Lev_23:39-43. Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a Sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a Sabbath. 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. And ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year: it shall be a statute for ever in your generations; ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month. Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths; 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.
CHRISTIANS in general are deterred from the study of the ceremonial law, by the consideration that there is not sufficient light thrown upon some parts to determine their spiritual import, whilst in other parts we are distracted through the diversity of senses which the New Testament appears to affix to them. Certainly these are difficulties in our way; nor can we expect entirely to overcome them: but still there is much that is clear; and even that which is in some respects dubious, will be found in other respects highly edifying.
The feast of tabernacles was one of the three great feasts, at which all the males throughout the nation were to assemble at Jerusalem. Its importance therefore cannot be doubted. But, in our inquiries after the truths which it shadowed forth, we must be guided in some measure by conjecture; and consequently, cannot speak with that full confidence that we maintain where the inspired writers have led the way. Taking care however to distinguish what is doubtful from what is clear and certain, we shall proceed to consider this feast, and to open to you,
Its peculiar rites—
Whilst it had some rites common to other occasions, it had some peculiar to itself:
The sacrifices offered—
[These were very peculiar, and such as were offered on no other occasion. The feast lasted eight days: on the first of which, thirteen bullocks, with two rams, fourteen lambs, and one kid, and certain meat-offerings, were presented; and, on the six following days, there were the same sacrifices, except that the number of the bullocks, and of their appropriate meat-offerings, was one less every day: this went on to the eighth day, when there was only one bullock, one ram, seven lambs, and a goat, offered [Note: Num_29:12-39.]. The precise reason of this gradual diminution is not known, unless that it was to shew, that the Mosaic dispensation would gradually decay, and at last vanish away, being terminated by that one great Sacrifice which should in due time be offered.]
The services enjoined—
[All were to leave their houses for seven days, and to live in booths constructed of the branches of trees, which they had previously cut down for that purpose. This would doubtless be attended with much inconvenience to them: but they were to rise superior to such consideration, and to spend the time in holy joy. Part of the command was, that they should “rejoice before the Lord their God.” After the time of Joshua, when the piety of the nation had begun to decline, the observance of this ordinance was discontinued; or if it was now and then repeated for a single year, the institution was regarded only in a partial and formal way; till Nehemiah, after the return of the people from Babylon, revived and enforced the practice of former days [Note: Neh_8:13-17.].]
The next thing to be noticed in reference to this feast, is,
Its primary end—
This was two-fold:
[All the time that the people sojourned in the wilderness, even forty years, they dwelt in booths or tents; in remembrance of which this feast was instituted [Note: 3.]. We are apt to forget the mercies which God has vouchsafed to us, and especially those vouchsafed to our forefathers at a remote period. But we ourselves inherit the benefits conferred on them: the descendants of those who were delivered from Egypt, owed all their liberty to God’s miraculous interposition, no less than their fathers; and therefore were equally bound to keep God’s goodness to them in remembrance: and by leaving their houses for a week, and living in booths, they would know precisely the situation of their ancestors, and learn to be thankful for their own more comfortable habitations.]
[This feast was after the harvest and vintage were finished; and it was intended to be a season of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth. Hence it was called “the feast of in-gathering [Note: Exo_23:16; Deu_16:13-15.] ;” which shews, that the time of keeping the feast was illustrative of one thing, and the manner, of another. Not but that there was a close connexion between the two; for in the wilderness they had nothing but manna; but, in the land of Canaan, they enjoyed all the fruits of the earth in the richest abundance: and, consequently, whilst they glorified God for miraculously supplying the daily wants of their ancestors by food from heaven, they were called upon to bless and adore his name for the continued blessings imparted to themselves.]
