Read Deuteronomy 16, Jeremiah 8, and 1 Corinthians 12 today. This devotional is about Deuteronomy 16.
Here in Deuteronomy 16, Moses explained three annual festivals that Israel was required to observe. The first was the Passover feast which Israel was required to “celebrate” (v. 1). First they were required to eat unleavened bread (“the bread of affliction,” v. 3) for seven days. This was to remind them of their affliction in Egypt. On the evening that began the seventh day they were to sacrifice to the Lord in his designated place (vv. 5-6), then worship the Lord and refrain from work on the seventh day, eating the meat that was roasted the night before as part of their passover sacrifice (vv. 7-8).
The second feast happened seven weeks after they began to harvest their crops (vv. 9-12). This feast consisted of giving a “freewill offering” (v. 10) but it was to be in proportion to how much God had blessed them. They were to take this to the tabernacle/temple (v. 11) and “rejoice before the Lord” there. Like the Passover, this feast was a feast to “remember that you were slaves in Egypt.” This means that they were to celebrate this festival because, now as freed people, they could profit from their work instead of working hard as slaves and watching their masters prosper instead.
Finally, the third feast they were to observe was the Feast of Tabernacles. This festival reminded them of their wanderings in the desert so that they would be grateful for a land of their own. This festival happened “for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.” In other words, it marked the end of harvest time.
There is nothing like being required to do something that causes people to lose their desire to do that thing. But God did not require these festivals in order to impose a burden on people; he did it so that they could enjoy themselves. Look at the words of joy in these passages: “celebrate” (v. 1, 10, 13, 15), “rejoice” (v. 11), “be joyful” (v. 14), and “your joy will be complete” (v. 15). Instead of filling up everyday with back-breaking work, fearing that they were on the edge of starvation, God commanded his people to work hard for six days and enjoy a day off to worship him. Instead of working from daylight to dusk from spring through fall with only one day off a week, God mandated these festivals so that his people could rest, rejoice, and reflect on all that God had done for them.
The New Testament does not command believers to observe any kind of Sabbath nor does it require us to celebrate any festivals. But the weekly Sabbath and annual festivals like these teach us the importance of rest and rejoicing. If we do nothing but work all the time, we’ll look up someday and find ourselves old, our lives having passed us by, and our children having grown and gone out on their own.
Choosing to worship and rest on Sunday gives us time to worship the Lord, learn from his word, fellowship with other believers, enjoy time with our families, rest for the work week ahead, and rejoice in all that God has given us in Christ and through the faithful work of our hands. Nothing in the New Testament requires us to do this, but doesn’t show the compassion of God for tired, beleaguered people? Wouldn’t we be wise to pause for rest and reflection regularly?