By Evan Johnson
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners…”
- Isaiah 61:1
“We know that when good fortune favors two such men it stands to reason we deserve it, too.”
- Fiddler on the Roof
As we near the most festive time of the year, different cultures from around the globe will be celebrating holidays that surround the winter solstice in different ways. Feasting has been a part of human cultures forever. The Vikings did it. The Hebrews did it. The Romans did it. Everybody loves to come together in celebration and not just eat, but feast.
For Israel, though, feasting and celebration were often stirred out of God’s mercy. We can see this in the evolution of the word basar throughout the Old Testament. It’s a Hebrew word that refers to four things: flesh (animal or human), humanity’s frailty, the passing on of generations from father to son, and good news. These four things have almost nothing in common on the surface, but if we look at them more closely, we can see a line of God’s gospel moving throughout these events.
Let’s break down the different meanings.
Basar - Animal Flesh
Farming and pasture care was a big part of Israel’s society, especially since they began their nationhood as a largely nomadic people. As a shepherd or as a cattle herder, you know which animals are your best. This is why there are so many laws about animal husbandry. That’s who Israel was, and in Leviticus 25, God outlines a time in which Israel is meant to just enjoy the work that they have done for the past 49 years. This time was known as Jubilee, and it included much feasting.
Basar - Passing on of generations
Whenever someone has a child, it’s a joyous celebration. We see this when the promised child of Isaac is born Genesis. This isn’t new today. People still celebrate at the birth of a child. In an incredibly nomadic culture, a birth was one of the most exciting events that could happen in that community. The other was a marriage, which also involved much feasting.
Basar - Human Frailty
We’ve talked about the greatness that’s tied to this word basar, but what about when it refers to our frailty? Since it is still a word for flesh, it’s still a perfect indicator of the carnal nature of humanity. Since animal flesh needed to be cut in order to save Israel from their fleshly sins, the word basar is still connected to the reason for the sacrifice: human frailty.
Basar - Good News
However, there’s always good news. The word basar constantly means good news throughout the Old Testament. It means good tidings, be it for a new born son or for bringing the good news of a Deliverer to Israel as in Isaiah 61:1:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners…
Though our flesh may fail, there is hope in the sacrifice that Jesus offered on the cross. He his flesh in place of our flesh, so that we could be reborn.
This is good news. This may sound like a stretch of the imagination when it comes to the word basar, but the common thread is there: we feast because we’re happy.
As we move into the most festive time of the year, reflect on why you are feasting. Take a look around at the family that God has given you and celebrate with them the good food and the good grace that he has given you.
Enjoy what God has given you to enjoy.