The Feast of Booths, Water and Lights


Leviticus 23:33-36, 39-43; Zechariah 14:16-19; John 1:14; 7:1-2, 37-39; 8:12 (texts); Revelation 21:1-4

© November 17, 2013 (Pasig) • Download this PDF sermon


Beloved congregation of Christ: Have you ever tried living in a tent for seven days or more? I did back in 1985 when I climbed Mount McKinley or Denali in Alaska. Our expedition lived in tents for three weeks! We ate only dehydrated food and even when I was already skinny, I still lost about 10 pounds. In addition, we were exposed to Arctic weather conditions.

Last April, most of us experienced living in a tent for an overnight retreat in Tagaytay. That was fun for everyone. We had barbecue, s’mores, other good food, and most of all, great fellowship. Our group of families in California has an annual summer camping trip, each year in a different national or state park campground. Again, everyone always enjoyed great food and fellowship.

tent_taclobanIn the next few months, thousands of people in the areas devastated by Typhoon Yolanda will experience living in tents. But theirs will not be a fun and enjoyable experience of recreational camping, for they will live in tents because they have lost their homes, fields, and livelihood. They will be outside of the comfort of their own homes, however spartan they might have been. They will have meager food, and very little privacy. They will have to live there for many months, until they have their own places to stay.

Today, we will be meditating on the last of Israel’s seven appointed annual feasts: the Feast of Booths, or Feast of Tabernacles. The LORD commanded them to live in booths or tents for seven days during an appointed time. Why make them stay uncomfortable living outdoors in tents? Because God wanted them to remember their 40 years in the wilderness after he redeemed them from Egypt and traveled towards the Promised Land. During those years, they lived in tents in the harsh desert, when God provided them food, water and protection from the weather.

During those 40 years, the LORD was with them in the Tabernacle. Wherever they went, he dwelt with them in the Ark of the Covenant, with his pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.

In the fullness of time, the Word of God came down from heaven and assumed human flesh to be with his people. His mission was to be the sacrificial Passover Lamb, the Unleavened Bread from heaven, the Firstfruits from the dead, to pour out his Spirit on Pentecost, to be a Trumpet of the gospel, and to be the Scapegoat to atone for our sins. After he willingly sacrificed himself so his people will be forgiven of their sins, he arose from the grave and ascended into heaven.

But again, when the appointed day and hour comes, he will finally return from heaven to gather his people and Tabernacle with them forever.

So our meditation this Lord’s Day is: “The Feast of Booths, Water and Lights” under three points: (1) “You Shall Dwell in Booths for Seven Days”; (2) “And the Word Dwelt Among Us”; and (3) “The Dwelling Place of God is With Man .”

“You Shall Dwell in Booths for Seven Days”

The Feast of Booths was a weeklong feast that began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, September or October in our calendars today. No one is allowed to work on these seven days, and on the first and eighth days they were to hold a holy assembly to worship the LORD.

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Of the seven feasts appointed by God to Israel, this was the most joyful, so this was the climax of all the festivals. The Feast of Tabernacles, as it is also known, celebrates the end of the agricultural year when they harvested grapes and olives. This is why it is sometimes called the Feast of Ingathering (Ex 23:16), a time of thanksgiving to God for all of the year’s harvest and a time of prayer for good weather and another good harvest the following season.

The Feast of Booths was appointed by God so the Israelites would remember the wilderness journey from Egypt to Canaan when they lived in booths, “that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lv 23:43). During the time of the feast, each Israelite family were commanded to construct a tent and live in it for a week (verses 42–43). These booths were small and simple tents made of palm and other branches decorated with different kinds of fruits that were found in desert oases and in the land of Canaan (Lv 23:40). In later celebrations, other branches from myrtle and willow trees and other fruits such as a citrus fruit were added to the booths.

God’s instructions for celebrating this feast includes, “you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days” (Lv 23:40). What if, at the time of the feast, Israel was under oppression by an enemy, or if the harvest was meager? How would they celebrate in a time of trouble? But the command was clear: no matter what situation they were in, rejoice before the LORD for seven days.

In difficult times such as this aftermath of the destruction wrought by Typhoon Yolanda, is it possible to rejoice and give thanks to our Lord? Only when we are in Christ, who gives us peace that surpasses all understanding, who gives us the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Paul has this in mind when he exhorts and assures us, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Th 5:16-18).

In Deuteronomy 8, the LORD warned the Israelites not to forget the God who freed them from Egyptian slavery. When they were settled in and living in plenty in the Promised Land, he warned them, “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you” (verse 2). The Feast of Booths reminded them of God’s saving grace and merciful provisions in the wilderness. In Canaan, as they eat and are full, God commands, “you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (verse 10). They are to trust Providence alone and not their own power, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth’” (verse 17).

