Sacred festivals

Friday, September 6, 2013

I love the fair.

We live near the fairgrounds, so right about the time the "No Parking" signs spring up on our lawn I know it is time to start planning my week. I set my schedule for volunteering as Fair Chaplain and working at the Kiwanis booth and manning a Nutty Bar stand. I get a fair brochure and start planning out the free shows I want to see. I make a list of mealtimes and chart out which foods I need to eat before the fair closes.

I love the fair. I love that we have this annual event that brings so many people to town and gives us an opportunity to celebrate for a week and reminds us of everything good about living in Iowa.

Thinking about the fair got me thinking about fairs in the Bible. They didn't call them fairs, of course, but they celebrated plenty of annual festivals that looked a lot like our county fair. Leviticus 23 describes several "appointed feasts of the LORD" which the Israelites were instructed to "proclaim as sacred assemblies." Three of them corresponded to the harvest and played big roles in the history of God's people.

The "Festival of Firstfruits" was celebrated in early spring in conjunction with the Passover. It coincided with the early barley harvest. Passover was the important holiday which commemorated Israel's release from Egypt and the "Festival of Firstfruits" was an opportunity to give the first sheaf of the first grain to the LORD.

Fifty days later the Israelites would celebrate the "Feast of Weeks". This coincided with the spring wheat harvest and was a special day off from work and sacred assembly. Because it took place precisely fifty days after Passover, it eventually became known by its Greek name: "Pentecost."

And then, in later summer and early fall, the time of the final harvest, the biggest celebration of all occurred: the week long "Feast of Tabernacles." This was probably the festival that looked most like our fair. People took the entire week off work, the best animals and grains were offered as sacrifice, and everybody lived for a week in tents or booths to remind themselves of the time Israel spent as wanderers in the wilderness. They might not have had food on a stick, but they did "take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and [rejoiced] before the LORD [their] God." (Lev. 23:40)

I realize that our fair is not a religious celebration. But I still see a number of lessons we can learn from the Biblical celebrations as we begin our own annual assembly:

* Thankfulness -- A hallmark of the Bible's harvest festivals was gratitude to the LORD for His provision. Each of these celebrations was a reminder that the benefits of the harvest came only by God's grace. As we celebrate all things agricultural and industrial at our own fair, it is good for us to be reminded of God's many blessings toward us.

* Trust -- Part and parcel of each of these festivals was an offering of the best parts of the harvest to the LORD. This reinforced the principle of the LORD's provision, but also taught the Israelites not to hoard their possessions but to trust in God's continued ability to provide. Our annual fair should serve to remind us of God's faithfulness and fill us with confidence about His ongoing care in the years to come.

* Concern for the poor -- An interesting feature of Israelite festival celebration was the way God used it to care for those in need. Leviticus 23:22 says: "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest: Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God." This sort of "gleaning" system wouldn't work with modern agriculture, but the abundance evident at our fair should be a reminder to all of us to make provision for the poor in our midst.

As you celebrate the fair this week, I hope you can use it to remind yourself of these important lessons about God. Thank Him for our abundance, trust Him for your future, and remember to look out for those in need.

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