It came to mind today that it would be interesting to do a study (or read a book) on feasting in the Bible and how it relates to the unquestionable concern for the poor and needy in scripture. I had a conversation today about expensive meals out and inevitably the subject of how many starving children in Africa could have been fed with the money spent on lunch for a couple of people ’round these parts. I suggested that enjoying good food is not wrong in itself—there is a vast difference between fast food and fine dining.
That passage in Deuteronomy, always on standby for a discussion on alcohol, came to mind—Deuteronomy 14:22-27 (TNIV):
22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. 27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.
Basically: if you can’t make to the appointed place for leaving your tithe, sell your tithe and use the proceeds to get party supplies and then have a feast. This is such a foreign concept to us—feasting and partying as an act of worship; I’m sure most Christians feel some degree of guilt when throwing a party—North American Christians, anyway.
But even the Old Testament and the laws found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy specifically stress the need for the Israelites to care for the poor—farmers not picking up dropped or missed grain for the poor to pick up and the year of Jubilee are two examples among many.
So where do the poor fit in with the Biblical feast? In this passage the tither isn’t commanded to give the profits from the sold grains to the poor. The Levite in this passage is the representative of the poor, I suppose, but it simply says that in their feasting and rejoicing before the Lord, don’t forget about the poor guy in the village with nothing of his own.
The party—in which a tenth of the person’s income is spent on food and drink in one big splash—will go on in spite of the poor man next door. Take care of the poor man, it says, but party and rejoice. Perhaps I’m missing some historical context, but that’s one of the things I’m getting from this passage. Some of us have a hard time justifying such a thing, but there it is in writing. Maybe the poor man was invited to the party, but we can’t exactly invite the population of Africa to a party. How does this work in this global age?
I’ve been trying to be a better feaster the last couple of years when we have gatherings with friends. I’m not talking about gluttony, but about enjoying the food—enjoying the food, savouring the variety of flavours. This is a form of worship—praise to God—I think. I’m not suggesting rub it in or force it on people (see Romans 14), but it’s legit, I’d say.