Now I know many who are listening to this tape have attended the Feast for many years. Last year was, I think, my 41 st consecutive Feast of Tabernacles. And it gets to be so much a habit for most of us, we just do it. We just go when it’s time to go. When we do things that way – when it’s a habit – it’s easy to stop thinking about why we’re doing it. It’s especially that way if you’ve done it all your life. If you’ve grown up keeping the Feast, the tendency is to just go and do it because that’s what you’ve always done.
But I have a challenge for you today. I’m going to tell you that I can show you in the Bible that you really don’t know a major reason why God wants you to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. Think I can do that?
Let’s look at some of the reasons why we keep it. Let’s go to Leviticus 23:33.
Lev. 23:33 – Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel , saying, the fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the LORD. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.” So, there’s a seven day feast. The first day is a holy day, and then there’s a separate feast that follows on the heels of it – the eighth day – that is also a holy day. “It is a sacred assembly and you shall do no customary work on it.”
We also know that Jesus preached a sermon on the last day of this Feast. And we know that Paul mentions that he kept it, too. The apostle to the Gentiles, some twenty years after Christ died, was keeping the Feast of Tabernacles. The New Testament church – Jews and Gentiles – were keeping the Feast of Tabernacles. We know the picture in the New Testament is the model for our worship today. So, we do it, too.
What’s the reason then? The reason we keep the Feast of Tabernacles – one of them – is because God said so . Right? We’re just told to do it. So we do it. We don’t have to know what is important about it, what it means. All you have to know is that God said so to make this reason a good one. Nobody else does it today. Too bad for them. They are missing out on an incredible spiritual meaning and the clarity that comes from following what God says to do.
Let’s look at a second reason. Now I know everybody here already knows that we do it because God said so. Right? That’s not the reason I was talking about, okay? Let’s look at another one.
Lev. 23:39 – Also, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land…. The fifteenth day of the seventh month is what? It’s the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles. …you shall keep the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a sabbath rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. Now we all know that reason, too, don’t we? We’re supposed to rejoice before God. Nothing new there. The Feast is for rejoicing. Now that’s a command most of us have never had any problem with. The Feast is for fun! It’s for having a good time. It’s for rejoicing. We have some money. We have some time. We have some friends, some loved ones. We have some good fall weather – usually. And we have some good food. So the Feast is fun. It’s good to get away, and go somewhere different and do all of that. Right? We’re supposed to rejoice at the Feast. Everybody knows that. Okay, that’s not the reason I was talking about either.
Let’s look at another one. Colossian 2:16 and 17.
Col. 2:16-17 – Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days . That’s not just talking about a whole collection of weekly Sabbaths. That’s talking about holy days. And then he says, in verse 17, which are a shadow of things to come. Okay? “Which are a shadow of things to come.” So the holy days are pictures of things that have not yet been fulfilled in the plan of God. And that’s a real big clue as to why they should still be observed, isn’t it?
A lot of people say that we don’t have to do all the things in the Old Testament because they all pictured Christ. And He came and fulfilled all of that. These things are “things to come,” we’re told.
Now, when God originally commanded Israel to keep the Feast, He told them it was supposed to remind them of something that happened in the past. They were to keep it to remember that God gave them the land that they lived in, and they should always remember to be thankful to Him. That’s why they celebrated – to show appreciation for what God had given them. The Feast of Tabernacles was following a big harvest. So they went to celebrate the fact that there had been bounty provided by God.
We also know that Christ expanded the meaning of the holy days when He came. The Feast of Tabernacles now reminds us of something that is going to happen in the future, because it is a shadow of things to come.
So the holy days are God’s explanation to us about our destiny with Him, His plan, and how He is going to affect our salvation. For us, the Feast of Tabernacles is a reminder of the future time when God, through His loving government, is going to draw all people back to Him as it was in the Garden of Eden. So, we’re celebrating a better future with God.
Now, let’s turn and read, not a whole passage, but just one verse – sort of a sound byte in words – a scripture byte, maybe, we could call it.
Rev. 11:15 – Then the seventh angel sounded, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever.” The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates the Kingdom of God coming to earth. And when we go to the Feast, we become part of a picture. We are a group of people in a spiritual relationship with God, and with each other, and in harmony with Him and at peace. I think, for the most part, we’ve done a pretty good job of this one, as well, over the years. We all know that one of the reasons we’re to keep the Feast is that it pictures the Kingdom of God on earth. That’s a very inspiring picture.
