Thoughts on Deuteronomy 16

Deuteronomy 16  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 9
There is this beautiful and important feature in Deuteronomy—that the Spirit of God presents throughout not only the test, but the motives, of obedience. Thus one main object of the book is to strengthen the people of God in a spirit of obedience to the Lord. For this reason, too, we do not hear so much about the priests and the ritual system. It follows hence that Deuteronomy, more than any other of the five books of Moses, puts the Lord and His people as near as possible into proximity to each other. Instead of weakening, it really strengthens obedience; and the same book, which most of all insists on subjection to the Lord in heart and ways, shows us the Lord and His people as much and as closely together as could be, till the veil was rent, and resurrection laid a now ground for nearness in Christ.
Concurrently with this we may notice in the chapter before us that the three greatest feasts of the Jewish year are set out in their moral and distinctive import. They were the feasts at which it was compulsory for every Israelite to appear. He must go three times before Jehovah in the year, these occasions being the passover, the feast of weeks, or Pentecost, and that of tabernacles.
Now I would desire to make a few remarks on these, not as entering into the exposition of the chapter, but as contributing to our joy and fellowship hi the Lord. However precious the passover may be—and it is the foundation of everything—we do not, for all that, find joy especially connected with it. It was a feast undoubtedly the starting-point thenceforward of all the rest, and so momentous a feast that, if a man did not observe the passover, he was to be cut off: it would have been useless for him to attempt to keep the others. We are thus taught by it the fundamental and indispensable place given to the sacrifice of Christ. For the passover, as all know, represented Christ slain for us.
This is the necessary basis of everything. It is not only that God was dishonored if this was not kept, but the Israelite had not a holy or a righteous ground for any connection with God, unless he had eaten the passover. So imperative was this, that, even where circumstances made it impassible for the time (as, for instance, where some were defiled at the appointed season in the wilderness) the Lord provided that it should be kept a month later; but it most be kept. No one claiming to belong to God can be entitled to any other privilege without participating in the sacrifice of Christ.
But it is not the paschal feast which produces fullness of joy, although there cannot be true joy without it. The sacrifice of Christ brings before us our captivity to Satan's power through sin. It is therefore most humbling, whatever the mercy in it and the divine judgment from which it exempted us; and joy simply at the sacrifice of Christ would be quite unworthy of its depth, character, and associations. There is much that is searching and humiliating to us; there is the solemn thought of the power of evil, and God's controversy with it; there is God's coming out to deal judicially, though arrested by the Lamb's blood in the case of Israel; yet, for all this, it is more a feeling of deep anti grave thankfulness in the presence of God which becomes the soul that ponders on the sacrifice of Christ. Hence, though the passover is the greatest of all feasts, joy is not mentioned here. The Israelites were told that it must be kept, and how. “Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction (for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste), that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life. And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coasts seven days, neither shall there anything of the flesh which thou sacrificedst the first day at even remain all night until the morning.”
Thus real self-judgment then must accompany our resting on Christ's work, as the Israelites then ate the bread of affliction; with Christ's death for us is the sense of sin, and shame, and humiliation. Repentance goes along with faith. They are to “roast and eat it in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose.” Still, no joy is expressly mentioned; indeed all that is said seems rather to suppose conscience at work than outflow of heart, for it is added, “Thou shalt turn in the morning and go unto thy tents.” It is not so much communion bringing together the people of God; but each one retiring, as it were, to his own home, that he may think both of what he was, and of what God had done for his soul. It is the individual, occupied with mercy to himself or his own, that is alone mentioned in the feast of passover.
When we come to the feast of weeks, or of Pentecost, we have an altogether different state of soul. There we read, “Thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God, with the tribute of a free-will offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee.” No doubt it was a statute in Israel that there should be the free-will offering at every feast, because there is nothing that so draws the heart out towards nevi as the sense of what God in Christ has been to our own souls. The passover, however, is not named, except in a general way: to each feast they were not to porno empty. But at the feast of weeks we hear of overflowing grace. “Thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy. God, with a tribute of a free. will offering of thine hand.” All was given to Him, no matter what might be its object. “According as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee.” Now here we have liberty of heart going out in free-will offering in the sense of Jehovah's blessing. The passover only rises above the removal of judgment. There is personal security from the Lord. But here He has blessed already— “according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee.” Along with this, too, there is joy that spreads all around. It is not going to the tents now in the morning, but “Thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow that are among you, in the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there.”
It is not only being happy, but making happy. This is what eminently ought to characterize us. No doubt fop us Christ has been sacrificed; He is our passover, with its resulting feast of unleavened bread, as we are told in 1, Corinthians, v. But then we are keeping the feast of weeks too. Indeed, if there be anything that characterizes the Christian and the church more than another, it is that we have already the liberty in the Lord. It was literally to the day at this feast that the Holy Ghost was given. “When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.... And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Thus, as the death of Christ was the accomplishment of the passover, so in the gift of the Holy Ghost was fulfilled the feast of weeks. Now follows joy. No doubt there was the solemn preparation for the joy, and therefore it is of all consequence that we should hold fast this too. If we had only the sacrifice of Christ, I do not think it would become us to surround His table. with the same blessed spring of joy in the Lord that our hearts do know in measure at this time. For Christ is not merely dead, He is risen, and the Holy Ghost is sent down to let us know the light and joy that fill heaven at receiving Jesus, the Conqueror over sin and Satan, and withal shedding abroad God's love in the hearts of all those washed in Christ's blood whom He is coming shortly to receive unto Himself on high.
But meanwhile, though we are on the earth, we are entitled to the joy of heaven. We look within the veil by the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, and as our fellowship is with the Father and his Son, our joy may well be full. Our God and Father would have it so. “Thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maid-servant.” —not alone every soul belonging to us, but even those that do not, the desolate and sorrow-stricken, the poor and the stranger, “the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow that are among you, in the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there;” for the grace of God goes out to bring in others to share the blessing.
But there is another association too that we find here emphatically. “Thou shalt remember that thou west a bondman in Egypt; and thou shalt observe to do these statutes:” that is, it is the power of the Holy Ghost that both keeps before us what we were—the mighty deliverance Gad has wrought for us—and that also reminds us of our responsibility to do nothing but the will of the Lord, now that His grace has thus dealt with us. The grace of God teaches us to obey, not to relax. It is a law of liberty.
But there is more that remains. The Jew had another great feast—the feast of tabernacles;. and although the time of that final ingathering be not yet come, the Holy Ghost shows us things to come, and brings us into the things that are not as though they were giving us anticipatively to taste the joy of the future glory. When the harvest and the vintage are come, it will be joy indeed, all joy: not merely a tribute of free-will offering according as Jehovah has, blessed, but joy assured, and because He will then have blessed in all the increase and in every work. Of this we have the Spirit and the earnest even now.
Thus we have in these three feasts the grand distinctive blessings that belong to the Christian: first, the sacrifice of Christ as the ground of all deliverance from judgment, and the introduction into all the blessing that God would afterward bestow; 2nd, our present place of union with Christ through the Holy Ghost, and the joyful deliverance which belongs to that place, and a deepened sense of responsibility because we have not received “the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind;” and then, 3rd, there is the earnest of the coming glory given to us now. We are not merely delivered ones, but we look for glory along with Christ, and taste its sweetness already. Hence it is said in the First Epistle of Peter that” the Spirit of glory and of God resteth on us.”
May the Lord grant that, with a solemn remembrance of what the Lord has suffered for us, but with a bright and blessed Sense of the liberty into which the Holy Ghost has led us, as a present thing, we may be ever vividly anticipating the glory into which Christ will lead us at His coming, already sons of light and of the day.