While some people may envision God as a dour policeman whose primary interest is simply to keep our behavior in check, a quick peek into the Scriptures reveals quite the opposite. Instead, we discover a God of celebration who loves to fire up the grill, crank up the music, and invite the whole neighborhood over for a bash.
Israel’s National Block Parties
One of the Hebrew words for celebration is chagag, which is often associated with Israel’s national festivals. In the Old Testament, God established seven major festivals, which are (in calendar order): Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
These were like Israel’s national block parties, where the people all came together to celebrate who God is by remembering what He’s done and commemorating His great acts in history. At Passover, for example, God declared as He delivered His people from Egypt, “For the generations to come you shall celebrate [Passover] as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance” (Ex. 12:14 NIV). While Passover celebrated God as Deliverer, other feasts, like the early-harvest observance of Firstfruits, recognized His provision and rejoiced in His abundance (Lev. 23:9-14).
Not every festival was fun and games, however—the Day of Atonement, for example, involved fasting as the people solemnly recognized their sin and prepared to rejoice in God’s forgiveness (Lev. 16:29-31). But most involved fine dining, serving the best crops and livestock, to party it up in the Lord’s presence.
Priests were, to some extent, “party planners”: One of their significant tasks was to oversee the national celebrations. And these festivals could be massive. While we might throw shindigs for our neighbors or friends today, these were times for the whole nation to come together and rejoice. They could also be long. The Feast of Tabernacles, for instance, lasted seven days, during which time the Jewish people lived in temporary shelters reminiscent of their time in the wilderness (Deut. 16:15).
What significance might all this have for us today? God invites us to joy—He wants us to take time to celebrate who He is and what He’s done, not only as individuals and families, but also together as the church. It’s worthy and right that we celebrate the Lord together.
Take Joy in God
A related Hebrew word—simchah, or “joy”—is often associated with the national celebrations. Numbers 10:10, for example, refers to the annual festivals as “times of rejoicing” (NIV). When King Hezekiah restored temple worship and festivals, the priests “sang praises [to the Lord] with joy, and bowed down and worshiped” (2 Chronicles 29:30). The prophet Nahum looked forward to the day when the people would return from exile and again be able to “celebrate [their] festivals … and fulfill [their] vows” (Nahum 1:15 NIV). And when the prophet’s hope was realized in Nehemiah’s day, “there was great rejoicing” (Neh. 8:17) as the people once again celebrated their festivals in the land.
This joy was not only for festival times, however, but also pointed Israel to year-round delight in God. She was to serve Him “with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things” (Deut. 28:47). Israel’s national life was to be characterized by continual celebration of who God is. She rejoiced in divine victories, as when David returned from defeating the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:6). When David’s son Solomon was anointed as king, the people made music and celebrated with such exuberance and “great joy … that the earth shook at their noise” (1 Kings 1:40).
We’re invited to take joy in God all year as well. He encourages us to feast and rejoice before Him, to celebrate in His presence. While there is a proper place for reverence before His greatness as Creator, this doesn’t mean we should put on a “serious face” in His presence and wait until we leave to have fun. Rather, the best celebration is in the presence of God—our mighty Deliverer, loving Father, and gracious Savior. What greater cause for rejoicing could there be?
We shouldn’t put on a “serious face” in His presence and wait until we leave to have fun.
The King Wants His House Full
God’s throwing a party, and He wants the world to come. In Jesus’ parable of the great banquet, God is described as a host throwing a massive dinner at His home (Luke 14:15-24). After His friends make excuses to avoid attending the party, the host instructs His servant, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city … into the highways and along the hedges” to “bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (vv. 21, 23).
God sends the invitation out far and wide, and the guest list for his party is filled with a lot of names you might not expect. Jesus’ kingdom welcomes good folks and bad, moralists and murderers, Pharisees and philanderers—any who will bow their knee to Him and rejoice in His presence.
Why does God invite everyone from everywhere into this celebration? Jesus tells us as He closes His parable: “So that my house may be filled” (v. 24). God desires a home that’s bursting at the seams; He longs to throw the front door open wide to let in everyone who would come.
God wants us at His party, and the cross reveals the extent to which He’s gone for us to be there. The question is whether we want to be with Him. Are we willing to let our lives be shaped and formed by the beauty of His kingdom? He invites the church to joy even now. So let’s bring the best we have to give and revel in our great King!
Illustrations by Adam Cruft