Eat Some Fat
I was so encouraged by our time of corporate worship on Sunday. It feeds my soul to begin the week extolling the perfections of our God with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I had a friend in Arkansas a few years ago who would pour through a pot of stew for the biggest piece of fat he could find and then devour it with great delight. Believing (against all common sense) that most people shared his culinary quirkiness, and insisting on showing honor to me as his guest, he once loaded up my plate with a big piece of fat and placed it in front of me as if he were doing me a favor. Just looking at it made me gag. Forget about trying to eat it!
Following the rebuilding of the wall at Jerusalem in the middle of the first century B.C., the people of Israel clamored for the reading of the law. And Ezra obliged. But the people weren’t too happy with what they heard. In fact, they were devastated. When they heard the Torah explained, and when they realized that they had been violating God’s commands, they mourned and wept. They were broken.
But I love Nehemiah response. This is such an amazing part of Scripture. “Then he said to 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.’ So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’ 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” (Nehemiah 8:10-11).
When we read about Israel’s brokenness we think, “Yes! The governor and priest have the people right where they want them. They are crushed over their sin and rebellion. They are undone.” But what do Nehemiah and Ezra say: “Dispense with all the weeping. Get up! Go eat some fat and drink some sweet wine!”
We don’t think of the instruction to “eat some fat” as a good thing. But it was here. Ezra is saying, “Celebrate! Don’t be grieved. Take heart … because the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And Ezra points out that this is a holy day, so there’s no place for mourning.
What makes the day holy? This was the first day of the seventh month, which was a day of feasting—it was called the day of Sukkot—the very purpose of which was to remind the people of what God had done for them by bringing them out of slavery in Egypt. And, yet, here’s the problem: The people were focusing on what they had done and not what God had done for them.
Here’s what they failed to realize, according to OT scholar John Goldingay: “In the Torah, God’s expectations of people are set in the context of a description of what God has done for them.”
When God instructs his people to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, it’s in the context of what he has done for them in creation. When God commands his people to worship him and love him and only him, it’s in the context of him leading them through the wilderness. When God gives his people the Ten Commandments, it’s in the context of his comforting and protecting appearance at Mt. Sinai.
See, before God commands his people to do anything, he reminds them of what he has already done.
And the same is true for us today. Make no mistake: God calls us to do some incredibly difficult things. And we are to obey those commands, even the hard ones. But he also reminds us over and over that he has already done everything for us in Jesus Christ, so that it won’t be our obedience, our sacrifice, or even our very best efforts that make or break us, so to speak, but the absolutely perfect righteous of Jesus Christ, imputed to us by faith.
Jesus has done it all. As he said himself, “It is finished.”
This is why only Jesus could make this offer: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
When we grow in our love for God and learn to rest in what God has done, our hearts are stirred with a growing passion to obey. But not the burden of performancism. Which is really good news … that is, perhaps, best enjoyed with a piece of fat and some sweet wine.