How A Ancient Jewish Feast Is Wisdom For This Decade

We are talking about the festival of tabernacles

First some central biblical quotations:

"Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord.' ... 'Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.'" Lev. 23,34,39-43

"You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress. And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates. Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice." Deut. 16,13-15

So we have the following celebration which went one for seven full days. Actually it is said that this feast is the most difficult to hold because the commandment is to rejoice with no interruption for 100+ awake hours. Who can do that?

Besides the joyful nature of this feast there are other elements in it. One is gratitude for God's blessing over the threshing floor, the winepress, the produce and all the work of their hands. An other is that fact that it most to commemorate the nation's journey through the wilderness in the days of Moses, and therefore they had to build 'tabernacles', or 'boots, or tents. Throughout the holiday, meals were eaten inside the tent and many people sleep there as well.

As mentioned in the introductory caption what is intriguing in this is the fact that they were expected to rejoice because God's blessings over their work - fair enough - but also over the 40+ years in the wilderness where they were exposed to the extreme heat during the day and the cold during the night. From time to time sandstorms rose and raged through the camp and the 1000s of tents. It's impossible not to mention the lack of normal food and water as they were used to back in Egypt. Well in Egypt they were protected and looked after, even in the period of time when the plagues brutally and repeatedly hit the nation with no mercy or respect of person or livestock. How do you think back to what their forefathers went through to ultimately die and be buried in the sand or on the back of a rocky and desolate mountain... and rejoice... for seven days?

What is the point here and what does this celebration and holiday really stand for?

It had made a lot of sense to celebrate the day (or the days) when they crossed the red Sea and remind one another of the different emotional phases of the situation:

  • The joy of leaving Egypt... phenomenal... following the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire... nothing can go wrong
  • The shock of reaching the waters of the sea... what? How come we came this way? Were there no any other itineraries?
  • The sound and the sandstorm reaching them from afar, produced by the numerous chariots and horses of Egyptians chasing them... Moses, where are you?
  • The discovery that it was Pharaoh himself and his elite-troops... Maybe Moses and Aaron went too far in their negotiations; Now Pharaoh is raging... what can we do? What do we do? God where are you and did you really lead Moses to this place? Moses we told you back in Egypt...
  • The jaw-dropping experience of hearing the violent wind which caused the sea to divide
  • The indescribable and most probably silent and intense walk between two walls of water on dry ground while the pillar of cloud took its position between them and the Egyptian armies
  • The exuberant shout of victory when the sea came back to its right place and the armies were lying dead on the seashore, without a fight... followed by the fear of God, faith in God and in Moses.

This narrative could be the reason for a national festival.

But no God is not like us and He chose the 40 years in the wilderness. The endless list of extraordinary miracles would not position them for their future as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation; but training would. Actually both failed, the extraordinary dramas and the excruciating transformation. The last became the core of the feast of Tabernacles. They were more safe inside the frame of the demanding training-program than to be repeatedly and supernaturally delivered from disaster.

As the french jewish philosopher and political activist Bernard-Henri Levy wrote in his book 'The Genius of Judaism': "Jacob, the man who earned the nickname Israel because he had struggled (with God and men) to ensure a place under the tent for all those who chose to share his name and who, in so choosing, made that tent not only a symbol of the sad fragility of the nomad, defenseless against the winds of heaven and the arrows of the enemies, but the mark of a people who, seeing themselves as 'Men', preferred as protection the fine cloth of words and the flimsy parasol of commentaries to the granite wall within which bodies that are already too heavy gather to bury themselves."

They were more safe between the forming hands of God than between the walls of a luxurious castle. The existence of the nation was more solid, settled and purposeful there than anywhere else because it was the training-program for coming royal purposes and heavenly representation on Earth, the Head of the family of nations.

They had to remember that period, let fear go, trust God and trust their fathers and pursue the destiny which had been settled once and for all to an old and barren couple who travelled all the way from Chaldea to Cana'an under God's sovereign leadership. Not only yhey had to remember but they had to know that the process was not over and the divine project was not completed yet.

Then a couple of passages from a time and a specific situation numerous years later which add more insight to this issue.

"And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening burnt offerings. They also kept the Feast of Tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings in the number required by ordinance for each day." Ezr. 3,1-4

"Now on the second day the heads of the fathers' houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law. And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, "Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written." Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim. So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner." Neh. 8,13-18

Finally John recorded this situation in his book:

"Now the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles was at hand ... Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready ... You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come." ... But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret ... Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught ... On the first day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified And everyone went to his own house." John 7,2-53

Various Bible-historians have mentioned that at the time Jesus was born, God had been silent for 4 decades. If they are right in their calculations the consequence of such a reality are enormous because words proceeding from God bring light and life, which means that this period of time has been an endless era of decline, spiritual first of all but most probably in all sectors of national life, from the individual, to families, communities and institutions. it is likely to compare to 40 years in the Wilderness of Sinai and the 70 years in Babylon... just much darker and more evil. However the hand of the Father was not shaking and invisible heavenly reality was unaffected by tangible earthly realities.

The day came when the Feast of Tabernacles came and we now understand how significant what Jesus did on that very day actually was. His message was clear: My Father has looked after you in the same way He did in the days of the Sinai journey and the days of the Babylonian exile. He would surely lead them 'home'. So... "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive."

He proclaimed the profound message about God's eternal and unaltered covenant, a message hidden i nthe Feat of the Tabernacles. Not only he declare it, He was the message incarnated in flesh and blood, real life and real time. He was the River of living water and the Spirit would take over after His departure and take them home to the original position, journey and mission... to be the Head of the Nations and a blessing to all their families.

Darkness and evil are not a challenge for God. Their power was anihilated and their rule was ruined in few moments. There were physical reactions through earthquake and sun eclipse but no spiritual resistance whatsoever. In a split of a second world history was turned and Israel and humanity were safe.

In these years of open heaven and corresponding Kingdom-advancement in lives, families, communities and societal institutions Kingdom-believers and Kingdom-walkers are safe and their lives and homes are 'cities of refuge' for many others.

Philip DuPont (May 2021)

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