Serving the High Plains

Give thanks to the God of festivals

Evangelical Christians might be scandalized to realize how strongly the God of the Bible comes down on the side of festivals, parties, and days off.

They know what tithing is, but they’ve never seen the rule saying that a third of the tithe was meant to save up for the feasts. Basically, one facet of tithing was to build up your vacation fund.

It gets worse, though. God comes right out and encourages the (moderate) enjoyment of wine and other strong drink during those festivals. Jesus would not be a good Southern Baptist.

There were initially three annual feasts in Jerusalem. You had to travel on foot to get there, and your attendance (if you were an adult male) was mandatory. So, you’d need travel days on both ends of those feasts.

In addition to the weekly Sabbath rest day, there were 12 New Moon Sabbaths. By the time Jesus set foot in Jerusalem, another eight days of partying had been added in Hanukkah and two more for the feast of Purim.

By my calculations, this all adds up to 112 days of rest each year, or a little more than two per week, averaged out. But then, God commanded every seventh year would be a Sabbath year, which is another 365 days off for farmers and ranchers. On top of all that, every 50th year was another year off.

Now, granted, math is hard, but this all averages out to about three days off per week over the course of 50 years. And these were not solemn, mournful days to be endured. They were meant for rejoicing. Their mouths were supposed to be filled with laughter, singing, and shouts of grateful praise.

David was glad when they said to him, “Let’s go up to the house of the Lord.”

It wasn’t a chore. It wasn’t an unpleasant duty that the faithful were supposed to muscle through until it was over. God commanded multiple week-long parties filled with food, drink, and music.

Now, I’m confident in my math above, an average of three days of rejoicing and stopping work each week. This was God’s design and it’s apparent from the Gospels that Jesus was happy to participate in all of it.

However, there’s always money to be made, isn’t there? If you consistently work on days that your competitor is taking off for silly things like vacations, you’ll crush him in the marketplace and emerge victorious. Israel recognized this practical truth right from the beginning, and the records show that they never, not once, took the seventh year off, or the 50th. They worked themselves ragged and, according to the wisest of them (King Solomon) it was all vanity, striving after wind.

And, sure, before you send me your super-pious email, there is a time to mourn. Self-examination and sorrow for sin are good things. There’s a holy balance to be maintained, but the congregations are few where the error is that they’re too joyful in Jesus.

This week, as you get ready for church, just ask yourself, is your problem that you’re too happy about going, or that you haven’t known what it means to worship a God of festivals?

Gordan Runyan is pastor of Tucumcari’s Immanuel Baptist Church and author of “Radical Moses: The Amazing Civil Freedom Built into Ancient Israel.” Contact him at:

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