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Rejoice at the Feast!

by Edward L. Winkfield

Deuteronomy 16:14 includes a command to be joyful at the Feast of Tabernacles. Yet there is much more to this charge than first meets the eye.

Children have a way of making us smile. It could be the expression a child flashes after more spaghetti has landed on his face than inside his mouth during mealtime. Or a spirited toddler who uses every ounce of her being to capture and burst soap bubbles streaming from a wand. Or a preschooler with a permanent marker who uses the fur of a snoozing pooch as his canvas!

Whether acted out by our own children or the offspring of others, the innocence of such behavior almost always brightens our days.

One of the most rewarding experiences for parents is to see their children joyful and exuberant. The care required to meet their needs and provide them with a safe, wholesome environment in which to grow up is but a small sacrifice for this gift.

God, as the ultimate Parent, takes care of His children and gives us everything we need to be content (Phil. 4:19). He fulfills His paternal responsibility by showering blessings on those who obey Him. He promises safety, healing, an abundant life, and much more—all of which should elicit gladness.

In addition, each year, God affords a wholesome environment for His children in embryo to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. He places His name upon sites across the globe and wants us to delight in this yearly festival. It is even a command: “And thou shalt rejoice in your Feast…” (Deut. 16:14).

But this required rejoicing should not be done begrudgingly. God has specifically designed the Feast of Tabernacles to be a time brimming with cheerfulness and joy. In fact, a deeper understanding of the “rejoice” command will forever change how you keep the Feast.

Repeated Charge

Rejoicing is mentioned multiple times in conjunction with the Feast. After addressing the materials needed for temporary dwellings at the festival, God added, “…and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Lev. 23:40).

Also, “And you shall bestow…money for whatsoever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household…” (Deut. 14:26).

Deuteronomy 16 mentions rejoicing at the Feast twice more: “And you shall rejoice in your feast” (vs. 14) and “you shall surely rejoice” (vs. 15).

God definitely wants joy at the Feast. But what does “rejoice” mean?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the word as “to give to joy,” “gladden” and “to feel joy or great delight.”

According to the publication, joy means, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”

Digging deeper, the Online Etymology Dictionary states that the word rejoice is a combination of the prefix re- (which can mean “again, anew”) and the Old French word joir (which means “to enjoy”).

While linguists are unsure of the original intended meaning for “re-” in rejoice, it is almost certainly an intensifier. The implication would be that we should not just have normal joy, but extra joy—re-joy!

Given the prefix, which is used in words such as review and renew, consider an expanded definition of the term rejoice: to again or repeatedly have a feeling of pleasure or delight and to have it with more intensity.

To do something again or repeatedly, it needs to have been done already. Understand then that at the Feast we are to repeat or “do again” the joy we should be showing all year long.

Paul wrote in Philippians 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice” (vs. 4). In I Thessalonians 5, it states, “Rejoice evermore” (vs. 16).

Christians are always to be joyful. Yet during the seven-day festival, our rejoicing should be more intense than at other times. Brethren should be full—filled to capacity—with joy!

Another Element

The Hebrew word translated “rejoice” in the Old Testament verses mentioned earlier is samach. This adds another facet to how we should keep the Feast.

In Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the entry for the term reads: “to brighten up; be (cause, make) blithe or gleesome: cheer up; be (make) glad; (have, make) joyful; be (make) merry; (cause to, make to) rejoice.”

Did you catch the additional element for how we are to rejoice?

Not only are we to individually enjoy the Feast, but we are also commanded to “make” and “cause” others to be joyous, gleeful, glad and merry.

This is a much bigger responsibility!

The definition of samach in Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures begins to reveal how we can make this happen. It states that the primary idea of the word is “that of a joyful and cheerful countenance.” Stated another way, we should spread joy by showing it.

Read Deuteronomy 16:14 again with this in mind. The verse should now explode with meaning: “And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates.”

Not only are you to focus on your own rejoicing, but also the rejoicing of others. According to this verse, you are greatly responsible for the joy and cheer of your own family—and to a lesser degree, yet still crucial, all those around you.

