I observed many enjoyable Feasts of Tabernacles in years past. I learned a lot about the plan of God, I heard the Bible read, I sang and heard praises to God, I heard many other inspiring messages and I met a lot of fellow believers. I also feasted—had a lot of good meals. I think the Bible shows that all of these things should be done at the Feast.
In addition to those things, I also enjoyed a lot of exciting entertainment and tourist attractions. Most of the good meals I enjoyed were prepared and served at nice restaurants. Yes, church leaders preached that the saving of “second tithe” and the trip to the Feast of Tabernacles was “God’s vacation plan”.
Being the inquisitive type, I frequently thought about the Millennial Kingdom and wondered how the Feast might work then. Who will run the restaurants, motels and entertainment attractions in the Kingdom of God when everyone is keeping the Feast? Who will run the stores? When will the people who operate gas stations and airports get to go to the Feast? Only after everybody else leaves to get to the Feast? I can remember getting off an airplane, getting into a rental car, and barely getting to the Feast in time for the first service. When would the people get there who had to shut down a car rental agency or an airport first?
Obviously, we could go on asking questions like this, and we can answer most of them by saying: “in the Millennium, all individuals and governments will be planning to keep the Feast, so they will work the problems out. That is probably true. Airlines will probably publish a separate schedule for flights at Feast time, ensuring that they all end a day or so before the Feast. Gas stations and food stores will probably have similar published hours; people will have to travel to the Feast soon enough, or buy what they need and carry it with them.
There is no doubt that much benefit was achieved by Feasts of Tabernacles held by Church of God groups. But if we are to learn the full spiritual lessons of Feast-keeping, we ought to think about the way the Feast was kept in the past, and will be kept in the future. It would certainly be a mistake to think that a large number of non-Feast-keepers are needed for believers to have a truly joyful and meaningful Feast.
Nevertheless, the average “Church of God” Feast observance relies heavily on non-CoG businesses. Indeed, Church of God festival planners and cities hosting Feasts frequently speak of the total dollars that they think will be spent at a Feast site— a boost to the local economy. Some of this is the purchase of goods, but most is the purchase of services—maids, restaurants, entertainment, etc. This Feast-keeping method works in our society because the number of Feast-keepers in a city is usually very small compared to the number of businesses hoping to profit from the Feast. (The WCG had difficulties when it built large sites in small rural areas. Local restaurants, shops and roads were occasionally overloaded to the point where they simply could not provide the service needed, and everybody was unhappy. The WCG sometimes reduced the problems by organizing members to make group meals right at the meeting hall.)
But visualize, for a moment, the entire population of the world saving 10% of their increase (or even 3% as some figure it) for the Feast of Tabernacles. That is a lot of money. Today’s businessmen would like to get their hands on that. But what God-fearing person wants to work at a motel or restaurant or gas station during the Feast? Every person would want to be spending the money they saved for the Feast. If they could not spend it, would they be keeping the Feast?
Even if we say that restaurant and motel people could work only part of the Feast or every other Feast, we still are dealing with impossibility. If everyone keeps the Feast and only a third of the people travel, more than every available restaurant and motel worker would be needed to take care of the crowds. Any rotation plan that would give most of these service workers some of the Feast “off” would further diminish the already completely inadequate resources. The only solution is to do something similar to what the Israelites did—we will cover that a little later.
So how did the Church of God groups get into this kind of Feast-keeping that requires the services of lots of non-Feast-keepers? First, they were a widely separated group gathered by a media outreach, not local preaching. So, nearly all of them had to travel a long way to come to a central location. For many, it was the only face-to-face fellowship they had. Secondly, they quoted Deut 24:24–26 which says that a tithe can be turned into money and taken to the Feast if the “journey be too long for you” and brethren can “spend that money for whatever your heart desires.” The scripture does say that, but we need to read it in its context:
“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.
But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household” (Deut 24:22–26).
We can see that the main instruction here is to take food—the tithe of what they produced—to the Feast with them. This obviously solved the problem of insufficient “Jerusalem restaurants” when the Feast was kept historically. Most people brought their food with them and were able to prepare it there. In the case of animals that were to be eaten, they had the extra advantage of being able to walk themselves to the Feast. Israelites living far from Jerusalem might take two to four days to travel to the Feast at a fast walk. Donkeys could be used to carry food as well as people not able to walk the whole way.
