Saturday, June 03, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Sixteen: Celebration

Well, we are nearly half way through the book of Deuteronomy; it has certainly turned out to be a fruitful journey in amateur exegesis, though often arduous. Also, I have to apologize for the lack of posts lately. The next few weeks I'm hoping to pump out around three posts a week, so check back often.

By the way, the picture is unleavened bread :)

Remembrance is a major theme in the Old Testament, and Deuteronomy is no exception (for a look at this in detail click here), God continually brings His people to remember the exodus from Egypt; this is so that Israel's devotion will have a reference point. This remembrance comes to a head in the celebration of Passover, "Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night" (ch.16 v.1). Though the exodus from Egypt should be at the forefront of Israel's thoughts here Passover is instituted as an official celebration of remembrance.

Even their eating habits in the celebration of Passover have roots in their exodus from slavery, "Do not eat it with bread made with yeast but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste--so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt" (v.3). As a Christian the similarities between this text and that of 1st Corinthians 11:25-26, "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, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'" While Israel is called to remember their liberation from physical slavery with the "bread of affliction" Christians are called to remember their liberation from "the bondage of sin and death" when they partake of the bread and wine.

The Passover doesn't happen on Israel's terms; that's what we learn in verses 5 and 6, "You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the LORD your God gives you except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name." These verses remind us that while God will liberate his people from bondage not only does the liberation happen on His terms but the worship does too. And really that is a good thing, left to our own devices we dig our own graves (Psalm 9:15); (for a longer meditation on this click here). Concluding the celebration of Passover there is to be a time of rest and assembly (v.8). This conclusion of Sabbath and congregation serves as a wonderful end to the week of focused remembrance.

The other two celebrations in chapter 16 are: The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) and The Festival of Booths. Two marks of both these celebrations are: joy (v.11, 14) and inclusivity (v.11, 14). During the Feast of Weeks, a one day celebration marking the end of the wheat harvest, God commands Israel to "rejoice before the Lord your God;" not only does this show that God desires a joyous people but also the command nature of this verse implies that joy has more potential to burst out when we are "before the Lord" when our celebrating Him, in this case for providing a harvest. The same could be said for The Festival of Booths, where the Israelites slept in booths in remembrance of the transience of their desert journey, Israel is commanded to "be joyful at your feast". The second similarity these two celebrations share is one of inclusivity; but it is not inclusivity for it's own sake, no, it is the joy which God desires to spread, "And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you" (v.11) and in verse 14 we read, "Be joyful at your Feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns." God desires that not only the well off enjoy the celebration, in fact He goes out of his way to include the marginalized and the foreigner. This theme saturates the Bible and is most visible in the Kingdom of God that Jesus Christ announces as bursting from his ministry, that all tribes and tongues enjoy the Lord forever.

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There is another section in chapter 16 of great importance. It's a meditation on Justice. In v. 18 we read that there should be judges appointed in the land. Immediately following v.18 we have the meditation, "Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you" (19-20). The message here is that bribery sends you down a slippery slope, the ultimate end being the decay of justice. Because of this justice must always prevail, it is for the betterment of the community. That noted, mercy too should be held up, alongside justice, as it's companion, C.S. Lewis says it well, "Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which will flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice" (God in the Dock).

That's it for this week folks. Keep those emails and comments coming. Halfway through Deuteronomy.

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