Deuteronomy 14–16:17 Foods & Festivals


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Moses, having just finished speaking about the importance of the worship of the Lord and warning the people about falling into occultist practices now directs his focus on the kind of people the Israelites need to be as they conquer and live in the Promised Land. At Sinai, before He gave the Law, the Lord announced to Israel, “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6, NKJV). Because of their unique relationship to the Lord as His chosen people and special treasure, the Israelites were responsible to obey Him and truly be a holy (separate) people. Their relationship to the Lord was the most important factor in their national life, for, without Him, Israel would be like all the other pagan nations. As a holy and separate people, they had to learn to distinguish the things that made them that way.

In chapter fourteen Moses commands the people to be separate from these other nations. For example, he warns them to abstain from pagan burial customs. He then gives them a beautiful word picture of why they need to be a separate people. They were:

  • A holy people. As holy, or separated people, they were not to follow the practices of the neighboring nations,
  • A chosen people. The people of Israel were chosen by God to be His special, unique people
  • A special treasure.
  • Above all the people on the face of the earth. If God regarded Israel as something special among the nations, they had to conduct themselves as something special among the nations.

Moses then offers them more ways in which they were to be different and separated from the pagan cultures of the Ancient Middle East by speaking to their dietary separateness and reminding them of the principle of the tithe. Regarding the dietary laws, it is likely that some creatures were declared “unclean” as a means of teaching the people discernment and good health. Another factor may have been that some of the prohibited animals were associated with the pagan worship practices of the surrounding nations.

On the subject of tithes, pastor and author Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The people of Israel were to be generous with tithes and offerings because the Lord had been generous with them. Each time they brought their tithes and gifts to the sanctuary and enjoyed a thanksgiving feast, it would teach them to fear the Lord (Deut. 14:23) because if the Lord hadn’t blessed them, they would have nothing to eat and nothing to give.”[1]

In chapter fifteen, Moses provides some clear thoughts on laws regarding the poor and the forgiveness of debts in the seventh year. Moses clearly felt that God was establishing an economic system wherein no one had to be chronically poor. If people would obey the Lord, He would bless (both sovereignty and as the natural result of the obedience), and they would not be poor. In this system God did not guarantee prosperity for everyone in Israel, but, He did guarantee opportunity for prosperity for the holy Israeli nation that followed his laws and commandments.

Moses also addresses the issue of slavery. When we look at the totality of Moses’ words, including other places in the Pentateuch, we find that Moses is slowly educating his people away from slavery. While other nations used slavery as a way to take advantage of people, or lord it over certain people, God, through Moses, provides limits and ways for the Israelites to escape it. After all, God led them out of bondage in Egypt, why would he encourage a system of bondage once they settled in the Promised Land?

The end of this chapter and then on into the first part of chapter sixteen is about celebrating God and people as Moses reiterates the importance of certain festivals and declares three of them to be mandatory pilgrimages to first the Tabernacle, then later, the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Lord gave Israel a unique calendar to help His people remember who they were and to encourage them to review all He had done for them. In following this calendar of special events year by year, the Jews would find cause for great celebration. Samson Raphael Hirsch, the leader of modern Orthodoxy in nineteenth-century Germany once remarked, “the Jew’s calendar is his catechism.”[2]In other words, Jews absorbed the core ideas of their faith by celebrating the weekly Sabbath and the annual cycle of festivals.

It all began with the Sabbath.

How significant is Sabbath (Shabbat) to the Jewish people? Consider this: It is the only day upon which funerals and weddings are prohibited. And, it is the only day of the week with a name. The other six days are described solely in terms of their relationship to the Sabbath: “the first day toward Shabbat,” “the second day toward Shabbat,” and so forth.

The implication is clear: All aspects of Jewish life and time—including all the other holidays—revolve around Shabbat. It is the apex, the crown of each week. It is holy and set apart from all other days. It is—in the words of Joseph of Hamadan “a soul for the other six days; they derive their nourishment…from it.”[3]

Before addressing the three feasts every Jewish male was obligated to celebrate, Moses restates the principle of the firstborn. He helps the people remember the first Passover in Egypt and how God killed all the firstborn in the land except those Jews who were in their houses and were protected by the blood on their doorposts (Exodus 12). From that time forward God claimed, for Himself, all of the firstborn sons, as well as male animals in Israel and they, must be redeemed with a sacrifice.

The first seventeen verses of chapter sixteen cover the three major feasts: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread; the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost), and the Feast of Tabernacles. Moses gives the people who are about ready to enter the Promised Land a concise, yet important, overview of these festivals. He stresses not only their importance as celebrations and times to rejoice, but also their importance as times of remembrance of all God did for them when he freed them from bondage and provided for them in the wilderness journey.


  1. Our faith should lead to generous hearts. If we are “hardhearted or tightfisted (Deut. 15:7 NIV) it’s evidence that we don’t really believe that God will keep His promises and provide for those to help the poor and needy.
  2. Do we and our churches depend on everything except the power of the Holy Spirit? The early church had none of the things that Christians deem essential—budgets, buildings, academic degrees, and even political “connections”—but they did have the power of the Holy Spirit and saw multitudes turn to Jesus. The Israelites needed to depend completely on God for everything, including the victory in the new land.
  3. As God’s people, we have many reasons to celebrate God’s greatness and goodness.
  4. We need to be bondservants for Jesus. Pastor Jon Courson wrote, “Chose today to say, ‘Lord, I want to be a bondslave. Open my ear. Pierce my flesh.’ Give Him your ‘awl’ [Deuteronomy 15:12-18]—and set sail for islands of joy and fulfillment never before imagined.”[4]


[1]Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Equipped. “Be” Commentary Series. Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999.

[2]Hayyim Schauss, The Jewish Festivals: A Guide to Their History and Observance, (New York, Schocken Books, 1938), xi

[3]Elliot Kiba Ginsburg, The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah,(Albany, NY, State University of New York Press, 1989), 88

[4]Courson, Jon. Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume One: Genesis-Job. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005.


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