The first of these feasts was the Feast of the Passover. As you recall, at the original Passover, the blood of the Passover lamb was applied to the door frame of the Israelites on the night that they fled from their slavery. In that initial event and its subsequent memorial celebrations, we saw that the Feast of the Passover typified the blood of Jesus that was applied to our lives to free us from the slavery of sin.
Once given freedom from slavery, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread demonstrated to us the importance of ridding all vestiges of sin from our lives. This feast illustrates the beginning of the sanctification process, whereby we begin to live in newness of life.
Following that feast was the Feast of the Firstfruits. This feast is a celebration of the new life that we have in Christ. In this new life, we begin to draw our provision from Jesus. We realize that life does not come from the world, but is supplied to us by God. In this feast, we see that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus also demonstrates to us the pattern for our own lives in Him. Jesus is the “firstfruits” that show us an indication of what we should expect in our resurrected lives.
The next feast was the Feast of Weeks. This was the forty days in anticipation of what was to come. It was in this feast that we learned that the gifts that God gives to us are not to be hoarded. We are not to selfishly keep God’s gifts for ourselves, but share them with all, and especially with those of few resources.
The feast following that one, the Feast of Trumpets, is widely associated with Pentecost, which marked the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early church. The Feast of Trumpets is a call to holiness. Like the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it is an admonishment to rid ourselves of slavery to the world. It is also a forward-looking feast, an indication of things to come.
This brings us to the feast that we talked about on the previous two Sundays, The Feast of the Atonement. One could consider the Feast of the Atonement almost as a summary or a fulfillment of all of the previous feasts. The foundational meaning of atonement is a ransom paid for our lives so that we can be free.
As we saw in the Passover Feast, it is the very life of Jesus that was given in payment for this ransom. This Feast of Atonement is ridding ourselves of the vestiges of the world, as was in the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. In our atonement, we see the firstfruits of being united as one in fellowship with God as we yet anticipate the perfection of that fellowship in what is to come. This we also saw in the Feast of Weeks. Lastly in the Feast of Atonement, we see a call to holiness in the Trumpets, as we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Feast of the Tabernacles
There is yet one more feast day that God ordained for the ancient Israelites. This is the Feast of the Tabernacles. When see read or say this word “tabernacle,” our minds probably first go to the structure that Moses and the Israelites made as the center for their worship in their days of wandering in the desert of Sinai. This was the movable but quite elaborate tent that housed the artifacts of worship, such as the Altar of Incense, the Table of the Presence, the Golden Lampstand, and most importantly, the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat.
These pieces of furniture, as well as much of the framing structure, were made of a dense wood and overlayed with gold. Much of the cloth for the tent-like structure was a heavy fabric and elaborately embroidered. Even the rings used to hang this cloth were made of gold. The curtains were hung on gold covered railings, held up by golden posts set in silver bases. The instructions of the plan and the design of the Tabernacle of the Lord were very exacting and even extravagant. The details for the tabernacle that I have mentioned are only a few of the many instructions given for its construction.
Thus, in our minds, we may connect the word tabernacle with all of these elaborate accouterments, accessories and impressive adornments. However, the word does not necessarily imply those things. Actually, the closest word that we have for what the idea of what a tabernacle is, is the word “tent.”
We know that tents in our own experience can also be quite elaborate and large and with two or even three rooms, or they may be small pup tents. But small or large, simple or fancy, all tents serve the same purpose—they are movable structures made of some sort of fabric for someone who is temporarily in the region.
The Feast of Sukkot
During the years of their wanderings, the Israelites built no permanent structures. We actually do not know the exact form of structures in which they lived. They may have been tent-like, they may have been more of a ridged structure made of sticks and branches of trees, or they may have been a combination of the two. The Feast of the Tabernacles is sometimes called the Feast of Booths, since the word booths conveys more of an idea of their dwellings. It is the Feast of Sukkot to the Jews, sukkot being the Hebrew word for booths.
Indeed, making these types of structures is how God instructed Moses and the Israelites to commemorate this day:
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to celebrate a feast to the LORD for seven days. There shall be complete rest on the first day and also on the eighth day.
On the first day you are to gather the fruit of majestic trees, the branches of palm trees, and the boughs of leafy trees and of willows of the brook. And you are to rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. You are to celebrate this as a feast to the LORD for seven days each year. This is a permanent statute for the generations to come; you are to celebrate it in the seventh month.
You are to dwell in booths for seven days. All the native-born of Israel must dwell in booths, so that your descendants may know that I made the Israelites dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’” (Leviticus 23:39-43 BSB)
As we can see, this again is a feast to commemorate the time that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt. This was a seven-day feast, during which the people were to do “no regular work.”
But doing no regular work did not mean that they just sat in their booths or their tents all day. There was actually quite a lot of work to be done. For each day, very specific sacrifices were to be made upon the altar.
On the first day, “thirteen young bulls, two rams, and fourteen male lambs a year old, all unblemished, along with the grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil with each of the thirteen bulls, two-tenths of an ephah with each of the two rams, and a tenth of an ephah with each of the fourteen lambs. Include one male goat as a sin offering, in addition to the regular burnt offering with its grain offering and drink offering” (Numbers 29:13-15 BSB).
That was the first day of the feast. Each of the other days also had animal sacrifices, each differing somewhat from the others, but all with similar numbers of total sacrifices. In all, there was quite a lot of activity involved with the feast, all while living in booths and away from whatever conveniences that they may have had in their permanent homes.
