Feast: Teachings From Tabernacles

#FT21-06A

Given 26-Sep-21; 41 minutes

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The Feast of Ingathering focuses on the fruit of our labors. Few of us are directly involved in agriculture, but God is looking for the cultivation of spiritual fruit throughout the year that we bring with us to the Feast. The Feast of Booths teaches about the impermanence and transience of the physical, in preparation for something more permanent. The growing seasons cannot be shortened, but require a full measure of maturation, including sowing, cultivating, and rain. The successful farmer is not lazy, but has to work hard, a junior partner with God Almighty, responsible for the laws of nature. Failure to properly cultivate may lead to an inferior crop of rotten fruit. When applied to spiritual growth, God's chosen people, like the diligent farmer, has to tend water, cultivate, and pull noxious weeds out the spiritual field, growing crops of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness gentleness , goodness, faithfulness, and self-control, eradicating the carnal thistles. The Feast describes a temporary transient journey to a more permanent pasture for individuals currently as vulnerable as sheep, dwelling in sukkah (animal shelters or mangers). Jesus Christ may have been born on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles and circumcised on the Eighth Day, confirming His role in establishing a covenantal relation as a human being, giving Him empathy to His created people. Jesus tabernacled with His brethren in a perishable tent, as described by both Paul and Peter, anticipating a more permanent dwelling following the Resurrection. On the last day of the Feast, Jesus used the water ceremony practiced by the Jews as a springboard to assure His followers that He would give them water from which they would never again experience thirst, alluding to God's precious Holy Spirit, transforming God's chosen called-out ones into duplicate images of Christ.

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As some of you remember—and probably the rest of you have heard—Herbert Armstrong often began his Feast message with the question, “Why are we here?” It is a necessary question. This last year especially has been intense, pressure-filled, and has weighed down many of us. All the stresses tend to blur our worldview if we are not careful, and they undermine our understanding of God’s purpose for us if we allow them. So, it is good for us to be reminded of what this Feast is about so we can be of the same mind as our Creator.

We will begin with the first mention of this Feast, which is found in Exodus 23:

Exodus 23:14-16 “Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field."

This first mention gives a basic outline of the three festival seasons, and here the present Feast is called “the Feast of Ingathering.” It is a harvest festival, and this sets the tone because it evokes thoughts of abundance as all of the produce has been gathered in, and there is a respite from the work. Notice that it specifically mentions the fruit of your labors. Just keep that thought in mind because we will be coming back to it.

We will move ahead a few chapters and see this basic command repeated:

Exodus 34:22-24 “And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the LORD God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year."

This passage is part of the covenant renewal that took place after the Golden Calf incident, and Moses went back up the mountain to receive two more tablets of stone after breaking the first ones. God then made a series of promises, and He also reiterated some of the things He required, including keeping the three festival seasons. Notice that God gives a promise of protection of the land while the whole nation traveled to appear before Him. Now, this does not mean that there will never be trials involving one’s property while one is away. God does not suspend all laws and consequences. If our spiritual walls are down, things may happen. But God does give a general promise of protection while we appear before Him. We do not have to be concerned that everything will disappear.

Notice that in this place also, the present Feast is called “the Feast of Ingathering.” There is a definite harvest theme in this observance. If you have been in the church for any length of time, your mind may have jumped ahead to a future harvest of people. However, there is another way we can apply this theme, a way that involves us and helps us to make the best use of the time we have. Back in Exodus 23:16, the command said, “the fruit of your labors from the field.” God’s working with people in the future are His labors, but this Feast is about the fruit of our labors. This makes it personal, and it gives us a concrete application.

Most of us today are not directly involved in agriculture, and for church members, the fruit and the labor that God is most interested in is not the fruit of the ground, but rather the fruit of our lives. He takes note of, and is concerned with, our spiritual labors on behalf of Him and His people.

Even though hardly any of us make our livelihood directly from the land, the basics of agriculture are not difficult to understand. There are times when certain work must be performed, and if we procrastinate, the harvest will suffer. There are natural laws at work, and growing seasons cannot be shortened. It takes time for the various plants to go through their growing periods and to mature so there can be a harvest. The harvest itself takes a relatively short time compared to the preparation, the planting, the cultivation, the weeding, and so forth. Thus, a successful farmer is never lazy or haphazard because he knows he must work within non-negotiable laws of nature. He knows that if he fritters away his time, he will be looking at a disaster in the harvest.

