My birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, but before you bake me a cake or throw me a party, please consider what Scripture says about celebrating birthdays. There are few birthday celebrations mentioned in Scripture, and none of them involved activity that was pleasing to our Heavenly Father.
The first birthday mentioned in the Bible is found in Genesis 40:20-22. Earlier in the chapter, as Joseph was in prison, he interpreted the dreams of two men. The butler’s dream revealed that in three days he was going to be restored to his position, out of prison. But the baker was not so lucky. His dream said that in three days he would be put to death. Then we learn that the third day, when both of these events would come to pass, was Pharaoh’s birthday. On his birthday, he had a feast for all of his servants, where he restored the butler, and hanged the baker. Some celebration!
We see a similar birthday celebration in the New Testament, in Mark 6:21-28. Herod also made a supper for his birthday, and as part of the celebration called for his step-daughter to dance for entertainment, promising her whatever she asked in return. He had married his brother’s wife (verse 17) and John the Baptist had reminded Herod that this was a violation of Torah (verse 18). This angered the wife, who wanted to have John killed (verse 19). When her daughter was able to ask something of the king in front of everyone, at her mother’s request, she asked to have John the Baptist killed. Even though the king was sorry, he would not refuse (verse 26). Had there been no birthday celebration, the occasion that ended a life would not have arisen.
What do these stories have in common? Neither men were worshippers of the One True God, but rather were pagan rulers. Both had big birthday celebrations which they instigated for themselves. Both of them had an innocent man put to death as part of the events of the day. Are those just coincidences? Are there other birthdays in Scripture that we can turn to for better examples?
The only other birthdays recorded in Scripture are mentioned in Job 1:4-5. This passage recounts how Job’s sons celebrated their birthdays and Job made a sin sacrifice as a result. Job sought forgiveness for them, likening the birthday celebration to cursing God in their hearts. Not looking so good for birthday celebrations, is it? Pagan feasting with murder as entertainment, and something of which a righteous father would repent on behalf of his children.
What about birthday cakes with candles and making wishes? Where did that custom originate? While the English word “cake” appears in Scripture many times, it is translated from nine different Hebrew words. One of those, the one that seems to come closest to a birthday cake, is Strong’s #3561, used just twice, in Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:19. Both times it was in speaking of making a cake to worship the “Queen of Heaven” (the pagan goddess Ishtar) along with burning of incense. The word translated as “cake” is defined by Strong’s Concordance as being “sacrificial”. It is accompanied with burning incense. The pagans believed that the smoke of the incense was pleasing to their false gods, and by making a wish and blowing out candles, they were in effect praying to their gods for that wish to be granted, believing that the rising smoke would carry their petition up to the pagan deity.
With this background, do you think Yahshua (Jesus) really wants us to celebrate our birthdays, with or without a cake? Or for that matter, do you think he wants us celebrating his birthday, especially since we were specifically not given the date in Scripture? Not one single credible Bible scholar believes Jesus was born at the time of the winter solstice, which has always been a pagan celebration of the sun. Worshipping God in a pagan form is an abomination to him. He tells us to “learn not the way of the heathen” (Jeremiah 10:2) because what they have done unto their gods is an abomination to him (Deuteronomy 12:31).
Ecclesiastes 7:1 tells us that the day of death is better than the day of birth. And since we don’t know (and don’t want to know) when that is going to be, perhaps Christians should leave birthday celebrations to the pagans. Don’t despair. God’s way is always better. He appointed one day every week to be separate so we could draw nearer unto him (Sabbath), plus one week every spring (Unleavened Bread), and one week every fall (Tabernacles), with a long weekend in the summer (Pentecost) thrown in for good measure. With around two months worth of Sabbaths per year, who needs a pagan party? Not this girl.