and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.
Deuteronomy 14:26 ESV
This intriguing verse is found within the context of Moses providing instructions for tithing. The primary command is to bring a tithe (a tenth) of one’s produce to the place of God’s choosing and then “eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock” (v. 23). Verse 26, however, is a provision for those who live too far from God’s place. They could, instead, sell their produce for money (which made for lighter travel) and use it to purchase whatever their appetites craved whenever they arrived.
Two things stand out to me.
First, the tithe was commanded to be eaten. Their tithe was a feast. Now they were also commanded not to neglect the Levites (v. 27), but the rule is essentially one of enjoyment. They were ordered to celebrate with their giving to God. He demanded that they give Him a tenth of our produce and the firstborn of their herds, yet He then commanded them to eat and celebrate with that very offering. He ordered them to feast and rejoice.
If this sounds strange, it is the same principle behind the Fourth Commandment. The command to rest by worshiping is certainly a glorifying act to the LORD; however, it is also highly beneficial to us. Furthermore, both acts require trusting God. Observing the Sabbath meant that work must be put aside for a day, while this tithe-feast meant using all at once what might have been rationed out more slowly. Both required the belief that God alone would provide.
But, second, this was to be done before the LORD. They could not eat their tithe anywhere as an act of worship. They needed to be in God’s presence. This feast was a sacred.
For Christians, we now have unfettered access to God’s presence via the atonement of Christ. Therefore, we are able to fulfill this action anywhere. We are always before the face of God, and so we are to always eat and drink for His glory. Yet there is still something to be said for feasting with God’s people. After all, the New Testament churches seemed to practice the Lord’s Supper as an actual meal each week. There is joy overflowing found in remembering together that God made our appetites for good and for pleasure, even though they so often lead us to sin.
However, feasts seem to be significantly less poignant today because for many life has become one large feast of unending food and drink. If we are not careful, our plenty will spoil our ability to rejoice in the abundance of our blessings. Let us, therefore, refrain from feasting on a daily basis, so that actual feasts have their intended effect.
Nevertheless, remember this Thanksgiving Day that we worship the God who commands His people to feast and be glad, and how thankful should we be for such a good God!