In your mind, can you recite the cycle of national holidays that tell the story of America. Get out a piece of paper, or start typing in a document. See if you can list out our holidays. Here’s a hint: where do you think we should start? July 4th, of course! There would be no America without it. Independence Day! Now see if you can work your way around the calendar. What comes after July 4th? Don’t peek below! List your guesses, then come back here and see how you did.
Ready to check your work? After July 4th, the next American holiday is Labor Day and then we have Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving. A couple months later we observe Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, then Presidents Day, and finally, Memorial Day.
How did you do? Get them all? Include some that I didn’t? We’ll get to that just below. For now, look at the holidays I listed. Think about how these holidays describe the major events in the history of our nation. Every year, then, we have regular markers to help us remember our American story. Of course we could throw a few more in there such as Flag Day and Emancipation Day, which are not considered official federal holidays, but definitely point to important elements of our national story. In more recent decades, we could point to D-Day and 9/11, which continue to tell that story.
But as I said above, there are a bunch of holidays I skipped! I didn’t include them because those holidays have nothing to do with America. Instead they are holidays that could be celebrated around the world. New Year’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s & Father’s Day, and the biggest holiday of them all, Christmas. Even these non-American holidays are important to us because of their meaning.
So let’s step back a bit, and think: What do all these holidays tell us? Humans are a people who love to remember and celebrate. We love to mark birthdays and anniversaries. My congregation, Faith Church, for example, just had a wonderful celebration of our 50th anniversary.
As we continue our study through Deuteronomy, we are going to see that God also loves to celebrate special days, embedding special days into the covenant law that he had with Israel. I encourage to open a Bible as you keep reading this post. Turn to Deuteronomy 15:19. In this series of posts, we’re going to study Deuteronomy 15:19 through 16:17, and it is all about holidays. Just as our American holidays tell the story of America, so Israel’s holidays tell the story of their nation.
In Deut. 15:19, notice that God doesn’t start with holidays. Instead he starts with some instructions that will apply to the celebratory ritual included in many of Israel’s holidays and feasts, the ritual of sacrificing to God. Go ahead and read 15:19-23. Did you notice that this section is basically saying that firstborn animals are to be set aside for sacrifice.
If you have children, think about the birth of your first. How did it feel? My guess is that it was a day of extreme emotion. There is a major excitement about the first of anything. Not just the birth of children, but also your first day on the job, your first time playing on a sports team, or your first time volunteering at school or at church. You’re more nervous, more emotional, and more intense about it, because is new, just like a firstborn.
Let’s be clear, firstborns are not more special than other kids. They are just new, they’re first, and we parents of firstborns have no idea what we’re doing, so we feel more emotional about them. Every single step along the way is a first for the firstborn, and it is a first for their parents. We’ve walked through the emotional firsts of the first day of kindergarten, then middle school, dances, sports, high school, driving, dating, college…and a couple months ago my wife and I experienced another first with when our firstborn got engaged! What a joyful, exciting first that has been!
But travel back with me to the moment of the birth of the firstborn. When a first child is born, in the midst of that intense emotion, the temptation is to think, “I did that, I own that, I created that, and it is mine.”
But what does God say to Israel? “Dedicate the firstborn to me.”
He isn’t talking about children, by the way. He is talking about animals. “Set the firstborn animals apart,” he says, “and don’t work them in the fields, but reserve them for sacrifices to the Lord during the holiday, at which time you will eat them in the presence of the Lord.” This means Israel was to have an attitude of giving back to the Lord first. They were not to see themselves as the creator or owner of their firstborn animals. They were to see God as the provider, God as the one who was responsible for the blessing of a firstborn. Thus they release that firstborn to God.
We can carry this principle over to the church. We Christians are people who give God our firsts, and not just in finances, but also in our time, in our gifts and abilities. We see his Kingdom as the priority, because he is the foundation and the cause of all the blessings we have. We are simply stewards, or managers, or what God owns.
Paul talked about this in 1 Cor. 10:31,when he said, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God.” How are you doing with living to the glory of God? How are you doing seeing yourself as a steward? Or do you have a too-tight hold on your life, on your children, on your possessions, on your time, on your talents?
Check back in tomorrow as we begin to look at the special holidays God proclaimed for Israel, how sacrificing the firstborn occurred on a holiday, and how Christians can learn some important principles from Deuteronomy 15 and 16.