A Theology of Feasting

picIn our kitchen, we have this framed chalk art in the image to the left. “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:14-15).  It’s a reminder food and drink are both God’s provision to care for us but also an evidence of His goodness in giving us food to add to our happiness. God wants us to enjoy our food, our drinks, and our feasts.

The Bible describes feasting in very positive terms—although there are obviously times where it’s corrupted or misused, like all of creation. It seems God created us to thoroughly enjoy food as a gift but also to prepare our hearts and minds for something even more satisfying.

The most obvious examples are the covenant meals. In the Old Testament’s Passover meal (Ex. 12:17) and the New Testament’s Communion meal (Mt. 26:26-28), God instructs us to commemorate and celebrate our redemption with a meal. Food draws us together and gives us a chance to give thanks and reflect on God’s goodness around the table.

Feasting in the OT

Exodus 24:11 is an intriguing verse. After the seventy elders of Israel ascend the mountain and see God, it says, “they beheld God, and ate and drank” (Ex. 24:11; cf. 18:12). Somehow the sight and presence of God led not to silence and stillness but eating and drinking. Few things are more appropriate than eating, assuming we do so by receiving everything from God with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:14).

In Deuteronomy, we see a number of times where part of worship is partaking of food (Dt. 12:12; 14:23-29). After Ezra reads the Law to the people they mourn and weep, not a bad response to the reminder of their sin and God’s redemption. However, Nehemiah tells them: “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength…And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (Neh. 8:10, 12). First, good news, but then good food and wine.

In To the Table, Lisa Graham McMinn writes, “Food is evidence of God’s grace. Variety is evidence of God’s creativity and abundance of God’s generosity.”

God wants us to enjoy Him as we enjoy the physical gifts He created us to find pleasure in, and that certainly includes food. He also wants food to be a tangible evidence of our dependence on Him and His provision for us. “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps 145:15–16). With every bite of food, we can give thanks for God’s pleasure and provision on our plate.

But what else might God intend to teach us in our feasting? We’ll look at two examples, one from the OT and one from the NT. “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Ps. 36:7-9).

The metaphor of eating and drinking also points to a yearning within us to be satisfied in God. Just like a feast signifies abundance and plenty, God reminds us His provisions and gifts to us are endless. We come to Him, feasting on His abundance, and drinking up life and joy in Him. In inviting us into fellowship, God hosts us to an all you can eat buffet where the food and drink never disappoint and they never run out. He’s calling us to feast and be made full as we are fed by his love, refreshed by His presence, and strengthened by His power.

Feasting in the NT

The story doesn’t change in the NT: more feasting and eating together. Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast (Mt. 22:2). The quintessential salvation story about the prodigal son returning and the father delighting in having his son back culminates in a back yard barbeque (Lk. 15:23-24). A regular rhythm of the early church was eating meals together (Acts 2:46). And we cannot forget, that the reunion of Christ with his bride will be celebrated around a table, the marriage supper of the lamb (Rev. 19:6-9; Lk. 14:15; Is. 25:6).

Consider another example Jesus gives us. In John 6, Jesus feeds over five thousand people. Shortly thereafter he explains it pointed to a greater reality: that Christ is the one we feed and drink on to have life and be made full. He calls himself the bread of life (Jn 6:35) and tells them to feed on him so they might have life. Only a chapter later he uses the imagery of water and tells us quench our thirst through him (Jn. 7:37; cf. Jn. 4:14).

These passages remind us of God providing manna from heaven and water from the rock in Exodus. They’re also reminiscent of the language in Psalms 36. In both instances, we’re fed and strengthened and delighted as we experience the love, presence, power, and nearness of God. Christ is our life and he calls us to come to him so we might not only look upon him but feast upon him.

In Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul prays that we would be filled by God’s love for us in Christ. “And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). When we know, experience, and taste the love of God we are filled. We feast on he who is the fullness so that we are fulfilled (fully filled) by him. John meant as much when he wrote, “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn. 1:16).

All our feasting points us to an even greater food we need and can be filled by. This shouldn’t take away from your physical feasting at all, but in fact, it amplifies its power as you see it both as a gift in and of itself and as a gift in what it points to. Feast on his fullness.

Jonathan Edwards helps us see how feasting prepares our spiritual tastebuds for the greatest of feasts: Christ.

 “Christ is not only a remedy for your weariness and trouble, but he will give you an abundance of the contrary, joy and delight. They who come to Christ, do no only come to a resting-place after they have been wandering in a wilderness, but they come to a banqueting-house where they may rest, and where they may feast. They may cease from their former troubles and toils, and they may enter upon a course of delights and spiritual joys.”

“Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites . . . [instead they ought] to be endeavoring by all possible ways to inflame their desires and to obtain more spiritual pleasures . . . our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness can’t be too great for the value of these things for they are things of infinite value . . . [therefore] endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement . . . There is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no virtue in temperance in spiritual feasting.”

“They are brought to union with Christ with their whole hearts, to close with Him and to love and choose Him and follow Him. They are brought to a right to eternal pleasures and delights. And at last they are brought into the paradise of God, there to dwell with Christ and to dwell before the throne of God, to have all tears wiped away from their eyes by Him, and to be feasted with Christ, and to be led by Him to the living fountain of water.”

“The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast.”

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