THE RELIGIOUS LIFE OF THE ANCIENT JEW AS PRESENTED IN THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS
The Offerings And The Feasts
Part 12 – The Feast of Tabernacles
Leviticus 23:33-44; Deuteronomy 16:13-17; Nehemiah 8:13-18
While there were five Jewish feasts only three required the attendance of every man in the land at the place of worship; Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16). I find it difficult to understand why this should have been the case. It was not because the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Trumpets were of lesser importance because there was no feast, which matched the Day of Atonement for solemnity and symbolism. Some commentators argue that the three, which required attendance at Jerusalem, were the only feasts that involved the people assembling for worship. I cannot see the rationale behind this argument because the Day of Atonement centred upon the place of public worship and without being present at the tabernacle or the temple the occasion would have lost its meaning. Also the sounding of the trumpets on the first day of the seventh month effectively called the people together for worship. Perhaps the solution may never be fully uncovered. It is possible, however, that the three feasts on the seventh month are to be viewed in unison coming so close together. The Feast of Tabernacles was the climax of the Jewish spiritual year and was supreme among these three in that the other two led the people to a grand climax from the 14th to the 21st day of the 7th month. Therefore the Feast of Trumpets called the people to solemn reflection at the beginning of this solemn month. The pilgrims then came to the place of worship for the Day of Atonement which prepared their hearts for the Feast of Tabernacles five days later. This is suggested as a possible means to understanding the exclusion of the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Trumpets from the call to congregate the males three times yearly.
The Feast of Tabernacles was a fitting climax because above all else it was an occasion for joy and thanksgiving. This feast is referred to often in the scriptures and alluded to in many other places. Using these passages we shall endeavour to trace the teaching, which we can glean from this religious festival as we examine the theme, Rejoicing In Christ.
1: Humility; The Forerunner Of Joy
During this feast the people lived in little booths made from the leafy boughs of trees. This served as reminder of the way in which God guided them through the wilderness when the entire nation lived in tents. Before we can experience joy we must be humble enough to recognise our past and the grace of the Lord without which we would certainly be damned.
2: Gratitude; The Necessary Ingredient Of Joy
This was also known as the Feast of the Ingathering because it came at the close of the harvest just as winter was about to settle. They were taught to rejoice in the God who had supplied their needs during this festival (Deuteronomy 16:13-15). It is true that the Passover and Pentecost had harvest celebrations but this feast was the most complete expression of thanks because the fields were bare and the garners were full.
3: Christ; The Source Of All Joy
In the John 7 Christ preached a striking sermon during this feast in Jerusalem. We know from Jewish history that the Rabbis had developed an elaborate ceremony where the priests on the last day of the feast carried water from the Pool of Siloam and poured it out over the altar in the temple. This was intended to symbolise the water God gave Moses out of the rock. At this juncture Christ stood forth and called the people to look aware from this ceremony of human invention with the words “If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink” (John 7:37). He came to fulfil this feast because our joy is found in him alone.
Furthermore when Christ was transfigured Peter was probably referring to this feast when he suggested that three tabernacles be erected on the mount (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-10). The place represented such joy to the disciple that his mind immediately thought of the little booths they lived in for one week in the seventh month. God however commanded Peter to listen to his Son as Moses and Elijah faded and the Saviour alone came into view. In like fashion this ancient feast has faded into obscurity leaving us Christ alone as the source of all joy.
4: The Millennium; The Outpouring Of Joy
In Zechariah 14 the prophet foresees a day, which many believe is the millennium. In that day when “the LORD shall be king over all the earth” (v9), this feast will be commemorated (v18-19). In my view this chapter must be taken spiritually to represent a future period of blessing for the world. It is wrong to interpret the chapter literally because the Feast of Tabernacles along with the other ancient ceremonies cannot be performed in the New Testament age. The central thesis of the Epistle to the Hebrews is that these rites have been fulfilled and therefore abolished in Christ. The mention of the feast in Zechariah 14, however, would teach that the spirit of the festival, i.e. joy, would remain. Therefore there is a future day coming when joy will be poured out upon the earth the like of which has never been known.
5: Heaven; The Fulfilment Of Joy
This feast is alluded to in Revelation 7:9 when the multitude which no man could number carried palms in their hands. We know that the branches of this tree were used on occasions during the Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:15). Therefore the gratitude and joy of this feast will climax finally in glory with the marriage supper of the Lamb.