Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
At our thanksgiving and dedication night this last Friday, we had the opportunity to consider the three main feasts of Israel in connection with the old covenant temple and in application to our building. Today, I wanted us to continue thinking about the feasts but particularly that Feast of Booths, which is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, and in Hebrew, Sukkot. The Torah lists instructions for the Feast of Booths here and also in Exodus 23, Numbers 29, and Deuteronomy 16. The fact that this and the other feasts are mentioned in so many places reminds us of their importance under the old covenant. And while these are no longer holy days to observe under the new covenant, they continue to embody rich and significant teaching for us to learn from and make applications today. Today then, we will think about the Feast of Booths as a thanksgiving sermon in light of our nations’ upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
For our first point today, I’d like to draw your attention to verses 33-36. There we learn that the Feast of Booths was to occur on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. To clarify, this seventh month is not referring to July. Israel used a different calendar than what we do today, not only with different names of the months, but their calendar was a lunar calendar whereas our calendar today in the United States is a solar calendar. Many cultures have used lunar calendars, which is to say that their months are tied to the moon cycles, so that each month equals one full cycle of a new moon to a full moon. This is in contrast to a solar calendar which orders its year around the length of time that it takes for the earth to orbit the sun. Neither calendar is perfect, either in tracking the sun or moon, nor when it comes to matching up with our four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter. Our solar calendars have to get corrected every four years by adding an extra day. And lunar calendars add a whole month in their leap years (which happen about every 3 years or so). So then, that means that this seventh month listed in verse 34 is the Jewish month of Tishrei which typically falls in September or October of our calendar. For example, this year the 15th of Tishrei was October 9.
I wanted to talk about where this falls on the calendar so that we understand that this Feast of Booths falls at the end of the harvest season. This was a key part of the significance of this feast. In fact, when this same feast is described in Exodus 23 it is actually called there the Feast of Ingathering; the word ingathering describes the harvesting of crops. So, while we will talk in a moment about why this feast was called the Feast of Booths, I first wanted us to appreciate why it is also called the Feast of Ingathering. God had this feast set at the time of the year when the harvest is drawing to a close. There is an agricultural significance as a key part of this feast. God wanted his people to take time at the end of the harvest and celebrate God’s abundant provision of food and to thank him for it. In other words, this Feast of Booths falls around this same time of year when we in our country are celebrating these same things. Usually toward the end of September we start seeing pumpkin patches popping up and into October we see various harvest festivals starting to happen and then into November it culminates with our national Thanksgiving holiday. If we were to pick one religious festival in Israel’s history that most closely lines up with what we celebrate as a nation during Thanksgiving, it would certainly be the Feast of Booths without a question.
My application then on this first point is to say that it is quite fitting for us to annually thank God during this time of the year for all the bounty of the harvest that he has given us. While under the new covenant God has not explicitly instituted a religious festival for it, we certainly have enough teaching about this from Scripture to know we should be making a point to thank God for such a rich provision. Our nation has for many years now called the country to a day of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and we should indeed be eager to submit to that call. But even if our country didn’t have such a holiday, we should as heads of households and even the church recognize and thank God for such provision of our food. Think about it this way: each week as a church we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We indeed should make sure we thank him as he answers that prayer. So that’s my first point and first application, the timing and nature of this Feast of Booths/Ingathering gives us extended application to thank God this time of the year for the agricultural harvest.
Let’s turn now next to look at verses 37-38. This is an interesting placement of these verses because they summarize all the annuals feasts which have been outlined in this entire chapter 23 of Leviticus. We only read the part of the chapter on the Feast of Booths, but the rest of the chapter lists the other one. To clarify, it’s not surprising to have a summary then at the end of the chapter. And yet, after this concluding summary, there is then a return in verse 39 to talk further about the Feast of Booths. But for now, let us note that these verses summarize all the feasts among Israel.
