Happy Monday! We launch a new week and close in on 1,700 episodes in the podcast. Thank you for all the support and prayers and encouragements over the years. And as we march forward, I’m also investing some time curating the archives to notice where some of our content gaps remain. And while doing so, Pastor John, I found one of those gaps. We have several episodes on fasting. What is fasting? What does it mean? What does it accomplish? How do we do it? And so on. But by contrast, we have relatively little on feasting. And yet feasting is a major category in Scripture — far more prevalent in the Bible than fasting is, actually. So on this Monday, Pastor John, can you give us a little theology of feasting in ten minutes, as you understand it?
A little theology of feasting in ten minutes? Maybe the way to think about this episode on feasting is that the biblical points that I will make are the raw materials of a theology of feasting. That would make me feel a little bit better.
Commemorate God’s Mercy
First, we need a definition. I’m going to start with a popular definition — namely, feasting is the enjoyment of abundance. That’s my short-term definition. I’m not even going to say that it is limited to the enjoyment of food, because you could feast your eyes on scenery, you could feast your ears on music, you could feast your nose on sweet aromas, you could feast your taste buds on honey, feast your skin and body on sexual pleasures.
So when you turn to the Bible, you find that the word feast does not always have this connotation even of abundance in view. If you do a word search on the word feast in the Old Testament, it’s just full of “prescribed feasts,” as they’re called in English. And they include Passover, Feast of Firstfruits, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Booths.
And you can see these spelled out. They take their beginning in Leviticus 23, and then they’re unpacked all over the place. They don’t all imply abundance, but rather — and here would be a modification of the definition biblically — a communal sharing of a celebrated meal with a focus on some remembrance and thankfulness of some event of God’s mercy (something like that). And it might be very simple. I mean, unleavened bread is not what you think about when you think about a big Thanksgiving dinner.
So, we need to be careful and be sure that when we see the word feast in the Bible, we determine from the context whether it implies the enjoyment of abundance, or something more simple — some celebration of some remembered event in a focused and communal and simple way.
Four Biblical Truths About Feasting
But I’m going to focus on what we ordinarily mean by feasting. That’s what I think you’re really asking, over against fasting — namely, a joyful shared experience of some abundance, usually food and drink. And so I have four observations as I look at the Bible about such feasting — the raw material, maybe, of a little theology of feasting.
1. Feasting can be good — and bad.
First, the Bible is clear that feasting in and of itself may be a very good thing or a bad thing, depending on other factors.
“Mere abundance of food and drink does not make for a happy family or happy community. There must be more to it.”
For example, Proverbs 17:1 says, “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” In other words, mere abundance of food and drink does not make for a happy family or happy community. There must be more to it.
Another example would be Ecclesiastes 10:16–17: “Woe to you, O land, when your . . . princes feast in the morning! Happy are you, O land, when your . . . princes feast at the proper time, for strength, and not for drunkenness!” In other words, there’s a time for work and a time for feasting, and there are good purposes for feasting, and there are fleshly, worldly, sinful reasons for feasting. Feasting in and of itself may or may not be good.
Another example: Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” In other words, the good and rightful pleasures of feasting cannot teach you the deepest things about life and death. I have never heard anybody say they went deepest with God, learned most of God, on easy days or at feasting.
One more example: God says to Israel in Amos 5:21, 24, “I hate, I despise your feasts. . . . Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” In other words, if our feasting is a cloak of pleasure covering lives of lovelessness and injustice, the feast has become a stench in God’s nose.
So, those are examples of what I mean when I say feasting in and of itself may be a very good thing or a bad thing, depending on other factors.
2. Feasting rejoices in God’s kindness.
God intends that the abundance he provides for our physical enjoyment, the enjoyment of our senses, should echo in our hearts with thanksgiving to God and be made holy by the word and prayer. I’m simply echoing 1 Timothy 6:17, where Paul says we should set our hope on God, “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” In other words, the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and touch of good things that God has made are not mainly tests to see if we will make them our god and become idolaters, but rather, they are mainly pleasures to send our hearts joyful and thankful back to God. That’s their main purpose for existence.
“The difference between unholy and holy feasting is not what’s on the table, but what’s in the mind and in the heart.”
Paul puts it like this in 1 Timothy 4:4–5: “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” So, the difference between unholy feasting and holy feasting is not what’s on the table, but what’s in the mind and in the heart. Is the mind grasping the God-centered meaning of these things from the word of God, and is the heart sending up joyful prayers of thanksgiving as we taste more of the goodness of God in the very things we’re eating?
3. Feasting is our destiny.
One of the beautiful ways God describes the destiny of those who will accept salvation, his invitation, is a final feast with him in the age to come. Isaiah 25:6: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine. . . . He will swallow up death forever.” That’s a magnificent picture of our hope beyond this age, beyond the grave.
Jesus says in Matthew 22:2–10, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” The king sent out the invitation to the world: “Come to the wedding feast!” That’s what world missions is. I mean, my book is called Let The Nations Be Glad. It could be called Let The Nations Come to a Feast.
And to his disciples at the Last Supper, just before he gave his life for our sins, Jesus said in Luke 22:29–30, “I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.”
And the book of Revelation tops it off with the angel crying, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9). To which I respond, “Blessed indeed to be a part of the bride of Christ on that day.”
4. Feasting shows off Christ’s supreme value.
In some measure now, and then perfectly at the last day, God himself will be our feast. Psalm 36:7–8: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind . . . feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.”
I think if we meditate on those four observations about feasting from Scripture, in the context of the whole Bible, we will be able to move wisely between fasting and feasting, between the joy of self-denial and the joy of abundance, in a way that shows the supreme value of Christ in our lives.