Thus far the intention of the feast is manifest. Our ground is not so clear in what remains: yet we utterly disclaim all idea of giving loose to our imagination on sacred subjects: we propose to you what, though we cannot prove, we think highly probable; and leave you to judge for yourselves, whilst we point out,
Its mystical design—
That this was a shadow, we have no doubt: and that Christ is the substance, is equally clear and certain: this point is determined by God himself in reference to the feasts and Sabbaths in general [Note: Col_2:16-17.], and therefore much more in relation to this, which was as sacred a feast as any, perhaps the most so of any, in the whole year. We apprehend then that this feast was intended to shadow forth,
The incarnation of Christ—
[The three great feasts were, the Passover, or feast of unleavened bread, the feast of Pentecost, and the feast of tabernacles. In the first, the death of Christ was typified: in the second, the out-pouring of the Spirit: and in this last, the incarnation of Christ. It was highly probable that this great event would be shadowed forth by some feast, as well as the other two: and there is good reason to think it was referred to in the feast before us. The very term used by the Evangelist in declaring the incarnation of our Lord, seems to mark this reference [Note: Joh_1:14
. And though custom has led us to regard December as the time of his birth, the arguments to prove that he was born in the autumn are far more probable. Could this point be perfectly ascertained, it would strongly confirm the supposed reference of this feast to that event.]: and the conduct of the people, when they were persuaded that he was the Christ, corresponds very much with the rights prescribed at this feast: “They cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way, and cried, Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosannah in the highest [Note: Mat_21:8-9.] !” It is true, this was at another feast: but still it marks the connexion in their minds between the feast of tabernacles, and the advent of the Messiah. There was a remarkable circumstance which took place at the feast of tabernacles, which throws some additional light on this subject. The eighth day was “the great day of the feast.” And though the dwelling in booths was discontinued, the people observed the season as a feast unto the Lord. They had indeed substituted a rite or ceremony on that day, bringing water from the pool of Siloam, and pouring it out as a libation to the Lord. The idea was perhaps adopted from that expression of the prophet, “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation [Note: Isa_12:3.].” On this day, in the place of public concourse, our Lord stood and cried with a loud voice, “If any man thirst, let him come unto ME and drink [Note: Joh_7:2; Joh_7:37-38.].” This was in fact, as if he had said, You expect at this time the advent of your Messiah, from whom you will derive all spiritual blessings: behold, I am he: and, if you will come unto me, you shall receive more than tongue can utter, or imagination conceive.
We say not that these things amount to a proof of the point in question: but we suggest them for your consideration, and leave you to form your own judgment upon them.]
The duty of his people—
[Here we can speak with more decision. No one who knows the figurative nature of the Jewish ritual can doubt, but that this feast was designed to teach us, that “we are strangers here, and sojourners, as all our fathers were [Note: Psa_39:12.].” When fixed in our habitations and enjoying every comfort of life, we are apt to think that this is our home: the language of our hearts is, “Soul, take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But “this is not our rest.” We are here only in a wilderness; and we must in the spirit of our minds resemble the patriarchs of old, “who, though in the land of promise, dwelt in tabernacles, declaring that here they had no continuing city, but that they sought another country, that is, an heavenly [Note: Heb_11:9; Heb_11:13-14; Heb_11:16.].” This is to be the character of all the Lord’s people [Note: 1Pe_2:11.], who, “though in the world, are not of the world,” and who “are looking for a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”— — —]
[It may be asked, What is all this to us? I answer, Read what the prophet says, and you will have more satisfactory information than you are aware of [Note: Zec_14:16-19.]. Beyond all doubt he is speaking of those who live under the Gospel: and the repeated injunctions which he gives relative to our observance of this feast, are a strong confirmation, that there was in it a mysterious and most important meaning. I call upon you then to keep this feast, to keep it with holy joy unto the Lord. Think of the incarnation of our blessed Lord! What a stupendous mystery! God, even the most high God, leaving his blest abodes, and sojourning here in a tabernacle of clay! Is not this worthy to be commemorated? Does it not demand our most ardent praise? — — — Think of the harvest of blessings which we obtain through him! Our corn and wine and oil are but shadows of that heavenly food which is prepared for us, and on which, if it be not our own fault, we are feeding from day to day. Let earthly things then not engross your affections, but lead you to seek those which are spiritual and eternal [Note: Col_3:2.] — — — And whether your temporal comforts be increased or diminished, ever remember where your home is; and that when your week is finished, “you have an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens [Note: 2Co_5:1.] ” — — —] [Note: If this subject were taken on a Christmas-day, or for a Harrest Sermon, the more appropriate idea must be most expanded.]