What Really Matters
Feast Blog 2009
As we look forward to the Feast of Tabernacles let’s remember the lessons of previous festival seasons, and prepare for our best Feast yet.
Before the feast, the young students in Sabbath class asked me if there was a story in the Bible about the Feast that they could act out as a play. So, we looked into the scripture and read about the Feast in the book of Nehemiah. The story we read started with Nehemiah, a eunuch in the palace and cup-bearer to the Persian King, getting word of the state of affairs in Jerusalem from his brother. It distressed Nehemiah greatly, to the point that even the king noticed that his cupbearer and trusted servant, was troubled about something. Nehemiah opened up his heart to the King telling him about the turmoil in Jerusalem. The King then sent Nehemiah back to Jerusalem as Governor with all the authority to rebuild the walls of the city, and restore temple worship. Then we skipped ahead in the narrative and omitted a few chapters of names and finished with the chronicle of one of the greatest feasts of God’s people Israel.
- However, when I went to write the reader’s theatre script I began to see that the names I had skipped over were indeed vital to the story. God recorded in fine detail, and for all time, the work that each family unit had contributed in accomplishing God’s important task of restoring the walls of Jerusalem. This great project was a family affair.
Reading between the lines we can grasp that everyone in each family worked. It was men from the youngest to the oldest clearing debris, measuring and supervising, cutting stones, laying stones, sawing timbers, and hanging doors. Every able-bodied person in every family had the heart and energy to do the work. The women of course kept the men fed and ran all the errands to keep them furnished with supplies, tools, water, and news of the progress in other areas to encourage them.
It was amazing how quickly they worked, perhaps with the goal of the Feast as a deadline, and certainly with the encouragement of Nehemiah who provided loving leadership and the food and supplies for the workers. But perhaps there was also the kind of family trust, synergism, and camaraderie, to motivate them, qualities that would not normally be found on a construction site between foreman and hired labourers. There was also that important sense of ownership, that each family must have felt as they toiled to complete their part of the wall.
When their enemies saw how quickly the reconstruction was progressing they were enraged, and plotted many ways to stop the work. Guided by Nehemiah’s strong leadership and wise counsel, all the families pulled together, taking turns as guards with weapons in hand one shift, and builders with plumb line and hammer the next. The families would also go to each other’s aid rallying to the sound of the trumpet (shofar) and helping each other fight off the invaders.
So the wall was complete, the doors hung and dedicated, and the Feast begun. We can now have a greater appreciation for why this particular Feast was a family affair. They had worked so hard together that their rejoicing together took on greater meaning. Then Ezra reminded them of Moses instructions to build booths. “So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat (each family) under the booths; for since the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness.”
- In western society with our broken or nuclear families we often miss the full joy that God intended for us, in rejoicing together at the Feast as families. Yet, when I think back on my 45 years of keeping God’s festivals, the good times have been invariably family times, where grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends joined our family group to rejoice together before God. We may have been in Belgium, or France, Vail or Fresno, Quebec City or the Saguenay, Vernon or Del Mar, PEI or Squaw Valley, Winchester or Victoria – all marvelous places to be – but what made the Feast great was sharing God’s blessings with family.
As members of Christ’s body we are all brothers and sisters – we are all family. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all work during the coming year, building God’s “wall” together. Every church family, congregation, doing that part of the wall that God has assigned to them. We can be assured that we will face enemies as our forebears did, modern day Sanballats and Tobiahs, trying to weaken our resolve, undermine our intentions, cripple us with fear, and distract us from our purpose. God says the wall must be built, the gospel preached, the sick healed, the broken-hearted comforted, and he has chosen us to be the builders.
We can rise to the occasion and focus on the work we need to do, so that when the next Feast arrives, we will have the same kind of joy that the Israelites had in seeing the marvellous ways in which God has blessed the work of our hands. We will have the same delight in worshipping together at the Feast of Tabernacles as the people of Judah did when they were together building their sukkah of palm branches, rejoicing in God’s direction and deliverance, and celebrating Succoth in Jerusalem centuries ago.
Perhaps we need to pray for the wisdom of Nehemiah, to examine our present state, to formulate a plan, and to guide the work step-by-step, supplying the resources needed along with the daily words of encouragement for us and our fellow workers. God will not forget our labour of love, and perhaps he is recording our family names even now, as he did the names of those faithful builders in Nehemiah’s time.