Determine to never again think only how “I” am going to enjoy the fall festival, but more so about how “we”—all the brethren—are going to have the best Feast ever.

Active Participation

Rejoicing God’s Way begins with having outgoing concern for others—reflecting the way of give rather than get. The apostle Paul stated in his letter to the Church at Philippi, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4).

Paul explained that we are to be mindful of the needs of others. (Note that the command to look after others does not mean to the exclusion of looking after our own needs. The use of the word “also” in the verse makes this clear.)

God Himself practices this principle within the context of rejoicing at the Feast: “Seven days shall you keep a solemn feast unto the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose: because the Lord your God shall bless you in all your increase, and in all the works of your hands, therefore you shall surely rejoice” (Deut. 16:15).

The Eternal gives us the opportunity to meet in a beautiful environment where He has placed His name. Through obedience to His laws, we are generally able to afford and experience some of the finer things this life has to offer—and even share our blessings with others at this time. He uses His ministry to prepare and provide spiritual nourishment for days on end. We also are able to fellowship with brethren from different parts of the country and world. The list could go on.

Put in context, God’s kindness and outgoing concern creates an environment where we want to rejoice and makes reciprocating it that much easier!

But while God does His part, ultimately, spreading joy is up to us. Therefore, we must examine our actions to ensure we are filled with it.

In All Things

When it comes to rejoicing at the Feast, we must all be willing and active participants. Even simple acts can positively impact others’ festival experiences. It could be a smile for someone who looks a little down. It could be buying a cup of coffee for a person who may not have much second tithe or even paying for it without them knowing. Or it could be noticing a Church member sitting alone in a hotel restaurant and inviting him to join your party.

While there are many ways for us to bring and spread a new level of gladness and happiness at the Feast, the following are a few to keep in mind.

Strive to meet everyone: Make it your goal to meet all brethren at your Feast site. We are together for eight days (Last Great Day included), which gives us plenty of opportunities.

Our Pastor General often challenges us to do so. One technique suggested is to select different places in the hall to sit throughout the festival so we can engage a variety of people.

In addition, leave plenty of time for fellowship. Many bonds are made during the hours before and after services.

Be engaged during services: Strive to be an active listener. Speakers spend many hours preparing the spiritual food we enjoy at the Feast. It is rewarding for them to witness an audience fully engaged during their messages.

God’s ministers strive to be “helpers of [our] joy” (II Cor. 1:24) and we as an audience can return the favor by giving our undivided attention. Be sure to get involved by taking notes and responding to various requests by a speaker (e.g., “May I have a show of hands, please?”). You would be surprised how far a pleasant look or a natural nod of the head goes to encourage a speaker. It lets him know you are truly listening and taking in a message’s content.

Another point is to be lively and energetic when singing hymns. During the Feast, the largest groups of brethren get together and sing in one environment. Take advantage of this! While we certainly want to maintain proper dignity and decorum, do not be afraid to “make a joyful noise” (Psa. 98:4) before the Lord and show how excited you are to be at His festival!

Enjoy Feast activities: Everyone should participate in Family Day, the Dinner Dance, and other Church-planned events, but there are numerous opportunities for attendees to plan their own activities.

Regarding group events, it is wise to plan ahead while remaining flexible. Making some arrangements beforehand allows you to give whomever you may invite the opportunity to sufficiently prepare. This is a good idea because there are often more activities to participate in than days at the Feast! Being flexible allows you to adjust your plans to include new people you meet or participate in events planned “on the fly.”

In the spirit of true rejoicing, it is best to ensure that a specific planned activity remains secondary to the opportunity to fellowship. Being willing to sometimes sacrifice your plans to spend time with others will help keep these activities in the right order of priority.

Share your background: Explaining how you were called into God’s truth and your individual path to the Church is always a highlight of Feast conversation. In some ways, it is one of the greatest gifts you can give because it can encourage others.

With this in mind, remember to be a willing conversationalist with an attitude of “give and take.” If you are more naturally reserved, it helps to mull over some of these stories before you arrive at the site. Think of how God began working with you, how your family or co-workers may have initially reacted, or a few stories from past Feasts.

