And you shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees…
There were three great festivals for the Israelites, the dates for which were plainly marked, and at which times it behooved the males of the nation as far as possible to be present at the sanctuary. It is the last of these we are about to consider. The regulations for its observance were enunciated in fullest detail. Were not the people thus reminded that they assisted in the celebration of the ceremonies of a royal court? The Christian Church has its festivals, prominent among which are its gatherings on the Lord's day, and the observance of the Lord's Supper. Much of what can be said with reference to the Israelitish feasts is applicable also to the latter.
I. THIS WAS THE MOST JOYOUS OF THE FESTIVALS. "Ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God."
1. See God's delight in the happiness of his people. He loves to witness their rejoicing. Religion was never intended to be synonymous with gloom or moroseness.
2. This was the crowning festival of the year, and therefore ought to be its climax of joy. For the child of God better days are ever in store; he need never pine for the past to return; each festival shall surpass the preceding. Jesus keeps the best wine till the last; not so with the world's pleasures.
3. It took place five days after the solemn Day of Atonement, when the national sin was purged, and Israel's communion with its God re-established. To empress sin and obtain pardon is the fitting preparation for gladness of heart. No man who has not experienced the feeling of relief from the burden of guilt and the emotion caused by restoration to his heavenly Father's favour, knows the meaning of real joy. Compared with this the delights of sense and. intellect are flavourless.
4. Joy reaches its highest expression in the presence of God. "Rejoice before the Lord," even the holy righteous God who searches the heart and tries the reins. We may without pride know that we have done what was right, and that the Being of beings approves our conduct and graces the festival with the light of his countenance. There is none of the secret misgiving that attends sinful banquets, where the laugh is hollow and the gaiety forced, from a conviction that conscience is being silenced and moral law violated. Cf. the rejoicing of the people, and the terror of Adonijah and his guests (1 Kings 1:40, 49). David danced for glee before the Lord when the sacred ark was brought into the city of David. "Rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for thy king cometh unto thee." We would fain have the children glad when it is said, "Let us go unto the house of the Lord."
II. THIS WAS A FESTIVAL OF GRATITUDE FOR RECENT BLESSINGS.
1. Another name for it was the Feast of Ingathering. All the produce of the ground had been garnered, the Lord had blessed them in all their increase - corn, oil, and wine; daily food and luxuries abounded; the booths were constructed of fruit trees and leafy palms. God's bounteous bestowment was acknowledged. Spiritual and temporal mercies had enriched the people and evoked manifestations of thanksgiving. So visibly dependent is man upon God for the germinating and maturing of the grain and fruit, that a harvest thanksgiving seems peculiarly appropriate, and again at the storing of the harvest, when the work for the year is practically ended, a festival is of evident fitness. The compassions of the Lord, "new every morning," furnish ample matter for devout meditation and praise.
2. This feature of the festival was a reason why all should share in it, not only the wealthy, high-born Israelites, but the strangers, the fatherless, the widow, and the poor (Deuteronomy 16:14). God allows his sun to shine and rain to descend upon all, and he expects those who receive his lavish gifts to invite others to participate in the enjoyment thereof. Anticipating our Lord's directions to summon to a feast the poor and maimed and blind, the Israelites were accustomed to "send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared." Selfish exclusion was thus prevented, and universal rejoicing made possible.
3. An offering to God from each was essential. "They shall not appear before the Lord empty; every man shall give as he is able" (Deuteronomy 16:17). Speech and sentiment without deeds are rightly deemed insincere. It is true of all converts from heathendom that when they give of their substance to God we may infer that they have first given him their hearts. The priests and Levites were in part supported by these national free-will presentations. If we esteem the Master, we shall treat his servants well for his sake.
III. THIS WAS A COMMEMORATION OF FORMER BLESSINGS. During seven days the Israelites dwelt in booths made of green boughs to remind them of the days when they sojourned in the wilderness (verse 43).
1. Previous experience may well be remembered. If it pass into oblivion, its lessons have not been graven on the mind, and our state has not proved the discipline it was designed to be. Stand, O believer, upon the mount of present station, and survey the path with all its windings by which you have ascended to this lofty summit. Much a review will be profitable in the extreme, it will produce deepened humility and thankfulness. Keil says, "the recollection of privation and want can never be an occasion of joy." Surely he forgets the Latin Nine, "haec olim meminisse juvabit." Contrast ever heightens joy, a danger successfully surmounted is one of the most pleasing of memories.
2. The exhibition of God's protecting grace and love demands particular recollection. Not the might and resources of the Israelites, but the watchful, provident care of Jehovah, had led them safely through the desert. He had been to them "a booth for a shadow in the daytime from the beat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain" (Isaiah 4:6). The honour of God was concerned in having a permanent; memorial of Israel's stay in the wilderness, and this institution was adapted to preserve the continued confidence of the people in him and consequent freedom from boastful self-assertion. In many ways, "the joy of the Lord is our strength."
3. The deliverances wrought for our forefathers in olden days should excite gratitude to God in our breasts. Can we recall unmoved the triumphs of the early Christians, or the heroism which God's Spirit enabled martyred Protestants to evince? The wonders of our age become the heirlooms of the ages that follow.
CONCLUSION. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ commemorated in the Lord's Supper was the Passover of the Church; the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost marked the era of the Church's Feast of Weeks; the Feast of Tabernacles yet waits its due counterpart, when the elect shall be gathered into the kingdom from every land, to celebrate the cessation of earthly toil, to exult in the complete removal of sinful stain, and to enter upon the undimmed, undying gladness of the eternal sabbath. Not one of God's people shall be missing through illness or distance of abode, and a retrospect of the pilgrimage of earth shall enhance the bliss of heaven. - S.R.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.