This article on Deuteronomy 16:16 is about joy, the feast of booths (harvest feast) and also refers to John 7:37-38.

Source: Clarion, 1987. 2 pages.

Deuteronomy 16:16 – Altogether Joyful

… because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.

Deuteronomy 16:16b

koring oes

For most of us Thanksgiving is a time of joy and fellowship with family and friends, in which we also reflect on the goodness of the LORD in the abundance of the crops He has given. Yet we might question the words of the LORD when He tells us to be altogether joyful. We may have enjoyed a relatively good season, but like every season, this one also had its ups and downs. And we must always take the good with caution and care, knowing that harder times can always come. Still today we have good years and bad, fat and lean years, and we all must expect that as part of life.

Yet the LORD calls His people to be altogether joyful on their harvest feast. For seven days they were only to rejoice, as Leviticus 23:40 says. This joy was in contrast with the feast on the day of Atonement, when the people also had to afflict themselves, cf. Leviticus 23:27. In this feast – the last of the year – joy ruled the day!

We might wonder why Scripture stresses the aspect of joy on this feast. But the significance of the feast of booths holds the key to this joy. This last feast of the year functioned as a kind of summary of all the feasts of Israel. It reminded them how the LORD had taken care of them in the wilderness, and had provided them with shelter and shade, food and clothing, and all their needs during the time of the desert wanderings. The LORD proved to be a "sun and shield!" He made a highway in the desert for Israel, and turned the wilderness into a place of springs! He brought forth honey from the rock, and made rivers of water flow in the desert!

Thus the feast of booths showed that through all the ups and downs, indeed, through the hardest times, the LORD was the same! The last feast of the year was structured to stress the abiding love and faithfulness of the LORD towards His people. So we read that even after the exile this feast was maintained. In Nehemiah 8 – the end of the Old Testament! – we read that the feast was (still) held, "and there was very great rejoicing!" (vs. 17). Despite all their sins, the LORD had not abandoned or abrogated the promise He made to His people.

All this takes on greater significance for us when we recall that the Lord Jesus also appeared at this feast. He concealed His purposes from His family before the feast, but at the last day, the great day, that is, the very last feast day of the entire year, the Lord Jesus unexpectedly appears and proclaims, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink." He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water," John 7:37, 38. And the evangelist explains how the Lord Jesus spoke about the coming Holy Spirit – the last and greatest of God's gifts.

Here the end focus of Moses' words come to light. The Lord Jesus reveals the essence of the joy that Moses was speaking of. For in Him we may be altogether joyful! In Christ we may share the completion of all the Sabbaths and feasts. In Christ the foretaste of the eternal Sabbath has come! In Christ one note dominates all our feasts and the whole Christian life – joy, and only joy!

drinking water

Does this mean that all adversity ceases and all ups and downs suddenly become insignificant? Of course we recognize that they are still there and will be there until the end of the world. But the gift of the Holy Spirit and the blessings of Christ puts these ups and downs in proper perspective. Just as He provided for His people in the wilderness, so the LORD provides for His Church today! He has blessed us with another rich harvest. And in fat and lean years He always comes to the aid of His own. When has the LORD not given His children enough?

That is why, with all the ups and downs, we can be altogether joyful in this Thanksgiving season, and throughout the year. We are on the way to the Great Harvest Festival, and we may already share the first fruits of this Festival today! We may be cleansed and renewed by the Holy Spirit, and so drink of the living water that leads to life eternal. This is the climax and peak of all God's gifts. And in the light of these gifts we can give thanks for all the material blessings, the daily needs of clothing, food and shelter which He has so richly provided for us again.

For the Holy Spirit brings us lasting and unchanging joy. Through all life's vicissitudes, and through all the ups and downs. He brings rest, peace, and contentment. And are not these the greatest gifts? With gifts like these, even the poorest of the righteous can say, "I'm wealthier than the world's richest man!" For the blessings that we may receive out of mere grace through Christ far surpass all the world's goods.

So we may prepare for the Great Festival with joy and thanksgiving. We may look forward to the Day of the Son, the Day of the Spirit, the Day of unending joy! And even now we can begin to keep the feast, and anticipate the joy of the end. For the last word in the Christian life must always be: altogether joyful!

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