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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible

Deuteronomy 16

Verses 1-22

Conditions of Worship

Deuteronomy 16:0

The time is specified, and the reason is given. This is the law, rather than a mere accident. The law is: that every month has a memory, every day has a story, every night has a star all its own. Selected instances help us to ascertain general principles. Acting upon those instances, we become familiar with their spirit and moral genius, so much so that we begin to ask, Are there not other memorable events? Are there not other times of deliverance? Have we been brought out of Egypt only? Are not all the days storied with providential love? Thus, from the particular we pass into the general, and from the general to the universal; and thus all time is lighted up by the divine and comforting Presence. The time is only dull when we make it such. If the events of our life had been brighter, then our moments of temporal rejoicing would have been more numerous: every day might have been a birthday; every hour might have been labelled with some deed of love; the whole week long we should have had festival as well as fast, the sound of trumpet and mirthfulness as well as the voice of groaning and confession of sin. The Lord knows what he has done for every month of the year. It would seem as if the calendar were kept in heaven. We may not consult the diary, but God looks at it, and according to the time of day and the time of year he expects the psalm and hymn of earth. Why do we blur the pages of the daily journal so that we cannot tell what happened this day twelvemonth, so that the day shall be but a moral vacancy in the life? Who died this day year? Whose death does this day for ever commemorate what martyr, what apostle, what great leading thinker, what sweet life at home? Were these questions asked at every dawn, what time in the whole year would there be that might not be an "Abib" a "time of putting in the sickle," a reaping time, having even in the winter a touch of harvest gladness? We should try to make the time more memorable. This is impossible to some, if heroic and chivalrous deed be required, but it is possible to all who can love and serve and think and patiently endure.

If God is so careful about time, has he any regard for place?

"Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee:

"But at the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt" ( Deu 16:5-6 ).

This is morally consistent with God's claim for gracious recollection of definite times. May we not slay the passover where we please? The answer is, Certainly not. May we not insulate ourselves, and upon little church appointments of our own creation carry out the ceremony of our worship? The answer is, Certainly not. We should strive to move in the direction at least of unity, commonwealth, fellowship, solidarity. The sacrifice is the same, the man who offers it is the same; but because it is not offered at the place which God has chosen the sacrifice and the sacrificer go for nothing. That is in harmony with all the social arrangements which experience has approved. There are fit places for all things, as well as fit times. Has God chosen a place? There can be no hesitation as to an affirmative reply. God has always been solicitous about a house for himself: he would have a building put up from foundation to pinnacle for his own service a house that should be called by his own name, and that should owe all its dignity and worth to his presence and sanction. But, whilst all questions of locality have their importance within given limits, the great doctrine of the text is that there is an appointed place, where God and man shall, so to say, face one another in solemn and joyous interview. There is only one place, and all related places are only of importance and value in proportion as they are vitally related. What is that one place? It is called Golgotha Calvary, the place of the Cross, the shadow of the altar on which the Saviour died. We can only meet God at the Cross, if we have to meet in the name of mercy, compassion, hope. If we would meet on Sinai, we have no answer; if we would meet on Golgotha, the answer is with God an infinite reply of love and pardon and release. It is wonderful how God has fixed certain great centres and allowed us liberty only within the radius. Dwelling upon that radius, we call it liberty; but, fixing the mind upon the centre, we call it law, divine sovereignty, heavenly supremacy. The centre is not fixed by us, but by the Lord; and our liberty is also determined by his wisdom. There are, then, holy places, and there are holy times. There are holy places without referring to the Church, distinctively so called; and there are holy times without referring to the Sabbath day. The grave is a holy place. Blessed be God, there are yet men who cannot play a fool's game within the boundaries of the churchyard filled with the sleeping dead. There are places marked by moral strife, which happily ended in conquest wrought by righteousness and truth. There are altars where we prayed victorious prayers; there are times of light well-remembered light: we know just when the light came, how full it was, how it struck us to the earth for one moment, and how amidst its lustre we heard appeals and directions, out of obedience to which came our noblest life. Want of veneration is want of dignity. To be able to treat all places and all times alike is simply to be able to say that we have destroyed the very faculty which may become the beginning of the noblest life and service.