But God wanted everyone to keep the Feast, even if they did not have animals to carry their food. He told them to exchange their food (tithe) for money and then take their money to the Feast. As long as most people brought lots of food to the Feast, a few people buying from them would not create a hardship. However, if nearly everybody brought money to the Feast and not food, either the cost of food would soar or it would simply be impossible to find—neither would help make a joyful Feast. It is important to see that the only type of item mentioned here as “tithe” is food, and that even when it is turned into money, the only item mentioned to be purchased with the money is food. Furthermore, these verses specifically mention buying “raw materials”. They do not say anything about paying for prepared meals, entertainment, etc.
Today, brethren go to the Feast in motor vehicles. Like the Israelites, even those who do not live near a Feast location can still probably journey there in 2–4 days. Would we be able to carry our food with with us to the Feast? A lot of us probably could. We cannot expect to tie a cow behind our car and have it follow us to the Feast, but we do have a great variety of ways to carry food: coolers for refrigerated food, sleeping bags with dry ice for frozen food, dried food, canned goods, packaged food, etc. A few of us might not have the car space and would have to take money to buy food from others.
Also, Deuteronomy 24:24 talks about when the place “is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you”. This is clearly a reference to when the borders of Israel are expanded (Deut 12:20–21)—like they are today. If someone were riding a horse at a gallop for several days in order to go a long distance to the Feast, taking an 8-day food supply might be out of the question. Similarly, someone who is flying to the Feast today may not be able to carry eight days of food in their suitcase.
Simply put, most Church of God Feast-keeping has been nearly all “exception conditions”—bringing money to the Feast. The biblical rule—bringing food to the Feast—has been a rarely occurring exception. (A friend of mine once told of a farmer who brought meat, vegetables, preserves, etc. to the Feast—he found it strange.)
So why make such a big deal about food? After all, “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking” (Rom 14:17). Nevertheless, the name of the Holy Day is a “Feast”. There is a certain bonding that occurs when several families eat together—even more when they prepare the food together. When we do this, we are trusting a vital part of our life—what we eat—to others. We are learning to work together and please a variety of tastes. When everyone helps and everyone eats the same thing, every believer is important to every other believer—just as we are all important to God.
People who may have difficulty meeting and talking to others frequently do not have trouble working with others. Tasks such as food preparation and clean-up provide enough work that people feel comfortable with others, but allow for conversation about worthwhile subjects.
Most exciting forms of entertainment do not lend themselves to conversation as well. There is too much going on to pay attention to and/or talk about. Restaurants tend to give people an elitist mentality: the customers are there to “order”, and the workers are there to “serve”. This is not exactly the Biblical concept of relying upon God to shelter us for seven days:
“During the seven festival days, all of you who are Israelites by birth must live in shelters. This will remind each new generation of Israelites that their ancestors had to live in shelters when I rescued them from the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God” (Lev 23:42–43, NLT)
Indeed, in many Church of God Feasts, the brethren spent two to three hours per day in a service together, then many hours being fed and entertained by “people of the world”.
We have shown how the whole world could feast at the Feast of Tabernacles if the vast majority of people brought their own food, and prepared it together in appropriate size groups. But where would they live during the Feast of Tabernacles?
The answer to that is in the name: the Hebrew name sukkah means a small, makeshift shelter or dwelling. It is sometimes translated tabernacle, booth, shelter or tent. The word does not mean a miserable place, but it is a lesser class of building than the house we might normally live in. Clearly, during the Bible era, many people did literally stay in tents during the Feast of Tabernacles. Most of these people were not used to centrally-heated houses with running water, so going from their own house to a tent was not a big difference. Today, many people from western societies would have a very difficult time rejoicing at the Feast if they had to stay in a tent there. But they could stay in a heated cabin or certainly in a smaller dwelling than they are accustomed to and still learn the lesson of being sheltered by God when we are rescued from Egypt (symbolic of our own sin).
Zechariah 14:16–19 indicates that some people will come to Jerusalem to keep the Feast from many different nations. Yet, it would be impossible for the whole world to come there at once. The Feast will obviously be observed in many sites. Building appropriate shelter-type housing (could be heated with water, electricity, etc.) at those sites could be done in advance. Also, many families will probably acquire a “Feast tent” or maybe even a “recreational vehicle” or trailer. Neither one of these methods would require any motel-like staff. People would be responsible for setting up, maintaining and cleaning their own cabins, tents and trailers.
