Dear PRCW members and readers: In Leviticus 23, there were seven great feasts of Israel: The Passover, The Feast of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of Firstfruits, The Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippur) and the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles). All of them have their symbolism. They all have their fulfillment in Christ.
What does the Feast of Tabernacles teach us?
- Like the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Weeks, this feast flows out of Israel’s farming environment. It was to serve as a reminder of God’s gracious provisions to His people. But, it does not stop there. It not only looked to the past and saw God’s provisions. It also looks forward to the future of God’s provisions. This was a feast generally held around harvest time. All the grains had been brought in. The vineyards were harvested and the wine pressed. After they had gathered all the fruit, they were to keep this feast. Verse 34 says that they were to celebrate it on the 15th day of the seventh month, the month of Tishri. This would be a month covering our September and October. It was the most crowded of the annual feasts. It lasted seven days, and it was to be a thanksgiving to the Lord.
For this reason, this was a time of celebration. Both Leviticus and the parallel passage in Deuteronomy 16:13-15 say they were to rejoice, to celebrate, before the Lord. Naturally, it would be a time of rejoicing because of all their provisions – and it would have been festive.
- As with some of the other feasts, there is a Sabbath context. There was a feast for seven days during which time they were to celebrate and be joyful, but to rest. Verse 35 says, “On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it.” Convocation means sacred assembly. They were to do no work on it. So there was to be a mixture of work and rest here. Verse 36 that the feast itself would end with this sacred assembly – a day of convocation, rest and offering sacrifices, like a grand finale, commemorating the closing of the cycle of feast for the year.
This celebration was the most important feast to end off the year with. All the other feasts had taken place. Just five days after the Day of Atonement, five days after the scapegoat was sent out into the wilderness, this Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering would take place. On the basis of the Atonement made, life could flourish. The greatest and last feast could be celebrated because of salvation.
- This text is summarizing all the other celebrations and sacred days held before this one – with all the different offerings — the offering made by fire, the whole burnt-offering, and all the gifts, and vows made during them. Immediately after reviewing these sacred days, verse 39 returns to this subject about the Feast of Tabernacles. The English text opens the verse by saying “Also”, but that is not nearly emphatic enough. The word in the original means “Surely” or “Definitely”, a word used to state a strong conviction, to express the emphatic truth of the matter. “Surely, you shall keep this feast of the Lord for seven days.” It’s as if the Lord is saying, “All these other special days have their conclusion in this week – when you are able to look back and see all that have provided for you – deliverance from Egypt, atonement for sin, as well as physical bounty in the land, and the many blessing given to you from my hand through your the harvests.”
- At this point, we have to remember that God had not brought them into the land of Canaan. But, before bringing them there, He wanted them to know that they lacked nothing in Him. He saved them, He had preserved them, and He had provided them with everything that they needed for body and soul. Even while they were in the wilderness, the Lord had protected them from hostile tribes and nations. He led them with a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. This Feast of Tabernacles commemorated all this, and the people were to celebrate and to thank the Lord.
They were to build these huts. On the first day of the feast, each person was to collect twigs of myrtle, willow and palm. Not only were they to take them in their hands as a sign of rejoicing. They used these boughs to build booths. These tabernacles or huts were reminders of their temporary housing that their forefathers held in the day in the wilderness wanderings. The booth was a symbol of protection, preservation and shelter from the heat and storm.
- As we look at Israel’s history, we find that it had a great significance to the spiritual well-being of the nation. For example, the dedication of Solomon’s temple took place during the time of the three great feasts. Later on, after the return from the Exile, Ezra read the law and the people grieved for their sin in the hearing of it. Yet, after the people wept, they rejoiced in God’s many blessing by celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, were told in Nehemiah 8. It says that when they did so there was great gladness.