I don’t remember any riots breaking out at the Feast of Tabernacles. Most everybody is on their best behavior then. And we get along pretty good, for the most part, so I think we’ve done a pretty good job over the years of picturing people in a relationship with God, in harmony with each other and living a good life. So that’s a good thing. But that’s not the reason I’m challenging you on today.
There’s another reason. Let’s look at another scripture. Revelation 20, verse 6 – another scripture byte.
Rev. 20:6 – Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection, over such the second death has no power. But they shall be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Now, we’ve said over the years that when we come to the Feast, we come to prepare to be kings and priests in the Kingdom of God , as well as just to picture it. We come to rejoice. We come to picture the millennium. And we come to prepare to be kings and priests in that Kingdom. And we listen to sermons about “the meaning of the Feast,” which being translated into COG speak means, sermons about the millennium and Christ’s rule on the earth. Right? We’ve studied that for years, right? Heard lots of sermons about that at the Feast. In fact, in some circles, if you don’t give a sermon on that, you’ve been a bad boy.
Well, now I’m going to make a statement that’s going to make some people really upset. Some won’t be angry because they don’t care any longer if they’re keeping the Feast for the right reasons or not. But some people are going to get angry. Now, on the other side of that, there are some people that are just so spiritually weak that they are lucky to get there at all, let alone think about their purpose in being there. If they could roll out of bed and be at the Feast of Tabernacles, it would still be too hard for them – not committed, don’t save the money needed, don’t make careful plans, don’t see any reason to go.
Okay. Here comes the statement. Are you ready for it? If the only reasons you go to the Feast are these reasons that we have mentioned so far, you have kept the Feast all these years without understanding one of the most important reasons of all for keeping the Feast of Tabernacles. Now that’s just an outrageous statement, isn’t it? So, now it’s up to me to show you, out of the Bible, a major reason why we ought to keep the Feast that none of us knows about. Okay, here we go.
Before I do this, I want to make one point. Let’s go to Deuternomy 14:22. While you’re turning there, I’m going to tell you that, in ancient Israel , everyone was supposed to save a tenth of their farm income to attend the Feast. Here’s the scripture that says that.
Dt. 14:22 – Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place that He will choose as a dwelling for His name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.
Now, did that say what it said? Yeah, it said you’re supposed to take a tenth of your income and eat it while you’re at the Feast. So that’s not talking about a tenth of your income that went to the Levites, is it? It’s another tenth. That’s what they did.
V-24 – But if that place is too distant, and you have been blessed by the LORD your God, and cannot carry your tithe, because the place where the LORD your God will choose to put His name is so far away, then exchange your tithe for silver and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like – cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink – you know, a big tenderloin of beef, or rack of lamb, or wine, or strong drink – or anything you want. Then you and your household shall eat it in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.
So we know a tenth went to the Levites, to the priesthood and the tabernacle. This is apparently how the festival was to be financed. You can’t take the same tenth and do two different things with it, can you? So a tenth is a tenth. It’s not a fifth, or 25%. It’s a tenth. It’s 10%. It’s not 5%. So if that’s true, it was God’s intention that as much money was to be allocated for the promotion of the Feast of Tabernacles as for the entire spiritual worship of Israel for an entire year! They had equal budgets – a budget to run the temple – the tabernacle – for an entire year, and then, the same amount to be spent on the Feast of Tabernacles. Do you think it was important to God? He was willing to spend a lot of money to make sure that everybody got to the Feast.
In the early years of the Worldwide Church of God, we all set aside 10% for the Feast as well. I want you to think about that one. Over the years, the same amount of money was spent on the Feast as was spent on the entire rest of the church – if everybody was doing what they were supposed to do. Just think about that for a minute. The colleges, the radio program, the congregations, the salaries of all the ministers and all the people that worked there at all the colleges and in all the churches and at the headquarters – at the three college campuses – everything. Think about how much money it took to do that. The same amount of money was to be allocated for the Feast. Big time dollars! Of course, it wasn’t collected centrally, so we never saw it all in one pile. But it was there. And it was used to send people to the Feast. The Feast of Tabernacles is incredibly expensive when you think about that.