On Friday night’s service I mentioned the three big feasts under the Jewish old covenant, namely Passover, Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths. This chapter reminds us that there were several other feasts too. The chapter begins by mentioning the weekly Sabbaths, but then lists the other regular feasts on the calendar. The ones that occurred in the spring were the Passover, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread, then the Feast of Firstfruits, and then the Feast of Weeks. Then you have the fall festivals beginning with the Feast of Trumpets and then the Day of Atonement, and then finally this Feast of Booths. So then, these span the year, and as I mentioned on Friday that the order is significant. The order is significant regarding the agricultural calendar. It is also significant in how the ordering of the feasts paints a picture of redemptive history, with Israel’s history in the Exodus and then coming into the Promised Land being typological of ultimately our redemption from sin and our eternal reward in the age to come.
So then notice that verse 37 summarizes all these appointed feasts as times of holy convocations. Let me make sure you understand what that is saying. These convocations are talking about assemblies for corporate worship. On these special feasts they were to have special services where they gather for worship. These weren’t secular holidays. They were holy and religious. Just like when we celebrate the feast we’ve been given under the new covenant, the Supper, it is a holy feast and we celebrate in a worship context.
So then, notice what else it has to say about holy convocations. It says that they become the occasion for the presenting of offerings to the LORD. Verse 37, it says that these hold convocations are to be, “for presenting to the LORD food offerings, burnt offerings, and grain offerings, sacrifice and drink offerings, each on its proper day. That’s to note that in the descriptions of each of these feasts, God lists certain kinds of offerings for the people to bring as part of their worship connected with the feast. In the case of the Feast of Booths we see in verse 36 that it mandates food offerings to be brought. That description, however, is a concise version of the full instructions which can be found in Numbers 29. There, a long day-by-day list of various specific kinds of offerings is listed for the Feast of Booths. So, verse 37 notes that not only are these feasts to be occasions for religious worship, but that such worship is also to include God’s people bringing their offerings before the Lord.
Verse 38 goes on to further explain and clarify that these are in addition to the normal regular offerings one might bring. People would bring their weekly offerings on the Sabbaths. They would have other occasions for special vow offering and freewill offerings from time to time. But these offerings for the feasts were to be in addition to that and connected with the significance of the individual feast. As these different feasts memorialize both God’s historic acts of redemption for his people and his ongoing provision for them, God said people should respond in gratitude through the giving of offerings as an act of worship.
Let us make some application then here. We would note that in general, the sacrificial system has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. That is why we don’t sacrifice animals any more as part of our religious worship. Jesus’ death on the cross was the once for all time sacrifice that put an end to all sacrifices for God’s people. And yet while that is true, and that under the new covenant we don’t have the same extensive array of sacrifices and offerings that they did then, that doesn’t mean there is not any application beyond pointing to Christ. In fact, the New Testament does make other applications. Like how Romans 12:1 calls us in response to what God has done for us in Christ to offer our whole selves as a living sacrifice in service to Jesus. And also like how the Apostle Paul describes the financial support the church at Philippi gave him as a “fragrant offering, a sacrifice pleasing and acceptable to God (Phil 4:18). Passages like this show that while Jesus ultimately fulfilled the sacrificial system, there is still hearty application to make from it toward our own giving unto God both of our wealth and of our time and talents.
So then, run further with that application. If in general, the sacrifices and offerings of the old covenant give application to our own giving financially unto the Lord, then surely today’s passage teaches us that there is a time and place for our regular and general offerings, but also for our occasional special offerings as well. As an example, it has been a long-standing historical practice that when Christians celebrate the feast of the Lord’s Supper that they take a collection for the poor in their midst – we do the same by encouraging you on those Sundays to consider making an additional offering to the diaconal fund. And in a similar vein of application, we have come again this year to our annual denominational Thank Offering. Now through the end of the year we will be collecting this offering. Surely the idea of the Thank Offering is a fitting application derived from today’s passage. That during this time of the year when we thank God for the harvest and his bounty to us, that we turn to bring special offerings to God. The Thank Offering is a wonderful way to do this, and it is a way we can all get personally involved in partnering in the bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Let us now turn to our third point by considering verses 39-44. Here the passage returns to revisit the Feast of Booths. Why it gets revisited here after what seemed like a concluding summary of all the feasts is uncertain. It may be the contrast to the weekly Sabbaths which started the chapter and was set before a listing of all the special feasts throughout the year. The Sabbaths due to their regular weekly nature stand out different than the special occasional feasts through the year. So too, maybe as the last feast, the Feast of Booths has a special place as it looks beyond all this unto eternity. That was the point I made on Friday, that the Feast of Booths looked ultimately to the place of rest and peace that God will bring us to in the glory of the age to come. But that’s jumping ahead. Let’s look at what the text is saying here.