How often it is hard for us to remember all of God’s provisions for us. When we were still slaves of sin, he redeemed us. When we were needy, he provided us with the Bread of Life from heaven and Living Water from the Rock. Christ is this Bread and Water who gives us eternal life. But when we are successful and prosperous, we often forget to hunger and thirst for Christ’s righteousness that we so need in our lives.

And how is Christ able to save us and give us spiritual bread and drink? He came down from heaven to pitch his “tent” among us.

“And the Word Dwelt Among Us”

These booths looked forward when God would “tabernacle” or “tent” among his people. This is demonstrated by John when he wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).

In becoming “flesh” when he came down from heaven, Christ the Word did not leave his divine nature in heaven. Rather, the Second Person of the Godhead, also assumed human nature in demonstrating his infinite humility (Php 2:6–7). This is why Isaac Watts exclaims in his famous hymn, “Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree!”

The word “booth” in Leviticus 23 and in many other places in the Old Testament is usually translated as “booth,” “tent,” or “tabernacle,” or “dwelling-place. Its verb form is usually translated as “to dwell,” or literally, “to pitch a tent.” God accompanied his people from Egypt to the Promised Land by his presence in the tabernacle and the temple, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex 25:8). He dwelt with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (Ex 40:8). Even at Mount Sinai, the LORD already made his covenant promise to Moses:

And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them (Ex 29:46).

Ages before Moses, in the Garden of Eden, God walked among his people, speaking with Adam and Eve. The imagery of the booths made up of branches from all kinds of trees decorated with all kinds of fruits take us back to Eden where God created every kind of “vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees” for their nourishment and pleasure (Gn 1:11, 16).

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

From Moses until King David, the LORD dwelt in the Tabernacle, a temporary tent. So when God made his covenant with David, he said that he never asked his people to build a “house” for him from the Exodus until then, “but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling” (2Sm 7:6). David promised to build God’s house, but God prevented him from building it because David’s warrior hands were bloody. Instead, his son Solomon built his dwelling-place, saying at the dedication of the Temple, “I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever” (1Kgs 8:13), although he acknowledged that God dwelt in heaven (1Kgs 8:30).

From that day of dedication, “the [cloud] of glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1Kgs 8:11). The cloud signified that God dwelt with his people. Centuries later, because of Israel’s great and never-ending sins against the God’s covenant laws, the glory-cloud of God that hovered over the Temple lifted up and departed from the Temple and the city (Ezk 9:9-10; 11:23). It was a sign that God had departed from Israel, because soon, his people were taken as captives into Babylon. It also meant that the Temple would surely be destroyed by the Babylonians. From that day, the glory-cloud of God was never seen again in the Temple, even after it was rebuilt 70 years later by the returning exiles. He had ceased dwelling with his people.

But in the fullness of time, the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among his people once more, fulfilling God’s covenant promise that he will dwell with his people. But this time, he did not live in a man-made tent or temple, because he himself is the Temple (Jn 2:19-21). And Christ is building his temple, the church (1Co 3:16), and nourishing each believer to holiness to befit for God’s kingdom (1Co 6:19).

Like the other six Feasts, by the time of Christ, the Feast of Booths had already taken on additional rituals. The first addition is one that’s called “Drawing of Water,” in which the Jews remembered God who provided water in the desert when they were thirsty. The priest, garbed in a beautiful robe and carrying a golden pitcher, would lead a joyful procession from the Temple to the pool of Siloam from where he drew water. The priest would then lead this great procession back to the Temple, where he would pour the water into the basin near the altar.

The Jews based this water-pouring ceremony on the prophecy in Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you shall draw water out of the wells of salvation.” They correctly interpret this water as the life-giving Spirit who would be poured out upon all flesh when the Messiah comes, but this Messiah is not our Savior Jesus Christ.

So when Jesus stood attended this ceremony, he cried out with a loud voice from the noise of the celebration for all who thirst to come to him and drink:

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:37-38).

Jesus was not preaching faith in the water-pouring ceremony. Rather, he was promising to pour out the life-giving Spirit on them (Jn 7:39). Those who come to Jesus and drink are the ones who believe, receiving the Spirit, the Living Water who gives eternal life. Earlier in his ministry, he offered this Living Water to the thirsty Samaritan woman, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14). He was echoing the words of Isaiah, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant” (Is 55:1, 3).

A second addition that was not in Leviticus 23 was the temple-lighting ceremony, in which four giant golden candlesticks, 75 feet high, were lighted in the temple courtyard by the priests. The light was so great and bright so that it was said, “There was no courtyard in Jerusalem that was not lit up with the light.” Again, two texts from Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming Messiah must have been the bases of this festival of lights, “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations” (Is 42:6); “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Is 9:2).