We can use a different metaphor to describe the same principle. We all know the children’s story of the tortoise and the hare. The successful one, of course, was the unlikely tortoise. He did not have great speed, but he had focus and determination and perseverance, and he finished the race. The hare operated by the notion that he could always catch up later because of his innate abilities, but he did not leave any room for circumstances that his abilities could not compensate for, such as sleeping too long. His trust was in himself, and that encouraged him to let down.

In the same way that a landowner who fritters away his time will not have much in his hands at the end of the year, so also if we neglect the spiritual works God is looking for throughout the year, the Feast is not going to be one of spiritual abundance. If we neglect our cultivation of spiritual fruit during the year, the harvest will reflect that. The fruit of one’s labors will be evident at harvest time. We reap what we have sown.

Whether we realize it or not, we bring to the Feast the fruit of our cooperative work with Jesus Christ during the previous seasons. Who we are at the Feast when we come before God is who we have been throughout the rest of the year, though maybe with more money. But a harvest cannot be faked.

This is why God had scathing rebukes of Israel and Judah in the books of Amos and Isaiah regarding the festivals. His people appeared before Him with music and songs of praise, and with abundant sacrifices and eloquent prayers, and yet God calls them rulers of Sodom and people of Gomorrah. He says they were spiritually unclean, oppressive and rarely gave Him—the object of the Feasts—a second thought. Therefore, it was incongruous for them to appear before Him in the trappings of piety, because the real harvest that they reaped was rotten, through and through. The physical harvest may have been abundant because it is God’s nature to bless, but the fruit of their lives—what God was really interested in—was evil.

But the people accused Amos of treason, and they killed Isaiah for his faithful service, because as you know, Israelites are not known for taking correction, except for taking it as an affront. When we get to the book of Lamentations, it says that God caused the appointed feasts to be forgotten in Zion. The Israelites’ harvest was so abhorrent to God that He stopped the observance of His holy times altogether rather than allow the Israelites to continue to trample them.

So, the harvest theme has a ready application for us, too. Our real preparation for the Feast of Ingathering cannot wait until the last minute, because it takes time to sow, to cultivate, and to metaphorically gather the spiritual fruit that God desires to see.

We will move forward to Leviticus 23, where God adds more specifics:

Leviticus 23:39-43 ‘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.’”

In the instructions in Exodus, God simply says to appear before Him as the year is winding down and the harvest is brought in, but now He specifies the precise dates and length of time. These instructions again mention the harvest or ingathering aspect, but they also bring in the temporary dwellings—the tabernacles or booths.

This is also the first time God gives a reason for this observance. Of course, God is under no obligation to give a reason for any of His commands—if He says to do something, that should be sufficient. It is the same lesson we impress on our kids. But when He does give an explanation, we want to pay careful attention so we can think along the right lines.

So, a significant part of this Feast is to remember the Israelites’ experience with God when He brought them out of Egypt. Again, this is God’s own reason for tabernacles. Notice that He puts the focus on the journey to the inheritance rather than on the inheritance. When they got to the Land, then they could build houses with foundations—they could have a measure of permanence. But that is not what this Feast is about. It is about the pilgrimage, and the fact that we are still moving toward our inheritance. God intends for this Feast to remind us about the impermanence and transitoriness of life as we follow Him on a narrow and difficult way to our destination. It teaches us about complete dependence on Him to supply the need during times of unsettledness and uncertainty. Our keeping of the Feast requires contemplating the wilderness journey.

The Hebrew word for tabernacle, tent, or booth is sukkah. It is related to the first place the Israelites camped after leaving Ramses in Egypt. They camped in a place named Succoth, which is just the plural form of sukkah. The Israelites stayed in booths in the place that had been previously named, “booths.” The name Succoth comes from Genesis 33:17, which says that Jacob made booths—that is, he made multiple sukkah—for his livestock.

