When Nehemiah celebrates the Festival of Tabernacles for the first time with the returning exile from Babylon, it is stated that

From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. (Neh. 8:17 NIV)

However, how can this be true if, as said in 1 Kgs. 8:65 (NIV), after Joshua, Solomon also celebrated it?

So Solomon observed the festival at that time, and all Israel with him—a vast assembly, people from Lebo Hamath to the Wadi of Egypt. They celebrated it before the Lord our God for seven days and seven days more, fourteen days in all.

How can this be reconciled? Does Nehemiah refer instead to the character of the festivities instead of the celebration of the festival itself? If so, how?

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    Commentaries seem to say that either there was not such a joyous celebration since Joshua, or that not all the people had live in tents since Joshua.
    – mwolfe 11
    Commented Jan 30 at 23:27

2 Answers 2


The quote from Nehemiah 8:17, "... the Israelites had not celebrated it like this.", signifies that from the time after Joshua until that moment, the Festival of Tabernacles had not been observed in accordance with its true significance. Rather than adhering to the instructed manner of dwelling in a "Temporary Shelter", the Isralites had deviated from the Lord's instruction outlined in Leviticus 23:39-43

39 “‘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. 40 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. 41 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. 42 Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters 43 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.’” (NIV)

It appears that following Joshua's time, the Israelites had settled down in their home, a permanent shelter, neglecting the obligation to dwell in "Temporary Shelter" for the prescribed seven days. This deviation from the law persisted until Nehemiah rediscovered the commandment record in the Law. Nehemiah 8:13-15 provide insight into this rediscovery.

13 On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. 14 They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month 15 and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”—as it is written. (NIV)

In 1 Kings 8:66, it is evident that some Israelites did not construct temporary shelters. When Solomon dismissed the people, they returned to their respective homes. The absence of any mention of "Temporary Shelters" throughout the entire events in 1 Kings chapter 8 and 2 Chronicles chapter 7 reinforces this observation.

66 On the following day he sent the people away. They blessed the king and then went home (אֹהֶל), joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for his servant David and his people Israel. (NIV)

P.S. I note that the Hebrew word אֹהֶל (Strong 168 ohel) can indeed be translated as either "home" or "tent". Given that in 1 Kings 8:66, it is not explicitly specified as "Temporary Shelter", it is possible that people observed the requirement as optional rather than mandatory. This stands in contrast to the time of Nehemiah, where everyone celebrated it according to the law.


A difference between Solomon's celebration and Nehemiah's is where the tents/tabernacles were location:

1 Kings 8

66 On the eighth day he dismissed the people, who blessed the king and went to their tents, rejoicing and glad of heart because of all the blessings the Lord had given to David his servant and to his people Israel.

Nehemiah 8

16 The people went out and brought in branches with which they made booths for themselves, on the roof of their houses, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God, and in the squares of the Water Gate and the Gate of Ephraim. 17 So the entire assembly of the returned exiles made booths and dwelt in them.

In Solomon's case, the community was dismissed and sent to their tents, the majority of which were apparently located outside the city of Jerusalem. In the case of Nehemiah, they constructed booths inside the city, including inside the Temple courtyards. This, together with the Israelites' joy at having returned from exile, is probably what the text refers to when it says the Israelites had not celebrated it like this since the time of Joshua.

Conclusion: Not since the time of Joshua had the entire community of Israel celebrated together in booths like this, with everyone encamped around the sanctuary. Rather, they usually encamped outside of Jerusalem and only a minority of them constructed booths inside the city. Their joy, over finally being safe in Jerusalem for the first time sine the Exile began, was also unmatched. Thus must be why the text tells us they hand not celebrated the festival in this way since the time of Joshua.

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