Leviticus 23:37-43 – The Lesson of the Feast of Booths
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD seven days; you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. … You shall dwell in booths for seven days; … that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.Leviticus 23:37-43
Within our churches the third Sunday of February has been declared a Thanksgiving Sunday. A few Sundays ago we could pay extra attention to thanking God for His daily care. But can we all still thank God for the fruits of our labours in the present economic downturn? What if you have been unemployed or have hardly had any income? Yes, what if you have even gone bankrupt? Can you still celebrate this day of thanksgiving? Let us see what the feast of booths can teach us.
The feast of booths was the third and last Jewish harvest festival. It fell at the end of the agricultural season. The feast of booths was the great harvest feast. It included and concluded the whole harvest: the produce of the land, threshing floor and wine press. That is why this feast is also called the feast of ingathering.
Note the date of this feast: the fifteenth day of the seventh month. Thus five days after the Day of Atonement. That order is very significant. You first had the Day of Atonement. First the high priest had to make atonement for the sins of the people. It first had to be made right with the LORD, by means of symbolic blood, by means of the blood of Jesus. In other words: no feast of booths without reconciliation.
God's people must realise that the whole harvest is the result of God's grace. All they deserved was death, eternal death. Only because of God's forgiveness were they able to eat, drink and enjoy the harvest feast.
Also today the fruits of our labours, our produce and profits, are associated with Christ's blood. Christ hung on the cross poor and naked so that we might be reconciled with God and made rich. Without that cross there would not have been any harvest in the past year. God would have already put an end to this world. Thus your daily bread is a fruit of Christ's redemptive work. You did not deserve a thing, apart from eternal hunger and misery. Yet you received so many things, grace upon grace. Let us therefore not emphasise our human rights, our right to maintain a certain standard of living. 'Who, in the light of the cross, still dares to speak of rights? Everything you have received, no matter how little it may seem compared to what others have, is a matter of undeserved grace. There is every reason to be humble and thankful.
The feast of booths was a feast of joy more than any other. It was a time of rejoicing and excitement. The Israelites were to rejoice before the LORD seven days. Deuteronomy 14 tells us how they were to do this. During this feast they had to bring the tithes of their produce to the LORD. Part of that tithe they could then use for their own joy. From it they were allowed to eat and drink what they desired, including wine and strong drink.
The Israelites were allowed to enjoy this feast, free from care, seven days. That made this feast so different than the heathen harvest festivals. The heathen feasts were characterised by anxiety about the future. Via all sorts of rites the heathens tried to win the favour of their gods and guarantee their future. Contrary to that the Israelites were given to celebrate seven full days free from care. Did they not know the LORD, the living God, who cares? In the presence of the LORD there is no room for anxiety. God's people must celebrate the feast free from care, with thankfulness and confidence. They must confess in word and deed that their LORD cares for them. With such a God there is no reason to be anxious about the future. Whoever trusts in the LORD will not be put to shame.
This also applies during a time of recession. Just imagine bringing your tithes to the LORD when the produce of your land is hardly sufficient to maintain your family. And then feasting on part of that tithe seven full days! How could you possibly do it? Isn't that a waste? In the days of Malachi people reasoned in that way. Thus they held back part of the tithes. They thought they could not afford it. What does the LORD then say to them? “'Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house; and thereby put Me to the test,' says the LORD of hosts, 'if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.'“ Show that you trust in Me by giving Me what is due to Me and celebrating the harvest festival in My presence.
How can you do that when things are tough? When the prospects are poor? Has the LORD not shown Himself to be the Almighty One in whose care you can entrust yourself. Why did the Israelites have to live in booths during the seven days of the feast? As a reminder of the LORD'S care and protection in the desert. Just imagine it: receiving food, protection and shelter in the wilderness. That is what the LORD did for His Old Testament people. Would He then not be able to care for me in a time of economic downturn? No, I may not be able to enjoy the luxuries I enjoyed previously and my neighbours still enjoy. That is not so important. Important is that I still see the gifts He does give me and serve Him with them. The LORD has shown himself to be our almighty and faithful God. Let us then celebrate this day of thanksgiving, full of thanks and trust.