But Luke tells us that the Messiah who is the Light of the World did already come when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, when Simeon the priest and Zechariah, John the Baptizer’s father, prophesied about the infant Son of God (Lk 1:79; 2:32).

So when Jesus again cried out a little later during the Feast, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12),” he was proclaiming that he was the fulfillment of this lighting ceremony. He was the true light-bearing Messiah who would bring to the people the light of life. Paul confirms this, “For God, who said, ’Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Co 4:6).

In summary, the Feast of Tabernacles foreshadowed the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. When he came, he was fulfilling God’s covenant promise to dwell or “tent” with his people. Then he offered himself as God’s atoning sacrifice for his people, and then began gathering God’s great harvest of souls from all the nations. From that day, he was the Priest who would draw Living Water, the Holy Spirit, from the “river of God full of water” (Ps 65:9), and pour it out on anyone whose “soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Ps 65:9; 143:6). Lastly, as the Light of the World, he illumines the hearts of all his people so they too would be as a light to all who walk in darkness. All of these things that Christ accomplished would be occasion for rejoicing and feasting before God.

“The Dwelling Place of God is With Man”

This ingathering of the harvest was also a mere foretaste of the ingathering of God’s people from all the nations, and their joyful celebration together in God’s presence, as the Israelites were commanded to rejoice before the LORD for seven days.

After the glory of the LORD departed from the Temple when the Babylonians conquered Israel, it was never to be seen again, even in the rebuilt Temple. But Ezekiel saw in his vision of the end-time Temple the return of God’s glory, “As the glory of the LORD entered the temple … the glory of the LORD filled the temple” (Ezk 43:4-5).

When will this vision be fulfilled? Surely, not during an earthly millennium, for there will never be a rebuilt Temple since the church is the true Temple. Rather, it will be at the end of the ages, when Christ returns from heaven and gathers all his people. In Zechariah 14:16-19, notice that God’s enemy nations that once came up to war against Jerusalem will now come to the city to worship the LORD during the Feast of Booths. Ezekiel also saw in his vision that Gentile nations will join God’s people to worship at the end-time Temple (Ezk 44:9).

When Christ comes again, he will fulfill Ezekiel’s prophecy about God’s Temple made up of Jews and Gentiles from all nations, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people and he shall be God with them, their God!” (Ezk 37:27) But in Zechariah 14:17-18, there is a warning against those nations who would not join the worship during the Feast of Booths. If they would not attend the worship during this harvest festival, God will send them a drought, so they would not have a harvest the following year. Therefore, when he returns, Jesus will bring both blessing and judgment, joy and terror to all the earth.

So in the greatest and most joyful conclusion to redemptive history, Revelation 21:3-4 says:

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:22-25 describes why this final dwelling-place is the fulfillment of the Feast of Booths. The harvest of leaves “for the healing of the nations,” and nourishing fruits from the Tree of Life will not only be during a season of harvest, but will be every month of the year. The “river of the water of life” from God’s throne will continually flow to the whole earth. The light of the city is never extinguished, because “the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb,” thus, “there will be no night there.”

All throughout Biblical history, from creation to the Fall, to his covenants with Abraham, Moses and David, God’s intention has always been to “dwell” or “tent” with his people, and commune with them forever. The goal of God’s covenant, “Immanuel,” “God with us” (Is 7:14; Mt 1:23), is the fulfillment of the Feast of Booths. Christ will return and “pitch his tent” with his people for eternity.

Brothers and sisters, these days are days of great sorrow and mourning all over the country after thousands of lives were lost, homes destroyed, and whole cities leveled by the typhoon.

Let us come together as God’s people to lessen the tears, the mourning, the crying and the pain today, giving them a foretaste of God’s dwelling-place. How? By investing our time and resources in helping those who are suffering, especially those in the household of God (Rm 12:13; Gl 6:10). Not only physically, but more importantly, spiritually, by giving them the good news that those who have faith and trust in Christ have hope.

The Word of God assumed human flesh and pitched his “tent” among His people. And our blessed hope is that when he returns from heaven, he will finally “tent” with us forever.

Let us keep the Feast of Tabernacles by remembering that God tabernacles with us through our whole pilgrim journey on this valley of tears. He will gather all of us from all the nations of the earth to his heavenly “tent of meeting.” He is doing it even today as he pours out the Spirit, the Living Water, to all his chosen ones. He has already come as the Light of this dark world.

Let us remember all these things with joy until at last our pilgrim journey ends and we arrive at our better tent, our better city, our better country, where God will tabernacle with us forever.

Related Articles: