Indeed, if you are convinced that God commands Christians to observe the Feast of Tabernacles, well then you should keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
So let’s start examining the feast from the premise that God requires Christians to keep the portion of the Law that contains the Feast of Tabernacles. Please be patient as we review familiar material and come to a point that every person attending the Feast of Tabernacles right now may wish to consider.
As I write this many of my friends are at designated “feast sites” keeping the Feast of Tabernacles. I did the same for 28 years and had many good times and experiences with my family and friends. In this day and age it is rare for families to be able to travel to different locations every year, some even international, and stay in high-class hotels and resorts together while enjoying the sites, food and activities of the local tourist areas. Just to name a few, my family’s been to Niagara Falls, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Panama City, Hawaii, Bahamas, Tucson, Branson, Palm Springs, Gatlinburg, and even a resort on the Mediterranean sea in Italy. My family has been able to enjoy the many tourist areas, Disney World (three times), Dolly World, historical sites, mountains, beaches, jet-skis, museums, (we even toured the Vatican), boating, horseback riding, and so on. We even enjoyed the feast on a cruise ship one year. So yes, the Feast of Tabernacles has been a great time for the family; it has been like an annual family vacation.
It's true, in many ways keeping the Feast of Tabernacles has been a lot of fun!
And sermons? Yes, we heard many sermons didn’t we? If you are attending a feast site, then as you read this you are getting a steady diet of “spiritual meat” as we would say. But back in the day, the pinnacle of the Feast of Tabernacles was the satellite link-up in which Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong spoke to all of us together. I remember getting goose bumps believing that I was witnessing God’s apostle speaking the end time message to all of the church at once. Time was drawing near, we only had a few years left and the end was coming, “surely within the next 10 to 20 years!" We were going to need to “tighten our belt” and be ready to support “the work”. It really was exciting to feel like I was part of something special.
Things didn’t work out the way we thought at the time, but the Feast of Tabernacles continues on because the churches of God teach that “true Christians” keep God’s commandments. And many believe sincerely that the Feast of Tabernacles is commanded. Let’s review the passages regarding the Feast and list a few of the commanded instructions.
Four Feast of Tabernacles Instructions
We find in Leviticus the instruction to Israel to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. Of course, those of us with a history in the Church of God are very familiar with these passages, probably more so than most. I remember hearing that we were to appear before the Lord in the place that the Lord would choose and that we were to stay in temporary dwellings and have an offering ready to give to the church. Those instructions are derived from the instructions given to Israel in Deuteronomy chapter 16 and Leviticus chapter 23.
For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful. “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you. Deut 16:15-17
Let’s notice a few things here. First, we see that they were to keep the Feast of Tabernacles in the place that the Lord would choose. Where was that? It was the tabernacle, the tent of testimony. God’s presence was clearly in the tabernacle; his glory filled the place as the cloud of the Lord covered it during the day and fire at night (Ex 40:34-38). And once Israel finally crossed the Jordan, Jerusalem became the place that the Lord chose to place his name.
But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord. Deut 12:10-11
So Jerusalem became the place that the Lord chose to place his name, the tabernacle and later more specifically the temple became that place at which the burnt offerings and sacrifices were carried out.
Deuteronomy chapters 14 and 16 describe the Feast of Tabernacles as one of three “pilgrim feasts” to which citizens of Israel were to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate and eat of their tithes. That is why so many people were in Jerusalem for Passover and Unleavened bread when Jesus was arrested. And that is why so many people had traveled to Jerusalem for that first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the church. And that is why so many traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles as described in the gospels. And yes, this is why the Jews and Hellenistic Jews who became Christians traveled to Jerusalem for these feasts in the early days of the church before the temple was destroyed.
There can be no doubt that the place that the Lord placed his name at that time was Jerusalem and that the people were to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the pilgrim feasts including the Feast of Tabernacles.
1 - The Feast of Tabernacles was to be celebrated where the Lord placed his name in Jerusalem.
We also see the instructions to bring the tithe, but I’m not going to go down that path in this review. Let’s just focus on the command to keep the Feast of Tabernacles and how they were instructed to keep that festival.
These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the Lord food offerings, burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day. Lev 23:37
We read here in Leviticus that each day of the feast there were specific offerings, daily there were to be food offerings and the first and eighth day were to be holy convocations (verse 36). So let’s list our next basic instructions for the Feast.
2 – There were specific offerings required each day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
3 – There were holy convocations on the first and the eighth days of the feast.
Let’s take a look into the instruction for dwelling in booths.
And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. Lev 23:40-42
So here we see that they were to dwell in booths made from the branches of specific trees. The Jews built these booths on the flat roofs of houses, in the streets or in the fields. And it is commonly understood that these four trees were the citron, the palm, the myrtle, and the willow. Nehemiah chapter 8 also addresses this and specifically identifies the trees and instruction to dwell in booths.
The Hebrew word for booth is sukkâ, which means a crude temporary shelter made of woven branches. They were to construct these crude shelters to be reminded of when they had to dwell in crude shelters following their exit from Egypt.
“that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” Lev 23:43
4 – God instructs his people to dwell in booths made of the branches of four specific trees.
Once again, the purpose stated in the Law for these booths was to remind Israel of the time that God brought them from Egypt. They were to be annually reminded that they dwelt in crudely constructed booths when they left Egypt on their way to the Promised Land. There is no mention of the Messiah’s coming or the future fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in these instructions. However we are not questioning the Church of God interpretation of imagery here, simply looking at the instruction in the law to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
To those with a history in the Armstrong churches of God, none if this is new. So let’s summarize our four instructions:
The Feast of Tabernacles was to be celebrated where the Lord placed his name in Jerusalem.
There were specific offerings required each day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
There were holy convocations on the first and the eighth days of the feast.
God instructs his people to dwell in booths made of the branches of four specific trees.
I wrote earlier that if you believe that a Christian needs to observe the commandment to keep the Feast of Tabernacles then you should keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
But after reviewing the commandment that we are all so familiar with, I ask you plainly, are you actually keeping the Feast of Tabernacles? Are you really observing the Law as it was instructed?
If the answer is yes then great, consciences are clear. But if the answer is no, or uncertain, then could you be judged by our own words? If you believe that “true Christians” keep God’s Law including all the Holy Days of the Old Testament, then you need to be certain that you are indeed keeping the Feast of Tabernacles, right?
Let’s look at the commands in the Law that we have just reviewed. First, let’s just make the assumption that any offerings and sacrifices are no longer required as they have been fulfilled in Christ. This is the assumption that all the Armstrong Churches of God make. But how do we know where the Lord has placed his name? According to the Bible that place was Jerusalem. If you are keeping the Feast of Tabernacles then ask yourself:
Why don’t the Churches of God go to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles?
That is what the Law instructs. So how do you know where God has placed His name for the feast if it is not in scripture? Each Church of God organization has its own feast sites in different locations; did God choose all these places to put his name? I attended the feast in Panama City one year during which there were concurrently feast sites from eight different Church of God organizations in the same general area. Think about it, does this make sense to you?
One might argue that in today’s society it is not possible to go to Jerusalem. Well, why not? I traveled to Italy for the feast. Besides, the Law is the Law and if God says to go to Jerusalem then we should do it, right? Let me remind you of a favorite scripture of the Churches of God. It is the proof, they say, that the Christian church should observe the feast because the Feast of Tabernacles is identified as being observed after the return of Jesus to the earth.
Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. Zech 14:16
But notice that they are keeping the feast in Jerusalem. It is so important to travel to Jerusalem that the surviving people of the nations who do not come to Jerusalem at that time will not receive rain. If these verses prove that the church should be keeping the Feast of Tabernacles today, then why do not the Churches of God observe it in Jerusalem as commanded?
And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. Zech 14:17
The Law commands that the Feast of Tabernacles be observed where the Lord has placed his name. The scriptures identify Jerusalem clearly to be that location. And yet, the Armstrong churches observe their feasts in various cities that they choose. I recall being in meetings in which we discussed which cities would be chosen based on special rates given to the church, activities for families, cost and size of convention centers, parking, and so forth. That is how feast sites are chosen and there is no biblical authority for doing so.
Another question for feast goers to ask themselves:
Why do we have church services every day of the Feast of Tabernacles?
Over the decades that I attended and taught in the Armstrong Church and its splinter churches, I many times heard it stated that a “holy convocation” was a gathering of the church; a church service if you will. Not that I necessarily agree with that interpretation, but let’s assume that to be the case. According to the Law there is a holy convocation on the first day and the eighth day. So why do the churches of God have church services every day of the feast? Don’t misunderstand, we could have church services every day and that would be just fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I distinctly remember the feelings of shame and guilt if I were to miss a service due to any reason other than extreme illness. If you are a feast goer you must admit that missing a church service is tantamount to not properly keeping the Feast of Tabernacles. No doubt we were made to feel like we were sinning if we missed church. And missing opening night, that was really frowned upon too. A lot of judging goes on regarding church attendance. But why is that? A church service every day is nowhere to be found in the Law even if we accept the Church of God interpretation of a holy convocation. If you are attending the feast this year try telling your pastor that you are only going to attend on the first day and the eighth day since that is what the Bible commands. I doubt they will find humor in that statement.
The final and perhaps most important question for feast goers to ask themselves:
Why do we not dwell in booths when we keep the Feast of Booths?
Dwelling in booths made of the four trees was central to the commandment to keep the Feast of Tabernacles; there is no way around that fact. Please read this excerpt from a blog appearing on the United Church of God website.
