By Dr. Mark Scott
Pushing the pause button to remember God’s faithfulness is a healthy spiritual discipline. Every so often we need to take a step back from the daily grind and enjoy a spiritual sanity check. In many ways that is how the Feast of Tabernacles functioned for Israel. This feast was one of the final ones according to our calendar year. (The Feast of Dedication, celebrated in winter, originated later than Leviticus.) Tabernacles celebrated harvest’s end and God’s faithfulness during the wilderness wanderings. To show this we will invert our study and look at the verses in opposite order.
God used the wilderness for a number of purposes. He wanted to test his people for their obedience. He also wanted to teach Israel to rely on him for their daily needs. Due to their lack of faith, they spent much more time in the wilderness than they should have (Numbers 14:34). However, God’s mercy was still at work for Israel by providing for their needs. Their shoes and clothes did not wear out, and God miraculously fed them with manna until they entered the promised land (Joshua 5:10-12).
While in the wilderness Israel lived in makeshift houses made from tree branches. (God also “lived” in a makeshift house called the tabernacle.) So to remind Israel of God’s care, he called the people to relive their wilderness experience by taking branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy tress—and make houses from them and live in them for one week. It was like going camping with God. This was to be done every year. Unfortunately Israel forgot to do this for years and deprived themselves of many joys (Nehemiah 8:14-18).
Gather Crops & Present Offerings
Pentecost celebrated the first part of the yearly harvest, and Tabernacles celebrated the ending of the yearly harvest. The early harvest consisted of barley and wheat. The latter harvest consisted of dates and grapes. Most agrarian cultures have some kind of celebration following harvest. Israel’s celebration was to last seven days bracketed by Sabbaths. Rest was very much built into the rhythm of Israel’s calendar.
Celebration and rest were not the only parts to the Feast of Tabernacles. Food was also a special part of these seven days in the middle of the month. Since the harvest had just concluded, food would be in abundance. Israel was asked to remember the Lord with their food and bring food offerings to the Lord each day of this week. Then on the eighth day they were to hold a special sacred assembly and present food offerings to the Lord. This was like a crescendo to their celebration. They were to abstain from work. Animals were also associated with the Feast of Tabernacles. Numbers 29:12-38 indicated that offering bulls and goats along with the food offerings were a part of this celebration.
Verses 37 and 38 are clearly parenthetical. They summarize the offerings for the Feast of Tabernacles as well as some of the other feasts also discussed in the chapter. Numbers 23:44 shows this too: “So Moses announced to the Israelites the appointed festivals of the Lord.” God is big on offerings. The ones summarized in these two verses are the “beyond” offerings. They are in addition to offerings associated with Sabbath, special vows, or freewill offerings. God wanted (and still wants) his people to learn to be good givers since giving captures his own character.
There might be more theological profundity to the Feast of Tabernacles than one would see at first glance. For one thing, Jesus took advantage of this feast for an awesome claim about himself. His half-brothers urged him to go to this feast so he could be more publically known (John 7:3, 4). Jesus went to the feast, but he did so on his own timetable (v. 10). All kinds of controversy swirled about Jesus during this visit to Jerusalem. Some thought that he might be demon possessed, while others thought he might be the Christ (vv. 20, 26). On the last day of the feast, when there was a ceremony dealing with water, Jesus essentially claimed to be the water of life and made a promise about the Holy Spirit (vv. 38, 39).
The language of Tabernacles is the language of the entire narrative of the Bible. Living among the trees and in shelters with God is the language of the Garden of Eden (original creation) and the language of the new heaven and new earth (new creation). This is our primal reality—living in a shelter with God for eternity.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.