We have here, I. The institution of the feast of tabernacles, which was one of the three great feasts at which all the males were bound to attend, and celebrated with more expressions of joy than any of them.
1. As to the directions for regulating this feast, observe, (1.) It was to be observed on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Lev. 23:34), but five days after the day of atonement. We may suppose, though they were not all bound to attend on the day of atonement, as on the three great festivals, yet that many of the devout Jews came up so many days before the feast of tabernacles as to enjoy the opportunity of attending on the day of atonement. Now, [1.] The afflicting of their souls on the day of atonement prepared them for the joy of the feast of tabernacles. The more we are grieved and humbled for sin, the better qualified we are for the comforts of the Holy Ghost. [2.] The joy of this feast recompensed them for the sorrow of that fast; for those that sow in tears shall reap in joy. (2.) It was to continue eight days, the first and last of which were to be observed as sabbaths, days of holy rest and holy convocations, Lev. 23:35, 36, 39. The sacrifices to be offered on these eight days we have a very large appointment of, Num. 29:12-39 (3.) During the first seven days of this feast all the people were to leave their houses, and the women and children in them, and to dwell in booths made of the boughs of thick trees, particularly palm trees, Lev. 23:40, 42. The Jews make the taking of the branches to be a distinct ceremony from the making of the booths. It is said, indeed (Neh. 8:15), that they made their booths of the branches of trees, which they might do, and yet use that further expression of joy, the carrying of palm-branches in their hands, which appears to have been a token of triumph upon other occasions (John 12:13), and is alluded to, Rev. 7:9. The eighth day some make a distinct feast of itself, but it is called (John 7:37) that great day of the feast; it was the day on which they returned from their booths, to settle again in their own houses. (4.) They were to rejoice before the Lord God during all the time of this feast, Lev. 23:40. The tradition of the Jews is that they were to express their joy by dancing, and singing hymns of praise to God, with musical instruments: and not the common people only, but the wise men of Israel, and their elders, were to do it in the court of the sanctuary: for (say they) the joy with which a man rejoices in doing a commandment is really a great service.
2. As to the design of this feast,
(1.) It was to be kept in remembrance of their dwelling in tents in the wilderness. Thus it is expounded here (Lev. 23:43): That your generations may know, not only by the written history, but by this ocular tradition, that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths. Thus it kept in perpetual remembrance, [1.] The meanness of their beginning, and the low and desolate state out of which God advanced that people. Note, Those that are comfortably fixed ought often to call to mind their former unsettled state, when they were but little in their own eyes. [2.] The mercy of God to them, that, when they dwelt in tabernacles, God not only set up a tabernacle for himself among them, but, with the utmost care and tenderness imaginable, hung a canopy over them, even the cloud that sheltered them from the heat of the sun. God’s former mercies to us and our fathers ought to be kept in everlasting remembrance. The eighth day was the great day of this feast, because then they returned to their own houses again, and remembered how, after they had long dwelt in tents in the wilderness, at length they came to a happy settlement in the land of promise, where they dwelt in goodly houses. And they would the more sensibly value and be thankful for the comforts and conveniences of their houses when they had been seven days dwelling in booths. It is good for those that have ease and plenty sometimes to learn what it is to endure hardness.
(2.) It was a feast of in-gathering, so it is called, Exod. 23:16. When they had gathered in the fruit of their land (Lev. 23:39), the vintage as well as the harvest, then they were to keep this feast in thankfulness to God for all the increase of the year; and some think that the eighth day of the feast had special reference to this ground of the institution. Note, The joy of harvest ought to be improved for the furtherance of our joy in God. The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, and therefore whatever we have the comfort of he must have the glory of, especially when any mercy is perfected.
(3.) It was a typical feast. It is supposed by many that our blessed Saviour was born much about the time of this feast; then he left his mansions of light above to tabernacle among us (John 1:14), and he dwelt in booths. And the worship of God under the New Testament is prophesied of under the notion of keeping the feast of tabernacles, Zech. 14:16. For, [1.] The gospel of Christ teaches us to dwell in tabernacles, to sit loose to this world, as those that have here no continuing city, but by faith, and hope and holy contempt of present things, to go out to Christ without the camp, Heb. 13:13, 14. [2.] It teaches us to rejoice before the Lord our God. Those are the circumcision, Israelites indeed, that always rejoice in Christ Jesus, Phil. 3:3. And the more we are taken off from this world the less liable we are to the interruption of our joys.
II. The summary and conclusion of these institutions.
1. God appointed these feasts (Lev. 23:37, 38), besides the sabbaths and your free-will offerings. This teaches us, (1.) That calls to extraordinary services will not excuse us from our constant stated performances. Within the days of the feast of tabernacles there must fall at least one sabbath, which must be as strictly observed as any other. (2.) That God’s institutions leave room for free-will offerings. Not that we may invent what he never instituted, but we may repeat what he has instituted, ordinarily, the oftener the better. God is well pleased with a willing people.
2. Moses declared them to the children of Israel, Lev. 23:44. He let them know what God appointed, and neither more nor less. Thus Paul delivered to the churches what he had received from the Lord. We have reason to be thankful that the feasts of the Lord, declared unto us, are not so numerous, nor the observance of them so burdensome and costly, as theirs then were, but more spiritual and significant, and surer sweeter earnests of the everlasting feast, at the last in-gathering, which we hope to be celebrating to eternity.