What is the purpose of that? What’s the purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles? Why would God allocate that kind of money? So that we could go have a religious vacation? I don’t think God had in mind a religious vacation for the nation. It is a religious vacation, but do you think He would really spend as much as He spends on everything else for that? No, we’ve missed the boat. We have missed the boat!
Let’s think about some things that we know about the Feast of Tabernacles out of the Bible. First of all, Jesus used the Feast of Tabernacles to talk to people about salvation.
Jn. 7:37 – 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 in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.) So there’s an example of how the Feast – Jesus used the Feast – to talk about something that hadn’t happened yet, and to talk about something that was going to happen to people – something that they were going to do once the Holy Spirit came.
The other point I want to make about this is, we have only – except for this example of Jesus preaching this sermon right here – we have only one example of a functioning Feast of Tabernacles in the entire Bible. Did you know that? Do you know where it is? Is it ever read at the Feast when we go there, so that we know what we’re supposed to do at the Feast? Do you think we could possibly learn anything by studying the example of the only functioning Feast of Tabernacles in the Bible? Let’s read about it. Let’s go to the Bible and read about the only functioning Feast of Tabernacles, and see how God inspired the priesthood to use the Feast – what they were trying to accomplish by it. There might be something there that will rock us to our roots, if we have the capability any more to even be rocked. Some of us are so dead spiritually, the only thing that we can do is what we have already done. We’re too weak to grow, too weak to think about spiritual things, too weak to think about things in a new way – no longer any movement, just dead in our tracks. Are you like that? Or can you learn something, any more from the Bible?
Let’s talk about this story in the Bible. It goes through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The history of it is that ancient Israel and Judah went into captivity because they did not obey God. Israel was taken captive by the Assyrians in the 700s BC. Judah fell to the Babylonians in 500s BC. Israel was scattered. Judah retained her identity. When the time came, after 70 years of captivity, God worked it out – He caused the door to open – so that Judah went back to Jersusalem to rebuild the temple, and the city and the wall around it. The whole story is recorded there in Ezra and Nehemiah with all its political wrangling and intrigue. It’s recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Here’s the situation. The leader of Judah – Zerubbabel – led the first group of people back to Jerusalem . He took 50,000 people out of Babylon and went back to rebuild the temple. Seventy years later, God sent a man named Ezra to Jerusalem with more workers. It says of Ezra that he was “a ready scribe in the law of God.” He was an expert in the law. He knew it backwards and forwards. He was a sharp instrument in God’s hands. He was a change agent. He was a spiritual mover and shaker. He was not dead to the lead of the Spirit, but alive with the power of God. And when he got to Jerusalem , what he saw made him ticked! He was upset! He saw that this project of rebuilding the nation had stalled out completely. They had the temple built, but the wall around it was incomplete. And that left the temple and the city vulnerable. The people had completely forgotten why they were there! Haggai said, “They built their own houses and neglected the house of God.”
See, God caused Cyrus to make a decree to send them back. They went back to do what God wanted them to do, and they got stalled out on the project! They forgot why they were sent there over 70 years. They were all busy building their own houses, and doing business and trying to make money. And they just completely forgot that they were supposed to rebuild the temple, and the city and the wall around it. They forgot the very reason that God had called them back to Jerusalem .
A few years after Ezra arrived – to find the loss of focus – Nehemiah, who was governor in Jersusalem, arrived with more people. He came from Babylon . And he gathered all the people together, once he got in position, and he provided an audience for Ezra – this firebrand, this spiritual motivator, this dynamo of spiritual vibrance – he got everybody together so that Ezra could talk to the people. I want you to read with me what happened. And I want you to understand when it happened.
In Nehemiah 7:73 – it’s a long chapter, isn’t it? We’re just going to read the last verse of it.
Neh. 7:73 – So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the Nethinims, and all Israel , dwelt in their cities. And when the seventh month came, the children of Israel were in their cities. What happens in the seventh month? Feast of Tabernacles. That’s right.
Neh. 8:1 – 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 the law before the assembly of men and women, and all who hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventy month. The first day of the seventh month. Now what happens on the first day of the seventh month? Feast of Trumpets, right? The first day of each month is a new moon. They blow a trumpet on that day. And this was the seventh trumpet of the year, which is a picture of something that’s going to happen in the future, isn’t it? So there they were on the Feast of Trumpets.
