"Tell the Israelites to begin the Festival of Tabernacles on the fifth day after the Day of Atonement. This festival to the Lord will last for seven days." Leviticus 23:34
The Feast of Tabernacles closely follows the Atonement-day. It is a season of especial joy succeeding to especial grief. Highest delights wipe penitential tears away; and gladness loudly sings, where sighs so mournfully were heard.
This near connection teaches much. It is a picture of experience. It marks a path, which true believers often tread.
When is the Lord most precious to the soul? When are heart-raptures at their fullest tide? It is, when sins have been most keenly felt, and meek confession has most humbly wailed. Extraordinary beauty then shines from the cross. Then faith embraces it with stronger grasp, and fervent praises raise triumphant notes.
Morn is most welcome after stormy night. The rays most cheer, which gleam from a dark cloud. Peace is most peaceful after tossing doubts. The hope, which once was lowest, rears the strongest head. He most loves Christ who most discerns his need. The expiation-day, which ushers in the happy Tabernacle-feast, confirms these lessons.
The time of this celebration next claims notice. The date is, when all harvests are concluded. Not only barns are laden with their grain—not only toil throughout the fields has ceased—but vines, and palms, and olive-trees have added their full store. All that earth gives of plenty is received. The golden ears are reaped—the clustering grapes are plucked—the olive-boughs have yielded their supplies. Ingathering hands have brought their treasures home. The year's rich produce is all gained. This is the season for exuberant joy. Therefore God's word goes forth, 'Let Israel's sons now hasten to My courts.'
The lesson of this edict is most clear. When bounties multiply, more praise should sing. Reader, cultivate a thankful mind. Yours is an overflowing cup—yours should be ever-flowing thanks. Your daily table is spread with daily bread. With each day's light new blessings come. You merit not these gifts. Should not your life then be a Tabernacle-feast? Think well. No shame is like the debt of gratitude unpaid. No sacrilege is like the thankless robbery of God.
Peculiar rites are now ordained. All Israel's males are called from their accustomed homes. The shelter of their roofs must for a while be left. Booths are constructed from the boughs of trees. The olive and the pine—the myrtle and the palm—the willows of the brook—contribute spreading shade. These branches form an intertwined abode. And here throughout the feast the multitudes repose. They seem as pilgrims sojourning beneath the forest's arms. The city has become a foliaged tent.
Do any here enquire the significance of this singular decree? The word of God replies, "During the seven festival days, all of you who are Israelites by birth must live in shelters. This will remind each new generation of Israelites that their ancestors had to live in shelters when I rescued them from the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God." Leviticus 23:42-43. This then is a reminding sign. It sets the past before the pondering eye. It calls the thoughts to intermix with bygone scenes. The population is thus made to live again the infant annals of its race. It here rehearses the marvels of the nation's birth.
Let us with them go back in wondering thought.
It was a solemn time, when God arose to rescue Israel's sons. With mighty arm He broke the tyrant's yoke. With mighty signs He led them through the deep. With beckoning hand He marked their march. With food from heaven He satisfied their needs. A trickling stream brought waters in their rear. With fearful majesty He re-published the glorious Law. He ordered a long train of Altar-rituals to shadow out redeeming grace. He framed peculiar codes to form their character—to discipline their minds—to seal them, as His chosen treasure. Such was the nursery of the favored tribes. Thus God came down to win them to Himself. What grace, what tenderness—what evidence of special favor! No nation ever saw the like. No family was ever thus espoused.
But through these wondrous days, they had no settled home. They wandered in a desert-waste. They dwelt in tents, as a wayfaring tribe. It is to fix these early dealings on their minds, that God constrains them year by year to sojourn in these verdant booths. Each circumstance around would re-awaken memory's delights. In happy converse they would trace and retrace their former mercies and their privileged estate. We are the people, whom the Lord has blessed. To us pertain "the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises." Rom. 9:4. Our fathers rested beneath shade like this, when first God called them to be His. The flame of faith would thus be fanned, and shadows of the past would add rich colors to their present joy.
Believer, here is instruction for your heart. You too should come apart, and take your seat beneath the branches of reviving thought. Contemplate the past. You once were in a desert state. There was a time, when God first visited your heart, and called you to His feet, and whispered words of love. Sweet was this manna to your happy lips—cool were these waters to your taste—and memory's wings should often fly back to these hours. Their record should be read, and read again. The grateful lips should often repeat, 'I once was dead, but now I live. I once was blind, but now I see. I had no refuge; now I dwell in God. I had no hope, now glory dazzles me around.' It is a rich Tabernacle-feast when faith reviews its infant converse with the Lord.
