The Feast of Tabernacles
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
The Feast of Tabernacles takes place each year beginning five days after Yom Kippur and lasts for over a week. Adherents to tradition make a shelter in their back yard of branches and leaves decorating it with fruit and vegetables to commemorate the time when the Lord dwelt with them in the wilderness. Then they at least take their meals in the shelter and perhaps spend a night or two as well. For this reason Tabernacles is sometimes called the Feast of Booths.
Being a fall feast, Tabernacles also celebrated the harvest in ancient Israel and in fact was the inspiration for the Thanksgiving Day celebrations held in the US and other countries.
Let’s Have A Party
Additionally Tabernacles was the crowning event in the series of fall feasts that began with Rosh Hashanah, or New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As Yom Kippur was a solemn and awe inspiring day, Tabernacles was a time of celebration and thanksgiving. The Lord had freed their forefathers from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, He had given them a bountiful harvest, and He had accepted their annual sacrifice for the sins of the people. It was time for a party. And what a party it was.
The Israelites came from all over the nation to Jerusalem to celebrate for an entire week. They built their booths on every available piece of ground and the aroma of delicious foods cooking over open fires permeated the whole city. For seven days where ever you went there was an air of joy and festivity as the people remembered El Shaddai (God our Provider) and gave thanks.
You might wonder how they could drop everything and take a whole week off to celebrate. Simple; the Lord picked up the tab. In three passages from Deuteronomy, He explained how He was going to do this, commanding the people to put aside one tenth of their annual production for Him. (Deut. 8:6-18, 12:4-7, 14:22-29). He called it their tithe. Then they were to take the Lord’s tithe to Jerusalem each fall after the harvest and use it for a big feast to celebrate His blessings upon them.
The reason He commanded them to separate the tithe was that He wanted to remind them it was His. Also if He hadn’t required them to do so, most wouldn’t have set anything aside for the feast. It would all have been absorbed into their living costs and they would have missed out on the celebration. Obviously, the Lord didn’t need their money. He only wanted them to remember Who had blessed them. By celebrating, they were reminded. Further, He commanded that the celebration be at His house, not theirs, so they wouldn’t start thinking they had created their own blessings.
What about the Poor?
Every third year, instead of celebrating they gave the tithe to the priests in their city to help the poor and indigent, first within the community and then from among their visitors. There was always enough to last until the next contribution three years later.
Because it felt good to obey, they learned the joy of giving. When it came time to donate the tithe to the poor, they did so with a generous spirit, knowing that they were giving away the Lord’s share not theirs. (It’s always easier to be generous with some one else’s money.) Because each community helped its own poor directly everyone got the help they needed, and the people could see the effect of their generosity.
What About Now?
Contrast that with the way of giving today. We no longer believe that one tenth is the Lord’s and we no longer credit Him for our blessings. We think we’re being asked for some of our own money, and we’re not clear about the benefit. We’re told that the Lord’s work will be hindered without our help. He’s portrayed as a cash poor beggar in some circles and as an inflexible creditor in others.
This approach makes us feel bad. We resent being made to feel guilty so we give only as much as is necessary to ease our guilt. No wonder the joy has gone from our giving.
Some “religious” groups even require 10% of their members’ income and conduct periodic audits to make sure they’re getting it all. Some even teach that tithing is evidence of salvation. It’s the most glaring example of man’s religion working at cross-purposes with the intent of God’s laws.
A Blessing or a Curse?
Today, tithing is thought by many to be a curse for believing rather than a celebration for blessing. People go around looking for a church that “doesn’t talk about money all the time.” Because they never learn the true purpose of their giving, they are deprived of the blessings of abundance the Lord promises to those who “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” (Malachi 3:9-10 & Luke 6:38) For its part, the church merely survives when it should thrive. (The church would actually receive more income and their members would be a lot happier doing things the Lord’s way) And perhaps most sadly, those in need don’t receive the help from the church they could otherwise have … help that could have come in the name of the Lord, and perhaps prompted a life change in the heart of the recipient. Satan wins again.
Because it doesn’t rain in Israel from about the end of May till the middle of October, somewhere along the way a Water Libation Ceremony was incorporated into the Feast of Tabernacles celebrations. Each day a contingent of priests all dressed in white would go out from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam and with a silver pitcher would take some water from the pool back to the Temple. There a paving stone beside the altar had been removed just for this event. Arriving at the altar, a priest would pour the water from the silver pitcher upon the ground where the paving stone had been. As the dry ground absorbed the water the priests would pray for rains to moisten the fields in preparation for the fall planting. Thousands of people watching the ceremony would join in, praying and singing praises to God.
On the last day of the Feast, the High Priest Himself would officiate in all his finery, and the entire priesthood would follow him to the pool and back, singing and playing their instruments. On this day the pitcher was golden and the whole nation would be in attendance. Compare it to a sports stadium of today, packed to the rafters with spectators, all watching as the High Priest lifted the golden pitcher high over his head to pour the water into the ground near the altar. And then as with one voice they would break into song praising God and praying for rain. Talk about a joyful noise!
Then one year something happened as the priest was pouring the water that stunned the crowd and literally shocked them into silence. Listen to John’s eyewitness account. “On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘ If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this He meant the Spirit Whom those who believed were later to receive.” (John 7:37-39)
On hearing His words, some of the people said, ” Surely this man is The Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” (John 7:40) Even the Temple guards were impressed. Being rebuked for letting Jesus disrupt the ceremony, they declared, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”
And so on the Feast of Tabernacles, it’s fitting that we remember Jesus, the God Who dwells within us, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and the Source of living water. O Lord, save us! O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord. From the House of the Lord we bless you. (Psalm 118:25-26)