by Pastor David Groendyk
This section of Deuteronomy serves as a commentary of sorts on the fourth commandment: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Deut. 5:12). Of course, there was the one main weekly Sabbath which was Saturday for the Israelites, but there were also other types of “sabbaths” they had to keep. Chapter 15 told about the year of release where all debts and slaves were released after seven years, thus demonstrating the same spirit of generosity, freedom, and love that God himself had when he redeemed Israel from their slavery in Egypt. Chapter 16 tells us about three more feasts Israel had to observe.
Verses 1–17 describe the Passover (also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread), the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths. All three of these are described in far more detail elsewhere in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28–29), but here Moses isn’t going for the minutiae of observing these feasts so much as he is impressing upon them their significance. Notice that all three of these feasts had to be observed, not at home, but “at the place that the Lord your God will choose” (vv. 2, 6, 11, 15), in other words, Jerusalem. (Remember, Israel was not yet living in Canaan, so Jerusalem hadn’t been established yet.) Notice also that all three of these feasts memorialize the works that God has done for his people, whether it was God’s past salvation out of Egypt (vv. 3, 6, 12) or God’s present provision of a harvest (vv. 10, 13, 15). By establishing these different feasts and gathering times, the Lord was ensuring that his people wouldn’t forget all of his mighty, gracious works.
However, if we fast forward to the very end of Israel’s existence in 2 Kings 23, we read that the Passover had not been kept from the time of the judges all the way until the time of King Josiah, a period of perhaps 500 years (2 Kgs. 23:22)! And what kind of state was Israel in by the time of King Josiah’s reign? They had so provoked the Lord that no amount of reform could possibly rescue them from the great burning wrath that was coming; the very city of which God said, “My name shall be there,” that is, Jerusalem, he promised to utterly destroy (2 Kgs. 23:26–27). If God’s people do not gather corporately to remember and remind each other of God’s mighty, gracious works, they will most definitely drift away from him to the point that they are no longer his children. These three feasts, along with the weekly Sabbath—which commanded God’s people to gather together and do no work—was a great grace from God to his people in order to keep them from drifting away and incurring his wrath.
What’s the significance for God’s church today? It should impress upon us the absolute necessity of gathering as a corporate body in one place on our Sabbath day in order to remember God’s works and worship him. The fourth commandment—which tells us to refrain from our usual work and recreation for one entire day of the week—may feel burdensome to keep, but it is surely one of God’s greatest graces to us as Christians. The Lord forces us to dedicate an entire day in the week to focus solely on him so that we wouldn’t forget him and slowly drift away from him toward utter destruction. How fully do you devote your Sundays to the Lord? How committed are you to being with God’s people in church? Do you devote merely an hour or two to the Lord on Sunday mornings, or is it the whole day? Do you find yourself struggling in your Christian life? Do you find it hard to remain faithful? Do you struggle to see God’s goodness in your life? Take advantage of God’s great grace to you in the fourth commandment. Use the means he has given you by taking a full day out of the week to tend to your soul and seek the Lord. Trust that his ways are good for you.