Scripture: “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD.” Leviticus 23:34 ESV
Observation: Also called the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering (being celebrated at the end of the harvest season), the Feast of Booths, like Passover and the Feast of Weeks, is a pilgrimage festival that required all men throughout Israel to travel to the tabernacle (and later temple) to celebrate its occasion. (Often, however, the whole family would accompany their household men.) Like the other feasts, the first day is a solemn assembly of Shabbat rest, and because it extends to the eighth day, the last is also a Sabbath.
Unlike the others, the offerer, on the first day of the feast, submits to the priest thirteen bulls, and then each subsequent day, the number is reduced by one until the last day when he presents seven (Numbers 29:13–32). That’s a lot of bull—lol! The other offerings stayed the same in number every day. Other unique features include using the fruit (olives, grapes, and dates) of “splendid trees,” palm branches, and boughs of leafy trees and willows to rejoice before the Lord for seven days (23:40) while dwelling in makeshift booths (23:42). These huts, made from the gathered branches, reminded Israel of how their ancestors lived in temporary shelters when Yahweh brought them out of Egypt (23:43).
Takeaway: Followed by the Day of Atonement (the tenth day of the seventh month), the Feast of Booths commenced on the fifteenth day and provided an upbeat celebration of thanksgiving to end the year of crop production. A millennium later, when Nehemiah successfully led a remnant of repatriated Israelites to reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem, upon completion, they celebrated the Feast of Booths, but not before the most extensive outdoor Bible study in biblical history (early morning until midday). Ezra read the Mosaic law and the scribes explained it to the people, who responded with tears of remorse (similar atmosphere to the Day of Atonement). Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites then instructed the people to cease their mourning and go and share the bountiful blessings of their crops with their neighbors and celebrate God’s goodness. Where there had been a famine of the Word, they had now received his bountiful blessings. And the “joy of the Lord is [their] strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Today, the Thanksgiving holiday is our closest kin to the Feast of Booths, and family members sometimes pilgrimage great distances to participate in this family celebration. In Christian homes, we focus on the blessings of God, the greatest being that of the Word made flesh and dwelling among us and in us. And like Israel, we remember how the Lord delivered us from bondage and is reconstructing our hearts. Thus, we celebrate the Son of God, who, for the joy set before him, endured the Cross and set down at the Father’s right hand (Hebrews 12:2), interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34). Indeed, we have much to be thankful for, and the joy of the Lord is our strength and means of glorifying him!
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who rescued us from sin’s oppression and whose Holy Spirit is transforming our minds and hearts to love you and serve you better. Would you please help us express our gratitude to you regularly so that we might know your “joy that is [our] strength” and our means of glorifying you? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling