It was dangerous. The fame and influence of Christ had spread throughout the nation of Israel. Thousands upon thousands had heard His powerful teaching. They had seen Him work miracles that had never been done before. Their souls had been filled with the awe and delight of seeing lame men walk, the sick become well, and those possessed by demons freed from their bondage. Jesus was doing all the things that the prophets said the coming Messiah would do. Yet instead of uniting behind the Chosen One of God, the nation of Israel was divided.
The religious leaders could have done what was right. They could have chosen to fulfill the role God had given them. They could have endorsed God’s Son to their people and the watching world. Instead, they turned on Him. In fact, it was getting dangerous for Him.
For the last six months, Jesus had removed Himself from the public eye as much as He could. The Jewish leaders were out to kill Him. For all of the wonderful healings and teachings Jesus had brought them, the people in the cities and towns of Galilee refused to repent of their sins. Some of them plotted about ways to force Him to become king. King Herod himself was threatened by this wandering preacher. Who was this Man who was so closely connected to John the Baptist? What might this Man with such miraculous powers do against the king who had put John to death less than a year before?
There was no doubt Jesus was wildly popular, and there were probably many who believed. But except for a few, faithful followers, the Jewish nation had failed to respond to their Messiah with genuine, repentant hearts and radical devotion.
The Lord moved out into Gentile territory with His disciples, far from the grasping hands of the traitorous children of God. He used the time to train His disciples, for they were going to be the heralds of the Kingdom of God after His death. He sent them out on practice runs, and they were given authority to heal and cast out demons with the same powerful Spirit that flowed through Jesus. All the while, Jesus continued on quietly with His compassionate acts of healing and teaching.
The time had come for the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths. In the Old Testament, God had called His people to three major feasts every year. They were to journey to Jerusalem and gather in worship as a nation.
This yearly event in the life of Israel was steeped with rich history by the time of Jesus. For example, it was during this Feast that Solomon’s Temple was first dedicated. At the dedication, there was great fanfare and trumpets, with an outpouring of praise by the children of God. As King Solomon offered a prayer of repentance to God for the sins of the nation of Israel, fire fell from Heaven and burned the sacrifices he offered. Then the people watched as the Spirit of the Most High God descended like a cloud onto the Temple and into the Holy of Holies.
God had ordained for the Holy of Holies to be His throne room on earth. It was where His presence would rest over the Mercy Seat, which is the solid gold cover of the Ark of the Covenant. The people of Solomon’s time watched with awe, seeing with their own eyes that the Living God was really there. He had chosen to give this nation the supreme honor of being His holy priests and His treasured possession. The most magnificent part of that gift was the presence of Himself (see 1 Kings 8:1-11 and 2 Chron. 7:1-10).
Here is a Psalm that they might have sung at the Feast:
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
O LORD my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty.
He wraps himself in light as a garment;
He stretches out the heavens like a tent…
He waters the mountains from His upper chambers;
the earth is satisfied by the fruit of His work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for man to cultivate-
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine,
and bread that sustains his heart.
For the next few hundreds of years later, the Old Testament tells the story about how the repentant spirit of King Solomon did not last. The Jewish leaders and their people sinned in horrific ways, violating the goodness of God, refusing to honor Him or love each other as He commanded. The Jewish people were taken into captivity by more powerful nations. When the nation was laid waste, the Ark of the Covenant was taken, never to be restored.
Over time, God worked in history to set His people free from their captivity. When the faithful remnant returned to Jerusalem, the city was in shambles. They worked to rebuild the Temple, but the Ark that the craftsmen of Moses had fashioned was gone. As the people restored the City of David, they began to celebrate the feasts that God had given His people. It was during the Feast of Tabernacles that Ezra, the wise and faithful servant of God, called the Jewish people into a special time of repentance for their sin (see Neh. 8:13-8).
The festival had continued on in the four hundred years since the return of the people to Israel from captivity. For this Feast, everyone was meant to come with the men to celebrate. Wives, sons and daughters, widows, and extended family were also supposed to attend. The people were supposed to make sure that the orphans, servants, slaves and the foreigners from other nations who were living among them attended as well.
Imagine the hustle and bustle in the towns as the people prepared to trek to Jerusalem. They were meant to thank God for blessing them with the harvest for the year. The people would take time to rejoice in God’s continuing acts of creation and blessing of them: figs and wheat, barley, olives, pomegranates, onions, and all manner of grains and fruit and vegetables. They would fill up Jerusalem with makeshift tents (or “booths”) for seven days. On the first day, the families would build their booth from tree branches. They would bring offerings of the first fruit of their grain to the Temple. It was called a freewill offering because the people were to bring to the Lord whatever amount of grain that their blessings of harvest for the year allowed.
There was another act of obedience that God required of each farmer, but the choice had to be made before the journey to Jerusalem. During the harvest time, they were supposed to leave the grain that grew on the corners of their fields alone. Their God had commanded them in the Old Testament to allow the poor to come and harvest those portions of their field. If all the landowners in the nation obeyed this command, then the poor would have food to eat. Can you see how the nation that God created was designed to make sure everyone was taken care of? Can you see how the mighty, powerful Lord who established the nation of Israel had the same heart of compassion and care as the Son of God who walked among the people of Israel in the stories of the Gospels?
In spite of the beauty of God’s ways, the people of Israel often rejected them. In their greed, they would plow their fields all the way to the edges, leaving nothing for the poor, and would violate God’s Law in a thousand other ways. Every generation needed to have the same humble, repentant spirit that King Solomon showed in his prayers for the Temple to keep them on track.
The Feast of Tabernacle had come, just as it had every year for over a thousand years to the nation of Israel. Only in these days, God Himself was walking among them. Would the people respond to the message of Christ with the repentance of King Solomon?