“And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!’ ” (Nehemiah 8:10, New Living Translation).
I was preparing to write today’s post on Nehemiah 5-9 for my church’s Connect+Scripture blog when that verse hit me between the eyes – or should I say punched me in the gut. (My gut is the part of my anatomy that comes to mind when I read it.)
The occasion in Nehemiah was a celebration of the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, which had been torn down when the Temple of God was destroyed and the Israelites were taken captive to Babylon decades earlier.
Now the Temple had been restored, the wall had been rebuilt and generations of exiles had returned home.
It was a time of celebration!
Why did Nehemiah 8:10 speak to me with such force? After reading of all that the great leader Nehemiah had done to help the Israelites restore the city wall (he organized, planned, inspired, admonished and defended, demonstrating not only his leadership skills but his great love of the God for whom the Temple was built), I noticed in particular the phrase, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks.”
We have become ashamed of eating.
In our overweight, self-indulgent, image-obsessed, dying-to-be-thin, dying-because-we’re-fat, out-of-control society, we have lost the pure pleasure of eating in celebration of what’s good. Oh, sure, some of us can enjoy ourselves temporarily, while we’re feasting, but how many of us can say we are left with not one ounce of guilt afterward?
I’m not talking about gluttony, but of the pure, true enjoyment (in moderation) of well-prepared food and the fellowship that almost always makes it taste better.
I am not immune to the contradictions. I have found myself smack dab in the middle of the tug of war: One minute I’m an epicure, a glutton; the next, an ascetic who worships at the altar of self-denial. The accompanying emotions might battle it out for space in my brain at any given time.
No wonder the world is crazy; most of us can’t decide whether the piece of cake we’re contemplating should be angel’s food (fat free, and therefore “virtuous”) or devil’s food (chocolate, and therefore “sinful”). We’ve even created a moral vocabulary for our food insanity: “sinfully delicious,” “those evil brownies,” “She’s thin; we hate her.”
We have gotten so off track we can’t enjoy a piece of chocolate without feeling guilty. And I’m here to tell you, I believe chocolate is one of God’s greatest gifts (I secretly believe and fervently hope there will be chocolate in heaven).
I believe it’s time we got healthy – in our minds, our hearts and our vocabularies (our bodies will follow). In Bible times, God ordained times of celebration (and rich foods) for his children.
I am one of those children, and I’m on a journey to wholeness. It’s a lifelong journey, but it includes appreciating good food, eating it in moderation, being thankful for where it came from, sharing it with those less fortunate and letting it nourish my body (and soul) – one delicious bite at a time.
“So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them” (Nehemiah 8:12, NLT).