September 24 – Deuteronomy 16:9-15
Main focus: God wants all people—people who look, think, and act differently—to know and celebrate his saving goodness.
A stop in Deuteronomy may seem like a strange detour from our Divine Community series, but hang with it. This week we’ll look at two key festivals for the people of Israel, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths. What’s remarkable about these festivals is that they weren’t reserved only for God’s people, Israel—God explicitly told Israel to include foreigners and marginalized people in the celebration, “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” God’s desire has always been that all people would share the joy and praise that comes from remembering his goodness.
In discussion we’ll try something a bit different, what I’m calling a Discussion Primer. Since we’re parachuting into the middle of Deuteronomy, this little bit of information should be like glancing at a map in the middle of the woods to get our bearings. You’ll see it below in bold to read before you turn to Deuteronomy 16:9-15, and it should save quite a bit of the “what’s going on here?” head scratching.
For a bit more background, this section of Deuteronomy describes the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths, which are referenced elsewhere in the Law in Exodus 23:14-17 and Leviticus 24:15-38 (FYI the Feast of Booths is also called the Feast of Ingathering). These are two of the three festivals in which Israelites would journey to Jerusalem to celebrate. The study guide this week turns to Exodus 12:29-51 to look at the third festival, Passover, which also allowed for sojourners to participate. (In discussion, don’t forget to define “sojourner,” just so no one is left in the dark.)
The inclusion of foreigners in the celebration of the Passover should surprise the mess out of us. Think about it; the Passover was a celebration of a historical event in the life of a people group, a remembrance of the very first Passover when God liberated Israel from Egypt. Even generations down the line, Jewish celebrants could thank God for freeing their great-great-great-grandmothers and grandfathers. But to invite sojourners, unrelated foreigners, to participate in this festival was to invite them to remember a history that didn’t belong to them, at least on an ethnic level. In a sense, it invited them to receive a new history and heritage. But the transformation didn’t stop there—for foreigners to celebrate the Passover, their men had to take the covenant sign given to Abraham and be circumcised (Exodus 12:48). Through this means, non-Jews could actually become Jewish, partake in the benefits of the covenant, and belong to the people of God (in the book of Ruth, Ruth the Moabite is an example of this, though she got out of the covenant sign part).
Simply put, ever since God made his covenant with Israel the borders of God’s people were permeable. All along a non-Israelite could come and place their hope in the God of Abraham by identifying with his people through these celebrations and the covenant sign. This is yet another vantage point from which we can plainly see that God’s plan all along was to save a diverse people for himself.
Along with this, we see God’s persistent concern for the outcast, the poor, and the marginalized; “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” would’ve represented all the people in Israel with no familial support system, especially those impoverished by lack of access to employment or social networks. In fact, that’s one cool thing about these Feasts; they included something called “freewill offerings,” animal and food sacrifices that, according to the ritual described in Leviticus 7:11-36, were not burned all the way up on the altar but were removed and eaten by folks in the celebration. This made them actual feasts to which foreigners, orphans, and widows were invited to come and eat with everyone else. God’s love is so thoughtful!
Now, in discussion we’ll turn to Leviticus 19:33-34 to see some of God’s reasoning behind inviting foreigners to celebrate the Feasts. There he tells Israel to love the stranger as oneself “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This invited Israelites to remember God’s grace in saving them from a foreign land, and to likewise be loving and gracious towards foreigners. Again, this shows us God’s tremendous heart towards those who are far off, and invites us to reflect on how God has loved us even though we all were once strangers to him. “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom 15:7).
Discussion Primer: In the book of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel have been liberated from Egypt, wandered through the wilderness for forty years, and are about to cross over into the Promised Land that God was giving to them. This is about 1400 years before the birth of Jesus. In order to prepare them to enter the Promised Land, Moses gave a series of speeches to remind Israel of the Law God had given them after saving them (which reminds us: obedience to God is always a response to his salvation, not a prerequisite). Deuteronomy 16 is all about the special festivals they will celebrate in their new country.
Questions for Discussion
• With that being said, could someone read Deuteronomy 16:9-15 for us?
• Real quick: could someone explain what a “sojourner” is?
• Look at verses 11 and 14—what does it mean that “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” are included in these celebrations?
• Could someone read Leviticus 19:33-34 for us?
• Why do you think God brings up Egypt here?
• What do you think this can tell us about God’s heart towards outsiders?
• How do you think your personal experience of God’s love influences the way you relate towards outsiders?
• Prayer prompt: Ask God to help us love others as much as he loves them.