In other words, the place the Israelites camped after God delivered them from Egypt was named after the dwellings Jacob made for his animals. That is not very complimentary, especially for we moderns, but God does this for a reason. God calls His people sheep, which is significant because among domesticated animals, sheep are the most dependent on their owners for their well-being. Other animals, like cats, can fend for themselves if they really have to, and you do not have to do much aside from stroke their egos. But sheep require constant oversight, and care, and rescuing from circumstances they get themselves into. Yet even as the Shepherd of Israel housed Israel in temporary dwellings as He led them to their inheritance, so also the Good Shepherd provides abundantly.

Notice, though, that there is no promise that He will provide our every wish. He provides what is fitting and adequate, and even more than adequate. But self-sufficiency is a grave danger to us all. If we received everything we wanted, or if every circumstance of our lives were perfect, we would probably start taking God for granted, which is deadly for salvation.

This reminder of the Israelites’ experience while they followed God helps us to approach the Feast with the right mindset. Our temporary dwellings today are definitely more lavish than the Israelites’, so we may have to work harder to remember these things. God does not demand asceticism, but He does require that we remember this basic reason. The temporary dwellings keep us a little off balance, and that is good. They help us not to think so highly of ourselves, as we would tend to if we were living in a mansion. They remind us that nothing on earth is permanent, and that our focus and trust must be on what God is doing, because the things of this life are not our true inheritance. The temporary dwellings teach us to trust in God's providence, and to loosen our grip on the reins, and to temper our innate drive to live life on our terms rather than God’s terms.

The tabernacles are not an image of privation or austerity, but of temporariness. When you consider the variety of materials used, it is evident that God intended these to be attractive, sufficient dwellings. They started out green and lush, but as each day passed, the people were reminded of the relentless march of time and the deterioration of all physical things.

Now, the instructions we have seen thus far were given while the Israelites were still in the wilderness, before they had any land of their own to cultivate and harvest. If they had obeyed God, they would have entered the Land in a relatively short amount of time, and they could have put these things into practice. But because of their hardness of heart, the journey took decades longer, and the whole generation of those who left Egypt died out. So, just before entering the Land, God gave further instructions for the Feast in Deuteronomy 16:

Deuteronomy 16:13-15 “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.

While the previous instructions mentioned booths, this is the first time the observance is officially called “the Feast of Tabernacles.” In this passage, we are reminded of the temporary dwellings. We are also reminded of the ingathering. We are reminded that it is a feast of seven days, and verse 15 calls it a sacred feast, which means it is dedicated to God. It says that there will be a place designated by God to keep it. These instructions also reiterate the work of the individual, again showing that it is not God’s intent that we merely show up at the place He chooses, but that we labor in cultivating all along. For a physical people, the harvest was agricultural, but even so, God did not accept their rejoicing without a certain level of righteousness throughout the rest of the year. For God’s spiritual nation, the emphasis is on a harvest of spiritual fruit to an even greater degree.

Verse 15 gives a second explanation for this Feast. Leviticus 23 had God’s explanation that the temporary dwellings are a memorial of the wilderness journey, and here God adds that the Feast is about God’s blessing on our produce and all the work of our hands. This verse gives the expectation of cooperation between man and God throughout the seasons such that there is rejoicing during this week. As man is faithful in his labors, God gives an increase.

We who are under the New Covenant can apply all the New Testament verses and principles concerning good works and spiritual fruit to these instructions. What we see is that as we are faithful in our spiritual labors, God will bless the effects of those labors such that there will be rejoicing. However, if there has not been much in the way of spiritual labors during the rest of the year, the harvest and the rejoicing at the Feast may only be fleshly. The Feast may be a good time, but it will not contain the rejoicing that God intends, which depends upon our relationship and interactions with Him on an ongoing basis.

We have a number of old timers in the faith here, and you younger people may want to seek them out and ask them about their experiences with God. Ask them about seeing specific prayers answered, and seeing deliverances and blessings coming from a God who we do not physically see or hear, but whom we can discern is pleased to respond to us. When you experience this sort of spiritual cultivation—when you recognize the Creator blessing your efforts and giving the increase—you understand rejoicing in a way that this world cannot. The world understands happiness that fades, not the elation and heart-singing that comes from receiving a generous and reassuring response from the Most High God.

