How Sons Keep Tabernacles
Moses concludes his fourth speech with instructions for keeping the feast of Tabernacles in Deut. 16:13-17,
13 You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths [sukkoth] seven days, after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat;
This is the feast that brings the sons of God into full manifestation by the fulness of the Spirit.
Sukkoth, the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles), was a seven-day festival wherein the people were instructed to leave their houses and dwell in “booths” made of the green branches of trees (Lev. 23:40). They were to read the book of Deuteronomy and to meditate upon the word, so that the law might be written on their hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Seventy Bulls Sacrificed
While the people were meditating upon the word, the priests were to offer sacrifices over and beyond their normal daily ritual. The first day of the feast they offered thirteen bulls (Num. 29:13). The second day they offered twelve bulls (29:17). The third day they offered eleven bulls (29:20). They continued this descending pattern until the seventh day, when they offered just seven bulls (29:32).
By the end of the feast, they had offered seventy bulls. Alfred Edersheim, the Jewish-Christian scholar of the 1800’s, quoted the Talmud on page 277 of his book, The Temple:
“There were seventy bullocks, to correspond to the number of the seventy nations in the world.”
In other words, this feast prophetically spoke of the divine plan for all nations to be included in the Kingdom of God. The beginning of nations set forth in Genesis 10 lists seventy in all, and so the number seventy represented the number of all nations that were to be restored to the rule of Jesus Christ. Hence, the thirteen bulls offered on the first day of the feast signify the nations in rebellion, but as the feast progresses, the last day ends with seven bulls—the number of perfection.
The number seventy is also seen in the life of Adam. Adam died at the age of 930 (Gen. 5:5). He died seventy years short of the glory of God (1000), and so seventy is also a restoration number. When all nations are restored to God, as the seventy bulls prophesy, then mankind, represented by Adam, may cease to fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). And so, Edersheim says on page 269 of The Temple,
“… it pointed to the final harvest when Israel’s mission should be completed, and all nations gathered unto the Lord.”
Day of Beating the Branches
This concept was also foreshadowed in the circumambulation ceremony at the temple. This was done on the seventh day of the feast of Tabernacles. Edersheim explains this on page 280 saying,
“On every one of the seven days the priests formed in procession, and made the circuit of the altar, singing, ‘O then, now work salvation, Jehovah! O Jehovah, give prosperity!’ [Ps. 118:25] But on the seventh, ‘that great day of the feast,’ they made the circuit of the altar seven times, remembering how the walls of Jericho had fallen in similar circumstances, and anticipating how, by the direct interposition of God, the walls of heathendom would fall before Jehovah, and the land lie open for His people to go in and possess it.”
This prophesied of the 7,000 years of Kingdom history. The walls of “Jericho” would fall on the seventh “day” so that, as John tells us, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15). The fall of Jericho in the days of Joshua prophesied of a later day when all resistance to Christ’s rule would collapse by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. And so, Edersheim says that the seventh day of the feast was also called the…
“… Day of Beating the Branches, because all the leaves were shaken off the willow boughs, and the palm branches beaten in pieces by the side of the altar” (The Temple, page 281).
While there was no direct command in the law to do these things, nonetheless they prophesied truly. Our only caution is in the fact that most of them misunderstood the manner in which God would put all things under His feet.
There is little doubt that they thought in terms of a military messiah coming to forcibly subdue all the nations and put the people under Israelite slave masters. But Jesus Christ showed that the divine plan would be accomplished by love and compassion for all nations. He came to set them free, not to enslave them to Israelite masters. He focused upon the deeper need for all nations—including Israel—to be set free from the bondage of sin, whereas the people of Judea could not see past their desire to be set free from the bondage of Rome.
But the sons of God entertain no such notions of exclusivity. They understand that as sons they are called to bless all others, until the day that the last man comes into the same experience and relationship with Christ that the First enjoyed.
The Climax of the Divine Plan
The Feast of Tabernacles, being the third and last great feast in the year, prophesied of the climax of the divine plan for all nations. We see a progressively widening scope being revealed through the three festivals, for Passover speaks of Christ and the overcomers, Pentecost focuses on the church, and Tabernacles reveals God’s plan for the world.
Moses continues his instructions in Deut. 16:14,
14 and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns.
Once again we see that everyone was to keep the Feast of Tabernacles—not just the men, not just the masters and land owners, and not just the Israelites. All were to receive the benefits of that which the feasts signified. All were to be equally justified by faith through Passover; all were to be equally filled with the Spirit through Pentecost; and all were to be restored fully to God and become citizens of the Kingdom through Tabernacles.
Israel was called to lead the way and to be the light that would guide all nations along the path to full restoration and reconciliation. However, most Israelites failed to fulfill this calling, but Paul says that the remnant of grace succeeded (Rom. 11:7). Hence, they were the true Israelites in the same sense that Jesus used the term “an Israelite indeed” when he spoke of Nathanael in John 1:47.
This is the sense in which Jacob was distinguished from Israel. Jacob was a believer all of his life, but he only became an Israelite after wrestling with the angel and understanding the sovereignty of God as a revelation. He was not born an Israelite, for the term was given to him only when he had obtained the required level of spiritual maturity necessary to fulfill the calling of Israel.
