Seven, the number of completion, days for the Feast, but completion of what?
40 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.
Shut-ins and those who cannot go to the Feast of Tabernacles for whatever reason can feel as though they have somehow been left out. If the problem is health, they can even feel permanently left out. However, the reality is that the Feast is temporary, but so also is what it symbolizes. In fact, all physical things, good or bad, are temporary, and that really is one of the lessons we should be drawing from the festival itself.
Now, there are different interpretations of the above biblical passage, and, not surprisingly, people like to argue over this passage’s meaning. My understanding aligns best with Matthew Henry’s opinion, mostly because he builds his upon some pretty solid passages and separates out the tradition from them.
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, v. 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 (Jn. 12:13), and is alluded to, Rev. 7:9.
~ Matthew Henry Commentary on Leviticus 23
So, it would appear that the larger and sturdier boughs would have been used to build the booths, whereas the smaller branches would be used for decoration of the booth, fragrance and separate from the booths in acts of procession and showing joy. This actually makes a lot of sense when you consider that cutting down a tree usually results in only a few sturdy boughs but a lot of leaves.
Consider the first two uses. They would start out as a decorative green, but in seven days they will likely be a drab brown. They would start out fragrant, but after wilting would have little fragrance unless they got wet and develop a more repugnant smell. Even the huts themselves would be built for a temporary time, probably not built with any great strength and would probably collapse eventually if not taken down in the end.
It might make someone wonder how Israel wandered in the wilderness forty years in such flimsy huts.
Are you kidding? I really don’t think they did! Most likely, they had tents made of animal skins, first of all. Second, they would have definitely had something that could collapse and be either folded or rolled up at any moment’s notice and still survive the journey. Then, there is the need to repel the rain…
Yet, what reason does God give for building booths?
43 That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
~ v 43
I’ve never heard of anyone who had noticed this discrepancy before, let alone expound upon it, but it seems to me that whenever God gives a command and there seems to be a sharp contrast, then He is trying to tell us something. So, FWIW, here are my thoughts upon the matter.
Forty years seems like a long time. It is over half the average man’s life. Yet, time passes on. The Children of Israel wandered around for forty years, but it came to an end. It was temporary, just like the booths that God commanded to be built to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.
We say that this time period represents the Millennium. I’d like to suggest we rethink that, but just a little bit. Seven days represents a period of work that comes to a successful end. Creation week was seven days, and on the seventh day, God rested. He completed His work.
The holy days down through time kept having a progressive meaning. Passover was the breaking of the bonds of Egypt, but Israel still had to leave. They left Egypt in a hurry, not taking leaven (sin) out with them, and for seven days they ate unleavened bread to represent taking in the new freedom that God gave them.
Jesus came on the scene, and He became the Passover Lamb. He died in our place, which is the starting point for salvation, just as Passover begins just after the starting point for the year. Spiritually, when we eat unleavened bread, we symbolically take in the freedom from sin that Christ gave to us. However, this is an ongoing process, and it must be done until a time of completion. Christ in this phase is doing His work shaping the Church, and that comes to an end when He returns.
Christ will return and finish the work, but this time it will be for the whole world and the restoration of physical Israel. This is the second part of His work, and He will work it to completion.
I was impressed by a sermon I heard a few years ago in which it was expounded that we often say “Kingdom of God” when we really mean the Millennium. The Millennium is Christ’s rule on this earth, and it is only the beginning of God’s rule. However, it won’t officially be God’s Kingdom until Christ finishes the work and turns it over to His Father (1Co 15:24 NIV puts it quite well).
What I am saying is that seven days do not represent 1,000 years. However, the placement of the holy day shows us which prophetic occurrence it is which because of its relation to the others, as well as what the symbols used in the ceremonies for the festival best point to. The number seven itself represents a work that will be fulfilled because God’s promises and prophecies are true. The placement after the Day of Atonement shows us it represents the Millennium, as well as the various commands that reflect great abundance and joy.
However, as I keep stressing, it comes to an end. It will be complete, Satan will be let loose, and then the Great White Throne Judgment and beyond. While there will be some choices along the way that have permanent consequences, particularly for those who ultimately reject God’s offer of grace, the circumstances will all be temporary right up until the New Jerusalem comes down to earth.
Even then, does everything stop? Will there no longer be any work to do? If that were so, then what would be different from that scenario and most people’s idea of Heaven? Would we have struggled and strained and put forth great effort only to let down and let go? No! There will be something to do, and it will probably be so vast and large that no one has even conceived of what it could be!
Enjoy the time at the Feast. It is only temporary, after all. We are all temporary as long as we are mortal (which is, after all, pretty much what “mortal” means).
For those who could not go, that too is temporary. That is one lesson of the Feast that you are not missing out on, for perhaps you more than the ones who could go realize how quickly things can change and how fragile this physical existence really is. Just because you cannot physically go does not mean that you cannot rejoice and do something a little special to mark this wonderful time.
May God bless the remainder of your Feast.