A Meditation on the Day of Expiation, and the Feast of Tabernacles

by Thomas Boston

THE day of expiation was the only anniversary stated fast and humiliation that God gave to the church of the Jews: it was a sorrowful day, for afflicting their souls; so that he who ate anything that day, was liable to cutting off. The "feast of tabernacles" was the most joyful feast they had; so that the Jews say, that he who never saw the rejoicing at the drawing of water (used at this feast), never saw rejoicing all his life. The ceremonial law was the Jews' gospel; and the gospel to them and us is glory let down in words and syllables, the map of Immanuel's land, a looking-glass wherein we see heaven, a scheme and draught of the house with many mansions. The day of expiation represents to me the time of this life, the state of the saints in this world; the feast of tabernacles, heaven.

The day of expiation went before the feast of tabernacles. Why should not our day of afflicting our souls go before our days of rejoicing? The Babylonians began their natural day at the sunrising, and so their night came last. The Jews began theirs at sunsetting, and so they had their night first. "Woe to you that laugh now, ye shall weep." "Blessed are they that mourn now, they shall be comforted." Let the evening and the morning make our day. If we have our morning first, the fears of the approaching night will make our sun go down at noon. If we will take the evening first, when in the darkest hour we cry, "Watchman, what of the night?" we will get the answer, "The morning cometh." It was the Psalmist's choice, Psal. 17:14, 15.

The day of expiation was but one day: the feast of tabernacles lasted seven days; which number of seven has gained the reputation of perfection. If the saint's life here be sorrowful, it is short. Our life here is but a day, with a morning, noon, and evening. And that sun in the heavens which runs such a rapid course, never standing still, either ascending or descending, seems to be set in the heavens, to "teach us so to count our days, as to apply our hearts to wisdom." Eccl. 1:5. "hasteth to his place where he arose;" (Heb.) panteth, as a man running with full speed, till almost out of breath. How quickly is the vain shew in which we walk at an end? Solomon, (Eccl. 3) will allow only "a time to be born, and a time to die," as if life were nothing but a skip out of the womb into the grave; the womb of mother earth (Job 1:21.) being ready to keep us, when falling out of the womb of the mother that conceived us. No wonder our weeping and crying, wherewith we come into the world out of our mother's womb, continue till we return thither; there being scarce time betwixt the two to dry our cheeks. But, as these flies bred by the river Hypanis in Scythia, we are bred in the morning, winged at noon, and dead at night. Much need to fly while our wings last. If our affliction be grievous, it will not last. Nay, but the apostle, comparing our affliction with the weight of glory, will not allow it any weight, 2 Cor. 4:17. where he calls it (Gr.) That light thing of our affliction; light, not only in respect of weight, but swiftness; that haste-like thing of our affliction, which in a moment skips away. This should correct the petty time-eternities that we make to ourselves in our affliction, Psal. 13:1. Nay, our "weeping endures but a night," Psal. 30:5. The feast comes in the morning, Psal. 17 ult. O but the feast lasts long? what shall or can we say of eternity, that everlasting "Sabbatism that remains to the people of God;" that morning that knoweth no night; that ocean that knoweth no shore?

There were but four free days intervening betwixt the day of expiation and the feast of tabernacles; the former being on the 10th, the latter on the 15th day of the seventh month, Lev. 23:27. 34. By what time the greatest affliction sits down with us, the greatest joy knocks at the door. O quick harvest of glory! O hot seed of tears that so quickly spring up, and so suddenly bow their heads with I that weight of glory on them! to see bottles of tears turned, and that so quickly, into rivers of pleasures, wonderful! Surely there is need of faith in our religion, to believe super-rational mysteries. It is a bundle of wonders. How unlike were the Jews rejoicing and dancing at the feast of tabernacles, to what they were but four days before, when bowing down their heads and afflicting their souls, at that solemn yearly remembrance of sin. Quantum mutatus ab illo qui quondam! If it were not that the light of glory infallibly removes all mistakes, the saints there would misken themselves, and be apt to think it a dream. It would at least be a while ere they came to themselves.

