Today the people observe the Feast of Tabernacles as described in the Book of the Law. “So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God.”
The Feast of Tabernacles has been celebrated since the days of Joshua (1 Kings 8:2, 1 Kings 8:65-66, Ezra 3:4) but not with such zeal for God’s word. In the Conquest Era, when Joshua led the people in conquering the promised land, the people celebrated being settled into the land, much like the celebration in Jerusalem that Nehemiah is describing. The remnant has returned from captivity in Babylon and is celebrating their renewed life in their renewed homeland by worshiping the Lord, remembering His faithfulness to His people, and repenting for their unfaithfulness.
“Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.” Then the Levites tell the people to “Stand up and bless the Lord your God forever and ever!” The Levites continue to exalt the Lord in prayer by retelling His magnificent story to the children of Israel, beginning with the Creation Era and continuing through to where they are at this point in the Return Era:
- Creation Era – “You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and everything on it, the seas and all that is in them, and You preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You.”
- Patriarch Era – “You are the Lord God, who chose Abram, and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, and gave him the name Abraham; You found his heart faithful before You, and made a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, and the Girgashites— to give it to his descendants.”
- Exodus Era – “You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heard their cry by the Red Sea. You showed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his servants, and against all the people of his land. For You knew that they acted proudly against them. So You made a name for Yourself, as it is this day. And You divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors You threw into the deep, as a stone into the mighty waters. Moreover You led them by day with a cloudy pillar, and by night with a pillar of fire, to give them light on the road which they should travel.” The Levites describe the Lord giving the people the law and providing food and water for them during their wilderness journeys. They remind the people of Israel’s rebellion against the Lord in the wilderness and how in spite of their disobedience, the Lord remained faithful – “Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.”
- Conquest Era – “You also multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and brought them into the land which You had told their fathers to go in and possess. So the people went in and possessed the land; You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hands, with their kings and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they wished.”
- Judges Era – “Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against You, cast Your law behind their backs… Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their enemies, who oppressed them; and in the time of their trouble, when they cried to You, You heard from heaven; and according to Your abundant mercies You gave them deliverers who saved them from the hand of their enemies…And many times You delivered them according to Your mercies, and testified against them, that You might bring them back to Your law.”
- Kingdom, Divided Kingdom, and Captivity Eras – “Yet for many years You had patience with them, and testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless in Your great mercy You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; for You are God, gracious and merciful….From the days of the kings of Assyria until this day. However You are just in all that has befallen us; for You have dealt faithfully, but we have done wickedly.” Therefore, the Northern Kingdom was overthrown by the Assyrians and Southern Judah was overthrown by the Babylonians.
- Return Era – “Here we are, servants today! And the land that You gave to our fathers, to eat its fruit and its bounty, here we are, servants in it! And it yields much increase to the kings you have set over us, because of our sins; also they have dominion over our bodies and our cattle at their pleasure; and we are in great distress. And because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it.”
At this time, Israel is a province of the Persian Empire, and they are under heavy taxes and oppression. Therefore, once again, they are calling out to the Lord to deliver them. This prayer is a prayer of deep repentance and deep dependence upon the Lord. The people pledge to be faithful to their God who has always been faithful to them.
Tomorrow, we will read about the Levites who will minister to the people and uphold the word of God. Keep reading. (Nehemiah 8:13-10:39)