Every nation has a national narrative. For us in Singapore, the annual National Day Parade is a special time set aside to tell our story, and to shape our identity. Each segment of the Parade is designed to remind us of where we came from, what we enjoy now, and to project our hopes for the future. In some sense, then, the feasts were given by God to teach the people of God and reinforce something about their identity too.
(A) Week: national gathering and festival (Lev 23:33-38)
We’ve been studying a series of national feasts and today we turn to the Feast of Booths (Lev 23:33). The Feast of Booths takes place on the 15th day of the 7th month, 2 weeks after the Feast of Trumpets (Lev 23:23). In between these 2 Feasts is the Day of Atonement (Lev 23:26-32). Therefore, the 7th month in the Jewish calendar has a particular significance in the life of Israel.
Lev 23:35-39 sheds more light on the Feast of Booths. It takes place for a week, and for 7 days in a year, God demands that His people celebrate this (Lev23:41). There is a holy convocation, and no work is to be done at this holy gathering (Lev 23:35). The whole week is one of celebration and rejoicing, and it was not meant to be a week of mourning of solemnity (Lev 23:40). Only the holy convocation had a more serious tone for it was to be a "solemn assembly" (Lev23:36b). Through this Feast, God was telling them that they ought to be a people that value national gathering and rejoicing. This is a big part of their life. Don't you see that The God of the Bible is not a miserable God? The God of Leviticus, is the God 1 -- a God who is generous and created everything generously and abundantly. This is a God filled with incredible joy and creativity.
The Feast of Booths was to be a week of gathering and celebrating.
(B) Wandering: national narrative of divine dependence in the wilderness (Lev 23:39-44)
If we take a closer look into the details of the Feast, we will learn 3 main ways that it is to be celebrated (Lev 23:39-42a). Firstly, they were to rest (Lev 23:39). They were also to rejoice and gather plants (Lev 23:40). These instructions are to be repeated in Deut 16:13-15, where we also learn that they were to gather only after they have gathered their produce and completed their work (Deut 16:13). Everyone in the land was to be involved in this Feast and gathering, including the Levite and the sojourner (Deut 16:14). It was an all-inclusive gathering. The idea of joy is repeated in these verses too. The people will be blessed and made joyful if they come in obedience (Deut 16:15)
Apart from these, the native Israelites were also told to live in booths during this period (Lev 23:42-43). These were temporary shelters. Why? It was not to remind them or to help them remember, but to actually educate them ("that your generations may know", Lev 23:43a). The people were not forgetful, but actually ignorant. The Feast of Booth was not about the people, but serves to point to the God who brought them out of Egypt and gave them the Feast. This is to let them know who God is and what He has done. He brought them out of Egypt but did not immediately parachute them into the Promised Land. The Feast served to tell them of a time when He rescued them and made them wander.
In a similar way, God saved us from something to something, but He has not given us fully what He has saved us to. The Bible has this entire process when the Israelites are wandering, and yet they lived in His presence. For us as Christians today, we know that Jesus died to open up a new way to God, not by our own works and righteousness. We are saved by an alien righteousness and we do not bear our sins, but we are not yet in heaven and still living in this fallen world. We are still living in between, between the already and not yet. This is not an aimless waiting, but there is also a purpose during this period. We are to live as citizens of heaven in the promise of what is to come, when it has not. Why then, do we who are bound for the life to come, live as if our life here is all there is? Our work now is important, but it is not all there is. Some of us live as if life now is all there is, but in reality, our cars, our homes etc are booths. Broken dreams, heartbreaks, loneliness, suffering -- these are all important to God, but this is not all there is! Life is not about just being a nice person, with good grades, a stable job and a comfortable life. The Feast of Booths reminds us that this place is not our home, and it points us forward to a time when God dwells with His people, and all things will be made new. There is so much more to live for, and to strive for. Are you living in a way that prepares you for the life to come? Are you investing in things that will last forever? Are you treating your booth as your castle?
(C) Water: Jesus is revealed as true living water at the Feast of Booths (Jn 7:1-39)
Later on in the Gospel of John, notice how John positions his storytelling of Ch 7-10 at the Feast of Booths and what it means for Jesus. John is revealing more and more of Jesus throughout the book, thus, it is not coincidence that the account in John occurred during the Feast of Booth. The brothers of Jesus think that the Feast should be a time for Jesus to show himself to the world (Jn 7:1-9). After all, this is the national party and gathering, and would be the best time for the Messiah to show himself. Yet, Jesus replies that his hour has not yet come (John 7:6). His finest hour is at the cross, and that is not here yet.
In the middle of feast, Jesus encounters the Jews in the temple, and challenges the assumptions of the Jews (Lev23:10-24). He declares that He is from God and is doing what God has commanded.
The people attended the Feasts -- participated and celebrated -- but did not understand what was going on. This was possible because they did not yet understand Jesus' work and who God is. Who Jesus really is shown most clearly at the cross. This challenges so many of our assumptions and pictures of power and kingship. Jesus achieved the most in history by dying. He was the only one that managed to do this. We have something to learn from His brothers and the religious leaders. Do we really know Him? It is entirely possible for us to participate in feasts and festivals without knowing who Jesus is.
On the last day of the Feast, Jesus declares that all who believes in Him will have rivers of living water flow out of his heart (Jn 7:38). Jesus speaks of true refreshment that never stops, only possible because of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts that bring about newness and hope. He brings about things that we can never bring about by ourselves. As long as the Spirit keeps working, we will not be stagnant. This is the only way we can get through our wandering here on earth. What is God saying to you today about Jesus as living water?