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 17, Nehemiah 6, Matthew 12

Read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Matthew 12 today. This devotional is about Matthew 12.

God’s intention for the Sabbath was that man would take a day off from the way that he normally makes his living. It was to be a day of rest and a day to reflect on God, our Creator. So farmers would not plant, weed, water, reap, or do any of the normal activities that farmers do Sunday through Friday. The same was commanded for their wives and children and servants; everybody was supposed to get a break from their normal daily schedule.

This law was clear enough that it could be applied easily to most situations. Don’t farm your land, or fix your equipment, or type up those invoices, or make a fancy meal, or clean the house, or do the laundry. It was a day to rest, not to catch up on chores–work or personal. Do what needs to be done but keep it simple so you get a break and feel rested for a change. That’s the idea.

The problem with broadly-applicable commands is that it is not always clear how they should be applied. Obeying the command, “Do not work on the Sabbath” depends on how you define “work.” Is it work to make your bed? Tie your shoes? If you were a milkman who delivered milk by walking from house to house, that would clearly be forbidden on the Sabbath. But what if the milkman’s wife wanted to go for a long walk for recreation? Is that forbidden? The Pharisees hated ambiguity so they wanted every possible application of every law spelled out clearly. They specified how far someone could walk on the Sabbath to keep the milkman or his wife from doing “work” accidentally. This is one aspect of legalism.

Speaking of legalism, what exactly is it? It is a term that can be applied to at least two kinds of situations: First, anyone who thinks they can do good works to merit favor with God is a legalist. Second, anyone who thinks that his or her application of the Bible has the authority of the Bible itself is a legalist.

The Pharisees were legalists in both senses. They believed that their obedience to the law gave them favor with God. They also believed that they ways in which they applied God’s laws were as authoritative and binding as the law itself. That’s what’s going on here in Matthew 12:1-2. The disciples were not farmers. They were not working to earn a living by reaping. Instead they were getting a snack from someone else’s farmland. Taking small amounts of food from someone’s farm was allowed in God’s Law, so the Pharisees did not accuse the disciples of stealing. Instead, they accused them of working on the Sabbath. Because they applied the Sabbath law to any kind of reaping at all, they concluded that the disciples were doing what was “unlawful on the Sabbath” (v. 2b).

Elsewhere in the gospels we learn that Jesus rebuked them for distorting God’s intentions. The Sabbath law was supposed to be a blessing from God, not a burden. It was God imposing a day off on everyone so that everyone could enjoy life for at least one day a week. By denying the right to snack on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were making the Sabbath something unpleasant instead of enjoyable. Their legalism was not an obedience that pleased God, it was a burden that robbed people of the joy he wanted them to have.

Here in Matthew 12, however, Matthew records a different emphasis of Jesus regarding Sabbath violations. Jesus pointed out ways in which people broke the law technically but they did so in a way that upheld the law’s intention. The first example Jesus cited was from David (vv. 3-4). He and his warrior-companions ate the temple show bread which was against the law, yet they were not condemned. The reason was that they were servants of God doing God’s work, just like the priests were. So, technically they broke the law but by taking and eating the bread, they were being served by the law’s intention–to provide for God’s servants. Likewise, the priests on the Sabbath were technically in a no-win situation. The temple duties allowed no Sabbath breaks for the priests but the priests made their living being priests. So, they were not allowed to let the temple activities lapse even for a day but that required them to do the normal work of priests–a technical violation of the law. Yet Jesus said that “they are innocent” (v. 5b). Then Christ took things further; not only were the disciples not guilty of breaking the Sabbath by picking up a snack, Christ himself asserted the right to rule or overrule anything regarding the Sabbath because he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He then pressed the issue further by healing a man deliberately on the Sabbath day to show his lordship over it (vv. 9-14).

The Pharisees’ zeal about the Sabbath wasn’t really about obedience to God; it was about control. They wanted to define everything so that there was complete uniformity; no ambiguity or exceptions were allowed. They could, then, define who was right with God and who wasn’t based on how well or how poorly everyone kept the rules. Unfortunately, we sometimes do the same things. The “good guys” never wear denim on Sunday, or use the right translation of the Bible, or only buy American, or never listen to music that has a beat to it. But these (and other) rules are at best only applications of Biblical principles, not Biblical truths themselves. The Bible teaches us to accept each other in areas where there are genuine disagreements about application (Rom 15:7). You should never use someone else’s actions to justify doing something that your conscience bothers you about. And, if you are truly concerned for someone else’s spiritual life, I think it is good to humbly approach them to talk about how they are or are not applying a scriptural command. But let’s be careful not to judge and condemn each other based on our own man-made rules. Instead, each of us should submit ourselves and our actions to the Lord of everything–including the Sabbath–and do what we think is right in his sight based on the clear teachings of scripture.

Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, Psalm 111

Today we’re reading Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, and Psalm 111.

This devotional is about Leviticus 25.

The people of Israel were dependent on God for everything while they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. Here in Leviticus 25, verses 1-22, God gave some laws that would keep them dependent on him, if they obeyed them. These laws extended the notion of Sabbath rest to the land. God’s people were commanded to leave the land alone every 7th year (v. 4) and live by whatever it produced on its own without any sowing, cultivation or reaping (v. 6).

Think about that. The idea of having a Sabbatical year after every six years of work sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? “Take the next year off” your boss tells you. “We’ll send you a profit sharing check based on whatever money comes in, even though we’re not going to work or produce anything. It should be fine.”

When you put it that way, taking a year off sounds pretty terrifying. Land doesn’t ordinarily produce crops on its own, so just loafing around for a year and eating whatever shows up sounds incredibly risky.

That’s exactly the point. As the Lord said in verse 21, “I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years.” Taking a Sabbatical was an act of faith. It was taking God at his word that he would provide for his people. It wasn’t exactly a miraculous provision, like the manna from heaven was, but it was a divine provision. It would be an extraordinary event for God to make the land produce in this way, a reversal of the curse in Genesis 3:17-19, but that’s what God promised. He was promising a blessing to his people–the blessing of rest–if they simply trusted him.

God’s people didn’t trust him, so they did not observe this command. When God allowed Jerusalem to fall to the Babylonians, it was in part to fulfill this passage. 2 Chronicles 36:21 says, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.” A great blessing was there for the taking but unbelief and fear kept it from happening.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What blessings you and I might be missing because unbelief and fear cause us to disobey God’s commands?

Exodus 20, Job 38, Psalm 68

Today’s readings are Exodus 20, Job 38, and Psalm 68.

This devotional is about Exodus 20.

Here it is: the original Big 10. Although God later gave these commands to Moses on a tablet, the commands given in this chapter were spoken by the voice of God and all the people of Israel heard his voice. We see that in verse 1 which says, “And God spoke all these words” and in verse 19 where the people “said to Moses, “‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’” This is really what separates the Ten Commandments from the rest of God’s laws given in by Moses. The Ten Commandments were not more inspired or more important to Israel than the rest of God’s commands. They were simply the ones that God gave audibly, directly to his people while the rest of his commands were mediated through Moses.

Still, the Ten Commandments are important because they apply to everyone and teach general principles that can be applied in many ways. Many of God’s other laws are more specific either in audience or in application.

Of all the Ten Commandments, there is only one in particular that does not apply to us, according to many Christians. The one I’m talking about is the Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…” (vv. 8-11). The way Israel was to “keep it holy” was for everyone to rest, just as God did on the first Sabbath day. Everyone was to rest–man and animal alike; no exceptions. This command was a gift to God’s people. In the days of Moses and beyond, the vast majority of people lived in near poverty. They were able to produce enough to stay alive, but that’s about it. Imagine how fearful you would be in those conditions. The idea of taking a day off could mean starvation for you and everyone else in your family. Fear would keep you working non-stop, every day, every week, every year, for as long as there was daylight outside. A family in these conditions may stay alive, but how much can you enjoy a life where the work never ends? By observing the Sabbath, God’s people put their trust in him fully to provide for them. They could trust God by sleeping in, lazing about, talking with family and friends, and recharging their proverbial batteries.

By the time of Jesus, the Sabbath was transformed from a day of rest into a day of religious performance. Instead of being a blessing to God’s people, it became a burden to them by making them objects of judgment by judgmental people. I agree that Jesus liberated us from this law; we are not commanded as Christians to observe the Sabbath.

But how much better off would we be physically and spiritually if we did rest one day, every week? Think about how harried and anxious we are much of the time. We may not fear starving, but we do seem to fear missing out on some activity or making our kids’s coaches mad, or losing a job that requires you to be available at all times. You don’t have to treat Sunday like the Pharisees treated the Sabbath. But wouldn’t your life be better if you protected Sunday for rest and worship?

And, isn’t it an act of faith to draw some boundaries around Sunday to enjoy the rest and relationship renewal that God wants you to have?

Matthew 12

I was lazy and didn’t actually check the schedule but I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to read Matthew 12 today.

God’s intention for the Sabbath was that man would take a day off from the way that he normally makes his living. It was to be a day of rest and a day to reflect on God, our Creator. So farmers would not plant, weed, water, reap, or do any of the normal activities that farmers do Sunday through Friday. The same was commanded for their wives and children and servants; everybody was supposed to get a break from their normal daily schedule.

This law was clear enough that it could be applied easily to most situations. Don’t farm your land, or fix your equipment, or type up those invoices, or make a fancy meal, or clean the house, or do the laundry. It was a day to rest, not to catch up on chores–work or personal. Do what needs to be done but keep it simple so you get a break and feel rested for a change. That’s the idea.

The problem with broadly-applicable commands is that it is not always clear how they should be applied. Obeying the command, “Do not work on the Sabbath” depends on how you define “work.” Is it work to make your bed? Tie your shoes? If you were a milkman who delivered milk by walking from house to house, that would clearly be forbidden on the Sabbath. But what if the milkman’s wife wanted to go for a long walk for recreation? Is that forbidden? The Pharisees hated ambiguity so they wanted every possible application of every law spelled out clearly. They specified how far someone could walk on the Sabbath to keep the milkman or his wife from doing “work” accidentally. This is one aspect of legalism.

Speaking of legalism, what exactly is it? It is a term that can be applied to at least two kinds of situations: First, anyone who thinks they can do good works to merit favor with God is a legalist. Second, anyone who thinks that his or her application of the Bible has the authority of the Bible itself is a legalist.

The Pharisees were legalists in both senses. They believed that their obedience to the law gave them favor with God. They also believed that they ways in which they applied God’s laws were as authoritative and binding as the law itself. That’s what’s going on here in Matthew 12:1-2. The disciples were not farmers. They were not working to earn a living by reaping. Instead they were getting a snack from someone else’s farmland. Taking small amounts of food from someone’s farm was allowed in God’s Law, so the Pharisees did not accuse the disciples of stealing. Instead, they accused them of working on the Sabbath. Because they applied the Sabbath law to any kind of reaping at all, they concluded that the disciples were doing what was “unlawful on the Sabbath” (v. 2b).

Elsewhere in the gospels we learn that Jesus rebuked them for distorting God’s intentions. The Sabbath law was supposed to be a blessing from God, not a burden. It was God imposing a day off on everyone so that everyone could enjoy life for at least one day a week. By denying the right to snack on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were making the Sabbath something unpleasant instead of enjoyable. Their legalism was not an obedience that pleased God, it was a burden that robbed people of the joy he wanted them to have.

Here in Matthew 12, however, Matthew records a different emphasis of Jesus regarding Sabbath violations. Jesus pointed out ways in which people broke the law technically but they did so in a way that upheld the law’s intention. The first example Jesus cited was from David (vv. 3-4). He and his warrior-companions ate the temple show bread which was against the law, yet they were not condemned. The reason was that they were servants of God doing God’s work, just like the priests were. So, technically they broke the law but by taking and eating the bread, they were being served by the law’s intention–to provide for God’s servants. Likewise, the priests on the Sabbath were technically in a no-win situation. The temple duties allowed no Sabbath breaks for the priests but the priests made their living being priests. So, they were not allowed to let the temple activities lapse even for a day but that required them to do the normal work of priests–a technical violation of the law. Yet Jesus said that “they are innocent” (v. 5b). Then Christ took things further; not only were the disciples not guilty of breaking the Sabbath by picking up a snack, Christ himself asserted the right to rule or overrule anything regarding the Sabbath because he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He then pressed the issue further by healing a man deliberately on the Sabbath day to show his lordship over it (vv. 9-14).

The Pharisees’ zeal about the Sabbath wasn’t really about obedience to God; it was about control. They wanted to define everything so that there was complete uniformity; no ambiguity or exceptions were allowed. They could, then, define who was right with God and who wasn’t based on how well or how poorly everyone kept the rules. Unfortunately, we sometimes do the same things. The “good guys” never wear denim on Sunday, or use the right translation of the Bible, or only buy American, or never listen to music that has a beat to it. But these (and other) rules are at best only applications of Biblical principles, not Biblical truths themselves. The Bible teaches us to accept each other in areas where there are genuine disagreements about application (Rom 15:7). You should never use someone else’s actions to justify doing something that your conscience bothers you about. And, if you are truly concerned for someone else’s spiritual life, I think it is good to humbly approach them to talk about how they are or are not applying a scriptural command. But let’s be careful not to judge and condemn each other based on our own man-made rules. Instead, each of us should submit ourselves and our actions to the Lord of everything–including the Sabbath–and do what we think is right in his sight based on the clear teachings of scripture.

Deuteronomy 16, Psalm 103, Isaiah 43, Revelation 13

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 16, Psalm 103, Isaiah 43, Revelation 13. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read 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.” I think this means that they were to celebrate this festival because, as freed people, they could prosper 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?

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/calvarybiblechurch/. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.