The Feast Of Tabernacles
The most joyous feast in all of Israel was that of the ‘Feast of Tabernacles’. It fell at a season of the year when the people would naturally have been in a thankful mood. All their crops had been gathered and stored. Now the people were in a state of just waiting for the softening and refreshment of the ‘latter rain’, to prepare the land for the new crop to be planted.
The first ripe sheaf of barley, and the ingathering of corn that was preceded by the two wave-loaves had already been done. Now it was appropriate that there should be a harvest feast of thankfulness and gladness unto the Lord for all the blessings He had given to them in the previous year.
They must have had many memories during this time of how God had blessed them, for their land was strictly connected with the history of their people. Both the land and the history were inexplicably linked with the people of Israel and the plan that God had for them.
The Names of the Feast
There are also several other names that Scripture gives to this feast:
the feast of ingathering – Exodus 23: 16; 34: 22
the Feast of Tabernacles – Leviticus 23:43
the Feast – I Kings 8: 2; 2 Chronicles 5:3
the Feast of Jehovah – Leviticus 23:39
Also, Josephus, Philo, and the Rabbis single it out from all the other feasts in many passages of the Mishnah.
The Time Of The Feast
It was the third of the great annual festivals each year. Every male in Israel had to appear before the Lord on this festival. It fell on the 15th day of the seventh month, or Tishri. On our calendar, this would correspond with September or October.
The Passover had fallen on the 15th day of the first month. Passover started the feast time, and the Feast of Tabernacles basically closed the feast time for the year.
The Feast of Tabernacles, or ‘booths’, lasted for seven days – from the 15th to the 21st of Tishri. Then it was followed by an Octave, or conclusion on the 8th day. The first and last days were to be the days of ‘holy convocation’, and each one was to be a Sabbath. This was not necessarily on the actual day of the Sabbath, but one of festive rest in the Lord, where no servile work of any kind could be done.
It Followed Close Upon The Day Of Atonement
The Day of Atonement took place in the seventh month, also. It fell on the 10th day, while the Feast of Tabernacles started on the 15th. What the seventh day, or Sabbath, was to the week; the seventh month seems to have been the same thing to the year.
It closed the sacred cycle, and also closed the agricultural or working year. It marked the change of seasons, the approach of rain and the winter equinox, and determined alike the commencement and the close of a sabbatical year.
The Feast of Tabernacles followed five days after the Day of Atonement, where the sin of Israel had been removed, and they had gone through the process of having their covenant relationship to God restored. Because they were now sanctified again, they could rightly have a feast of harvest joy unto the Lord. In the truest sense of the word, they were sanctified of their sins and could truly rejoice in God.
The Three Chief Features Of The Feast
There were three things that especially marked this feast:
its joyous festivities
the dwelling in ‘booths’
the peculiar sacrifices and rites of the week
The joyous festivities were simply characteristic of all of the people of Israel getting together to rejoice in what God had done for them. ‘Because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice – thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates.’
No person in Israel was also to ‘appear before the Lord empty: every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which He hath given thee’ (Deuteronomy 16: 13 – 17)
There were free-will and peace-offerings that would be offered because of their gratitude to God. Also as their thank-meal was offered, no person would be left out – the poor, homeless, strangers, etc. The ones who didn’t have much were just invited to join the ones who did. By doing this, they were reminded that they were once themselves strangers in a foreign land who had to depend on the hospitality of foreigners for their sustenance.
During the seven days of the festival’s continuance ‘all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths; that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt’. (Leviticus 23: 42-43)
Leviticus 23:40 – And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. 42-43 – Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
At the very outset, the Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed on what this meant. The Sadducees understood it to mean, as do the modern Jews, the materials of which the booths were to be constructed. The Pharisees applied the verses as to what the worshippers were to carry in their hands.
It seems that the Pharisees may have been more correct in their interpretation, because of the account of the festival that is given at the time of Nehemiah. Then the booths were constructed of branches of trees other than those mentioned in Leviticus 23, and this same practice was universally adopted in practice at the time of Christ.
The Mishnah gives minute details as to the height and construction of the ‘booths’, so that the law would not be broken in any way.
it must be a real booth
it must be constructed of boughs of living trees, and solely for the purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles
the height must be at least ten handbreadths high, but not more than 30 feet
three of the walls must be made of boughs
it should be fairly covered with boughs, but not be so shaded that no sunlight could not come in, nor so open that it did not have sufficient shade. The object was that it should be a real booth of boughs of trees.
these booths were to be their regular dwelling for the week, and not their regular houses, except in the case of heavy rain. They were to eat, sleep, pray, study, etc. there.
the only exceptions were those who were sick and those looking after them; those absent on pious duties; women, slaves, and infants who were still depending on their mothers
nothing could be used to make the booths that did not grow out of the earth.
The Fruit And Palm Branches
According to the view universally prevalent at the time of Christ, the Rabbis had ruled that the ‘fruit of the goodly trees’ meant the citron tree; and the ‘boughs of thick trees’ meant the myrtle tree, provided that it did not have more berries than leaves.
The citron trees must be without blemish of deficiencies of any kind. The palm branches had to be at least three handbreadths high, and fit to be shaken. Each branch had to be fresh, entire, unpolluted, and not taken from an idolatrous grove.
Every worshipper carried the citron, or aethrog, in his left hand, and the palm in his right that was tied together with a myrtle and willow branch on either side of it. This was called a lulav, and was intended to remind Israel of the different stages of their wilderness journey.
the palm branches were to remind them of the valley and plains
the myrtles had thick branches and were to remind them of the bushes on the mountains
the willows were to remind them of the brooks from which God had given his people water to drink.
the citrons, then, were to remind them of the fruits of the good land which God had given to them.
The lulav was used in the Temple on each of the seven festive days, which even children being bound to carry one as long as they were big enough to shake it. If the first day of the feast fell on a Sabbath, the people brought their lulavs on the day before into the synagogue on the Temple Mount so they wouldn’t have to break the Sabbath rest. Then they fetched them the next morning.
The third characteristic of the Feast of Tabernacles was the Offerings, and this will be covered in the next text.