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What the Bible says about Feasts, Keeping Spiritually
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Deuteronomy 14:23

The feasts of God are events that we look forward to with a great deal of positive anticipation. And well we should because they are enjoyable physically and can be tremendously spiritually rewarding. However, experience has shown that, due to spiritual immaturity, there can be a kind of enjoyable dark side to Tabernacles, since it can easily be perceived as a vacation or a "godly" substitute for Christmas.

On the other side of the emotional ledger, there is also a share of trouble preparing for and traveling to them. Tabernacles, especially, can be wearying, and people have sometimes even become quite sick from the stress and consequently had a miserable time. On occasion, the Feast can even be a matrix for motivating family problems.

Overall, though, most of the time we enjoy God's feasts immensely, cherishing the memories we have of the activities, the fine meals, the nice locations, and the time we spent with our spiritual and physical families—things we do not always have either the time or money to do at home.

Yet, we have to be somewhat cautious of this because we can enjoy doing similar kinds of things apart from the Feast—in fact, such experiences apart from the Feast happen frequently. The inherent danger is that, though God wants us to rejoice in keeping His Feast, it is easy to think that, because the Feast is indeed enjoyable, we had a "good" Feast.

Judgment of things like this is highly variable from one person to the next. People can attend the same site, hear the same messages, take part in the same activities, and all have a quite different evaluation of the quality of the Feast. We have all experienced this.

I can look back on one particularly bad Feast—it was not disastrous because no particular "bad" thing occurred—but in my evaluation, the 1974 festival I attended in St. Petersburg, Florida, was an all-time low. The site was not the problem, nor did anybody I attended with give any trouble. It was bad because I did little or nothing positive to make it a great Feast. I was just there soaking up the good times.

Deuteronomy 14:23 and Deuteronomy 16:15 seem to be the verses we turn to most frequently when we refer to the Feast of Tabernacles. However, they primarily emphasize the potential for the enjoyable physical aspects. True, it does say we are to go to learn to fear God, but other scriptures focus more strongly on the spiritual aspects of the Feast, and they are considerable. Though little specific detail is given, there is enough to know that God expects the Feast of Tabernacles to be the year's spiritual high-water mark.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles

Deuteronomy 14:26

Some who read this have been to the Feast and thus look forward to eight days of experiencing many enjoyable things: food, drink, activities, spending time with friends, and of course, the spiritual meals of eating and drinking in of God's instructions. Many sermons over the years have been preached about prioritizing our time and activities throughout the Feast, keeping God first over the physical abundance and events that can often relegate Him to second place. Some may have justified a physical approach to the Feast from an immature understanding of God's command in Deuteronomy 14:26, using the time and money God provides for the Feast as a vacation with friends and family, rather than an eight-day, spiritual-information-packed, learning experience.

God wants us to experience both the spiritual and the physical abundance that foreshadows the time when we will live and reign with God during His Millennial rest and on into His eternal Kingdom. However, we need to prioritize and balance our wants and needs with God's expectations—especially so during this short period of plenty when it seems we do not need God as much as we normally do.

God notices how we treat this eight-day period and assesses our actions to see if we really feel we do not need Him as much during this time of plenty versus the rest of the year when our daily struggles require His involvement in our lives. We may see the Feast as a time of fun activities, which is partially true, but it may expose how we would live if God were to bless us financially or how we would govern if He were to give us exalted positions in His Family.

Staff
Whatever Your Heart Desires

Isaiah 1:10-17

Isaiah 1:10-17 chronicles the time before Ezra and Nehemiah when Judah observed the feasts, yet in a wrong spirit and with reprehensible conduct. Isaiah preached this to the Jews about one hundred years before they went into captivity to Babylon.

This is a clear indictment of their spirit and attitude, advancing strong proof of why God later said through Ezekiel that Israel and Judah went into captivity because of idolatry and Sabbath-breaking (Ezekiel 20:12-21).

There is no reason to believe that, just because God says "your" new moons and "your" feasts, they were not the ones He appointed, at least in name. He could rightly call them "your feasts" because their keeping of them was so abominable that they bore no resemblance to His intent in commanding them to be observed. They were completely discordant with His character, as the listing of their sins shows.

He calls their giving of offerings, which were part of the spiritual aspects of keeping the feasts, vain and trampling His courts. He designates their prayers as an abomination, and their keeping of the feasts wearying to Him. Clearly, He had "had it up to here" with their Sabbath and festival observances. Have we examined our conduct recently in relation to our attitudes, approaches, and expectations for the Feast?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles

Amos 5:4-12

Why does Amos specifically mention Bethel (verses 5-6) other than that it was where the Israelites were holding feasts? Why did they choose Bethel as a feast site? Bethel played an important role in Israel's history. Twice Jacob, one of the fathers of Israel, has important events happen to him there.

Genesis 28:11-22 records the first occasion Jacob has an encounter with God at Bethel, though it was not called Bethel then. It received its name—"House of God"—from God revealing Himself to Jacob there, and Jacob believing that He lived there. On this occasion, the patriarch arrives as a homeless wanderer, a man on the run from the murderous intents of his brother Esau. He is a man with a past, having just deceived his father and brother out of the blessing. Nevertheless, God reveals Himself to him there, and the transformation of Jacob begins. He leaves Bethel as a man with a future.

