I have been working through the middle part of Deuteronomy with my church lately, and some themes just keep coming up. The way the Old Testament people of God had their lives and worship focussed has challenged me in some key ways, and this blog post is an attempt to explain them.
If you had to summarize the instructions for worship among Israel, a description like this would probably pop out: it was costly, community, centralized worship. (And this appeals to the logical 3-point preacher in me as well!).
Firstly, their worship was costly. It was inconvenient time-wise having to travel to a central place, leaving your home and fields. It was costly to fulfil the laws about tithing, generosity and sacrifice. The first fruits of your harvest and the best of your flocks and herds were used up in feasting and atoning for sins. It must have been tempting to grumble about this inconvenience or to just refuse to do it. Maybe you would get a bigger crop if you worked the land harder instead of travelling to the festivals?
Secondly, their worship was communal. They gathered together so often for feasts. The generosity commands make sure the poor in any location will be cared for, and travellers in the land were welcomed. You couldn’t help but understand that you were not simply individually a person of God; you were part of the community of God.
Thirdly, their worship was centralized. In no uncertain terms Moses outlined the need to travel to a place the LORD their God would choose, not simply worshipping wherever they wanted. And this worship included feasting with the rest of the nation but centralized around a purpose: to celebrate God’s goodness, especially in his redemption from Egypt and sustaining in the wilderness.
What can we do with this today? That’s the challenge for modern Christians for whom all of these commands seem odd.
The primary application is, surprise, about Jesus. All of these things point to Jesus; they are a shadow to the reality of Jesus. The costly, bloody sacrifices of a perfect lamb for their sins showed that sin was costly and only a perfect sacrifice could atone for it. And the festivals focussing on what had already been done for them, not what they did, reminded them that grace is key in how God works. Being forced to rest on Sabbaths and on festivals would also reinforce that the world continues not by their work but by God’s work. And Jesus died for a people, not just a random group of individuals: the church community is critical for our faith, to know we are part of something bigger, to have somewhere to serve and encourage. And although we no longer need to travel to a central location, all our worship is focussed on a central Person (John 3).
Jesus is everywhere in Deuteronomy.
But a secondary application concerns how we respond to Jesus. Yes, I know the law no longer binds us and is fulfilled in Jesus. But the lessons here are useful for us. All of us need to rest and reflect on God’s goodness to us, both individually and together. We need to remind ourselves that it is not all due to our abilities and hard work, something we need special reminding of in our busy modern world. We need to gather with other believers, and not just to chat about football; we need to celebrate God’s goodness to us especially in the redemption won by Jesus.
Our God is so good. Thousands of years ago to his people, and even to people like us.