In Nehemiah 8 it is autumn (September/October), and perhaps it has begun feeling a little cooler. It is the first day of the seventh month, and thus is Yom Teruah. Thousands of men and women are gathered in Jerusalmen and are seated upon the ground. Then, Ezra the priest ascends to a special podium built for the occasion, the fragrance of spices (Cinnamon, frankincense and myrrh) from the Temple waft on the air. As Ezra takes his place and blesses the Lord aloud, everyone stands to their feet, raises their hands, bows their heads and lifts their voices in agreement. For hours they then stand silently and listen to the reading and explanation of the reading of God’s word. And the more they hear, the more they weep.
They have come from captivity. They do not have their own copies of the Bible. And the words of Scripture, that are sharper than a two-edged sword, divide between their souls and spirits, moving them deeply to tears. After dispersing, celebrating, eating and drinking and sharing with each other, they regather many times over the course of twenty two days to eagerly hear and learn more, and in so doing, come to realize that they have not kept the feast of Tabernacles for nearly a thousand years — since the days of Joshua!
Nehemiah 8 is incredibly special, and deeply profound. Before we continue to explain what the feast of Tabernacles is all about, please, be blessed as you read Nehemiah 8, even as the returned remnant of Nehemiah’s day were blessed and deeply touched when they heard the word of God.
“And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel.2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month [Yom Teruah]. 3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.4 And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up:6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.7 Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place.8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.9 And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.12 And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.13 And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law.14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:15 And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.16 So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.18 Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner.” Nehemiah 8
There is so much to say about the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). This feast is so exciting that everything said about it is important and joyful. This I must say is my favorite of all God’s appointed times, for it is all about Jesus coming to live with us and set up His Kingdom here on earth!!! That which is related below is gathered from both Scripture and Jewish historical tradition. Mark Biltz is also an excellent source.
Leviticus 23:34-43 expresses what this day looks like to God. The Feast of Tabernacles was one of 3 feasts that the men were commanded to attend in Jerusalem. The women and children were very much invited, but all the men 20 and over were commanded to come (Exodus 23:17; Deuteronomy 16:16). Then, every seventh year, ALL were to attend and hear the reading of the law (Deuteronomy 31:10). It was in Jerusalem that everyone was to build temporary dwelling places called “tabernacles, booths, huts” that were 3 sided and made so that one could see the stars through the roof. The Jews specifically were and are to dwell in booths like this (Leviticus 23:34-43) to commemorate how they lived when God brought them out of Egypt. There are to be seven days of offerings (Numbers 29;12-38). The first day and the last day of the feast are to be days of rest.
It is an 8 day feast that is all about lights, water, wind, great joy and God coming to dwell among us. It is all about light for it was at that time when the Jews would celebrate it from Jerusalem (even in Jesus’ day) and the lights of Jerusalem would be seen 20-40 miles in all directions. Those north in Galilee and west out onto the Mediterranean Sea would see the lights. Indeed, Jerusalem at that time of the year was referred to as “the light of the world”. In the temple court there were four tall candlesticks rising 7.5 stories into the sky. Each would be filled with gallons and gallons of oil continually so that all night the people could continue celebrating. It was at this time that Jesus stood up and declared in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.”
Part of the ceremonies performed was that of the water libation wherein 8 priests, with singing and music and many following, would descend from Jerusalem to the Pool of Siloam to draw water with a golden pitcher. Then they would all march uphill back to the Temple with the water as well as a silver pitcher of wine. Once they reached the Temple they would pour the water into a cup on the brazen altar and the wine into another cup on the altar. While they poured out the water and the wine they would be singing Isaiah 12:3 which speaks of drawing water out of the wells of salvation. Furthermore, when the priests were pouring out the water and praying for rain in order to have good crops the following year, Jesus said, “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. He that believeth on me as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” John 7:37-38. And interestingly enough, the name of Jesus–Yeshua–means salvation.
While 8 priests were drawing the water from the wells of salvation, 8 other priests went out and cut down long (even up to 30 feet) branches of willow trees. Then, they along with a crowd, would travel back to Jerusalem waving the branches causing a great sound of a wind to blow. Not only this, but everyone else also held onto such branches and waved them about during the celebration. The Holy Spirit is depicted in the great feast through the wind caused by the willow branches being waved. The word for Spirit in Hebrew quite literally means, “wind, breath.” Thus, the wind being caused is symbolic of the blowing of the Spirit. Indeed, later on in Acts 2, the Spirit would come upon those in the upper room who were waiting for the promise of the Father like the blowing of a violent wind.
