The special times of Israel’s worship are mentioned generally in Exodus 23 and 34. They are treated more fully in Leviticus 23, again in Numbers 28-29, and finally, here in Deuteronomy 16. Though it seems these treatments are but repetitions, each mention has its own emphasis.
New to the descriptions of these assemblies are the following:
* The notion these should be joyful events. The worship of God has many dimensions, but one of them is joy – specifically the joy over what God has done for us and that he cares for us.
*With the exception of the Passover, effort should be made to include everyone in the community – even those who are not Israelites. While worship is something God’s people are called to do, and have reason to do, they should be sensitive to those not God’s people who might come to know and love him.
* These celebrations should not occur just anywhere. They had to occur in the place God had specified. One of the differences between Israel and the Canaanites was that their worship had to be at a particular place and time. These assemblies brought Israel together as a community, to remember God’s work in behalf of the community, and to emphasize that they were a community and specifically the community of God. When God’s people choose a more individual approach to worship, they lose sight of the fact that God has not saved us to be individuals, but to be part of a united body. That’s impossible to see if the community never gets together.
* No one should show up empty-handed. Since the gathering is in God’s presence to worship Him, gifts and offerings should be brought.
While Christians reading these old commands can be tempted to by-pass them as having been superceded by the cross, the commands do, however, lay down eternal principles that must not be ignored. They are just as valid now as then.