Rejoice! That’s a command.
Those who have kept the Feast of Tabernacles in God’s Church are familiar with that charge in Deuteronomy 16:13-14: “Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days … And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates.”
Notice the intensity of this rejoicing: “Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord shall choose: 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” (verse 15).
We may think of the word “solemn” as something serious or subdued, but the Hebrew word for the phrase “keep a solemn feast” actually means to be festive, giddy or to reel (as in dance). That’s some intense joy!
What’s also unique about this charge to rejoice is that God commands you that others rejoice—the implication being that we are responsible for making them rejoice. That is God’s way.
Among these are members of our physical family: “thy son, and thy daughter” (we devoted an article to this subject: “Cause Rejoicing at the Feast”).
There are others whom God requires rejoice along with us. So the command isn’t just that we rejoice individually. It’s not just that our biological families rejoice with us. God includes even those beyond our physical families: namely our servants, the Levites, the strangers and the fatherless and widows.
This applies to those in these groups who are “within thy gates.” The Hebrew for “gates” implies city gates. So if they are at your Feast site—“in the place which … God hath chosen to put his name” (verse 11)—then God commands us that our rejoicing includes them, that we watch out for them specifically at the Feast.
In addition to applying the same principles to your own physical family, those of us attending the Feast of Tabernacles should consider these groups your extended Feast family.
Let’s examine these four broad categories of people we are commanded to help rejoice at the Feast.
“Servants” come in many forms at a modern Feast of Tabernacles celebration. They come in the form of those who are not in God’s Church: hotel staff, restaurant staff and retail staff. They also come in the form of converted members of the Church: ushers, door greeters, table attendants and activity volunteers.
With either group, we can ask ourselves: What can I do to make their Feast more special?
It might be easier for those of us in God’s Church to think of the converted servants as our extended Feast family. So we definitely must be causing them to rejoice. That might mean doing something as simple as being cooperative, or not asking them to make exceptions to the policies they are asked to enforce.
Even with those servants in the world who are not yet converted, we should also consider: Can I do something special for my housekeepers or servers not in the Church?
God commands that those “servants” you come into contact with rejoice. Because they too are part of your extended Feast family.
The second group that’s part of our extended Feast family is the Levites. In modern terms, this would not just be the ministers, since “Levites” implies far more than just “priests.”
In Deuteronomy 12:19, God commanded the Israelites to “forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest upon the earth.” In this context, that means don’t desert them.
If applied to the Feast, consider doing something special for a minister or his family or even related staff. Don’t forsake them, or desert them, or assume they’re busy enough
Since the Levites included the priestly families, this is not just referring to the priestly men. It would include ministers’ families. We can look out for their rejoicing, especially if the minister is temporarily busy serving the Feast site in another way.
This command would extend to those employed by the Church. Include them in your rejoicing. God commands you that they rejoice, because they too are part of your extended Feast family.
The third group that’s part of our extended Feast family is the “stranger.” This refers to sojourners or foreigners.
Do something special for someone who is not from the Feast site’s country.
If you’ve been to a Feast site in a city where you have never been, consider how new everything is for you—and this is even if it’s based in the same country where you live. Considerations (like how to get around, where to eat, and where to shop) consume a lot of mental energy. Now, multiply that by being in a different country—perhaps in a place where a different language is being spoken or where someone would stand out as a minority in that city because of their physical attributes.
God wants us to watch out for those from different countries at our various Feast sites.
Psalm 146:9 reads: “The lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.”
God, as the Hebrew reads, protects, or guards, the strangers. “Strangers” is such an important category to look after because it’s what we are spiritually! We are strangers and pilgrims on the Earth. So we must have an affinity for those at the Feast who are also in this physical category. They are part of your extended Feast family, and God commands you that they rejoice.
Fatherless and Widows
The fourth and final group we’ll discuss as part of our extended Feast family is that comprised of fatherless and widows.
These two groups have one thing in common: They lack a physical type of God in their immediate families. There is no one physically to represent God the Father. There is no one physically to represent Jesus Christ.
And we just read about this group here in Psalm 146. That portion of verse 9 reads: “The lord … relieveth the fatherless and widow.”
God relieves this particular grouping. The Hebrew word for “relieve” here can mean to testify, bear witness and (positively) to praise, restore or confirm. It can also mean to surround.
At your Feast site, just surround them: Surround them with praise, confirmation, positive reinforcement! God, through you, can relieve them. God, through you, can cause them to rejoice.
Job said, “I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy” (Job 29:13). He was boasting about it in that verse, but it is a good thing to do this. At the Feast of Tabernacles, God commands us that the widows and fatherless at our Feast sites should—in their hearts—dance and sing for joy!
They may not have an immediate male influence in their homes, but they are a part of your extended Feast family.
In each of these categories, you could actually plan something for each group of people.
Do something special for the unconverted servants you encounter or something to cause those converted volunteers at the Feast site to rejoice.
Remember the Levites (the ministers, their families and any employed Church staff); plan to make them rejoice.
Make a foreigner feel at home—like they’re a part of your family.
Surround the fatherless and widows—those who lack or need a physical type of God in their families: Plan to do something for or with them that will make their hearts sing for joy! Not for some self-righteous exercise, but because God commands it!
If they are within our gates—at our Feast site—then they are our extended Feast family. And God commands you that they rejoice.
So let’s prepare now to rejoice—with our extended Family—at this year’s Feast!