For those with more talkative or effusive personalities, be sure to allow others to share their backgrounds by not overshadowing them with every detail of your past.

Above all, when sharing a bit of yourself, remain positive overall. This can admittedly be a challenge for those who may have experienced broken or difficult relations with friends and family en route to becoming part of the Church. Remaining focused on rejoicing at the Feast, however, makes this much more achievable.

This is not to say that you need to always pass time talking about less in-depth topics such as the sunny weather, elegant meeting room, or other physical aspects of the Feast. Anyone who is attempting to become better acquainted with another person will naturally want to understand more about his background, which often involves a person sharing trials or tests he has faced.

While such conversations can serve to provide support for another person and help us more fervently pray for our fellow brothers and sisters, be sure that they ultimately end with the goal of thinking about the coming Millennium and how joyous it will be when everyone learns to live God’s Way.

Millennial Examples

As with all Holy Days, the Feast of Tabernacles demonstrates a particular aspect of God’s overall plan for mankind. It is a rehearsal of the millennial reign of Jesus Christ—when His government will be administered on Earth through the resurrected saints. Christ and these future leaders will spread God’s way of life throughout the entire planet and give all alive at the time the opportunity to benefit.

While keeping the seven-day festival, we are rehearsing this time. Therefore, we should exhibit the same conduct of those who will live in the Millennium. Keep this in mind as you read the following verses:

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them…And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den” (Isa. 11:6-8).

At the Feast, imagine the joy of parents being able to see their sons and daughters play in this manner!

“Thus says the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” (Zech. 8:4-5).

Again, parents will be overjoyed knowing their little ones are safe.

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert” (Isa. 35:5-6).

When watching a gorgeous sunset or enjoying the fall colors of trees at your festival site, think of those in the Millennium who will see these things for the first time. During special music, imagine the elation of someone hearing music for the first time!

“…shall not your teachers be removed into a corner any more, but your eyes shall see your teachers: and your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk you in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left” (30:20-21).

Consider how the world will rejoice when religious confusion is removed and everyone is taught God’s Way.

The 1,000-year reign of Christ and the saints will be a most remarkable time in human history with Satan no longer able to deceive the nations (Rev. 20:3). By this time, resurrected Christians will have become part of the God Family and be implementing the same laws and standards the Church follows today.

But we will not be able to effectively rule cities (Luke 19:17, 19) unless we are properly trained. Think about the time when you will rule over a city and ask: “Is my conduct during the Feast the sort that I want to see from those over whom I will be ruling?”

Just as the Father wants to see us rejoice now, we will desire for all mankind to be joyful in the Millennium! Likewise, at the Feast, we should be practicing and demonstrating what the world will look like under the supergovernment headed by Jesus Christ.

Rejoice Forevermore

Human parents long to see their children happy more than just one week of the year. God the Father is no different. He wants His children to be joyous year-round—not just at the Feast or only when times are good.

Look at the example of Paul, a servant of God who suffered and experienced many trials (II Cor. 11:24-27) yet consistently wrote about having joy. This word is mentioned 26 separate times in eight epistles. He did not allow his low times to set the tone for his entire outlook on life.

How then is it possible to be joyful in the face of tribulations and tests?

One way is to realize that the source of this joy is not of ourselves, but rather from God’s Spirit in us. Jesus Christ stated, “These things [commands] have I spoken to you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11). Joy as one of the nine fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) also underlines this point.

This understanding is crucial to properly fulfilling the Feast command. We must always pray for more of God’s Spirit.

Unless a Christian has joy prior to and beyond the Feast, it is impossible to “…rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Lev. 23:40). Even if every principle of spreading joy was followed perfectly, but it was only during the Feast of Tabernacles, God’s standard would not be met. Repetition and intensity cannot be added to a quality we do not already have.

Strive to fulfill the I Thessalonians 5:16 command to “rejoice evermore”—both year-round and at the Feast. By doing so, we will ultimately be able to rejoice forevermore as members of the God Family!