Few things in life are more elusive than a person’s memory. Things I thought I would never forget five years ago are already buried in the recesses of my mind by a myriad of other impressions, thoughts, feelings, and events. It is no wonder, then, that God constantly calls upon the children of Israel to remember His deeds, remember His covenant love, remember His statutes and Law. We humans constantly need reminders to keep us on track.
One of the most intriguing elements of the Law of Moses in this context is the various feasts that were to be celebrated by the children of Israel. Most of these feasts were instituted as festive celebrations and times of rejoicing, a few were used as an opportunity to repent and seek the Lord. In a variety of ways, these feasts served as the reminders Israel needed to keep them focussed on who God is, what He can do, what He has done, and what He has promised He will do. These feasts helped define who they were as a people and created continuity between the past and the present by reemphasizing their place in redemptive history.
Nehemiah gives us a glimpse into the celebration of one of those feasts: the Feast of Booths. Ezra the scribe had been reading the Law to the people with the Levites explaining it to the them and helping them understand it. In the midst of this process, they people discover what the Law says regarding the Feast of Booths:
13 On the second day, the family leaders of all the people, along with the priests and Levites, assembled before Ezra the scribe to study the words of the law. 14 They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the Israelites should dwell in booths during the festival of the seventh month.
Look at the hunger these people have for the Word of God! They come together, listen to the Law being read, and begin to study the Law. As with king Josiah, the last righteous king of Judah, God begins to open the eyes of those who earnestly seek to please Him and seek to know Him more. Their hungry, tender hearts are stirred when they read about the Feast of Booths. Upon finding out that they were in the right time of year and month, the leaders of the people decide that this feast needs to be celebrated. What followed was a celebration of epic proportions:
15 So they proclaimed and spread this news throughout their towns and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hill country and bring back branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and [other] leafy trees to make booths, just as it is written.” 16 The people went out, brought back [branches], and made booths for themselves on each of their rooftops, and courtyards, the court of the house of God, the square by the Water Gate, and the square by the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The whole community that had returned from exile made booths and lived in them. They had not celebrated like this from the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day. And there was tremendous joy. 18 Ezra read out of the book of the law of God every day, from the first day to the last. The Israelites celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day there was an assembly, according to the ordinance.
For seven days, the Israelites celebrated the Feast of Booths in a way that had not been done since the days of Joshua. They remembered that their forefathers dwelt in booths when they came out of Egypt and experienced God’s faithfulness, provision, and care. What a sight it must have been to see all those booths in the squares, the courtyards, in the temple, and on the rooftops! For seven days they rejoiced that God had brought them out of Egypt all those centuries ago, that they found themselves in the center of this redemptive history with a God that was still as powerful and as faithful as He was in the days of Moses.
What particularly thrills me about this account is the exuberant joy that this celebration stirs up in the people of Israel; it reminds me of the need to continuously remember the great things God has done in my life in the past. Just like the Israelites experienced thousands of years ago, I find that it is so easy to let the business of life begin to bury and fade out memories. The routine of life drains the joy and before long, I’m so caught up in the here and now that I stop seeing the present in light of God and His redemptive acts throughout (my) history. As human beings, we have a tremendous innate need to constantly remember God’s good deeds – it is an unending source of an amazing joy! I need to remind myself regularly of how God saved me, how I was set free from sin, how God provided when I saw no way out, how His steadfast love has kept me all these years. The same God that saved the Israelites is the same God that is by my side today! What a joy those thoughts bring! Few words express these feelings better than those of this song:
When I think about the Lord
How He saved me, How He raised me
How He filled me up with the Holy Ghost
How He healed me to the uttermost!
When I think about the Lord
How He picked me up, turned me around
And set my feet on solid ground
It makes me wanna shout
Hallelujah, thank you Jesus
Lord, You’re worthy of all of the glory
And all of the honor and all of the praise!
When you don’t quite see your way or you’re lost in the business of life, think of how God has manifested His steadfast love, grace, and power in your life and remember that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His love never fails.