Deuteronomy 16, Jeremiah 8, 1 Corinthians 12

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?

Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Matthew 3

Read Genesis 3, Ezra 3, and Matthew 3 today. This devotional will be about Ezra 3.

The book of Ezra describes events late in the chronology of the Old Testament. God’s people, Israel and Judah, had been exiled from the promised land. After 70 years in captivity first to the Babylonians then to the Medo-Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great had allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. We read about the decree of Cyrus back in Ezra 1 on New Year’s Day.

Here in Ezra 3, the seventh month on the Jewish calendar has arrived (v. 1). This is the month for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 23:27). Without a temple, however, atonement cannot be made. Instead, God’s people rebuilt the altar of burnt offerings (v. 2) so that daily morning and evening offerings could commence while the temple was rebuilt.

They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. Notice, however, the words of verse 3: “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord….” Isn’t it interesting that, despite the decree of Cyrus that authorized them to return, God’s people felt fear? Isn’t it interesting that the fear they felt was centered on their public worship of YHWH? Yet, how courageous these people were. Despite their fear, they sacrificed to the Lord anyway. Despite their fear, they began rebuilding his temple.

The fear they felt was from a real threat, too. The people surrounding them could attack them at any time. The edict of Cyrus might have caused consequences for their attackers someday, but there was no army was protecting them at that moment. They only thing they had to combat their fear was faith in God’s promises and hope in his covenant. That faith was strong enough to call them to obedience to God’s word despite the real threat of danger.

How often do we allow the fear to stifle our obedience to Christ? And, what do we fear? The possible disapproval of others. Not violence; just embarrassment.

Do we withhold the good news of Christ when the opportunity opens because we fear the disapproval of the unbeliever—the very one who needs to hear of Christ’s love?

Do we imagine that when we bow to thank God for our food in a restaurant, unbelievers around us stop chewing and look over at us in scorn? Or do we use that imaginary scorn as an excuse to keep us from giving thanks to God altogether?

Do we tell people that we go to church each Sunday and even invite them to come with us or do we avoid getting too specific about our plans for the weekend when we’re asked?

God has done so much for us and promises so much more—both for us and to all who join us as his followers by faith. Yet, we are so easily ashamed of being identified with him and his people. Let the faith of these ancient Hebrews encourage you to live without fear in your public worship of the Lord.