At the feast of tabernacles they were to "dwell in booths made of the branches of the trees," not in houses, Lev. 23:42; and the reason is given ver. 43. "Because they dwelt in booths in the wilderness, when the Lord brought them out of Egypt." So their places of mourning are turned to places of rejoicing. Joy arising from past dangers, feelingly toucheth men's hearts. The more they remember their wilderness-booths, the more they rejoice. This seems to me to point out an ingredient in the heaven of the saints, that would have had no place in the heaven of innocent Adam and his sinless offspring. Had not the Jews dwelt in booths in the wilderness, they had not rejoiced in them seven days in the land of Canaan. It was their going so low that raised them so high. Surely the saints are more than conquerors. God's people in heaven will not forget their wilderness-entertainment. It will be for the glory of God to mind, and it will screw up their joy, Rev. 5:9. It is storied of Agathocles, who, being a potter's son, became king of Sicily, that he used to be served at his table with earthen vessels; alleging the reason thereof from his extract. He was wise to give that additional sweetness to his enjoyments, which he could not have had if he had been born heir to the crown. Certainly meat can never be so sweet as to a hungry man; nor can one so much esteem wealth as he that has been pinched with poverty. The best view of the stars is from the bottom of a deep narrow pit. Surely the remembrance of the cross will sweeten the crown; and the memory of the wilderness will put an additional verdure on the fields of glory, when the saints shall be walking through them in their white robes, remembering the mournful blacks in which they were wont to appear. Let us not cast at our blessings, nor grudge to sow the seeds of glory. Durate, et vosmet rebus servate secundis. The heathens, it seems, allowed prosperity not to be first, but allotted it the second place. God himself has confirmed the order. Take your firsts then pleasantly, though grievous. Olim hœc meminisse juvabit.

It is worthy of our consideration, to take notice what these booths were to be made of: Lev. 23:40. "And ye shall take unto you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook. Compare Neh. 8:15. "Fetch olive-branches, and pine-branches, and myrtle-branches, and palm-branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths." As to the boughs of goodly trees, the Jews, says Lightfoot, interpreted that of the pomecitron; and so did carry a pomecitron apple in their hand at that feast. This is not clear from the text.

As to the olive-tree, it is a beautiful tree, that retains its greenness all the winter, Hos. 14:6. The pine likewise is an evergreen, continues green all the year. Spec. mun. This puts me in mind of that perpetual spring wherewith Immanuel's land is blessed for ever. No winter there, no casting of leaves. The crown is immarcessible, fades not away, as the flowery garlands given of old to victors did in a little time, 1 Pet. 1:4. We have long winters here; wherein life, leaf, and fruit, are all many times almost gone. Our springs are short. Our greenness soon decays. That will make amends for all.

They were to take the boughs, (Heb.) the fruit of goodly trees, i. e. of fruit-bearing trees, or boughs with the fruit on them, Lev. 23:40. The pine bears fruit, called pine-apples; of which I can give no account. But concerning the fruit of the olive, see Judg. 9:9; Psal. 104:15. "Oil which maketh man's face to shine," used ordinarily at feasts. This may present to our view that passage in Christ's transfiguration, Matt. 17:2. "His face did shine as the sun." With which we may compare what the apostle says, Phil. 3. ult. that "he shall change our vile bodies, and make them like his glorious body." Compare also Dan. 12:3. What though our faces are now clothed with shame? what though they gather blackness? "His visage was marred more than any man's;" yet there is now no vestige thereof in that face which surpasseth the sun in brightness, and would with its splendour darken that globe of light. Neither shall any spot be seen in the faces of those who dwell in these booths in the promised land.

The pine was also remarkable for its durableness,* not being subject to worms or rottenness! for which cause ships were made thereof. The saints have their anchor, and therefore their ship too, Heb. 6:19. O who would think that ever the ship were so durable! What a blythe sight will it be to see them all brought safe and sound, after such tossing in the sea of this world, to the shore of Immanuel's land! There they will never rot.

As for the palm-tree, the best of which grew in Palestine, it is notour it was a sign of victory; the reason whereof seems to be that which is said of it, that when oppressed with heavy weights, it yields not, but rather shooteth upward the more. The myrtle also was a sign of victory, being worn garland-wise in triumphs. Hence (Zech. 1:8.) Christ is seen "among the myrtle-trees in the valley;" shewing, that the church of Christ, however low she was brought by the enemies, should come off victorious. It seems then, all that will come up to the feast of tabernacles, must be soldiers, and conquerors too. Indeed the Jews behoved to fight their room in and their way to Canaan, and they won it at length. And what is heaven but an eternal triumph? Rev. 7:9. Let this animate us to the spiritual warfare. The people in Egypt, the more they were oppressed, the more they grew. How sweet will all the heavy wrestlings with flesh and blood, principalities and powers, be to us when we get the palms in our hands!

I find the palm was wont to be given to those that overcame in bloody battles, and particularly to those that were victors in the bloody spectacles of the gladiators; the myrtle, when they had got a victory without slaughter of men. All the saints go not to glory through a sea of their own blood. Every one gets not the honour of a fiery chariot. And we have reason to believe, that as all are not alike in the battle, so there will be degrees of glory, and the triumph of some greater than that of others. But, if we look somewhat higher to the main thing that stood between heaven and us, the victory to all the saints is a bloody, unbloody victory; bloody in respect of Christ, unbloody in respect of them. Some of them have slept, never one of them died, in the cause: Rom. 8:34. "It is Christ that died." The proto-martyr, Acts 7 ult, "fell asleep." Therein, as in a glass, the Lord would represent to all those that were after to strive against sin resisting to blood, what that sort of passage to heaven would be to them. Sure, death's nature is changed; it is not what it was to Christ; it is not that which was threatened, Gen. 2:17. Why may not the name be changed too? The Holy Ghost's connection, Rev. 12:11, is worthy to be remarked, "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives even unto death." In the victory, Christ's blood and their blood are not joined together; but Christ's blood and their word of testimony. Christ fought, they but gave the shout, to the obtaining of the victory. Surely "he trod the wine-press alone, and of all the people there was none to help him."

