When I was a kid, my parents worked diligently to make sure that my siblings and I ate in a healthy manner. Fruits or vegetables were available for the main meal each day, and picky eating was not rewarded. That gave us a good foundation for future self-discipline, as we grew up. (Although I haven’t always stayed on that foundation, that’s my own fault!)
However, in addition to being healthier, the limitations on junk food had another side benefit: When we were allowed to snack on something with no nutritional value, it was a real treat! In particular, when my mom would cook homemade pizza for supper, we were often allowed to have pop1. Some days, we’d bring some glass bottles (the way carbonated soft drinks were meant to be enjoyed, in my opinion) up from the basement, while other times we would share a 2-liter bottle. These were special meals.
In the eighth chapter of the book of Nehemiah, a remnant of Jewish people (who had returned from exile and worked to rebuild a wall around Jerusalem) listened to the Law of Moses being read by Ezra the priest. They worshiped God, but it seems that they were also caught up in sorrow:
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10 NIV
It is possible that they were grieving over the fact that they used to be a great nation, but were now reduced to just a relatively few members, living in a conquered land. I suspect, though, that they were actually heartbroken because they were convicted of all of the ways that they had broken the law that God gave to them. The destruction of their nation and an exile (from which some had returned) were the result of pervasive sinfulness on the part of this people, and this punishment was directly in line with what God had said would happen in that situation.
However, Nehemiah doesn’t let them wallow in guilt. The reading of the law was a special time, and an opportunity to learn what God expected of them. The people were right to worship God, but there was also an opportunity to celebrate. They had returned to their holy city (with God’s help, as Nehemiah well knew, having asked God for help on multiple occasions), and had at least nominally fortified it against surrounding invaders. More than that, though, they were still God’s people. His promises for them were still true, and the proof of His faithfulness that they had observed was yet more validation that He would remain faithful to them in the future.
So, the people celebrated (probably with those “sweet drinks”, although they hadn’t yet invented Mountain Dew, I suppose) that they had gotten the chance to hear God’s message:
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
Nehemiah 8:12 NIV
We – having the benefit of history – have yet more proof of God’s faithfulness. Several centuries later, at just the right time (see Romans 5:6-8), God’s salvation plan for the entire world was brought to earth through the Jewish people, when He sent Jesus (God the Son) to rescue us from a fate even worse than exile.
So, what should we do in response to this example? I think that Nehemiah’s commands are a great start:
- Celebrate God’s goodness and faithfulness to us. There is a time for fasting and mourning, to be sure. However, for those who walk with Jesus, there is much to celebrate. (See Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, and Luke 5:34-35.)
- Enjoy the abundant life that God has provided (John 10:10). I’m not telling you to destroy your body with a diet of junk food, but I believe that God gave us taste buds to enjoy good food, eyes to behold the beauty of His creation, and ears to listen to great music.
- Share with your neighbors, so that they can also celebrate. When God blesses us with an abundance, yet we see someone else in need (especially another member of the Body of Christ, although that was not a requirement in Jesus’ ministry), we have an opportunity to celebrate with them. This isn’t just giving money to a program that feeds or serves people in need. I believe that it sometimes involves inviting others to join us, and making sure that they have what they need so that they can focus their energy on praising God and celebrating, rather than worrying about where their next meal will come from.
If that means having a Coke for dinner to celebrate, so be it. Just raise your bottle, can, glass, or cup to God in thanks, and invite someone else to join you in doing so!
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- That would be “soda”, if you’re not from the Midwestern United States. I’ve heard that it’s just “coke” in the South, even if you’re not drinking Coca-Cola. And no, I’m not sponsoring a given soft-drink company – I’ve consumed many brands in my day, to the chagrin of my dentist. ↩