For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. – 2 Corinthians 5:1
Text: Leviticus 23:42-43; Deuteronomy 16:15
Props: branches from a palm tree, a myrtle tree, and willow tree, and an etrog (citron). Alternate prop: Make a miniature booth. Cut a shoebox in half, replace the top with small branches. Decorate inside like a dollhouse using small figures and furniture, either hand-made or borrowed from other toys. The cut side of the box should be the opening (three sides with a thatch roof).
Summary: The feast of tabernacles was the first Thanksgiving celebration. We can be thankful we have a home in heaven.
When you think of Thanksgiving what do you think about? (Listen for answers.) I usually think of getting together with family and friends, sharing a nice meal, and thanking God for providing for my needs. At church we celebrate with a Harvest Homecoming service where freewill offerings are given and we have a fellowship meal. It always happens after the fall harvest of crops. We get these traditions from a celebration that God commanded the Israelites to observe called the feast of tabernacles (or booths), also known as the feast of in-gathering.
The feast of tabernacles was really the first Thanksgiving celebration. God wanted the Israelites to remember how he protected them in the wilderness for forty years from the time they left Egypt until they were allowed to enter Canaan. During this time they lived in little booths or huts which they made from the branches of trees. (Show the tree branches.) They were temporary dwelling places that they called tabernacles. We might think of them as homeless shelters. He wanted them to be thankful that he gave them rest, protection from the heat and storms, and eventually the great fruits and produce of the Promised Land of Canaan. (Show the citron.)
(Read Leviticus 23:42-43.) God told them to gather branches and build booths to live in for seven days during this feast. They would build them in the streets and upon the rooftops. Now I know what you are thinking. How can you be happy living in a homeless shelter? This was not a reminder of the hardships and dangers of their wilderness wanderings. It was a joyful time of meeting in the street, renewing old friendships and making new friends, and celebrating with the entire community, even with the strangers that were just visiting them. The booths didn’t have a front door; they were open so anyone could drop in to visit one another. God told them to rejoice because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands. (Deuteronomy 16:15)
The Israelites were so happy that they sang songs and waved the branches. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever. (Psalm 118:29) They held all four items together (called a lulav, which is the word for palm), placing the citrons in their left hands and the branches in their right hands. They would shake the lulav three times in a direction, outward and back towards the heart. The branches would rustle when they shook them. They waved them in all six directions like this [stand facing east, demonstrate the wave]: to the south (right), then north (left), east (front), up, down, and west (over shoulder, behind you). By shaking them in all directions, they remembered that God is all around us, at all times, and we praise him with everything we are.*
True happiness comes from realizing that God is with us, even while we are temporarily going through tough times. Our time on earth is short, less than one hundred years for most of us. Our bodies are just temporary booths in this world, like the tabernacles. But we can invite God to come live in our booth with us. A shack in God’s kingdom is worth more than a millionaire’s mansion on earth. When you accept Jesus as your Savior he starts making a dwelling place for you in heaven! That place is a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Corinthians 5:1) When you make a place for him in your heart, he makes a place for you in heaven!
Let’s pray. Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for all the blessings of life. I am so happy you love me. Amen.
*The four items reminded them of parts of a person. The palm looked like a spine; the myrtle leaf, an eye; the willow leaf, a mouth; the etrog, a heart. So they praised God with their whole person.
©2002 by Jim Kerlin. All rights reserved.
Image of Lulav courtesy of Heart of Wisdom: Biblical Holidays. Used by permission.