V-3 – Then it says in verse 3, 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 they had morning services. And they were hearing the law read.
Now, back in those days, hardly anybody had – well, they didn’t have Bibles. They just had the scrolls. So the only way that you could learn what was in the Bible was to have it read to you by the priests – or in the synagogue. Most people didn’t have their own copies. So that’s what they were doing. They had morning services. And they had the law read to them.
V-4 – It says in verse 4, So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood, which they made for the purpose. So they had a raised lecturn, because there were thousands of people there to hear what was said. So they had to get him up above everybody. And Ezra opened the book in the sight , verse 5, of all the people, for he was standing above the people. And when he opened it, all the people stood up. So he comes up on the podium, and he opens up the book – the scroll – and everybody stands up.
V-6 – It says in verse 6, Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, amen.” So they had an opening prayer. And it said they did that while they’re lifting up their hands . Some people don’t like to raise their hands? It’s too whatever…. But that’s what they did here. Cultural thing. And they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Where’s our face pointed when we have an opening prayer? Down. That’s right. They did the same thing that we do, right? They had opening prayer.
V-7 – It says, also, that some of the priests helped the people , verse 7, to understand the law. And the people stood in their place. Now the picture here is not completely clear to me. They may have broken up in groups, because there are thousands of people. They may have had to break up to hear. These people may have been all speaking the same thing to different groups. It’s a little hard to believe that they would have taken turns one after another, unless they each had a very short thing to teach or preach.
V- 8 – But it says in verse 8 – however they did it – that they read distinctly from the book in the law of God, and they gave the sense and helped them to understand the reading. So they were reading the law to them, helping them to understand it.
V-9 – And it says in verse 9, And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people, all said to the people, “This day is holy to the LORD. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. What part of the law do you suppose they were reading to them? What do you think caused all those people to cry? Well, I think it’s a real good chance that they were reading Leviticus 23, teaching them about the Feast. Because then in verse 10, they start instructing them what to do.
V-10 – He said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet….” See, when they had been in captivity, they weren’t allowed to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, 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.” And so the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy, and do not be grieved.” So they found out that they were all assembled on the Feast of Trumpets and they were doing something that God commanded them to do in the law that they, apparently, didn’t know about. They’d lost knowledge of it. It was so moving to them that many of them just broke down and cried.
V-12 – Then it says in verse 12, 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. So they began to understand how to keep the Feast.
V-13 – Now it says in verse 13, On the second day…. And I’m thinking that we’ve moved through time now to the Feast of Tabernacles. …the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, the priests and Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the law. And they found written in the law, which the LORD had commanded Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, and branches of oil trees, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” Another name for it is the Feast of Booths. Then the people went out and brought them, and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards, or in the courts of the house of God, and in the open square at the water gate, and in the open square of the gate of Ephraim. So they were camping! They were camping. And the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths. Now listen to this. For since the days of Joshua, the son of Nun, until that day, the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness.
So, what’s happening here? What’s happening? Well, people are reawakening to the law of God and to the will of God in their lives – at the Feast of Tabernacles!
V-18 – Also, day by day, from the first day until the last, he read from the book of the law of God. And they kept the Feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly accordingo to the prescribed manner. Okay. So there was this huge reawakening that, “Oh, we haven’t done what God wanted us to do all this time! Here we thought we were God’s people, and we never did what He told us to do.” Now, notice what happens next. Look in Nehemiah, the ninth chapter.
Neh. 9: 1 – Now in the twenty-fourth day of this month, the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, with sackclothes and earth upon them. Okay, now what day does the Feast of Tabernacles start? 15th. And it last eight days, counting the last day. So the last day would be the 22 nd , right? So the 24 th day would be two days after the Feast – a day to get home, burn the boughs, and then they came back together again.
V-2 – And it says in verse 2, The seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. The seed of Israel . So the entire nation, after the Feast was over, came together in worship, and in fasting, and confessed their sins. They stood up in their place, it says in verse 3, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day. And another fourth part of the day they confessed and worshipped the LORD their God. So they had, probably, morning and afternoon services. These people were transformed by their festival experience – changed! That’s the record we have. That’s the only picture of a working Feast of Tabernacles in the Bible.