However, despite the great amount of work involved with the feast, God told them that:
You shall rejoice in your feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levite, as well as the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widows among you. For seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place He will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that your joy will be complete. (Deuteronomy 16:14-15 BSB)
The years of the wilderness wanderings were not easy years for the Israelites. All aspects of living took about four times longer than it did under normal circumstances. The people slept in less-than-ideal conditions, and woke up each morning feeling dirty and with no prospects of a bath. Indeed, any sort of bathroom facilities were only the best that one could manage at the moment. True privacy was only a memory.
And yet, in commemorating these years, God told them “You shall rejoice in this feast.” Rejoice? How can one rejoice in remembering difficult circumstances? How can one rejoice in the fact that he was constantly in some degree of being dirty and tired and hungry? How can one rejoice in memories that only bring hardship to mind?
Camping in the Wilderness
Your experiences may be different than mine, but let me share my thoughts on this. You may not like the idea of wilderness backpacking or taking a canoe down a river and camping along the way, but this is one thing that our family did when our boys were younger and still at home.
Why did we do it? Every aspect of it was a lot of work. Certainly, we did not have to do any “regular work” while camping as we did in our normal lives, but from the preparations to begin our camping trip to the time when we returned home, our days were filled with activity.
Food preparation took three or four times what it would under normal circumstances at home. We did not have proper places to eat or ideal facilities to clean up afterwards. We had to put up our tents each evening and take them down each morning. We often woke up feeling grimy, and keeping everything clean was always a challenge. We lived in the dirt, ate with dirty hands, and after the meal, we wiped our greasy fingers on our pants. We wore clothes that badly needed a washing and we smelled like we also badly needed a washing—at least on the backpacking trips. On the canoe trips we could do a little better with washing, but even then, we often dealt with mud more than dirt.
It all sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It all sounds very burdensome and not so pleasant. And yet, our camping trips are among the finest of our family memories. We talk about them from time to time, remembering how fun they were and wonder about the possibility of doing another.
Why is that, do you suppose?
I will tell you why—we were together as a family and we were going through an adventure and experience together. We weathered the rainy nights and capsized canoes together. We shivered in our tents and ate cold food under a hastily erected canopy when food preparation was impossible.
But we also listened to the loons calling by night and marveled at some beautiful sunrises over the lake in the morning. We sat around the campfire and talked. We may have argued at times, and sometimes we even may have become angry, but we mostly joked around, talked about what we had experienced, and shared our thoughts with one another.
We were a family. These were experiences that we shared as a family and it was a season in our family that we will always cherish.
The Forty-Year Backpacking Trip
Of course, our experiences in our family camping outings were far from what the ancient Israelites underwent in the forty years in their own wilderness, but perhaps you can see the similarities in experience. Despite the hardships, it was a time worth remembering.
During the celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacles, they as a people were to recount some of their experiences. Many of them would have been children at the time, and through the years, it would have been the children of the children—those who actually were not a part of those years in the wilderness. Nevertheless, they heard the stories. They heard some of the accounts told by their parents and grandparents. The stories lasted and were enjoyed through the generations.
The Feast of the Tabernacles was to be a time of recounting those stories—hearing of the hardships and of tempers getting out of control, but also hearing the jokes and the funny things that happened. And also, of course, and even most importantly, of how God provided during those times of hardship.
“You shall rejoice in your feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levite, as well as the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widows among you. For seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place He will choose… so that your joy will be complete.”
More than a Memory
The remembrances of the shared experiences of the people of Israel were special enough, but there was yet another element to those memories—God was also dwelling with them. I spoke of the Tabernacle of the Covenant with all of its elaborate coverings, fittings and furniture. Despite its impressive and decorative construction, it also was simply a tent, a booth. It was a movable structure. It was also the tent of God. It was where God was dwelling, albeit in a rather figurative way.
In the desert, the Israelites saw the hand of God, understood his presence, and knew he had delivered them—and they built a tabernacle for him. God had instructed Moses, “The people are to make a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 28:8).
God was dwelling with his people. It is the theme of the Bible—God living with his people. We see this desire of God in every era of the Bible. It is the end theme of every story and every lesson, and it is the goal to which God has been working throughout history, and to which he continues to work.
This is the fulfillment of the Feast of the Tabernacles. The apostle John writes in the book of Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away…
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will dwell with them.
They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.
‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’
And there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
For the former things have passed away.”
“Behold, I make all things new,” Jesus said. “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give freely from the spring of the water of life. The one who overcomes will inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son” (Revelation 21:3-7 BSB).
It is this to which God has been working throughout the ages. There were steps to the process, and in their own way, each of the seven feasts of the Old Testament are illustrations of those steps. He began with Moses and the Israelites, and through the years, God has demonstrated that his people will come from every nationality. We saw this in the giving provision for the orphan, the widow and the foreigner.
John writes, “After this I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10 BSB)
We are living at a time where we have the benefits of the grace of God. His grace has no limits, but it can be limited by those who simply persist in refusing it. At the end of all temporal things, God says:
The one who overcomes will inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. But to the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and sexually immoral and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This is the second death.
Let the unrighteous continue to be unrighteous, and the vile continue to be vile; let the righteous continue to practice righteousness, and the holy continue to be holy. (Revelation 21:7-8; 22:11 BSB)
I do not know how to put it more plainly than that. God continues to hold out his hand, but there will be a time when that hand will no longer be available. If you have not yet reached out to grasp it, do it now.
“Therefore, the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion, for the LORD is a just God. Blessed are all who wait for Him” (Isaiah 30:18 BSB).