Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Three Feasts God Wants Us to Celebrate “unto Him” -- Exodus 23:14-17



“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.”
 
I do not know about you, but I have often thought that we have too many holidays.  If you subscribe to an on-line ‘holidays’ software package in conjunction with your computer calendar, you will soon notice that just about every day of the year it seems is a ‘holiday’ somewhere. In North America in January, we have New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In February there’s Groundhog Day; Lincoln’s Birthday; Valentine’s Day; Family Day, Louis Riel Day, Islander Day (these last three in Canada); President’s Day; and Washington’s Birthday. Do I need to go on through the rest of the year? Yes, some are even religious holidays although we have done our best to change even that.
There are many references to feasts in the Bible, but here in this short passage, God is requiring that we celebrate three of them “unto Him” annually. Without going into great detail about each of these feasts, let us focus on what we believe to be God’s purpose in having us celebrate them “unto Him”.
The first one, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was intended for us to remember that it was God who brought them out of slavery from the land of Egypt and how miraculously He did it. For us today, it would mean celebrating and remembering how God brought us out of our sinful state and saved us through the miracle of His Son Jesus Christ coming to earth and dying in our place.
The second one, the Feast of the Harvest in which the Israelites were to present God their “first fruits” from the annual yield of their fields, was intended to keep reminding them that it is God that gives the harvest and arranges for it, not they themselves. For us today, it would mean celebrating “unto Him” and thanking Him for the fact that we can and are totally dependent on Him for all of our earthly needs and the products of our labor.
The third one, the Feast of the Ingathering (also known as the Feast of Booths) takes place after the last harvest of the year is gathered.  It was for the purpose of giving thanks to God for His provision of the right weather to allow the Israelites to process their crops, especially grapes and grain, before the yield would be useful for eating. In those days all the winepresses and threshing floors were outdoors and the Israelites needed favorable weather to carry these activities out.  Again, for us today, this would mean giving God thanks for how He is involved in our day-to-day lives, taking care of the details if you like.
In asking them to celebrate these three feasts, God makes two stipulations.  First (provided at the end of our passage) that “all the males” should gather together at these three events and that they should eat together at them (after all, that is what one does at feasts). And secondly, God tells the Israelites that no one (no male) is to appear before Him at this celebration “empty-handed”.  On this latter point, Matthew Henry writes,
Some free-will offering or other they must bring, in token of their respect and gratitude to their great benefactor; and, as they were not allowed to come empty-handed, so we must not come to worship God empty-hearted; our souls must be filled with grace, with pious and devout affections, holy desires towards him, and dedications of ourselves to him, for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased.”
In our modern world, full of hustle and bustle, and never a spare moment, we have developed the ability to do more in less time.  We have fast-food, drive-thru bank services, stay in your automobile carwashes, texting (vs. writing or calling or even emailing) ‘sounds’ or ‘short-forms’ rather than full words, and I am sure you can think of many more shortcuts that you take. We seem to have done the same thing with the Feasts that God wanted us to observe. We now have one annual Thanksgiving Day (at which many do very little giving of thanks and some don’t even feast) to replace all three feasts God had prescribed we celebrate. And you we claim to love Him dearly.
I humbly suggest that as a minimum at our next Thanksgiving Day Feast, we try to consider what God wanted us to remember through the three feasts He describes in this Scripture passage. Let us at least take time to thank Him for delivering us from sin, His provisions for our daily needs, and His involvement in our lives.  And if you are really up to it, try establishing three different feasts for your family.
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