There are number of spiritual lessons from this especially in this unique time in the world:
- Be thankful to God for what we have (Phil 4:6) and stop grumbling (1 Corinthians 10:10). Did you eat a meal today? Are you glad for today’s food on the table? It is easy to grumble at any time. But we should be glad for our daily bread.
- Put your trust in the Lord alone who provides. What a different perspective on life this gives. Compare this perspective to the world’s perspective — the materialistic culture in which we live, the so-called gods of our age. Our society puts so much trust in material things, in possessions.
How very easy it is in a culture of affluence to become satisfied with the earthly stuff. We can’t underestimate how we are affected by the culture, where there is this endless striving after earthly things – that will someday disappear. Materialism is a god who brings no satisfaction. The more you have the less satisfied you are.
Yet, the Lord is to be praised, and to be thanked for all His blessings. We need to see through all of life that He provides, and to show our thanks by not serving ourselves, but by serving Him. Storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth (cf. Matthew 6:19).
- Don’t think you can make it on your own fuel power. You’ll be running on empty. Whenever we are quick to complain about God’s faithfulness, we need to be reminded of His faithful provision. It is so easy to think that we are self-sufficient and that we don’t need the Lord. We can quickly forget how the Lord watches over us, and protects. We can become so full that we forget God. How unhappy we are when we don’t rest in Him. There is no satisfaction without knowing His blessing. Without Him, we cannot go on.
You know, we think we can make plans for ourselves, but all our planning and preparation can never be outside of His sovereign control (cf. James 4:13-17). As much as we go about our daily routine, and as much as we are called to make plans and to carefully go about what God has called us to, we don’t know enough to prepare for ourselves. We don’t know what lies ahead of us. This is why we need the attitude that God wanted His people to have when they were to keep this feast.
- Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. This is a time where we can grow closer to the Lord by reading His Word and be in prayer. The special times in Israel’s history while they celebrated this Feast are when they turned to God’s Word and appreciated the preaching (see Nehemiah 8). These are strange times right now, but thankfully the Word of God is not bound (2 Timothy 2:9). It is going forth via live stream to those who otherwise wouldn’t enter a church building. May God’s kingdom come!
- Drink the Living Water. As with the Passover, the Day of Atonement and the various sacrifices and festivals given by the Lord, these together pointed God’s people forward to the Messiah. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law of God. He has kept the Law perfectly for us. He also is a fulfillment of this special occasion.
The image of the booths made of the fragrant smells of the myrtle tree and the pine and the other leafy trees, the gathering of grapes for wine and the olives for the olive press, this scene taken as a whole pictured God’s love for His people. They dwelt in security and peace, and were to send up their praises to the Lord in the midst of these symbols of fresh and lively joy. It pictured the Lord dwelling among His people. And it all ended with the eighth day, the great day of the feast – which combined the joy and gladness.
As enjoyable, as great as this time was, it was only a shadow of things to come. The people were not to find rest and full joy from the mere feast and all its ceremony. They were to look forward. All the many sacrifices offered during these seven days, all pointed to the Lamb of God — because much more important than a good harvest is to know the Christ, and to be in a restored relationship with Him.
John’s Gospel helps us here. In John chapter 7, we read that Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and in the temple courts He began to teach. Verse 37 says, that on that last day (the eighth day – which was the sacred assembly, spoken of here) He stood up and proclaimed, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow the rivers of living water.” It is said that, during this convocation in the time of Jesus, the priests used to take water from the Pool of Siloam and returned to the Temple and poured out water in the Temple. In other words, they had added something more to the feast than was called for. To this, Jesus claimed to be the ultimate source of water. The Son of God was saying the clearest possible way that He alone was the source of life and blessing: that He could meet every need of the human heart.
He was the rock which was struck, providing refreshment and life for His people. This has happened through the atoning work of Christ which was accomplished on the Cross of Calvary. It has come to us after He rose from the dead and ascended to the Father, and has given us the Holy Spirit!
In Christ, Pastor Rich Anjema