Today we are gathered here to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles as God has commanded. This feast is one of the most happy and joyful of the Feasts of God, both for how we are commanded to celebrate it as well as for what it means. In today’s offertory I would like to give you a little bit of the historical context of how and why we celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles the way we do. So if you will bear with me, I will explain the reasons why God commands an offering of both money and joy at this Feast.
The Feast of Ingathering
The first mention of the Feast of Tabernacles in scripture is in Exodus 34:21-24, which not only commands Israel to obey the Feast of Tabernacles, but promises a divine blessing on Israel of safety for their homes and property for doing so. Let us turn to Exodus 34:21-24 and read this remarkable promise: “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest time you shall rest. And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. Three times a year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the Lord God of Israel, for I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times a year.”
We see here that the Sabbath commandment, from the very beginning, also commanded observance to God’s holy days in addition to the seventh day Sabbath, which was to be kept through the harvest season as well. At first, looking at this passage alone, we might assume that only men were to celebrate and go to the Feast of Tabernacles, but as we shall see shortly, this would be a mistaken assumption to make. Part of the blessing of the Feast of Tabernacles, though, was that God would make sure that the land and property of Israel was safe when Israel went to the feasts, and that no one would covet their land while they went off to celebrate the feast. For much of ancient Israel were people of the land, dwelling as farmers or shepherds or ranchers, and they would be concerned that if they left their homes and lands for a week or two at a time that someone might come and squat on it or try to steal it.
Three Times A Year
When we see the Feast of Tabernacles reviewed in Deuteronomy 16:13-17, we see that it was not only for the men of Israel, or only for Israelites at all, but it was for everyone in Israel, of whatever people or tribe or age or sex. Let us now read Deuteronomy 16:13-17: “You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress. And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates. Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the Lord empty handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you.”
Let us note a couple of interesting facts from this passage. For one, just like the Sabbath was commanded for all people, so was the Feast of Tabernacles. None were to be excluded. If it was necessary for the wealthier to help support the poorer so that they could attend the feast, it was done. Everyone was commanded to enjoy the Feast of Tabernacles and to celebrate, with eating and drinking in joyful moderation, the blessings that God had given them through the preceding year. Let us answer a question that this passage brings to mind, as well. Why was it that the males were commanded to give an offering? Because the men represented their households, and they offered on behalf of their entire families—and they were commanded to give an offering based on what God had given them in their harvests. Of course, if women and young people have been blessed by God and they too have their own business or their own work, they too give offerings, as it is done today. It was expected that all of the men would have such an offering to give—though nowadays women are expected to give an offering because they often have their own jobs and their own business interests as well.
Do Not Sorrow
Let us also note that it is not only money that we are commanded to offer at the Feast of Tabernacles. We are commanded to enjoy the Feast of Tabernacles, not to grieve, but to rejoice. I have to admit that I have not always kept this commandment very well myself, but it is something we must all remember to follow this year here in Khun Yuam and wherever we may attend the Feast of Tabernacles in the future. We saw the command to rejoice in Deuteronomy 16, but it is brought out even more in Nehemiah 8:1-12. Let us read this command to rejoice in Nehemiah 8:1-12 and keep this commandment ourselves: “Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought out the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattihiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at this left hand Padaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshallam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shebbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the law; and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites quieted the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”
What is remarkable about this story? For one, it shows that the people of Judah, in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, were attentive to the law, and that the demands of obedience in the law made them weep when they realized their own inability to follow God perfectly. However, the priests and Levites commanded them to rejoice, because it was ungodly to mourn on a holy day when one should celebrate. Not only are we commanded to rejoice for ourselves by eating the fat and sweet—good meat, sweet fruits and wine—but as well in sending food to those who are without. Part of the joy that we are commanded to participate in is helping those who are poor enjoy their feast also. To their credit, the people of Judah in Nehemiah 8 followed this commandment and made it possible for all, whether poor or rich, to enjoy the Feast of Trumpets and then later on the Feast of Tabernacles.
Let us therefore conclude this offertory with a reminder of the commands that God has given concerning our observance of this Feast. The Feast of Tabernacles is one of the holy days of God where we are commanded to assemble with our brothers and sisters in the faith. God promises to watch over our land and homes while we are gone, so that they remain safe. In addition, we are commanded not to come before God either with empty hands or with sorrowful hearts. Let us do our best this Feast of Tabernacles and every future one, to enjoy what God has given us and share in the generosity of the brethren, so that all may enjoy this feast as God has commanded.