The second time he encounters God at Bethel (Genesis 35:1-4, 7, 9-15), he arrives after departing from his father-in-law, Laban, and having reconciled with Esau. He is a far better man than the first time, but he is not yet complete. However, he arrives as "Jacob" and departs as "Israel." The new name is assurance of the reality that he is a new man, that a transformation is taking place. In the Israelite mind, Bethel thus became associated as a place of renewal, of reorientation, of transformation by God.

Even as verses 1-3 of Amos 5 are a dirge, verses 8-9 are in the form of a hymn praising the true God, the transforming God. When God is at work, things change for the better; He is the God who makes a difference.

With this background, we can understand why Amos 5 calls attention to Bethel. God is asking, "Why aren't you Israelites being transformed in the conduct of your life when you keep the feasts?" He is saying, "You indeed go to Bethel for the feast, but no transformation of your conduct and attitude occurs. Are you going there to seek Me?"

One of the primary proofs that God is making a difference in a person's life occurs when one who was formerly hostile to God and His law begins to love God and His law. He shows his new love by obeying God and His law in his life in areas like those mentioned in verses 10-12.

Yet, the Israelites attended the feasts in Bethel and returned home with their lives still ungoverned by God's truth. When Jacob met God, his life began changing immediately, as his vow to tithe in Genesis 28:22 shows. Faith immediately became part of the conduct of his life. The lives of those in Amos' day should also have changed according to the dictates, principles, and examples of God's Word. They should have left Bethel singing and exemplifying, "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97).

It seems that these people turned the feast in Bethel into nothing more than a vacation. Thus, Amos admonishes, "Do not seek Bethel! Seek the Lord and live!" Ultimately, the Bethel approach signifies death, not life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles

Amos 5:5

What is Gilgal's significance in Israel's spiritual history? Israel's first experience at Gilgal occurs when the people cross into the Promised Land under Joshua: "Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho" (Joshua 4:19). In Gilgal, they set up the twelve stones taken from the Jordan as a memorial of their crossing (verse 20-24).

Joshua 5:1-12 records that it was in Gilgal that all the Israelite males who had been born during the forty years in the wilderness were circumcised, thus entering into the Old Covenant—in effect, becoming God's nation in the land. Verse 10 shows that they kept the first Passover in the Promised Land in Gilgal, and in verse 12, where they first ate the fruit of the land.

Chapters 9, 10, and 14 show that Joshua launched his military attacks from Gilgal against the people of the land to secure it for Israelite inhabitation. I Samuel 11:14-15 records that Saul was confirmed as Israel's first king in Gilgal. All this early history of Israel's occupation of Canaan made Gilgal a shrine to the Israelites' inheritance and possession of the land.

However, Amos again hits the people with a precisely aimed lightning bolt by saying, "Gilgal shall surely go into captivity [exile]" (Amos 5:5). He then fastens that thought more firmly in their minds by making it personal: "'Therefore I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus,' says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts" (verse 27). In other words, even though they observed a festival in the shrine that commemorated possession of the Promised Land, those prosperous, lukewarm people listening to him would lose the land and be taken into captivity.

From this knowledge, we can begin to understand the attitude that Amos confronted. Generally, complacency or apathy was the problem, but specifically, it was much narrower.

With the Bethel illustration, Amos points out that they were mistaken in believing that God was in this place, and therefore their hope for life was a hollow one. They were assuming that simply because they were there, it would work in their favor.

The Beersheba illustration makes them face the fact that they were assuming God was with them. Their pride was almost boundless. They should have been asking whether God was pleased to walk with them.

The Gilgal illustration deals with their assumption that, because they were not only in the Promised Land but in full possession of it, everything was thus well with them.

Amos 5 highlights three critical assumptions, all of which are factors in a doctrine evangelical Christians term "eternal security." The context of the chapter shows a wealth of religious activity (verses 21-26). Amos mentions religious festivals, animal sacrifices, and music they believed to be glorifying to God, all indicating worship services of some kind. They went in for religion in a big way! Undoubtedly, they were wholehearted about it, so it was probably emotionally satisfying to them. But what good is worship if it does not get through to God? This is what Amos reveals to them. All of their enthusiasm was for naught because their daily lives did not match God's standards.

We are assured of making it into God's Kingdom on the strength of His ability to prepare us. So what is the problem? Verse 24 gives us some insight: "But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

The first phrase can just as easily read, "Let justice [or, judgment] roll down." There is a clever play on a word here, as Gilgal means "the rolling." The people attended the festivals in Gilgal, but before their arrival and after they returned home, justice and righteousness failed to roll down—we might say "trickle down"—into their everyday life. Things went on as before. They had fun at the feast all right, but nothing changed spiritually.

Justice is the fruit of righteousness. When linked as they are in this verse, justice stands for correct moral practice in daily life, and righteousness for the cultivation of correct moral principles. Justice is external, righteousness is internal. The trouble with Gilgal was that the people allowed their human nature to keep their religion in a box with no way for it to influence daily life.

Together, these three illustrations show that our relationship with God is not a game. Each of His festivals has a serious purpose in keeping us oriented toward the completion of His purpose for us as individuals, for His church, for Israel, and in due time, for the whole world. Presently, attention is focused on the church and our part in its life. The church exists to serve Him in witnessing the gospel to the world by our lives, as well as by preaching. We cannot witness well without preparation, and the festivals play an important role in this.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles


 




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