A Joyless Life of Work?

Exodus 23:14-16

Many people, even Christians, think of God as an old fuddy-duddy who frowns on fun and people having a good time. Now where did this idea come from? From the Bible? No.

For what do you call a God who tells his people to have festivals of joy, with feasts and celebrations? Huh? Where does the Bible say this? It says it in the Torah part of the Bible, the first five books.

Yes, yes, I know that most people think these books are the driest part of the Bible. But if we read them carefully to see not just the trees, the details, but also the whole forest, we begin to catch glimpses of God’s plan for his people.

Like, soon after God brought the liberated Israelites out of Egypt, he told them:

“Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.

Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread….

Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field….

Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in your crops from the field” [Exodus 23:14-16, NIV].

The words “celebrate the festival” and “celebrate the feast” have the same root word in the Hebrew text. Its basic meaning is to celebrate a holiday, or to keep a feast. Notice the deliberate repetition of the word “celebrate the festival/feast” four times, in just four verses? The people were to celebrate with feasting, and each occasion was to be a festival, but one with God at the centre of it. Now have you ever seen a festival that had no joy in it? And have you ever celebrated a festival in which there was no fun?

The important thing in the feasts decreed by God is that they were to be God-centred. Otherwise, they would be self-centred and fun-centred, leading to the silly drunkenness and unhealthy gorging of food we see at Christmas nowadays.

Let’s take a closer look at the Feasts. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was actually celebrated within a week of celebration that began with the Passover Feast on the 14th day of the first month, Abib [now March-April]. In the next 7 days [15 to 21 Abib] the Feast of Unleavened Bread was celebrated. The Feast of Firstfruits came on 16 Abib. So it was 8 continuous days of celebration and feasts, from 14 to 21 Abib, rejoicing over God sparing Israel at the Passover in Egypt, then remembering with thanks God’s bringing of Israel out of Egypt, and ending with joy and thanksgiving for the barley harvest [the firstfruit]: God’s bounteous blessings in the Promised Land.

The Feast of Harvest, also called the Feast of Weeks, celebrated with joy and thankfulness God’s blessing of the wheat harvest. This was in the third month, Sivan [May-June].

 

The Feast of Ingathering was also called the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:34], or the Festival of Booths. This week of celebration of the year’s harvest fell in September-October. During this feast, all of Israel used to camp out in temporary shelters. Camping? What fun!

 

The timing of the three feasts is also interesting. God decreed three periods of celebration and feasting, in:

1. March-April

2. May-June, and

3. September-October.

Notice how God spread out the celebrations so nicely in three periods of the year?

But weren’t the Feasts of Harvest and of Ingathering celebrations of harvests and to remember the Giver of good harvests? After periods of hard work, and when the harvest was in, God gave his people short periods of rest from work and joyful celebration feasts.

Of course, today most of us work in cities, and do not get to enjoy harvests. Or do we? What are the fruits of our labour? What are the modern equivalent of harvests? Are they not our pay rises, bonuses and promotions? Don’t they all come from God?

So why shouldn’t we celebrate them with feasts and thanksgiving to God from whom all good things come? What lovely opportunities these occasions would be to tell our relatives and friends, especially those who do not yet know Jesus, how loving and caring God is to us. Let’s celebrate! And thank God.

 

POSTSCRIPT. Mickey is an alumnus of BGST. He writes in a racy, urbane style. Occasionally he breaks into a wry humour: what can we expect otherwise from the creator of the former “Macaw” (a very colourful creature which makes a lot of noise)? This weekly feature in the Sunday Times enjoyed taking digs for some 20 years at what was happening in Singaporean society from around 1970-1990. Sadly, this Punch-type commentary is no longer published. The story of Mickey’s salvation is told in the latest BGST Update No.3. It carries the interesting title, “An ‘Accidental’ Student”.

CHAPEL NOTES

Chapel on 2 February will be taken by Dr Quek Swee Hwa. Come and be blessed! Alumni and other BGST students are welcomed to join us for this weekly event.

NEWS BITS

  1. Change of Lecture Schedule. Students taking CE355, Child Development & Formation by Dr Ng Peh Cheng, kindly take note that sessions 2 to 5 have been rescheduled to Jan. 28, Feb. 4, 14 & 15. Time remains unchanged. Those who are interested to attend the last session on “Children and Stress” (Feb 15) please inform the office at tel. 6227 6815.

  2. BGST’s Involvement in Christian Medical Relief. Thank God for the outpouring of concern and for the opportunity to extend ourselves for the alleviation of suffering in Indonesia. Currently (as at Jan 28) two of our students, Dr Lee Soon Tai and another medical person (who prefers to remain anonymous) are at Nias, Sumatra, ministering to the sick and needy. Here is what Dr Lee reported: “Two doctors [and others] ... are stationed at Telok Dalam, at the southern tip of Nias to treat patients. Lee Phin [Dr Lee’s gynaecologist wife] and I operated on three major cases at Gunongsitoli Hospital (the only hospital in Nias). We will be going to Sirombu, on the west coast to treat and make preparations for Team 2 from Singapore. Funds were distributed to families whose houses were wrecked by Tsunami.” Dr Lee was referring to relief funds gathered in the name of International Christian Relief, the relief arm of the International Council of Christian Churches. Any medical doctors or nurses wishing to offer their services for the second medical team to Nias please contact Dr Quek (97865044).

  3. Congratulations to BGST M Div student, Dr Atomic Leow, Head of Biotechnology at Temasek Polytechnic. Atomic, an agrotechnologist, has achieved a breakthrough in using hydroponics to grow orchids rather than using the usual charcoal culture method. His hydroponics innovations should also help reduce Singapore’s dependence on imported vegetables. He is currently writing his theological reflections on his work in a BGST Guided Study on Theological Issues in Hydroponics.

     

 

A Blessed Birthday to...

Mdm Seah Chiew Kwan 1/2

Ms Liaw Chin Chen 1/2

Ms Chan Ee Yuee 2/2

Ms Teo Yea Ling 2/2

Mr Siew Kim Siang 3/2

Mr Tan Keng Lak 3/2

Mr Tan Kim Lian 3/2

Mr Wilson Tan 3/2

Mrs Susan Lim 4/2

Dr Wong Lea Choung 4/2

Mr Siow Yew Mun 4/2

 

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