In 2013, United Church of God members and families will travel to dozens of Festival of Tabernacles sites around the world to take part in this biblical assembly… However, proper biblical observance of the Festival of Tabernacles requires that members reside in temporary quarters as outlined in Leviticus 23:42 (Peter Eddington, “United Church of God to Celebrate Coming Kingdom of God in Eight-Day Christian Festival of Tabernacles”, September 16, 2013)
Mr. Eddington explains that the “proper biblical observance” of the feast requires that one dwell in booths. We know that the leaders of these churches understand what the Law states. That is why he carefully changes the wording to “temporary quarters” in order to make hotels and resorts appear to be equivalent to the “booths” commanded in the Law. Please do your own research into the word for booth, it’s meaning, and how it is used. Do expensive hotels and resorts fulfill the instruction in the Law to dwell in crudely built booths of woven branches? Do hotels somehow remind us of being brought out of Egypt?
No. There is no biblical authority for this change or for the imagery used to support the change.
In the same blog article, we read the following explanation,
members typically stay in nearby hotels to fulfill the temporary nature required by the biblical command. "Staying in a temporary dwelling such as a hotel underscores the transitory nature of this present world and illustrates how it will be replaced by the prophesied Kingdom of God," noted Mr. Kubik.
Where does the Bible give the authority change booths to hotels, rented houses, cruise ships, cabins on the lake, and so on? Where is “transitory nature of this present world” identified in scripture with booths? There is no biblical authority for this change in the Law.
Church of God members often like to quote Matthew Chapter 5 in which Jesus states, “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven”. Ah but you must be intellectually consistent. If nothing in the Law can be changed, and that is your argument for requiring Christians to observe the Old Covenant Holy Days, then how can you change the Law that instructs us in how to keep those Holy Days?
Okay? Let me ask that again.
If nothing in the Law can be changed, and that is your argument for requiring Christians to observe the Old Covenant Holy Days, then how can you change the Law that instructs us in how to keep those Holy Days?
This is cognitive dissonance! The reasoning goes like this: "The Law cannot be changed. You must keep the Law. The Law instructs us to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. But we’ve changed the Law in order to keep the feast in the church age according to the direction of a man. But the Law cannot be changed. Therefore we keep the holy days because they are commanded in the Law. Other churches are false because they do not keep the Law like we do…"
You who observe the feast claim to be keeping the commandments. And yet you do not observe the feast in Jerusalem, you go to church every day when this is never mentioned in the Law and make people feel guilty if they miss a service, and you do not dwell in the booths instructed very clearly in the Law you claim to keep.
The New Testament writers make it clear that if one is going to keep a point of the Law then they must keep all of the Law. Why put out leaven during the Feast of Unleavened bread but not dwell in booths during the Feast of booths? Why do you fast on the Day of Atonement but do not blow trumpets or shout on the Feast of Trumpets?
So if you believe that you should be keeping the Feast of Tabernacles, then by all means go to Jerusalem, build a booth, and keep the festival as it is commanded. But what the Worldwide Church of God splinter churches are doing is keeping a tradition unique to that church. And the sole authority for making these changes to the Law of God is none other than Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. Are you sure that Herbert Armstrong was given authority by God to redefine these festivals and change the Law of God?
There simply is not one passage in scripture that connects the Feast of Tabernacles with Jesus’ millennial rule on earth. There is not one scripture that states that crudely made booths should be replaced with hotels and resorts that picture “quality” living in the millennium. There is not one passage in the Bible that indicates that Christians should spend large amounts of money on themselves and their own entertainment and send the rest in to their corporate organization leadership. And there is not one passage of scripture that grants the authority to the church to annually decide where God has placed his name for their own rendition of the Feast of Tabernacles.
I have a business associate whose father is a rabbi. Back when I was a faithful follower of Herbert Armstrong I explained to this friend that I kept the Feast of Tabernacles just as he did. When I explained that we went to hotels, beaches and amusement parks while attending church every day in a convention center he looked at me bewildered. I thought we had something in common, but we didn’t. The Feast of Tabernacles “observed” by the churches of God has absolutely nothing in common with the Feast of Tabernacles commanded in the Law. Really. It is common for the Churches of God to claim that the early church kept the feast just as they do. But the Church of God feast tradition would not be recognizable by any of the apostles.
No, the Feast of Tabernacles tradition in the churches of God is a creation of Herbert W. Armstrong. It is a “tradition of men”, if you will. If you believe that Mr. Armstrong was given the sole authority by God to change the law then your conscience is clear. But if you’re not so sure, then I suggest you look into the Law that you claim to be observing to make sure that you are indeed keeping the feast and the other holy days according to God’s instruction. I'm confident that such a study done honestly will lead you to God's grace.
Those of you who are convicted to keep the Old Testament holy days, you really should keep the Feast of Tabernacles according to the commandment.
But are you really keeping it?
************ It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11 ************