LCN Article
What Are You Building This Feast?

September / December 2016

Peter G. Nathan

We understandably see the Feast of Tabernacles as a time of friendships, family, spiritual food and travel. But of course, there is so much more to consider! For instance, the God Family sees the Feast as a time symbolizing the coming restoration of all things (Acts 3:19–21). What’s involved in restoration?

Building or rebuilding are very much part of the restoration that God intends after Christ’s return—but this time, on a tried and true foundation. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that building and construction are frequently associated with the Feast of Tabernacles in Scripture.

For instance, in Nehemiah 8 we read of the returning Jews building their temporary dwellings from “olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees” (v. 15) in a manner that had not been done since the days of Joshua, when Israel was similarly less settled. The temporary nature of our dwellings during the Feast of Tabernacles reminds us of important truths—first among them, that lives are temporary. We are not yet immortal. Our surroundings and everything we possess are temporary, as well. The people of Israel were supposed to learn this when they sojourned in the wilderness. Also, when they dwelled in booths or tents in the wilderness, their ultimate protection was the cloud of glory that accompanied them. Today, our temporary accommodations during the Feast remind us of the reality of our lives. Our lives are not protected by the substance we collect around us but by the presence and oversight of our heavenly Father. Though the dwellings we stay in may seem a “physical” matter, God intends that we learn important lessons!

One of the most famous construction projects associated with the Feast of Tabernacles is the temple of Solomon, which was completed and dedicated at the Feast. All the preparation and building had been done beforehand so that it was ready. That holds great lessons for us as we look forward to the Feast this year, and to its ultimate fulfillment in the future. The Book of Chronicles provides details of the timing and setting of this important event in Israel’s history.

At that time Solomon kept the feast seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a sacred assembly, for they observed the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days. On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their tents, joyful and glad of heart for the good that the Lord had done for David, for Solomon, and for His people Israel (2 Chronicles 7:8–10).

This act of the dedication of the Temple by Solomon is also covered in 1 Kings 8:1–66. More detail on the preparations are provided in 2 Chronicles 5:1–7:11.

Parallels Between Solomon’s Reign and the Millennium

It should be no surprise that Solomon’s reign, especially the first part of the 40 years he reigned over Israel, is associated by some with the Feast of Tabernacles. While his later moral failings can’t be ignored and would eventually have a devastating effect on Israel, Solomon was specifically chosen by God to reign over “the kingdom of the Lord” in his time (1 Chronicles 28:5). His reign was a time of wealth and plenty (1 Kings 4:20–22), in which the king of Israel became known among other nations for wisdom and understanding (vv. 29–31, 34) and in which “Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree” (v. 25). Parallels between Solomon’s reign and the Millennium pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles are easy to find.

Note the way in which David prayed about his son. He was to do the work of the Eternal by building a physical temple just as Jesus Christ came to do His Father’s work by building a spiritual one.

Furthermore King David said to all the assembly: “My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced; and the work is great, because the temple is not for man but for the Lord God… And give my son Solomon a loyal heart to keep Your commandments and Your testimonies and Your statutes, to do all these things, and to build the temple for which I have made provision” (1 Chronicles 29:1, 19).

Later in the same chapter, the author notes that the Eternal had heard and answered the prayer of David:

So the Lord exalted Solomon exceedingly in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed on him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel (1 Chronicles 29:25).

During Solomon’s reign, that temple was built and dedicated. It was also a time of great peace and prosperity for Israel. Solomon, like his father David, was a writer, and several books of our Bible have been attributed to Solomon. One, in particular, Ecclesiastes, is to this day associated with the Feast of Tabernacles by the Jewish people. As such, it is read in the synagogues during the Feast of Tabernacles. At the time of its writing, Solomon was able to see the futility of the physical world and the need for the things of God—the spiritual dimension.

In chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes, he lists a series of physical events that occur in life, that define the parameters of human existence. There is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (v. 2). Likewise, there is “a time to break down, and a time to build up” (v. 3)—that is, a time to destroy and a time to build or rebuild. These observations are a result of Solomon’s efforts in life. In the previous chapter, he tells us about what he set out to accomplish:

I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives.

I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove (Ecclesiastes 2:3–6).

The temple wasn’t the only building project Solomon undertook. He set out to build great works and houses—or, more precisely, palaces—which have not survived to this day. Yet many visitors to Israel, even in our time, have looked in amazement at the pools known as Solomon’s Pools, located between Jerusalem and Hebron—massive undertakings built of hewn stone.