The first day God called a sabbath, and the eighth day was called a sabbath and a “solemn assembly”. The term “solemn assembly” is used 4 times regarding the 8th day of the feast of Tabernacles in Leviticus 23:36; Numbers 29:35; 2 Chronicles 7:9; and Nehemiah 8:18. One time regarding the 7th day of Unleavened Bread in Deuteronomy 16:8. One time regarding a nameless fall feast day in Isaiah 1:13, and two times in the book of Joel regarding a large, impromptu gathering for the sake of repentance and prayer in Joel 1:14; 2:15, which very well had to do with this season. The Hebrew noun for “sacred assembly” is atsarah (#6116) which means exactly that, “an assembly” for religious purposes, and also means, “to restrain, to shut in” to hold something back, to stop something, to keep something or someone in bondage. https://holylight4u.wordpress.com/2020/07/24/the-restraining-power-of-a-solemn-assembly/. Interestingly enough, the definition of the name “Church” in Greek means just that, “the called out, assembled ones.” For more info on this, please link up with this address: https://holylight4u.wordpress.com/2020/07/28/the-church-to-assemble-or-not-to-assemble/
The 8th day of the feast has been called Simchat Torah, which means, “rejoice in the teaching” or Word of God. For even as the people needed rain for their crops and were praying to God for that rain, the people also needed the Word of God to fall like rain and for the knowledge of the Lord to cover the earth as the water covers the sea (Isaiah 11:9). The Word of God is compared to water and rain. Their songs were taken from the Psalms and Isaiah, and their joy was in God their savior. And their rejoicing was not simply in good food, hanging out with friends, singing their favorite songs or in the hopes for the rains to come, but rather, their rejoicing was in the knowledge of God one day raining down upon all.
This is a feast of great celebration and meaning. When the people actually celebrated it as they should, over 2 million people would be in attendance. Men would be dancing and juggling lit torches, while the sounds of singing filled the air and music wafted on the breeze. All week long people participated in God-ordained rituals, sacrifices, camping out under the stars, praying, feasting, dancing, singing, music, and then they did it all over again into the night and into the next day and the day after that. If anyone thinks that God is a stick in the mud and doesn’t know how to have fun, then they have not celebrated this feast! However, unlike all other parties, at this great party God was the focus, for it was about God coming down as the blessing of rain to dwell among humanity.
But, as depicted in Isaiah 2:1-5, Micah 4:1,2 and specifically in Zechariah 14 this is also a feast for the nations, for one day all nations during the Millennial reign of Yeshua ha Meshiach (Jesus the Messiah) will come up to Jerusalem to keep this feast. It is then that “He shall come down like rain on the mowed grass, like showers that water the earth. In His days the righteous shall flourish; and abundance of peace, until the moon is not. He shall also have the rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth,” Psalm 72:6-8. And “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea,” Habakkuk 2:14. This appointed time is about one day soon and very soon that Jesus will come and dwell among us as King of kings and Lord of lords. May it be sooner than soon!
The inspired, unchanging Word of God states that there is a God who still rides the whirlwind, who prepares hail for the day of battle, who still commands the wind and the waves, who sends the rain and snow, and who sits enthroned in unshakable majesty and power. In the midst of all that is coming, our Lord Jesus has not changed. He is still the same yesterday, today and forever! And He is still coming soon! Indeed, one day, Jesus will descend with a shout and His Bride will be caught up in the clouds to meet Him in the air.
Then, following a time of the most horrendous tribulation that this world shall ever know, also called Jacob’s Trouble, Jesus will set His feet down on the Mount of Olives, and after slaughtering the enemy that has gathered to prevent His arrival, He will set up His Kingdom that will have no end. He will be here. God with us, abiding with us, tabernacling among us…finally…at long last, physically here!
Though America is coming to a close, though Christians around the world are undergoing persecution and that persecution may very well intensify in the coming days and months, though a grave and evil vaccine that is not a normal vaccine has been and is being mandated in order to travel, be employed, and even go to the doctor, though great darkness is descending upon and encompassing the entire earth, this holiday – the Feast of Tabernacles – unlike all the other holidays gives us an even greater HOPE that there is a day coming when Christ will rule and reign and will judge the world in righteousness and the people with equity (Psalm 96 and 98).
Let us reflect deeply on that 8th day which is referring to a “solemn assembly,” and let us again be reminded that our assembly as the Church is imperative. It is non-negotiable, especially as the day of the Lord draws ever nearer. We as the body of Christ are God’s dwelling place. We as the solemn assembly of the Church are God’s Holy of Holies (1 Corinthians 3:16) where the Ark of the Covenant stands. May we live like it. May we act like it.
Let us also think on the fact that one day soon Jesus will physically be here among us. He is coming for real. This festival reminds us of this beautiful and powerful promise that will soon be fulfilled.
Jesus is coming SOON. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Yes, come quickly LORD Jesus!!!!