Now, we will continue to consider the temporary dwellings, because it carries through into the New Testament, though in a different way:

II Peter 1:13-14 Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.

Peter equates the human body to a temporary dwelling. The human body was not designed to be eternal. It is made of flesh and subject to entropy. It eventually wears out and stops working. It serves its purpose, but this mortal life is not the ultimate in existence—that comes in the resurrection, if God chooses to grant immortality.

The tents the Israelites used during the wilderness journey were temporary dwellings, not only in the sense that they could be packed up and moved, but also in the sense that the animal skins they were made of would wear out and have to be replaced. When the Israelites then got into the land and built booths out of branches for the Feast, those, too, were not intended to be permanent. If any of you have ever built a hut out of freshly cut branches, you know that the green leaves start drying and turning brown in relatively short order. What starts out as a little house that seems to brim with life starts looking worn out, just like us.

So, even as we rejoice in remembrance of God’s works in our lives, we are also reminded of the temporariness of life. But this contemplation does not need to be depressing, especially for we who have been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. Because of what we have already experienced with God, we can look forward to something even better when the time comes to put off this tent, as Peter puts it. This tent is quite suitable for the pilgrimage, but God has given us the hope, the expectation, of putting on immortality and incorruption in the resurrection. Then, brethren, we will be permanent.

Paul uses the same terminology in II Corinthians 5:

II Corinthians 5:1-5 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So, Paul says the same thing. Our earthly houses—our bodies—are temporary dwellings, and we look forward to the time when mortality is swallowed up by life, when the problems of this physical existence have ceased.

This perspective on life is one reason it is entirely fitting to read the book of Ecclesiastes at this time of year. Solomon, more than any other person, was given the means to explore and experience physical life in its totality. He not only got to live it up, but he got to try as much as he wanted of everything life has to offer. Yet we know his conclusion: that life under the sun—life apart from the heavenly and eternal reality—is ultimately just vanity and grasping for the wind. If this is all there is, then all we have is toil and adversity and a sense of futility.

But when we remember what is above the sun, and that there is infinitely more going on than the natural man can discern, we can responsibly use the time we have in these temporary dwellings in preparation for what lies ahead. We will still experience toil and adversity, but not futility. We can reframe these challenges as part of the work the Master Potter is doing in molding something incredible and eternal out of something temporary.

And so, we can rejoice in the Feast, not simply because we have time off from work and money to spend, but because we understand what the Great Creator is doing, and because He is intimately involved in our lives, both in the good and in the adverse. The most abundant harvest of wheat or grapes cannot even begin to compare with the rare and priceless opportunity we have to know the Father and the Son, and to be known by Them.

In verse 5, Paul says that we have been given the Spirit as a guarantee that when this earthly tent is no longer viable, God will replace it with a heavenly house. When this temporary dwelling has worn out, God has something even better for us, and He has given His Spirit as a down-payment or a promise of even more and better to come.

It has already been pointed out a few times this Feast that Jesus Christ is the object of the Holy Days. When we read the instructions, we should look for how they point to Him in some way. One way that the Feast of Tabernacles points to Christ is found in John 1:

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

The word “dwelt” is the verb form of the words translated as “tent” that we saw. The Word, who was God, tented or tabernacled among us, His creation. We know this, but we should never lose our sense of awe at what the Creator did in divesting Himself of glory, which was the immortal existence He enjoyed without pain or weariness or a troubled heart. This God Being gave that up to experience life in the same sort of temporary dwelling, the same fleshly tent, that we do. This is something to marvel at and rejoice in, because we are assured that He understands life on human terms. He can identify with the limitations of temporary dwellings because He experienced the very same sorts of things we do. He was made like His brethren in all things, and as a result, He is a merciful and faithful High Priest.

But it all began with this second God Being, through whom all things were created, made Himself of no reputation and took on the form of a bondservant. He became clothed in a temporary dwelling. What the Israelites experienced in the wilderness was a foreshadow of something so incredible that they could not have imagined it—that God would give up His glorified existence to take on human flesh.

