the Jewish nation, Cestius Gallus slew fifty persons at Lydda during the Festival of Tabernacles. Also, worship of Jehovah and festival observations were neglected at times, especially under the reigns of the unfaithful kings.
None of the male attenders were to come emptyhanded but with a gift “in proportion to the blessing of Jehovah your God that he has given you.” (Deut. 16:16, 17) Also, at Jerusalem the ‘second’ tenth part (in contrast with that given to maintain the Levites [Num. 18:26, 27]) of the current year’s grain, wine and oil, and the firstborn of the herd and flock were to be eaten, sharing with the Levites. However, in case the journey to the festival place was too far, the Law provided that such goods could be turned into money; then this money could be used to defray expenses. (Deut. 14:22-27) These occasions were opportunities for demonstrating allegiance to Jehovah and were to be celebrated with joy, even extending to the alien resident, the fatherless boy and the widow. (Deut. 16:11, 14) This was providing, of course, that the males among such alien residents were circumcised worshipers of Jehovah. (Ex. 12:48, 49) Special sacrifices were always offered in addition to the daily offerings, and while the burnt offerings and the communion sacrifices were made, trumpets were blown.—Num. 10:10.
Just before the building of the temple the priesthood was reorganized by King David, who arranged for the immense staff of hundreds of Aaronic priests and thousands of Levitical assistants to be divided into twenty-four divisions. (1 Chron. chap. 24) Each division of trained workers later served twice each year at the temple, a week at a time, the necessary arrangements being made by the head of the paternal house. Second Chronicles 5:11 indicates that the twenty-four divisions of priests all served together at the dedication of the temple, which took place during the Festival of Booths or of Tabernacles. (1 Ki. 8:2; Lev. 23:34) Edersheim says that on festival days any priest was welcome to come up and assist in the temple service, but during the Festival of Tabernacles (or Booths) all twenty-four divisions were required to be in attendance.—The Temple, 1874, p. 66.
A tremendous amount of work fell on the priests and Levites and the Nethinim serving with them during these festival occasions. An example of the work they did is indicated in the description of the Festival of Unfermented Cakes held by King Hezekiah after he had cleansed the temple, which celebration, on this occasion, was extended for another seven days. The account states that Hezekiah himself contributed for sacrifice a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep, and the princes a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep. (2 Chron. 30:21-24) The historian Josephus gives some insight into the vast labor force required at one such festival held in the days of Roman Emperor Nero. According to Josephus, it was found that “the number of sacrifices was two hundred and fifty-six thousand five hundred; which, upon the allowance of no more than ten that feast together, amounts to [two million, five hundred and sixty-five thousand] persons that were pure and holy.”—Wars of the Jews, Book VI, chap. IX, par. 3 and ftn.
Certain days of these festivals were solemn assemblies or holy conventions, sabbaths, and, similar to the weekly sabbaths, required a complete cessation of ordinary business. No secular work at all was to be done. An exception to the regular sabbath arrangement is that work was permitted in connection with the preparation for the festival observances, such as preparing of food, unlawful on the weekly sabbath days. (Ex. 12:16) A distinction exists in this respect between “holy conventions” of the festivals and the regular weekly sabbaths (and the sabbath on the tenth day of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement, a time of fasting), on which days no work whatsoever was allowed, not even the lighting of a fire “in any of your dwelling places.” Compare Leviticus 23:3 and 26-32 with verses 7, 8, 21, 24, 25, 35, 36, and Exodus 35:2, 3.
IMPORTANCE OF FESTIVALS IN THE LIFE OF ISRAEL
Festivals played a very important part in the national life of the Israelites. While they were still in Egyptian bondage, Moses told Pharaoh that the reasons for demanding that the Israelites and their livestock be allowed to leave Egypt was that “we have a festival to Jehovah.” (Ex. 10:9) The Law covenant incorporated many detailed instructions regarding the observance of festivals. (Ex. 34:18-24; Lev. 23:1-44; Deut. 16:1-17) In keeping with God’s commands, the festival sabbaths helped all the attenders to keep their minds on the word of God and not to become so involved in their personal affairs that they would forget the more important spiritual aspect of their daily life. Festival sabbaths also reminded them that they were a people for Jehovah’s name. Traveling to and from the festive gatherings would naturally give much opportunity to talk about the goodness of their God and the blessings they were daily and seasonally enjoying. The festivals afforded time and opportunity for meditation, association and discussion of Jehovah’s law. They broadened knowledge of the God-given land, increased understanding and neighbor love among the Israelites and promoted unity and clean worship. The festivals were occasions of happiness. The minds of the attenders were filled with God’s thoughts and ways, and all who participated in sincerity received a rich spiritual blessing. Consider, for example, the blessing to thousands who attended the Festival of Pentecost at Jerusalem in 33 C.E.—Acts 2:1-47.
The festivals symbolized happiness to the Jews. Before the captivity to Babylon, when the nation in general had lost sight of the true spiritual purpose of the festivals, the prophets Hosea and Amos linked the coming foretold desolation of Jerusalem with the cessation of these joyous and happy observances, or the turning of them into occasions of mourning. (Hos. 2:11; Amos 8:10) After Jerusalem’s fall Jeremiah lamented that “the ways of Zion are mourning, because there are none coming to the festival.” Festival and sabbath were now “forgotten.” (Lam. 1:4; 2:6) Isaiah described in advance the happy condition of the returned exiles from Babylonian captivity in 537 B.C.E., saying: “You people will come to have a song like that in the night that one sanctifies oneself for a festival.” (Isa. 30:29) However, it was not long after their restoration to Palestine that they again corrupted Jehovah’s festivals, so that, through the prophet Malachi, God warned the priests that the dung of their festivals would be scattered upon their faces.—Mal. 2:1-3.
The writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures make several references and allusions to the festivals, sometimes giving them a happy, symbolic and prophetic application to Christians. However, the keeping of these festivals in a literal way was not enjoined upon Christians.—Col. 2:16, 17; see the festivals under individual names.
FESTIVAL OF BOOTHS
Known also as the FESTIVAL OF INGATHERING or of Tabernacles, it is called the “festival of Jehovah” at Leviticus 23:39. The instructions on its observation are found at Leviticus 23:34-43, Numbers 29:12-38 and Deuteronomy 16:13-15. The festival occupied the days of Ethanim 15-21, with a solemn assembly or sabbath on the twenty-second. Ethanim (Tishri; September-October) was originally the first month of the Jewish calendar, but after the exodus from Egypt it became the seventh month of the sacred year, since Abib (Nisan; March-April), formerly the seventh month, was made the first month. (Ex. 12:2) The Festival of Booths celebrated the ingathering of the fruits of the ground, the grain and the wine, “the produce of the land.” (Lev. 23:39) It is referred to as “the festival of ingathering at the turn of the year.” The sabbath on