The booths, also, were a fragile shelter. They were not reared for durable continuance. A few brief hours raised them. A few brief days would see them cast aside. Here is a picture of life's little speck. What are these bodies, but tents of crumbling flesh? Today they live—tomorrow they lie low. Man breathes but to expire. The Word of truth exhausts similitudes to warn us of our brevity. Each rapid and most short-lived object shows that departure is at hand.
This is another lesson from booth-dwellings. Reader, you are a tenant of a falling shelter. Dream not of a long stay. In a few years at most, all the vast multitudes, who throng this earth, will have returned to kindred dust. This very day your tenement may fall. Live then with your loins girded, and your staff prepared to march. Act every act, as if your last. Speak every word, as if with dying breath. Move, as if moving to the judgment-seat. Flee every scene, where you would tremble to resign your life. Your tent is but a withering branch. You must soon leave it. Make sure your title to an everlasting home.
But there is deeper doctrine here. These lowly homes foreshow the tent of humble flesh, in which the Son of God scorned not to sojourn. They turn attention to Bethlehem's manger. Christ's perfect manhood is the fact, from which faith draws its deepest streams of peace. On this our rapturous eye should without ceasing dwell. The mighty God—Jehovah's fellow—indeed put on our flesh. He, who is far too bright for angel's gaze, has veiled His glories in a tenement of clay.
We must endure the penalty for our sin, either in person or by proxy. He takes our place. His Gospel is, 'My flock has sinned, and, as poor sinners, they are doomed to wrath; I come to earth to occupy their place, to bear their guilt, and to sustain their curse. Their life is forfeited—My life shall be the substitute. Just wrath demands their death—My death shall be presented in their stead.' Thus Jesus is a pilgrim in our lowly abode. Thus He responds to the main feature of the Tabernacle-feast.
Let us now mingle with the rites.
Throughout this Feast the Altar groaned with victims slain. Each animal was brought. Burnt offerings; grain offerings; sin offerings; drink offerings, scarcely found an end. Blood flowed in a full tide.
Reader, in joy's happiest flights redeeming blood must have a foremost place. No blessings speed but through a Savior's death. Christ is the pathway, along which mercies come. Sin chokes all other channels. Hence when praise sings, it looks towards the cross. The lips, which celebrate God's tender love, are touched with a live-coal from atonement's altar. None truly blessed, apart from Jesus's work.
The bulls in these offerings diminish gradually. It is not easy to assign the cause. The descending scale might show, that typifying rites were tending towards their close. Their end would come. The orb of day would soon arise. Then all mists melt into full light. So too faith's pleadings only last throughout the present time-state. Each hour brings consummation nearer. Then prayers and ordinances cease. Then Christ will shine in one unclouded blaze, and all eternity be one enraptured gaze.
But there were other ceremonies in these days. The joyful crowds come forth. Each hand uplifts a palm-tree branch, and waving high their verdant wands, they march around the Altar. As they move on, they raise triumphant songs, and send their loud Hosannas to the skies. The courts re-echo with a chorus of delight. While thus in thought we join this shouting throng, another congregation rises to our view. Behold a glowing scene. "After this I beheld, and lo! a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God, who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." Rev. 7:9, 10.
Reader, this joy, these victory-shouts, this palm-waving ecstacy draws near. Shall you be one among the countless mass? Will your hands bear this conquering sign? It cannot be, if you are this world's slave. It cannot be, if your days toil for sin. It cannot be, except your heart be given to Christ—unless you are all cleansed in His all-cleansing blood—unless you make His wounds your life. They only, who are Christ's by faith, sing this Salvation's hymn.
Another service was adjoined. With golden vessel the priest approached Siloam's pool. He thence drew water, and outpoured it at the altar's base. This rite drew forth the loudest thrill of joy. The multitudes in swelling chorus sang again. They take the prophet's blessed words, "With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation." Is. 12:3. Their spirits seemed to soar away from earth, and catch the rapture of the saints in light. If earthly shadows be thus glad, how will the heavenly realities exceed.
Reader, the eye of Jesus while on earth surveyed this scene. He witnessed and thus spoke, "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." John 7:37-38. Have these words come in power to your soul? Have you in truth drawn water from this saving fount? Mark—you are called. Christ graciously invites. He will not turn away. His word secures your welcome. Come, come, partake. The draught will give you life for evermore, and cause you to dispense the living stream. Come, and in spirit keep the Tabernacle-feast. Read not in vain the Savior's cry. Read not in vain this record of these festive days.