So in these final verses, we see that God wanted the Feast of Booths to not only be about the ingathering of the harvest, but also as a memorial to how God had made them dwell in booths when he brought them out of the land of Egypt. By the way, if you don’t know what a booth is, it is a temporary living structure. That’s why this is also called the Feast of Tabernacles as a tabernacle is a tent structure as a form of temporary housing.
So then, the command here is that during the week of the Feast of Booths the people are to make these temporary structures out of tree branches. They are to dwell in these temporary houses for a week each year. But realize that they are doing that when they actually have real homes now. They are celebrating this feast from the comfort of their own land that God has settled them. I made this point on Friday and I make it again. While the Feast of Booths on the surface is to remind the people that God had them live in tents, it at the same time is to remind them that they don’t live in tents anymore. The Feast of Booths reminds them of their time in the forty years of wandering in the wilderness to remind them that they aren’t wandering in the wilderness any more. The Feast of Booths reminds them of that time when they were sojourners to remind them that they are not sojourners any more. It’s been suggested that even the instructions in verse 40 with this variety of nice trees to get branches from is a reminder of how God has now settled them in the land, a land full of nice fruit trees and nice palm trees and plentiful willows, etc. As they wandered through the wilderness, they surely didn’t always have the same wide and rich assortment of trees to draw from. But you see, that is the dual function of this feast. It reminds them what they had come through but also where they had arrived at. Now they had come home, they had settled, they had come into the Land of Promise which God had gave them as an inheritance. So then, from a typological standpoint on the timeline of redemptive history, as the final of the calendar of feasts, the Feast of Booths represents for us our final arrival into glory when Christ returns.
Notice that in verse 42 God emphasizes how he had made the people to dwell in booths during those forty years of wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus. That difficult time was according to God’s plan. What was God’s purposes for his people during that wilderness wandering? I’ll note a few things. One, it was a time of chastening for them. You may recall that they presumably wouldn’t have been nearly as long in the wilderness if they had just trusted God. When they first approached the Promised Land they became scared of the giants that possessed the land, and murmured against God and God sent them back to the wilderness to wander for forty years. God said that would allow the next generation to grow up and learn to trust God and then he would bring them into the Land. So that is a second purpose of God at that time, he was preparing the people to trust in him. That is why during the wilderness wandering, God gave them manna from heaven, because he said he wanted to teach them that they needed more than just food to live on, but they needed especially God’s Word to live on. Likewise, we see in Deuteronomy 29:5 that during that forty years of wilderness wandering, God miraculously preserved their clothing and their shoes so they would make it through that season. That is maybe the greatest purpose of God in this, to teach the people that God keeps his promises and we can trust in him, because true to his word, at the end of the forty years, he powerfully brought them into the Promised Land to possess it.
So then, this feast reminded them of their past sojourning and how God had eventually brought them into the land. In terms of application today, we are spiritually-speaking sojourners who are not yet at our final homes. Our era is a new sort of wilderness wandering time for us. Peter calls us sojourners in 1 Peter 2:11 and surely this is the point he is making there. As Christians, our ultimate home is the glory of the age to come. But we won’t be able to go into there and to settle there until Christ comes back. Until then, we live in but not of this world. Until then, we will face various troubles and trials. But if the Feast of Booths could remind Israel that God did ultimately bring them home, it preaches to us today that God will yet ultimately bring us home. God made them live in booths as sojourners. He is making us live temporarily hear as spiritual sojourners. But God’s purposes are good and continue to be worked out in our life. As God provided for Israel during the wilderness wandering, so he will provide for us during the wilderness wandering.
So then, as we enjoy our national Thanksgiving holiday this week, it is natural to think of the many blessings in this world and how well settled and full of peace and blessing here and now that your life may be. I said in our first point even that we should thank God for such. But may we also be reminded of how ultimately this is not our final home, and that we must also keep this perspective of being sojourners on the way to glory. May we keep both truths in proper perspective and thus in all things give thanks to God again this day.
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