A few years ago the Gettysburg Battlefield celebrated the 150th anniversary of the terrible and momentous events of July 1-3, 1863 during our nation’s Civil War. Because my family lives about an hour away, we visited the battlefield hoping to see re-enactors. While we were there before any full battle re-enactment took place, at one point we viewed a company of soldiers perform various rifle assault formations, including firing their weapons. It was eye-opening for me to see the variations used, as well as the amount of smoke their rifles emitted. If the wind was low during the original battle, the smoke could have been like thick fog across the fields. Re-enactment gave me a whole new perspective.
In this series of posts we’re talking about God’s heart for holidays, and today we’re going to see how re-enactment is very important to God. I don’t think I ever encountered that phrase before: God’s heart for holidays. But as we continue studying Deuteronomy 16, God very clearly has a desire for his people to have regular holidays. Why? Doesn’t it seem like the God of the universe should have bigger things to fuss over than holidays? Keep reading, and perhaps we can find out.
Yesterday we talked about how one particular ritual was embedded in many of Israel’s feasts and holidays, and that is the ritual of sacrifice. In this post, we are going look at the first of three feasts described in Deuteronomy 16 in which Israel performed sacrifices would take place: Passover, Pentecost (or Weeks) and Tabernacles. As we read about them, we’ll see that God gives the times of the year when these feasts are to take place. The image below presents an annual calendar of when the various feasts take place, and you’ll notice that there are other feasts not mentioned in Deuteronomy 16.
Before continuing with this post, read Deuteronomy 16:1-8, which talks about the Feast Unleavened Bread and Passover. During the celebration of Passover, Israel was to sacrifice a firstborn animal at the place God chose as a dwelling for his name. We already heard God, in 15:20, refer to the place he would choose as a dwelling, and he will mention it a number of times in the rest of the passage as well. So what is this place?
Remember that Deuteronomy is the second telling of the law. Thus, these feasts have already been commanded of God previously. Your Bibles most likely list the Scripture references where you can read the first time that God commanded these feasts. Passover, for example, is previously described in Exodus 12, Leviticus23 and Numbers 28.
You know what that means? These are not new festivals. In fact, the people of Israel have already been observing them every year for about 40 years. So that place where God says they should come, the place that he will choose for his dwelling, that would have been the tabernacle, and eventually, hundreds of years later during the reign of King Solomon, that place would be the temple in the city of Jerusalem. Look ahead to verse 16, and we see that they were to go on a pilgrimage three times every year to this place. One pilgrimage for each of the feasts we are learning about. That’s where they are to go with their firstborn and celebrate the Passover.
See that word, “celebrate” in verse 1. It literally means “prepare” or “keep” the Passover. It has much more to do with the practice of observing the holiday. No doubt about it, we’re going to get to the rejoicing and celebrating part. But here in verse 1, God is instituting the habit of regular holidays. This same word “celebrate” is repeated in verse 10 and verse 13. It is the same Hebrew word that refers to preparing or keeping the holiday.
That is very instructive. God wants his people to habitually, every year, observe these feasts, these holidays, and for a reason! What reason?
God wants them to regularly remember his amazing miraculous power that freed them from slavery in Egypt. The word “Passover” refers to the last of ten plagues that God sent on Egypt in the process of freeing Israel from slavery.
That final plague was the one where God said the firstborn (there’s that again) child of every family would die, unless they covered the frames of their doorways with the blood of an animal sacrifice. That blood was the sign to God’s angel that the house was to be passed over and the firstborn inside would be saved. All the people of Israel performed the sacrifice, used the blood to mark their doorways, and they were saved. The Egyptians did not do this, however, and their firstborn died, leading the Egyptian king Pharaoh to finally allow Moses to lead Israel to freedom. So the people of Israel gathered their belongings quickly, and left, beginning the long journey toward the Promised Land.
If you look through the description of the holiday in Deuteronomy 16, you see that God wants his people every year to re-enact what happened during the original Passover. Of course it is not a total re-enactment, but there are elements of the celebration that remind them of the original story.
See how they enter into the drama and story of the event? Every part of it is an act of remembering, as he says in verse 3.
We did this a few years ago when we had a Passover Seder dinner here. It was so great to hear the story of Passover from a Messianic Jew, and learn of all the connections between Israel’s deliverance from slavery and the whole world’s deliverance from sin in Jesus’ death and resurrection. What we see about God’s heart for the holidays, then, is that he wants his people to remember, and he wants them to practice remembering on a regular basis.
In part 3 of this series we’ll look at the two other feasts mentioned in Deuteronomy 16, and as we study those feasts, we’ll continue to learn about God’s heart for the holidays.