The time having been fixed and the place having been determined, what remains?

"And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee" ( Deu 16:10 ).

Here is the beginning of another kind of liberty. A wonderful word occurs in this verse; there is no larger word in all the language of devotion and service. That word is "a freewill offering." Reading the Scriptures carefully up to this point, we would suppose that everything had been claimed, taxed, and insisted upon that could possibly be given to God's altar; yet we are reminded that such is not the case: the very opportunity of giving unto the Lord a "freewill" offering shows that still something has been left. How wonderfully God educates the human race: he will insist upon definite claims and obligations being answered, and yet he will also give opportunity for freewill action, as if he had said, Now we shall see what you will do when left to yourselves; the law no longer presses you: the great hand is lifted, and for the time being you shall do in this matter as it may please your own mind and heart. That is an element in the divine education of the human race. God gives us opportunities of showing ourselves to ourselves. He only would count the gift: no one should know what had been done: the sweet transaction should lie between the one soul and the living Lord. The Church could not live upon that today. Here and there instances would occur of almost superhuman liberality instances amounting to complete devotion and sacrifice: blessed be God for these; but remove public opinion, public criticism, and all the other considerations which operate upon human action, and then stand in amazement at the result which would accrue. The soul must be revealed to itself; the man must be compelled to drag up the coward that lies asleep within his own nature, and he must look that coward in the face, and call that coward by his own name. We are not to be permitted to live in rush and tumult and such tempestuous excitement as shall lead to false estimates of ourselves. At given periods of time we have to see what we are in God's sight; and whether we be saint or sinner, coward, liar, or hero and truthful man, we must know the reality of the case. What is given under pressure is not given: what is given to a subscription list in order to keep up the harmony of the numbers is wasted money; only that is given which cannot be kept back; only that is accepted which carries with it the blood of the heart.

Another singular word occurs in this tenth verse: "a tribute." The literal meaning is that the gift is to be proportional. It is a word with a strong arithmetical or numerical aspect: not only is there a gift, but the gift is the result of thought, calculation, and expresses the serious and responsible judgment of the giver. That consideration alters the whole case. It would have been easy to throw a dole to the Lord that had no reference whatever to what was left behind: that would be a broad, easily-opened gate to heaven; but such is not the condition stated in the bond. Even the freewill offering is to be tributary: it is to be based upon the original substance, the actual property, whatever is in the hand as momentary possession. Thus, sacrifice is to be calculated; worship is to be the result of forethought; nothing is to be done of mere constraint or as consultative of ease and indulgence. A word of taxation touches the very poetry and pathos of oblation.

"And thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there" ( Deu 16:11 ).

This gives us the joyous aspect of religion. An ancient Jewish annotator has made a beautiful remark upon this verse, to the effect that "thy four, O Israel, and my four shall rejoice together." Observe how the numbers are divided into fours, and how the one four may be said to be man's and the second four may be said to be God's. This is the distinction drawn by Rashi, the Jewish commentator: "Thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant" let them rejoice, let them be glad in response to music, and let them call for more music to express their ever-increasing joy; but my four must be there also: the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow; they represent the divine name as authority for admission to the feast. The religious servant, the poor stranger, the orphan, and the widow, they sit down, in seats divinely claimed for them, at the festive board. So the company shall be representative: son, daughter, manservant, maidservant; priest, stranger, orphan, widow; this is the typical company sitting down at the symbolical feast. God will not have our small house-parties, made up of people of one class, equally well-dressed and accosting one another in the language of equality; he will have a large feast. We can have no true feast that some orphan child does not partake of. If the desolate and the stranger eat nothing of our feast, the feast will be but an evil memory to the very appetite which it has sated. Every man should have connected with his house, however small the house may be, some child, or poor creature, or outcast dog, that looks to him for crumbs, or cup of water, or caressing hand, or stimulating word. Your house is not a little structure of four walls: it is only four little walls that it may typify, as by an arithmetical symbol, an inexpressible quantity. There should be no waste meat in the house; there should be no vacant seat at the table; and if there are some who cannot come to the table the table must be sent to them. Wherever there is hunger, however brought about, it claims to be a guest at the best man's table.