No man is a fully mature son of God until he, like Jacob, becomes an Israelite. Like Jacob himself, no man’s natural birth makes him an Israelite, though he may claim direct ancestry to Jacob-Israel himself. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that most genealogical Israelites did not obtain the promise (Rom. 11:7), but only the remnant of grace.
How to Keep the Feast
15 Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you shall be altogether joyful.
Again, as with the previous feasts, Tabernacles had to be kept “in the place which the Lord chooses.” This is the place where God chooses to write His name (Deut. 16:6). Today, the Feast of Tabernacles can be observed lawfully only in one’s forehead (Rev. 22:4), that is, by faith in Jesus Christ.
16 Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths…
It was not required for everyone to attend a feast. Only the men who were of age were required to attend all the feasts. These men represented their families and servants, and so their presence was sufficient to include all of the people. However, the practicality of this instruction should not cause anyone to think less of women, servants, or strangers, nor to think that men enjoyed some exclusive privilege from which all others were barred.
Seeing God’s Face
When the verse above says that they “shall appear before the Lord your God,” we encounter a Hebrew phrase that is difficult to translate into English. It literally reads, “shall appear before the face of the Lord your God.” English translators usually leave out “the face of,” because it seems redundant in our English way of speaking. However, this phrase is full of prophetic meaning, for it gives us the primary purpose of the feast itself.
The phrase more literally reads, “you shall see My face.” Obviously, no man could see God’s face in his current sinful condition. Even Moses himself wanted to see God’s face, but God told him in Ex. 33:20, “you cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live.” Nonetheless, Moses went into the presence of God and came out with his face glowing (Ex. 34:30).
In other words, the face of God was seen in Moses’ face when it was transfigured by the face or presence of God. This is repeated when Jesus went up Mount Hermon to be transfigured in Matt. 17:2. The apostle Paul later comments on this in 2 Cor. 3:18,
18 But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Paul discussed the meaning of this incident in the life of Moses and how he had to put a veil over his face on account of their fear and unbelief. The people were supposed to see God’s face in Moses, but their fear kept them away. In essence, each of the three festivals were opportunities to see the face of God, but the glory of God was veiled until a later time, called “the unveiling,” or apocalypse.
For the same reason, the glory of God was veiled by a cloud on the Mount, and the same glory was hidden by a veil in the Most Holy Place. The veil began to be removed after the Passover that Jesus fulfilled at the cross. The veil was removed from the faces of a few at that time as they received the revelation of the mind of God. At Pentecost more was revealed as the earnest of the Spirit was given (2 Cor. 5:5).
When the historic fulfillment of Tabernacles has come, the veil will be removed in the greatest sense, as those who are spiritually mature (as overcomers) are able to see the face of God without restriction. These will then be called to minister to the rest of church and the world to bring all to that place of maturity and revelation, so that they too may see God face to face and live.
The fulfillment of Tabernacles will be the deadline to be among the first to experience God’s presence fully, but by no means is it a final deadline. Those who are found worthy, those who are led by the Spirit in the arena of Pentecost, will be the first to mature as sons. These will be given authority in the earth to take the lead in the great work in the age to come.
In fact, it will be the start of the greatest evangelistic effort in history, for there will be a multitude of “Israelites indeed” who will show the world the true nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. They will be the examples that God has raised up to manifest His presence (face) and demonstrate the character of Christ to the rest of the world.
The Fruit of Tabernacles
Moses concludes his speech with one final instruction:
16 . . . and they shall not appear before [the face of] the Lord empty-handed. 17 Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you.
Every man has a different level of fruitfulness with which God has blessed him. To render God the fruits in each season is to recognize God’s sovereignty and His right to be obeyed. It also recognizes the fact that without God’s labor, we would have no fruit at all. How could man produce crops without God’s provision of land, sunshine, water, and air? We are therefore partners and co-laborers with Him on earth.
God has been farming for thousands of years. When the sons of God finally see the fulfillment of Tabernacles (as a collective body), they will become the new wine that is poured out upon the earth at Tabernacles. These are but the first-fruits of the rest of the wine, because the sons of God will then bear fruit on the next level. The fruit of their labors will result in a great harvest in the age to come.
Ultimately, the fruit of our labor is not grain or wine but people. These are the fruits of our labor that God requires us to bring to Him. Without fruitfulness, it is impossible to keep any of the feast days. The fruit of the Spirit must be manifest in our lives, and this will have an effect upon others around us, whether we sow the word, water it, or reap.
Many have used the verses above to call for tithes and offerings, telling people that they must all give something to the work of the ministry. If the law of tithing is taught properly, then certainly this is true. Such offerings are a way for a person to participate in the ministry of others and thereby receive a portion of the reward that God gives to those other ministries.
But in the end, God is looking for fruit, and monetary offerings are only a means toward that end. The real fruit that God has always desired is the sweet fruit of the Spirit. This is the goal of Sonship.
This ends Moses’ fourth speech, according to Ferrar Fenton. He does not explain why he believes the speech ends before the end of the chapter, but I defer to his scholarship. It is plain from the heading of the next speech on “Local Government” that this topic properly begins in Deuteronomy 16:18.