Rejoicing with a Palm Branch

Palm Sunday

I’ve been around discouraged and disheartened people lately. They are hanging on as best they can, but their lives are beset by various challenges; some quite serious.

At the same time, I’ve been camped in the book of Philippians; a book that proclaims a message of joy. I chose to memorize the book late last year and have recently finished! It’s a big feat for me since I have never been very good at bible verse memorization. There are several themes that jumped out to me during this process. However one theme, in particular, gripped my heart over and over and over again as I read through Philippians.

Paul repeated one word in his letter to the Philippian church. If you are familiar with Philippians, I bet you can guess the word….Rejoice!

Six different times Paul exhorted the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord from chapter one to chapter four of his letter. This got me to wondering about this commandment of joy. What else did the Lord want me to know about rejoicing before Him? How does one rejoice in the center of discouragement or hardship? Why is it important to rejoice no matter what our situation is at the moment?

Paul said, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (New International Version, Philippians 4:4-7).

I decided to investigate how often the word rejoice is mentioned in the bible. I thought that I would complete a quick word study between book memorizations. I have just started memorizing chapter one of Colossians, so reading a few rejoicing verses would be a great addition, right?

Well, yesterday, I began to look up the word rejoice in the bible. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

There are 145 times that the word rejoice is listed in the New International Version.

There are 35 times that the word rejoiced is listed.

I found rejoicing 32 times!

And rejoices? It is listed 14 times!

This is a total of 226 times that a word form of rejoice is found in the Bible from Exodus to Revelation. If I study one verse a day, this is 2/3 of a year kind of project! This is significant, I think!

As Paul exhorted the Philippians, we are exhorted to rejoice as well!

Where to start?

Well, I decided to begin in the book of Leviticus. There in chapter 23, the Lord appointed both weeks of feasting and celebration and Sabbath days to occur throughout the year. These feasts symbolized significant times of God’s deliverance and goodness.

One of these feasts was called the Feasts of the Booths or Feast of the Tabernacles…

So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of Sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of Sabbath rest.  On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month.  Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 23:39-43 NIV

It was called the “Feast of Booths” because for seven days the Israelites were asked to construct temporary shelters during the lunar month of September/October and stay in them. This was the end of the growing season and a harvest tithe was to be offered at the feast. These temporary structures or ‘booths’ memorialized the nation of Israel’s pilgrimage from lack of identity and slavery in Egypt to identity and freedom in their God.

During their desert trek to the Promised Land, the wayfaring nation of Israel dwelt in tents in the wilderness. It was not an easy time to say the least. However, their God was there with them; shielding them from the heat of the sun, protecting them from enemies, guiding them forward, and providing for their physical needs. Though in an unsettled state, the Presence of God settled over them in a cloud by night and day. The mercy and goodness of their Lord was sure as they constructed and deconstructed their temporary shelters along their 40 year journey.

Thus, the people of Israel were instructed to take thick palm boughs to create their booths of remembrance of this time during the feast of the tabernacles. They left their homes for a seven day period and journeyed to the temple to offer their tithe of thanksgiving. They lived in their booths for seven days to understand and appreciate the hardship their ancestors had endured for their present comfort and joy! For it is often through hardship and difficulty that mercies are realized!

It was time to rejoice! The people took the palm branches and waved them in joy, in freedom, and in triumph.

Rejoice comes from the Hebrew word samach which literally means to rejoice and be glad.

The Feast of the Booths was a perpetual reminder of past deliverance from a desperate, difficult time to present mercies of peace, comfort and blessing.

What is interesting to note is that some Bible scholars believe that Jesus, our Savior, was born sometime around the timing of the Feast of the Booths. He left his secure and glorious heavenly home to come to earth to dwell in one booth after another as he traveled from place to place during his three year ministry. He chose to dwell in temporary tabernacles with his Father and not take hold of the physical comforts of this world.

And today?

Today is Palm Sunday!

It is a day to remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the week before his death and resurrection. Today, marks the beginning of Holy Week, a seven day commemoration of Jesus’ journey to the cross.

Although this is an altogether different time than the feast of the booths or tabernacle, I can’t help but ask myself and perhaps you as well, what kind of booth do we want to build this week in preparation of Resurrection Sunday? It truly is a time to rejoice and be glad for our risen Lord and Savior! Despite our circumstances, we can still prepare ourselves to be glad for His sacrifice and His gift of eternal life to us all. We can pick up and wave our palm branches in praise!

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