November 22, 2019

Nehemiah 8: 13-18

On the second day, the heads of the families of all the people, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered together around Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Instruction. And they found written in the Instruction that the Lord had commanded through Moses that the Israelites should live in booths during the festival of the seventh month.

They also found that they should make the following proclamation and announce it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.”

So the people went out and brought them, and made booths for themselves, each on the roofs of their houses or their courtyards, in the courtyards of God’s house, in the area by the Water Gate, or in the area by the Gate of Ephraim.

The whole assembly of those who had returned from captivity made booths and lived in them. This was something that the people of Israel hadn’t done since the days of Joshua, Nun’s son, and there was great joy.

He read from God’s Instruction scroll every day, from the first until the last day of the festival. They kept the festival for seven days and held a solemn assembly on the eighth day, just as the Instruction required.

In yesterday’s reading, everyone went to the square to hear Ezra read scripture. Today, only those in positions of authority attend. They learn that they have neglected one of the Jewish celebrations commanded by God: The Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-36; Deut. 16:13-17). This Jewish Thanksgiving had been observed in the preceding century, but forgotten even among the religious leaders.

The Jews reinstitute the feasts and traditions, such as living in “booths” during the week of Tabernacles and reading scripture daily. The booths, made of branches and other gathered materials, were meant to honor the years the Israelites spent in huts as they wandered through the wilderness after being exiled from Egypt.

The Feast of the Tabernacles is about remembering how God had blessed and provided for their people in the wilderness. The Jews could see that God had just brought them through their own wilderness and provided for them, making something old feel relevant for them.

Sometimes we read about traditions in the Bible, like this one, that feel irrelevant to our modern lives. But practices and traditions can help us mark our own thanksgiving and gratefulness towards God. Which practices do you feel God is calling you to put into place in your life so that you can walk closely with him, as Nehemiah did?