(NOTE: This series of blogs covers the twelve days of Christmas – Dec. 25th through Jan. 5th – and is based on the Christmas song, The Twelve Days of Christmas.)
The song, Twelve Days of Christmas, could have been titled, Twelve Fowls of Christmas. Through the first four days, birds have been used to symbolize Christian truths (partridge, doves, hens, ravens). The parade of birds continues on day five:
“On the fifth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me, five Golden Rings…”
Contrary to popular opinion, the five Gold Rings do not refer to jewelry, but to ring-necked pheasants, a favorite game bird and dinner feast of the day. (The use of fowls in the song will continue through day seven.)
What do the five ring-necked pheasants represent? The best guess is that they represent the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch or the Books of the Law or the Books of Moses. Those five books are (1) Genesis, (2) Exodus, (3) Leviticus, (4) Numbers, and (5) Deuteronomy. In these five books we learn the history of humanity’s sinful failure and God’s response of grace in the creation of a people (Israel) to be a light to the world.
Below is a very brief summary of each book:
- Genesis – The word means “beginnings,” and comes from the first phrase in the book, “In the beginning…”(1:1). The book talks about the beginning of creation, of life, of sin, of family, of struggle, and of grace (just to name a few).
- Exodus – The word means “exit.” The main focus of the book of Exodus is God’s deliverance of His people from Egyptian bondage, their disobedience, and their wanderings through the wilderness. The book of Exodus, while a historical fact, is also an allegory of our deliverance from sinful bondage, our continual struggle with disobedience, and our wanderings through this life. The book of Exodus is foundational to what is referred to as Black Liberation Theology.
- Leviticus – The word means “pertaining to the Levites.” Leviticus is a manual for the priests (who came from the tribe of Levi); mainly dealing with the sacrificial system for sins. The theme of the book is the holiness of God.
- Numbers – Twice in the book of Numbers (at the beginning and near the end) a census is taken of the people of Israel. Thus, the title “Numbers.” However, the Hebrew title for this book means “In the Wilderness,” and is a more appropriate title because most of the book records the history of the Israelites in their 40-years of wandering in the wilderness after their deliverance from Egypt.
- Deuteronomy – The word means “second law-giving.” The Book of Deuteronomy is an expansive explanation of the Law (basically the Ten Commandments) that was first given in Exodus. Most of the books in the New Testament quote the Book of Deuteronomy at some point.
At times, reading these first five books is exciting; at other times reading them is drudgery, but each book is extremely important to the story of God’s grace and our redemption.
Back in the day in which the Twelve Days of Christmas was written, hunting pheasants and eating them was associated with the nobility. Thus, if the five Golden Rings (ring-necked pheasants) represent the first five books of the Bible, then those five books are seen as high-quality meat upon which to feast (see Hebrews 5:11-6:3).
Today, on the fifth day of Christmas, take some time to reflect, and give thanks, on the prime rib of the Word of God, the books of Moses.