Last night’s session brought us to the third of the Great Feasts – the Feast of Tabernacles. Deuteronomy 16:13-17 describes this feast:
Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your Feast – you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the Feast to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete
Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place He will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.
If you are reading this, and haven’t figured it out, this lesson excited me just a little bit. lol We talked in class last night how the entire Bible fits seamlessly together. A friend and I are reading in totally different sections of the Bible right now, and every time we open it to read a section, something relates to the Psalms of Ascent and this study. But more on that later. Gotta save the best for last!
1. The great invitation to joy.
This feast is all about celebrating God and His faithfulness with joy. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread occurred in the early spring. The Feast of Weeks occurred in early summer. This feast occurred in our late September or early October. I wonder if that has any connection to why we celebrate Thanksgiving in the fall? You would think as a history major I would know that. I will have to look it up.
2. The strong emphasis on Messiah.
Anyway, this particular feast, moreso than any other, had a strong emphasis on the Messiah. Beth tells us that Psalms 113-118 are called the Hallel. They were always sung on Passover and at the Feast of Tabernacles. (I blogged here before about Jesus and the disciples finishing the Last Supper by singing Psalm 118. I am still in awe of that.) This was the time of year when the Jews expectation of the Messiah was the highest. The term “hosanna” means “save now” – in other words, “Send Messiah!”
Beth shows us two scriptures that unequivocally link this aspect of the feast to Jesus. First, in Leviticus 23:33-44 God is giving Moses instructions on how to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. In verse 40 He says:
On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.
In Matthew 21:1-9 we read about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem for His last Passover feast. Verses 8 and 9 tell us:
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna (Send Messiah!) to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna (Send Messiah!) to the highest!”
Beth says that the moment Jesus was introduced as Messiah this way began the Feast of Tabernacles, regardless of the season. The time of year no longer mattered. Messiah was here. The Feast of Tabernacles had begun.
Second, she explains that part of the Feast of Tabernacles (and, really, all the feasts) would have included the campsites of thousands of pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the feast. In fact, Leviticus 23: 42-43 goes on to say:
Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
The “booths” God is talking about are tents. The Israelites lived in tents during the period of wandering in the wilderness. Webster’s defines “tent” as “1) a collapsible shelter of fabric stretched and sustained by poles and used for camping outdoors or as a temporary building; 2) DWELLING 3) something that resembles a tent or that serves as shelter.” “Tabernacle” is defined as “1a) a tent sanctuary used by the Israelites during the Exodus, b) a dwelling place, c) a temporary shelter.” During the Feast of the Tabernacles, the Israelites referred to their “booths” as tabernacles.
Beth says this understanding of the term sheds new light on the events of the Transfiguration. Matthew 17:1-5 says:
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
I have to include Beth’s paraphrase of God here. It was hysterical. She said God was basically telling Peter to “Shut thee up!” lol Not that he was prone to running off at the mouth or anything . . .
Anyway, I had always been taught that God was rebuking Peter for wanting to build houses of worship for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus – a form of idolatry. Taken in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles and what it meant, that was totally NOT what Peter was saying. As Beth says, Peter was ready for the feast! The Messiah was here! They might as well pitch their tents and stay! But, as the next words of Jesus make clear, it wasn’t time for that yet. In Matthew 17:9 Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about what they had witnessed until He was raised from the dead.
3. The beauty of the lights and 4. The celebration of water pouring
I touched on this a little bit above. All the Israelites would have encamped around the city, with their tabernacles lit every night by candlelight. Beth compares the Israelites feelings when seeing these lights to our feelings when we see Christmas lights.
The celebration of water pouring was the pinnacle of the feast. It took place on the final day. Priests would gather water from the Pool of Siloam and then pour it out before the Lord in the temple (incidentally, while DANCING!!). While they were doing this, the people would be yelling – YELLING – Psalm 118:25: “Save now, I pray, O LORD! Hosanna!”
She then guides us through Jesus’ actions during the Feast of the Tabernacles in John 7 and 8. John 7 in my NIV translation actually has the heading “Jesus Goes to the Feast of Tabernacles.” In John 7:37 we read:
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (Isaiah 12:3)
Jesus would have been making this proclamation as the people were celebrating and shouting “Save now!”
John 8:12 takes us to the day after the feast, when the people are packing up their tents, putting out their lights, and heading home. Imagine packing up all the decorations after Christmas. It is during this setting that Jesus says:
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
I have read these passages many times, and I knew what Jesus said. Every Christian does. It always seemed like a non sequitur, though. NOW I know why He said what He did! Sure, it was incredible allegory in and of itself without know the background. But now that I know why He was using these terms, and there was actual Biblical meaning behind them, not just allegory, it makes it even more powerful. I am constantly amazed at how God is showing me the intricacies of His Word.
5. The coinciding name: the Feast of Ingathering
God descended to us so we could ascend to Him. Everything is about men dwelling with God. Palm fronds always represent the Feast of Tabernacles. Revelation 7:9-10 says:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
I have blogged several times (here, here, here, here – you get the picture) about how it seems like every time I open my Bible or listen to a sermon, something I read or hear ties DIRECTLY back to this study. Usually, freakishly, directly to the topic we just finished covering. Tonight would be no different.
Like I have stated before, I am currently reading through the Bible and am in Nehemiah right now. I am on chapter 12. Last night, instead of picking up where I left off, I flipped back to chapter 8 to read about Ezra reading the law to the Israelites during the seventh month again. Why did I do that? So I could see verses 14-18.
I was reading in my NIV, and it said:
They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths” – as it is written.
So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun (see that, Stacy!) until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was great.
NO WAY. You have GOT to be kidding me! I could not POSSIBLY be reading about the Feast of Tabernacles. Not tonight, right after studying it in class. Could I???
I grabbed my NKJV to check out this same passage there. In BIG BOLD letters above verse 13 it said:
The Feast of Tabernacles
Whoa. Okay, God, you are seriously starting to wig me out.
I am pretty sure He is still laughing at the expression that was on my face.
Incidentally, my friend Stacy “just happens” to be reading in Joshua right now, and is having the same experience I am with finding passage after passage that relates to this study. Beth is right. God is way cool.