When we consider the Millennium pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles, it is not hard to realize that there will be a large amount of rebuilding to be accomplished during that time. Many of the facilities that survive the end times and that we consider essential to our present lives may be incompatible with the values taught under the Kingdom of God and will require rebuilding. The prophets spoke of rebuilding; Isaiah frequently wrote about this facet of the Kingdom of God. He spoke of rebuilding the ancient ruins on restored foundations (Isaiah 58:12; 61:4). Jeremiah also wrote about the restoring of the ways (Jeremiah 6:16). While he was referring to the Way of God or the way to be lived, the right paths will also be needed for the transportation and movement of people. How will all nations come up to worship in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles without those means (Isaiah 2:1–4; Zechariah 14:16–21)?

The “Now” Aspect

Let’s return to Solomon’s building of the temple and appreciate some lessons we can learn from it. Much preparation had gone into the temple before a stone was ever laid on Mount Moriah. 1 Chronicles details much of the planning and assembling of material that David undertook before Solomon ever ascended the throne. Likewise, a notable verse tells us that all of the preparation of the stonework was undertaken off-site, so that no sound of a hammer or metal tool was heard at the construction site (1 Kings 6:7). That speaks to careful preparation of the material.

So 2 Chronicles summarizes the building and dedication of the temple with these words:

Now all the work of Solomon was prepared unto the day of the foundation of the house of the Lord, and until it was finished. So the house of the Lord was perfected (2 Chronicles 8:16, KJV).

In the NKJV, the statement is simply that “the house of the Lord was completed.” Yet the Hebrew term translated “completed” conveys more than just the finishing of the work. The Jewish Publication Society Tanakh notes that “the House of the Lord was completed to perfection.”

With this in mind, now consider modern knowledge of the Feast among nominal “Christians” in the world. The Festival was largely unknown outside Jewish circles a century ago, but now the Feast of Tabernacles is the largest draw for “Christian” tourists to Israel. Last year, the Times of Israel reported that evangelical Christians from over 80 countries gathered in Jerusalem during the Feast. In recent years, over 6,000 “Christians” have visited Jerusalem to observe the Feast. But what does it do for them if the Feast is nothing more than something they “know about”?

In his epistle to the Corinthians, Paul tells us, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). If these nominal Christians simply “know something” about the Feast and no more, then they are puffed up according to Paul. Yet Paul points us to more than knowledge: godly love, which edifies. The English expression “edify” comes from the same root as the word “edifice.” We use that term to describe a building of substance—something that is going to last against the ravages of time.

Look at the pyramids of Egypt. Any one of them is a prime example of an edifice. So when we exercise godly love, we are building something that is very durable. The Church is to be that durable. Jesus Christ said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). The term “build” is translated from the same Greek word translated “edify” in Paul’s letter. We are individually and collectively being built up into something that will last for all eternity. Our foundation is the very best that can be laid. It has Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, from which all angles and elevations in the building are determined. It also includes all the prophets and apostles that the Word has inspired to convey our Father’s instructions (Ephesians 2:20). It is a building to last forever, and we are now being shaped and prepared for our role and place in that structure. While it is true that we are God’s temple in which His Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16), we can also see our lives reflected in the stones and metal work of Solomon’s temple, which were prepared in advance and off-site before the completed assembly of the building itself. We, too, are in a preparation stage now as living stones (1 Peter 2:5), being shaped and molded to fit within the great edifice of the Kingdom of God in advance of its arrival.

So what are we concentrating on building at the Feast? We will hear sermons about our calling and purpose and about our roles in the Kingdom of God. Are we thinking of that structure of which we will be part or is our mind on the present needs of our bodies and appetites?

What Will We Build?

Those with small children keeping the Feast at a coastal Festival site may find themselves helping build sand castles for their little ones. Those who have built even the most elaborate sand castle know very well what the first tide does to the effort. It’s obliterated and washed away so that nothing remains. There is nothing left that can be used for something greater. Our building should not be like that—as Christ, Himself, clearly teaches us (Matthew 7:26–27).

In his advice to other ministers about how they were to build on the work of ministers before them, Paul uses an analogy that we would do well to consider, ourselves, this Feast concerning our own construction efforts:

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:11–15).

In this way, Paul’s words can suggest a standard by which we can evaluate our lives and how we approach the Feast of Tabernacles. Can our efforts at preparation for the building program be consumed by fire? Would fire enhance or purify our work, or will our efforts become a pile of ash—as worthless as a sand castle on a beach after the tide has passed? Each of us has to answer for himself or herself before Almighty God and His Son Jesus Christ.

Isaiah gave us an insight into the type of building material our Father is looking to use on the foundation laid by His Son:

Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is my resting place? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:1–2, NRSV).

We could say that a “humble and contrite spirit” might be equated with the gold, silver and precious stones of which Paul spoke.

As we prepare to appear before our heavenly Father this Feast of Tabernacles, let us consider what we are building in our lives in preparation for the reality of the Kingdom that is soon to come.