17. The Feast of Tabernacles
The world’s deliverance from evil is followed by the last and greatest Feast of Tabernacles. Here, and for the last time, Zechariah draws upon the historical ceremonial of the people of Israel to illustrate the nature of "things to come." Everyone in all the world, he says, (Zech.14:16) will go up to Jerusalem year by year to worship the Lord and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles; these are obviously figurative expressions to denote the response of mankind in that day, to the blessings of the Kingdom.
The Feast of Tabernacles in Israel was a development of the normal end of year harvest celebrations which are characteristic of every people in every age. It is probable that Israel had some such celebration when in Egypt; this is referred to in Exod.23:16 as the "feast of ingathering" and was made obligatory under the Mosaic Law. Upon Israel’s entry into the land this feast was expanded in its scope; for seven days the people dwelt in temporary shelters made of tree branches and leaves, "booths," from which the feast was re‑named the Feast of Tabernacles (temporary dwelling places). This period was one of rejoicing for past deliverance and promise of future blessing. "Because the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice.(Deut.16:15) Significantly, the feast was held almost immediately following the close of the annual Day of Atonement ceremonies, which culminated in the formal effecting of atonement for the sins of the assembled people by the officiating High Priest. The typical picture therefore is that of sacrifice and offering on behalf of sin ended; the people cleansed and brought into a state of reconciliation with God, the rigours of the past forgotten, rejoicing in the plenitude of present harvest blessings and joyful anticipation of even greater blessings to come. And this is why Zechariah, looking into the roseate future immediately following the establishment of the Divine Kingdom on earth, sees it as an idealised Feast of Tabernacles.
This going up of all the nations year by year to worship and "keep the Feast of Tabernacles" as related in ch.14:16 is obviously a picture of world‑wide acceptance of the Kingdom. Men everywhere will hail the new administration with relief and joy and hasten to proffer allegiance to earth’s new King. It does not follow that this attitude of mind is universal—the process of world conversion is going to occupy a long period of time and the requirements of the text can be considered well fulfilled in the spectacle of successive contingents of converts entering into a state of reconciliation with God and, in the gladness and gratitude thus engendered, thus "keep the Feast of Tabernacles." These are they who, in Isaiah’s vision declare "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation." (Isa.25:9) The delivered Holy Nation is involved in this, for the Lord says through Isaiah again (ch.66:18‑19) "I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory...and I will send those that escape" (a reference to delivered Israel) "unto the nations...and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles (nations)." Here is the missionary work of the Millennial Age in full operation and it is the result of this work which is described in terms of the nations coming up to Jerusalem to worship.
But not all of mankind are thus converted, at least at the beginning. Verses 17‑19 of chapter 14 provide for those who do not thus "come up." The penalty is that upon them there shall be no rain. For some reason Egypt is singled out and specifically named among the general mass of earth’s peoples and this may well be, as is sometimes suggested, an allusion to the fact that Egypt has virtually no rainfall and obtains all its water for crop‑growing purposes from the annual inundation of the Nile. The fact that Egypt is independent of the need for rain will not absolve the dissidents among them from the penalty. The meaning, of course, is that the unregenerate of the nations have no part nor lot in the life‑giving blessings of the river of water of life, the symbolic medium of transmission of Divine life to man in that day. Ezekiel describes this river as he saw it in vision, and so does John the Revelator. (Ezek.47; Rev.22) The river flows from the sanctuary of God, and together with the trees of life which grow on its banks furnishes both food and healing for the nations. It is obvious of course that the blessing of lasting life which is offered freely to all men must be consciously accepted on the basis of true conversion and allegiance to the Lord Christ who is the channel of that life. "The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him that heareth say, ‘Come.’ And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." (Rev.22:17) That is the law of the Millennial Age, and that life is available to all who will accept it on the terms offered. Such as may decline it, in the obduracy of their hearts or in their refusal to turn from the ways of evil, "upon them shall be no rain." (v.17)
So the curtain rises upon the last scene, a glimpse—a very brief glimpse—of the world as it shall be when the elimination of evil is accomplished and all men and all things in the world are holy unto the Lord. "In that day shall there be upon the (bridle) bells of the horses, ‘HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD;’ and the pots in the LORD’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar." (v.20) That inscription appeared on the golden mitre worn by all of Israel’s successive High Priests from Aaron downward; it denoted the complete dedication of the wearer to the service of God. In those days the High Priest stood out as one specially consecrated and sanctified individual in the midst of a secular society; in the world of the future, says Zechariah, everything from the highest to the lowest will be sanctified to the Divine service‑—even the beasts of burden. There may be some allusion here to the fact that the horse was peculiarly the symbol of war and the political power of this world; in that day it will be the symbol of Divine power and of peace, for God will have made "wars to cease to the ends of the earth." (Psa.46:9) The "pots in the LORD’s house" were the cauldrons in which the flesh of the sacrifices were boiled, much more lowly in the scale of Divine service than the golden bowls of the altar which were used to carry the blood of the sacrifices into the presence of God. But in that day all will be equal. Whatever service or work is performed, be it lofty or menial, will be of equal value in the sight of God, for all will be done as unto Him and for His glory. Yea, says Zechariah triumphantly, every vessel in Jerusalem and in all Judah shall be holy; the distinction between sacred and secular will stand in direct relation to the eternal purpose of God and nothing that exists, nothing that is done, is outside that purpose. The whole of human life and all its activities will be holy unto God.
"In that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the LORD of Hosts." (v.21) Of all the alien tribes and peoples with which Israel was daily in contact the Canaanites represented idolatry and defilement in its grossest forms. Repeatedly during Israel’s history the Temple was defiled by alien peoples or alien worship. Not so in that coming day, says Zechariah. The Temple will be cleansed and holy, free from any suspicion of defiling influence. A loftier vision of the same truth was given to John when he looked upon the celestial city which pictured the completed work of God with mankind. "There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life." (Rev.21:27)
Thus ends what is without doubt the most colourful and eloquent book of symbolic imagery in the Old Testament, paralleled only by the Book of Revelation in the New. The two books, separated in time of writing by six centuries, do in fact constitute a remarkable pair. The Book of Revelation is an account of the conflict between good and evil as it affects the Christian Church, the heavenly instrument in God’s hand for world conversion, and closes with the overthrow of evil and the triumph of the Church. The Book of Zechariah is an account of the conflict between good and evil as it affects Israel, the earthly instrument in God’s hand for world conversion, and closes with the overthrow of evil and the triumph of Israel. The two books commence their respective stories at separate periods on the stream of human history, but they coincide at their close, both culminating at the point where the Lord Christ at his Second Advent takes to himself his great power and commences that reign over the earth which is elsewhere described as "the desire of all nations." (Hag.2:7) Perhaps the best commentary upon the whole dramatic story resides in the Lord’s words to the prophet, to be repeated to Israel, right at the commencement of Zechariah’s ministry. "Thus saith the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem." (Zech.1:17)
Desire n. craving, longing; eagerness to obtain; expressed wish or request; lust, object of desire.
In the light of the sentence toward the beginning of this page, some may be interested in the pamphlet “World Conversion—When?”
“And when all things are thus subject to him, then the Son himself will also be made subordinate to God who made all things subject to him, and thus God will be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28 NEB)