As for the willows, it is known the place thereof is by the watersides. Hence that text Lev. 23:40. calls it "the willow of the brook." God's people sometimes hanged their harps on the willows that grew by the rivers of Babylon, Psal. 137:1, 2; because then their joy was turned to mourning, and they had no use for them. In Immanuel's land there "is a river, on either side of which grows the tree of life," Rev. 22:1. 2: but no harps hang thereon. They behoved to go to the brook, and fetch their willows. I cannot find one place where the willow is spoken of, but it is still with some addition of its growing by the waters, Job 40:22. Psal. 137:1. 2. Is. 15:7. Ezek. 17:5. Isa. 44:4. They cannot then want nourishment in the greatest drought. This presents to my view, that Immanuel's land is no land of drought; the trees of the Lord's planting are set by the rivers, so that they can never want moisture, but shall have an eternal supply of the Spirit, by Christ, from the Father, whereby they shall spring as willows by the water-courses, even those floods of the Spirit's influences, Is. 44:3, 4. This promise is but arled in this life; it will tell out through all the ages of eternity, and will never be at an end till the last drop of that river run by, which will never be.

It is also said of the willow, that it is a great friend to chastity; for which cause forsaken lovers are allowed to wear a willow-garland: which offers to our consideration that character the Scripture so often gives to those that are to be the inhabitants of the upper house, who are to be presented as a chaste virgin to Christ, when the marriage is to be solemnized in heaven, 2 Cor. 11:2. and "without spot," Eph. 5:27. They that stand on Mount Zion with the Lamb, are virgins Rev. 14:4. True it is, it is not to the state of the saints in heaven that these words have the nearest reference; but it is implied therein; the state of the church in the world being held out in terms borrowed from the state of the church triumphant.

When I compare that Neh. 8:15. "Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive-branches," &c. with that Lev. 23:40. "and willows of the brook," not brooks; I cannot but incline to think these willows grew about the brook Kidron, which ran between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives; which, no doubt, was the mount they were directed to. Which may lead us to the consideration of the spring and source of all the joys in heaven, even the sorrows of Christ. When David was obliged to leave Jerusalem upon the account of the rebellion raised by his own son, he passed over this brook Kidron in great distress, and went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, weeping as he went, 2 Sam. 15:23, 30. In this there was a type of Christ's sufferings for the sins of sons and daughters. And so we find him, after he had been at the last feast with his disciples, preached his farewell sermon to them, and prayed that prayer, John 17, the hour being come, ver. 1; passing over this brook Kidron, John 18:1. to grapple with the wrath of God, in the garden that was on the other side of it. Who can imagine in what case he went over it? for who can conceive that weight of wrath he was to bear? A far-off prospect of it had a terrible effect on him, John 12:27, 28. Behold the wells of salvation whence we draw our joy; those bitter waters of wrath that he was plunged into; that terrible cup which his sinless human nature shivered at; the brook that he drank of in the way, Psal. 110 ult.

Lightfoot saith, that the Jews so understood that rejoicing commanded at that feast, as that there was in the court of the temple* trumpets sounding, dancing, &c.; that their greatest joy began towards night, continued far on in the night, and some of the most zealous would stay out the whole night. Compare that Rev. 4:8. "They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come."

He adds, that every day once they went about the altar, with their myrtle, palm, and willow in their hand, singing Hosanna, Psal. 118:28. In the meantime, they set their boughs, bending towards the altar. Truly the imagination of this pierceth; we will never see them do that again: but we will see the saints in glory compassing the altar always, and singing their Hosanna about it, bending their palms towards the altar; acknowledging they owe all to him, even to the "Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed them to God by his blood." I conclude with that Rev. 7:9.—"A great multitude—stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;" ver. 10. "And cried with a loud voice, Salvation unto our God that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." A plain allusion to what is said. O that we may be helped so to manage our day of expiation, (for it is but a day and no expiation beyond it), as that we may be accounted worthy to partake of the joy of the feast of tabernacles!


Boston, T. (1849). The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sermons and Discourses on Several Important Subjects in Divinity. (S. M'Millan, Ed.) (Vol. 6, pp. 220–226). Aberdeen: George and Robert King.

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