I want you to consider some opposites today. What is the opposite of love? Hatred. What is the opposite of hot? Cold. What is the opposite of kind? Mean. And so on. We live in a world of opposites but most of the time we find ourselves in the middle of the two opposites. We may not love someone but we don’t really hate them either and so we say they are all right. We don’t like to be too hot or too cold and so we set the thermostat on what is in the middle. We know we shouldn’t be mean but it’s so hard to be really nice to others and so we just hang out in the middle. We tend to find the middle ground between opposites.
So here is the question: What is the opposite of worry? Trust! We know we shouldn’t worry about money, children, jobs and so on and yet we do. We know we are to trust God in all things, but here as well, we end up waffling around in the middle. We try to take care of ourselves and give a nod to God because we know he takes care of us but we don’t necessarily fully trust God either. And even so we tend to lean toward the worrying side rather than the trusting side. The Feast of Tabernacles is a feast that celebrates the fact that God provides for his people and we can trust him fully. Let’s see how God underscored that lesson to his people through this feast. Let’s read Leviticus 23:33-44.
This is the final fall feast which falls on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. Again this is in a time of a less pressured pace. There is time now for something quite different from the other feasts. For one week, they are to leave their homes behind and live in shelters made of branches. Now let’s think about that for a moment. Some may love backpacking and camping and being outdoors. Some think “camping” is staying at a moderately priced hotel instead of a Hilton. But here’s the thing: you get to choose, right? If you want to live outside, you can; but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. This annual feast or celebration was mandatory for the campers and non-campers alike. It was not recreation but a religious feast for all native-born Israelites to experience.
This is a harvest festival and the focus is on how God has taken care of them physically again in this past year but this is also a remembering festival. This was to remind them that they used to live in booths when they came out of Egypt. They would reminisce about what it was like in those years on the way from Egypt. They would tell the stories of what God did to their enemies along the way. They would tell the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. They would talk about when the spies came back from the land of Canaan. This feast visually reminded the people of how God rescued them, took care of them and brought them to the promised land. Moreover, God provided for them all along the way for all those years. They trusted in God and he took care of them.
But it is also a feast to help them appreciate the blessings that they have now. It is only when we are deprived of our daily blessings of health, food, clothes, or housing that we realize just how much we have to be thankful for. Deuteronomy makes the point that they must always remember that they had nothing and now have much so that they do not forget the Lord their God.
Then on the seventh year, as we read in Deuteronomy 31:10-11, there was a special event during which the law given by God on Mt. Sinai was read again. This would remind the people that they were to follow the covenant requirements in order to receive the blessings. God will bless them as long as they are obedient to God’s law. The feast appears to have stopped being observed during the times of the kings but was started again after the people returned from exile.
What we can learn from this feast is that God cares for us and so we can trust in him. If we go through times of difficulty in our journey, God has us and we can trust in him. In this time of year, we look back and remember all that Jesus did to save us. It’s good for us to look back and see how God has not only been providing for us but guiding us as we have gone through the various stages in our lives. God has always been there and we can trust that he will always continue to guide us.
And in times of great abundance, we must remember that all we have is from God’s hand. We may feel that it is our own skill or wisdom that has gotten us where we are. It is good to have times where we are reminded that God is the one who gives us the ability to prosper and have abundance. And in times of abundance, we can again trust that he will take care of us.
II. Let’s look again at the role of the Sabbath in this feast.
On the first and last days of this feast, the people were not to do any ordinary work. These were days of quiet reflection with God’s people as they remembered God’s care. They could rest on those days knowing that the God who had cared for them in the past would provide for and care for them now and in the future as well. We too can have Sabbath to rest and know that God will take care of us. Our Sabbaths are days when we can rest and remember that God has always provided in the past in all ways, spiritually and materially. Our Sabbaths are days when we can rest and trust that God will always provide for us in all ways in the future, spiritually and materially.
When we observe Sabbath, we show others and our children that we really believe this. Eugene Peterson writes: “The most striking thing about keeping the Lord’s Day is that it begins by not doing anything. The Hebrew word, shabbat, which we take over as is, untranslated, into our language, simply means, Quit; stop; take a break. As such it has no religious or spiritual content: Whatever you are doing, stop it. Whatever you are saying, shut up. Sit down and take a look around you. Don’t do anything. Don’t say anything. Fold your hands. Take a deep breath... Peterson continues, “I don’t see any way out of it: If we are going to honor the Father, we must keep the Sabbath. We must stop running around long enough to see what he has done and is doing. We must shut up long enough to hear what he has said and is saying.” But as we have seen in the other feasts, this feast as well points forward to Jesus.
III. We see how Jesus fulfills this in John 7. Read 7:1-11, 14-15, 37-39.
Jesus was in Jerusalem during this Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Again remember that the Feast of Tabernacles helped the people remember God’s care when they were rescued from slavery in Egypt and as they traveled to the promised land. By the time of Jesus, the element of water had taken a prominent place in this feast. The Israelites had been literally, physically thirsty to the point of death and God miraculously provided water on at least three occasions while in the wilderness.
In John 7:37, we read that on the Great day of the feast, the 7th day with the 7 processions with the water, Jesus stood up and said, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” Jesus likely was teaching His disciples in the temple area at this time. He was sitting down as any teacher or rabbi would do. Now perhaps seeing the highlight of the whole festival with all the people thinking of water, He stands up and makes this startling announcement. In effect, Jesus is saying, “You people are looking for water.” “You need it for your crops so you can live.” “You are looking for water but the system you have is not going to be able to supply the water you really need.” The legalistic systems would in fact be a hindrance that would prevent the people getting what they really, desperately needed.
The people in Jesus’ day had the Old Testament rituals that the water symbolized but it wouldn’t give them the life that they needed. Jesus is saying in the midst of this feast that he is the water they really need and the only water that could give them life. Jesus provided the spiritual water that God wanted them to have. Jesus said that all they have to do is believe in Him and they will have streams of water. John goes on to explain that Jesus didn’t mean literal water, but rather meant the Holy Spirit. God has always provided for his people and that is seen powerfully in Jesus.
Today is Palm Sunday and we remember that Jesus came to be our king who would save us and give us the spiritual food and drink that we so desperately need. Today let’s celebrate once again that God has us and we can trust in him.