What really happened there? What can we learn from this? We saw that they, like us, rejoiced and enjoyed some of the good things of life. But we saw that the priesthood, under God’s inspiration, used the Feast in a different way than it’s used in the church today. We use it to picture something that has to happen later, and that’s good. They are shadows of things to come. But they used it to motivate and teach people how to be involved in the work of God then . See, what Ezra came to Jerusalem to do was to refocus people on the work of God, that they had forgotten about. That’s why he was there. And he used the Feast of Tabernacles for that purpose. And we see what happened afterwards. They totally got back on track again.
Do we use the Feast that way today? No, not really. You know, I see the Church of God today in the same situation that Judah was back then – divided, weak, unfocused on mission, all involved in our own personal stuff. We’ve let the house of God fall apart while we’ve been building our own – just like in those days. We spend our energy striving over things like doctrine and control, instead of striving for the love of God in our lives and to do the misison of the church. We’ve become a bunch of spiritual consumers, who want to sit inactive and listen to somebody talk to us, rather than actively being involved in the mission of the church. We like the idea of going on a vacation associated with church, so we can have fun and feel religious at the same time. And when we come back, we talk about where we went, and what fun things we did, and what good food we ate, and what fun activities we did, and who we did them with, and we might throw in that we heard a good sermon. But if somebody asks us who gave it and what they talked about, we can’t remember either one of them. We don’t talk about what we learned to do. We don’t talk about promoting the mission of the church. We don’t talk about the reason for our calling when we come back from the Feast.
So I’m asking, is there something wrong with the picture we’re looking at? We are being consumed with spiritual consumerism. We go on a Feast vacation when we really need to be rediscovering the mission God has called us to and start preparing to do it.
I want to tell you about an experience I had several years ago. I used to manage a national youth program for one of the larger COGs. While I was doing that, I was living in Pasadena , California . While there, I learned that every year the Pasadena Civic Center hosted a week-long religious convention. I heard there were going to be a lot of different classes there, so I went to it. When I went there I was absolutely blown away by what I saw! Every morning, starting at 9 o’clock and lasting until noon, there were literally dozens and dozens of classes, trainings and seminars going on in a lot of different rooms in this huge Civic Center – everything, from how to teach about God, to prophecy, to you name it. It was there. Somebody was talking about it. Everything was covered. And there were thousands of people going to all these classes all morning long – from class, to class, to class. At lunch, they all came into this huge hall, and they ate together. There was a catered meal, where everybody that paid their money got to go in and eat. And while they ate, a high-powered evangelist delivered a potent, inspiring, motivating sermon. Then, at 2 pm – lunch was over – and they had three more hours of classes. And they went from class, to class, to class all afternoon till 5 o’clock. And after that they had free time to do as they pleased – to go to dinner with friends, to come back for a sing-along, or whatever. I think they even had some Bible studies in the evening in some of those smaller rooms.
I saw elderly people there. I saw teenagers there. I saw mothers with small kids there. And all of them were attending classes intent on learning how to help their congregations and their churches. I went to three days of those meetings. I kind of felt like a spy. This was an evangelical Christian activity, and I’m not an evangelical Christian, so I kind of felt a little bit out of place. But I listened to people talk in the halls between classes. And I sat on benches, and watched people walk by, and listened to what people were saying as they passed by me. In three days I never once heard anybody talking about taking the day off to go to Disneyland , or to some other local attraction. I never heard anybody talk about where they were going to go eat dinner, or who they were going to hang out with that night, or what they were going to do. All the conversation was excited talk about what they were learning, and how they were going to use it when they got home to help their church. The place hummed with energy. And after that experience I understood what happened at the Feast that Ezra and Nehemiah had put on for the nation of Judah . They used the Feast to refocus, inspire and teach the people how to do the work of God again.
Have you ever been to a Feast like that? A Feast that awakened you, and equipped you, and changed you? Well, if not, and if you want to do the Feast according to the only example of what a Feast ought to be like, then you better go looking for a site that provides that kind of experience. Don’t go to the Feast for a vacation. Go to learn how to be a sharp instrument in the hands of God and how to refocus on the mission that God has given us. Go where you can learn those things.