While thinking about the future, somebody might ask, “Won’t some people always have to work at the Feast? Don’t we need electric power, fuel, water and emergency services? If a heater breaks down, will there be anyone to fix it?” These are good questions. But they have good answers. It does make sense to run utilities and emergency services during the Feast. There are effective ways to do this requiring very few people. The majority of people who work for utility companies are involved in routine maintenance, accounting, planning etc. Only a small percentage are needed just to run the utilities. Current utility companies have these tiny crews working on Christmas and other holidays. Only essential functions are done on those days and a worker typically only has to work on one out of every 4 to 10 holidays. Similar scheduling has been used by Church of God groups to man other vital jobs at their feast sites. This is a much different situation than motels and restaurants that usually hire many more workers for longer hours during holidays.
So how does the Chadron State Park Feast site fit into all of this?
Of all the Feasts that I have attended, this one is closest to fitting in with the kind of Feast that was held in ancient Israel, and that will be held in the future. While there is still a lot of room for improvement, it is accurate to say that nobody was “working full time” just serving the 77 people who attended the Feast at Chadron State Park in 2001. There were a few people who, as part of their job, spent a few hours per day helping us, but none were spending all of it for us.
The Feast was held in the beautiful wooded hills of northwest Nebraska. The landscape, birds, mammals and sunsets provided an on-going show without cost or human intervention. Most of the Feast-goers stayed in the cabins right at the park. The only daily service provided by the park was the pick up of towels each morning and the delivery of replacements. (This job could have easily been done by someone in our Feast group, but the Park was servicing other non-Feast guests and the Park probably would not want us to use their laundry facility). The Park staff also provided a hayride and “buffalo stew” meal for us one night, and rented paddle boats and fixed a few minor problems with cabins. That was about all. The people attending made their own beds, took out their own trash, and cleaned as necessary.
The facilities set-up was excellent. The meeting hall and six cabins surrounded a grassy area that made a natural play yard for small children. Other cabins were located in more private settings, but still walking distance or a very short drive away. The meeting hall had space for 100 people, and over 60 were present for most of the meetings. Adjoining the hall was a large, completely equipped kitchen.
The vast majority of the Feast food was prepared at the Feast by those attending. Over half of the families present took up the task of being responsible for one of the evening meals. Most of the other brethren pitched in to help in various ways. Menus included American standards such as chicken or steak and baked potatoes. We also had ethnic favorites such as spaghetti and then jambalaya prepared by Anne Nicolay of New Orleans. (I personally thought this was the best I had ever tasted.) A variety of hot and cold breakfasts and lunches were also prepared by the Feast-goers. (And rather than trashing the leftovers as many restaurants do, Feast-goers were quite happy to make sandwiches out of yesterday’s baked chicken.)
We had originally planned to bring most of our food to the Feast, but the number of people who would be eating was uncertain right up until it was time to go. Also, I was not completely sure of exactly what we would need. As it turned out, I think God blessed my enthusiasm and covered for my ignorance by sending two people whose hard work made the Feast enjoyable. Some of the food was brought in advance, but Mary Laws (wife of Jerry Laws) went shopping nearly every day, and I can never remember lacking anything that we needed. Also, Steve Karasek, a food service professional, decided to come to our Feast just a few weeks before it began. He managed breakfasts, and helped out at numerous other times—quietly and humbly telling us exactly what we needed to know.
A few people probably had to work too hard at this Feast, but I would like to sincerely thank them for their efforts. It would not have been as joyful for everyone without their efforts. A few may not have worked hard enough—they will learn in time. I certainly learned a lot, and will make an effort to better spread out the work in the future. Most of the brethren told me that they really enjoyed this Feast and the way everyone worked together. They would do it that way again.
We did have teaching at this Feast. We read the book of Ecclesiastes with discussion from the congregation. There were also many messages and studies given by Norman Edwards, Jerry Laws and Leo Bredehoft. The Bredehoft and Edwards families also brought a lot of enjoyable special music and accompaniment for congregational singing. Many participated in the variety show and game nights.
One day during the Feast most brethren went to see Mount Rushmore. It was snowing heavily and the mountain had been closed, but the snow lifted enough for viewing while we were there. The melting water running down the men’s faces made it look like they were crying or bleeding from a fight. It was a very appropriate backdrop to speak on the state of our nation today versus what the founding fathers had envisioned. If they could see our country today, they probably would be hurt and crying. After Mt. Rushmore, many brethren went to some commercial attractions and had dinner at a restaurant.
This article is not saying that it was or is a sin to eat in a restaurant or stay at a motel at the Feast. It is saying that anciently, most people brought and prepared their own food, and that this method will be used again when most of the world is keeping the Feast. This writer also believes that some lessons can be best learned by preparing meals together at the Feast. — NSE