The Lord will have joy, as well as law and tribute and appointed time and defined and circumscribed space: "Thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God." A wonderful turn of events is indicated by this permission. Instead of the word being one expressive of fear, hopeless solemnity, and utter dejection of mind, it is a word which could be used upon birthday, wedding-day, midsummer-day, when the flowers are richest and greatest in number. "Thou shalt rejoice" rejoice and be glad; rejoice and give thanks; rejoice and dance and sing, the very ecstasy of love and worship. Where there is such joy the stranger and the fatherless and the widow must be included. It is not in the nature of joy to exclude. We wait for each other to be in some happy temper that we may ask permission to introduce the exiled child or friend; we say we must watch our opportunity; when the master of the house is glad, when his heart is overflowing with love, when he must sing because of the fire that is burning within him a holy fire of joy then, at the critical moment, we will ask if he will not see the face he has not beheld for many a day; in his joy he will say Yes; in the festival of his heart he will forgive. Joy does not shut doors and close windows and silence birds that sing and children that laugh; joy says, Let the strangers hover at the door, and look in: they will do no harm; and if they come forward a pace or two, so be it; this is a night of gladness, a day of banqueting; turn none away; if you can spread the table far enough to take in some outsiders, spread it; the day is bright, the day is a day of heaven. Joy must be inclusive; joy must have large things. The critical thought is often severe. In calculating moods we number our friends and our guests; but when the great wave of gladness rolls through the heart rises, swells, breaks, and rises again, who could be critically exclusive or meanly particular? Who would not say, Yes, that other child may come in: by sitting closer together we can make room for two poor friends still? Who does not lift up the goblet and say, There remains enough in it to satisfy the thirst of yet another wanderer; go into the highways and the hedges, and compel the people to come in with the sweet compulsion of love? That is the meaning of the Church. It is not meant for "thy son, and thy daughter," seated in one respectable place, and "thy manservant, and thy maidservant," seated in a secondary and inferior place; but it is meant for thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, and the man who has no inheritance a glorious Church! Each Church should ask what it is doing for the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, and the man who has no definite position or inheritance in society. It is no Church that does not spread a table every week for the very poorest people in the district; it may be a congregation a set of persons who luxuriate in what they believe to be excellent provisions; but it is not a Christian Church. The Christian Church should have tables spread for the fatherless, and the stranger, and the widow, and the lost, and the weary. The measure of the hospitality should be the measure of the hunger of those who come. But if we should be taken in? Thank God for it! to be taken in sometimes is educative, and is not without some moral advantage. The counterfeit proves that there is a good deal of reality; the counterfeit is a tribute to Christian generosity. We may never have been taken in, and therefore may laugh the pharisaic laugh over our own shrewdness; but in proportion as we laugh that pharisaic laugh are we ourselves trying to take in omniscience. In the Old Testament, therefore, there were times of joy. It has been pointed out as remarkable that the Feast of Tabernacles was proverbially a time of rejoicing: the dedication of Solomon's temple, the commencement of the second temple, and the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, all took place in or about the time of the Feast of Tabernacles.

"Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the Lord thy God, which thou shalt make thee. Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which the Lord thy God hateth" ( Deu 16:21-22 ).

Thus, imagery is forbidden even religious imitation and attempted reproduction of things divine and inexpressible. We are prone to do something to show our handiwork in God's sanctuary; it pleases us to try to add something to the circle; it delights us to run one rim of gilt around the refined gold which burns with the image and superscription of God. We are told not to interfere; we must keep our hands off everything. We must learn to stand still; sometimes to do everything by doing nothing; and we must learn to rebuke our inventive faculty and become learned in the utterance of simple prayer. God will have his altar untouched.: he will have human attention undistracted by any human devices. The altar is to stand alone in its simple dignity most adorned when unadorned. There must be no attempt to link true religion and false religion, inspired worship and idolatrous worship, groves humanly planted and altars divinely built. The Lord will have a time for himself, and place for himself, a gift for himself, an altar for himself. Why for himself? Because he is the Lord, and because he means to train the human mind and heart without distraction towards the highest sublimity of law. Who will not set up his reason against the altar, and delight because his religion is rational? as well hold up a candle to the sun, because all fire is of the same quality; because there is but one fire in the universe, and that is GOD. The sun says, Thou shalt not light a candle in my presence. We do it, but the candle is literally of no service in the presence of the mid-day sun. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world the Sun of the great firmament of the soul and he alone can light the space that is to be illumined. Who will not throw the little flower of self-approval upon the altar, saying, I am not as other men: I fast, I pay tithes, I do not practise extortion: I am not as the publicans are? The Lord has forbidden all groves and all images and all distractions. Only one man is permitted near the altar; only one soul is heard in heaven. His name? the broken-hearted sinner!