When you think about the constant murmuring the Israelites did because of their dissatisfaction with God’s providence, and remember that their time in temporary dwellings was a feeble type of what God Himself would later do—and do without a single complaint—that remarkable contrast really makes their complaining seem petty. I am sure their complaints seemed justified and legitimate to them, but in reality, the Israelites gave up less than nothing compared to what God would later give up.

It has been calculated and speculated that Christ’s birth may have been on the first day of the Feast, and to me, that is a very reasonable speculation. It is at least in the proper time of year, rather than the dead of winter. Of course, we are not told specifically, nor are we instructed by word or example to celebrate His birthdate. But if it was on the first day, consider how fitting it was that He should be born in a manger. A manger is a dwelling for animals, just like what Jacob made, and which served as the prototype for the tabernacles or booths that the Israelites dwelled in. A manger is a sukkah. Jesus was not born into a palace or any sort of luxury, even though that would have been fitting on one level. But on another level, it was even more fitting that He should begin life in this humble way, in a shelter that was quite adequate but the farthest thing from extravagant. The purpose of His life was not to have the best of everything, or to experience the heights of everything, the way Solomon did. The purpose of His life was to do His Father’s will, and He was completely content with what His Father provided for His life. An incredible example.

If Christ were born on the first day of the Feast, consider also that His circumcision would have taken place on the 8th Day of the Feast, another holy day. This, too, was a remarkable event because circumcision is the sign of the covenant. It is the sign of being part of the promises to Abraham. Jesus had already entered into that covenant as God, but now He entered it again, this time as a Man, as the Seed of Abraham. He entered the covenant as both parties, and thus, represents both parties. This makes Him the perfect Mediator.

There is one more Feast teaching we will look at, this time in John 7:

John 7:37-39 On the last 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.

The Jews had a ceremony for the Feast in which the high priest would draw water from the Pool of Siloam and carry it up to the Temple in a long procession, and then he would pour the water on the altar. During the procession, the people would sing a verse about drawing water from the wells of salvation. That verse is found in Isaiah 12, if you would start turning there. Of course, the water ceremony was something they came up with rather than being commanded, but Christ used this occasion to point out to His people that He was what they were actually looking forward to, whether they realized it or not. They were anticipating salvation during the Feast, but they were missing the fact that it could only come from Him:

Isaiah 12:2-3 Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’” Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

So, verse 3, about drawing water from the wells of salvation, formed the essence of what the people would sing. Now, notice what follows:

Isaiah 12:4-6 And in that day you will say: “Praise the LORD, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, make mention that His name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!”

During the water ceremony, Jesus stood and cried out that those who were thirsty for the water of salvation should come to Him and drink. Verse 2 says that God, or YAH, or the Eternal is salvation, while Jesus said the people had to come to Him and believe in Him if they wanted that water of salvation. In inviting people to come to Him in this way, He was identifying Himself with YAH, with the Eternal, and was basically saying that the Holy One of Israel was in their midst that day. He redirected the focus of the Feast to Himself, for those who could bear it. It is no wonder that after He did this, some in the crowd said, “This is the Christ,” while others wanted to take Him by force.

All of this points to Jesus Christ’s centrality, especially in the passages we have seen. While we must attend to our daily spiritual responsibilities, Christ is the Giver of spiritual gifts, as well as the One that gives the increase. In the harvest symbolism, we work with Him, day by day, for the cultivation of spiritual fruit. Our gifts may not be ones that set the world on fire, even as the tortoise was the most unlikely of contestants, but if we faithfully and consistently use them, Christ will give an increase that will be cause for rejoicing. The danger is in trusting in our abilities apart from Christ, which will leave us shut out, like the hare.

In terms of temporary dwellings and our pilgrimage journey, Christ is the Good Shepherd, leading us like sheep, providing for us more than adequately. We are on the move, not entangled in unnecessary diversions that might keep us from following Him. He is with us every step of the way, and I have noticed that things go easier for us when we concentrate on following instead of advising.

And though the temporary dwellings of our bodies perish a little each day, by the Holy Spirit—which of course can refer to Christ Himself—we are also being renewed internally, day by day. That Spirit is also a guarantee that when this tent wears out, He will give us a body that conforms to His glorious body. It is by that Spirit that we are being transformed, from the glory of man—such as it is—to the glory of the Lord Himself. Jesus Christ is making it happen.

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