present and present everywhere. Haman, a descendant of their ancient foes, the Amalakites, would make their lives a living hell. He would disrupt their peaceful existence with a plan to destroy each and every one of them, down to the last woman and child. But little did they Haman know that the God of the Jews was watching. Little did the Jews know that their God was working behind the scenes. But God knew all that was going on and He also knew what was going to happen. It was God who had arranged the adoption of Esther by her uncle Mordecai.  It was God who had been behind the refusal of Queen Vashti to appear before the king. And her removal from the throne was God’s doing. Just as her replacement as queen by Esther was God’s decision. It was He who had elevated Mordecai and given him access to the king’s palace. It was He who had allowed Mordecai to discover the plot against the king’s life and expose it. It was He who gave Esther the wisdom and insight to overturn the edict of Haman and save her people from destruction. The celebration of Purim was to be a celebration of God’s deliverance. God had protected and preserved His people. Why? Because one day He is going to restore them. His full plan for them is not yet fulfilled. He is far from done with the people of Israel. His faithfulness to them extends well beyond the centuries and far past any boundaries of geography or distance. He knows where each and every one of His children are. And His sovereignty over them is not limited by time or space.