Prayer

Almighty God, thy word is a living word, coming into our hearts from heaven, full of promise, full of consolation, and full of stimulus. We cannot read it without answering it; our souls know it to be a divine word, so tender, so full of music, calling us upward to broader and nobler life. The word of the Lord abideth for ever: amid all changes it is the same: it changes not; its great word is a word of love, and hope, and. forgiveness, for the erring sons of men. Thy word is a gospel; if there is in it the severity of judgment, it is that sinners may be affrighted out of evil, and brought under the blessing of condescending and redeeming Heaven. The terrors of the Lord are meant to persuade men. May we by terror or by love all be brought to thyself, thy house, the Cross of Christ the way, and Christ himself the Truth. We bless thee that we have hope in this direction. We thank thee that when we are most overcast, brightness arises from the Cross; we rejoice that when the burden is heaviest, it is Christ's almighty hand that lifts it from our weakness. In thy house we have security; in the temple of God we have the beginning of heaven; in the light of the Sabbath we have the dawn of eternal rest. For all these mercies we bless thee with united heart, with fervent love, with undistracted attention and will. Our heart is fixed, O God, our heart is fixed. For these suggestions we bless thee. Once we were as children, tossed to and fro, driven about; but now, being men in Christ Jesus, we stand in the security of thy love, we are blessed by the tenderness of thy grace, and we are made strong by all the promises which thou hast addressed to us. We give one another to God. We ask for one another blessings suited to the need of each life. Thou knowest us altogether: thou knowest the weakest and the poorest, the man who has no words with which to utter his desire, and the soul which bends itself down in burning shame before thee because of remembered sin. We pray thee to look upon us according to our need, and out of the unsearchable riches of Christ do thou supply all our wants; how many they are we do not ourselves know: thou knowest every necessity; thou hast numbered the hairs of our head, how much more hast thou considered the necessities of our soul! We leave ourselves in thy hands; they are mighty, they are gentle, they are full to abounding with all heavenly riches and grace. Send none unblessed away: may our homes be the happier for our having been to church; may our business life be the nobler for our having bent at the altar; and may our whole course upon the earth be upright and straightforward because we have been with Jesus and learned of him, and are inspired by his spirit and illumined by his mind. The Lord hear us; the Lord come closely to us that we may whisper our prayers; and may we know that our prayers have been heard through the blood of the everlasting covenant, because of deep peace, and sacred joy, and radiant hope, which only are the gifts of God. Amen.

Verse 17

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"... as he is able." Deu 16:17

This is the law of giving in the Old Testament, and it is the law of giving in the New Testament. It is a just and equitable law. It devolves a supreme responsibility upon the giver. It makes him an accountant in the sight of God. He has to add up his resources and diligently to consider their sum, and then to give as he may be able. This law does not relate to money only, but to time, influence, and sympathy. Nothing would be so easy for many men as to buy themselves off, by the gifts of money, from all further service. Simply because of the abundance of their wealth, money is as nothing to them, and the giving of it is not felt. It is only when the giving is touched with the pain of sacrifice that it becomes of any value in the sanctuary. Still, most of us have to begin with the donation of money, but no man has to end with it. There is no niggardliness in the promises of God in relation to the true giver, of whatever nature his gifts may be. "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver." "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." Jesus Christ noticed what gifts were thrown into the treasury, and he regarded them all i a the light of proportion. "God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love." Not a cup of cold water, is to go unrewarded if given to a disciple in the name of Christ. These grand moral standards of gift and service constitute a powerful defence of the heavenly origin of the Bible.

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Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 16". The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/deuteronomy-16.html. 1885-95.