In the little Midwest farming community where I grew up one of the highlights of the year was the annual Sweet Corn Festival. A major packing company sponsored this event at the end of the harvest season. There was plenty of sweet, juicy corn on the cob for everyone. The celebration included a parade and carnival with lots of fun for the whole family.
Fall is the season for harvest festivals. An online search for “harvest festival” produced over 50,000 listings. Celebrating the end of a successful harvest after a season of hard work seems like a natural thing to do. This custom dates back many centuries.
Thanksgiving, one of the most enjoyable holidays in the United States, began as a gesture of gratitude to God for the blessings of the bountiful harvest of the first full year in the New World.
The Pilgrims had arrived too late to grow many crops and, without fresh food, half the colony died from disease. The following spring the Iroquois Indians taught them how to grow corn and other crops in the unfamiliar soil and showed them how to hunt and fish.
In the autumn of 1621, bountiful crops of corn, barley, beans and pumpkins were harvested. The colonists had much to be thankful for, so a feast was planned. Many of the original colonists continued to celebrate the autumn harvest with a feast of thanks, which soon became a national holiday.
God instituted the Feast of Ingathering as a special fall harvest festival for the ancient nation of Israel (Exodus 23:16 Exodus 23:16And the feast of harvest, the first fruits of your labors, which you have sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when you have gathered in your labors out of the field.
American King James Version×; 34:22). The Israelites were instructed to bring a tenth of their harvest along with firstborn animals of their herds and flocks to a central location to rejoice with other families by feasting and sharing their harvest bounty with the needy (Deuteronomy 14:22-27 Deuteronomy 14:22-27 22 You shall truly tithe all the increase of your seed, that the field brings forth year by year. 23 And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of your corn, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. 24 And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from you, which the LORD your God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD your God has blessed you: 25 Then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go to the place which the LORD your God shall choose: 26 And you shall bestow that money for whatever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household, 27 And the Levite that is within your gates; you shall not forsake him; for he has no part nor inheritance with you.
American King James Version×).
This annual weeklong celebration was also called “the Feast of Tabernacles” (Deuteronomy 16:13 Deuteronomy 16:13You shall observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that you have gathered in your corn and your wine:
American King James Version×, Leviticus 23:34 Leviticus 23:34Speak to the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days to the LORD.
American King James Version×) as a reminder of the temporary dwelling places of the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land of Canaan. So they were instructed to build temporary shelters to stay in as part of their celebration (Leviticus 23:40-43 Leviticus 23:40-43 40 And you shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. 41 And you shall keep it a feast to the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: 43 That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×).
Jews still observe this Festival today as Sukkot, which derives its name from the sukkah or temporary dwelling. Rabbinic tradition infers a theme of the fragile mortality of human life as an additional meaning of the sukkah .
Jesus kept the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2-8 John 7:2-8 2 Now the Jew’s feast of tabernacles was at hand.
3 His brothers therefore said to him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that your disciples also may see the works that you do.
4 For there is no man that does any thing in secret, and he himself seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.
5 For neither did his brothers believe in him.
6 Then Jesus said to them, My time is not yet come: but your time is always ready.
7 The world cannot hate you; but me it hates, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.
8 Go you up to this feast: I go not up yet to this feast: for my time is not yet full come.
American King James Version×, 37-40). The apostles and the early church also kept the Holy Days that were given originally to Israel. In fact the Church began on the Day of Pentecost (also known as the Feast of Weeks).
In addition to their historical legacy, these Holy Days offer “a shadow of things to come” in the plan of God (Colossians 2:16-17 Colossians 2:16-17 16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
American King James Version×).
Both Paul and Peter referred to our physical human body as a “tabernacle” that we dwell in during our journey toward the promised Kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 5:1-8 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed on with our house which is from heaven:
3 If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.
4 For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed on, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
5 Now he that has worked us for the selfsame thing is God, who also has given to us the earnest of the Spirit.
6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
American King James Version×, 2 Peter 1:13-14 2 Peter 1:13-14 13 Yes, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; 14 Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ has showed me.
American King James Version×). When Jesus Christ returns to earth to establish that Kingdom of God on earth, the dead in Christ will be resurrected to eternal life and will rule with him for a thousand years (1 Corinthians 15:50-52 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 50 Now this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
American King James Version×, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
American King James Version×, Revelation 1:6 Revelation 1:6And has made us kings and priests to God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
American King James Version×; 2:26, 3:21; 5:10).
The Bible also speaks of a great spiritual harvest to take place at that time (Matthew 13:30 Matthew 13:30Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather you together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
American King James Version×). The millennial rule of Jesus Christ will result in a time of universal peace and prosperity. All nations will begin keeping the Feast of Tabernacles as their annual harvest festival of thanksgiving (Zechariah 14:16 Zechariah 14:16And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.
American King James Version×).
I have kept the Feast of Tabernacles for decades as a foretaste of that coming utopia. For the past few years I have had the privilege of serving as the coordinator of a regional celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles sponsored by the United Church of God. It is one of many sites where this Feast is observed not only in the United States but also in many other nations worldwide.