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The Feast Of Tabernacles

Summary: The third and final of our Fall Feasts Series, The Feast Of Tabernacles. The most joyous feast in the Jewish calendar; full of significance and prophetic insight for all believers in regard to the Lord coming to tabernacle with man, then and in the coming age!


Scriptures

33 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 34 "Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD. 35 On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. 36 For seven days you shall present food offerings to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work."
Leviticus 23:33-36
39 On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. 40 And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. 41 You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."
Leviticus 23:39-43
16 Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. 17 And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them."
Zechariah 14:16-17

Quick Facts

Falls in the Jewish Calendar on the 15th of the seventh month, Tishrei. You can check when these dates fall in our western calender by clicking here. Seven days in total although in later times an independent but connected eighth day was appended to the Feast.

According to Deuteronomy 16:16, Succot, Passover and Shavout, form the three great pilgrim feasts where all males were to go up to Jerusalem and participate in the sacrifices and celebrations of the Temple. Many others came from the other regions of the Land and beyond, the Diaspora, to join in the communal festivities in Jerusalem.

Succot is known more commonly outside of Israel as the Feast of Tabernacles. It is a joyful, community oriented celebration where families build booths (Succahs) and eat some or all of their meals in the brightly decorated booths for the seven days of the Feast's duration.

The interiors are often fashioned with imagery associated with fruits typical to the produce of the harvest immediately preceding Succot. Colour, imagination in the construction and hospitality to guests symbolise the joys of the week. There is really no other time like it in Israel!

In contrast to the sobriety of Yom Kippur, Succot is, above all other Holy occasions, celebrated with joy, as God explicitly commanded that this Feast be enjoined with a sense of gratitude and rejoicing, looking forward to the blessing God would pour out as a result:

14 You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. 15 For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful." (Emphasis mine)
Deuteronomy 16:14-15

This feast is also known as the Feast of Booths on account of the temporary booths, shelters or succah's used during the seven days, prescribed by Leviticus 23:42.

It is furthermore called the Feast of Ingathering, (Exodus 23:16), as it closes an important event in Israel's agricultural calendar: the traditional first gathering of the fruits of the ground and of the grain harvest. Among the reaped produce would be corn, oil and wine. It was important for the people to express gratitude to God for the harvest and to acknowledge that all their provision came from His hand.

13 You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress."
Deuteronomy 16:13

In a number of places in the Bible, it is simply known as 'The Feast', because it was so widely known and attended.

The Dedication of Solomon's Temple took place during this Feast - God came to 'tabernacle' with man:

And all the men of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month."
1Kings 8:2

Succot marks the end of the Fall Feasts that began with the Feast of Trumpets, Rosh HaShanah, fifteen days previously. The whole period of three weeks brought Israel through repentance and atonement to thanksgiving.

Throughout the Biblical period, observing Succot appears to be a bit of a hit or miss affair, often falling into a state of neglect.

According to Nehemiah 8:17, only when the exiles had returned from captivity, was the Feast re-instituted correctly with the constructing of booths, after centuries of non-observance in Israel, "...for from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so..." - See also Ezra 3:4

Consequently, the reading of the Law by Ezra in Jerusalem seems to have effected a remarkable religious awaking in the assembled people. Booths were raised and the national covenant with God was once more renewed at this time.

However, there seems to have been a period when Solomon, at least, ensured the Feast was publicly acknowledged with the Mosaic offerings as recorded in 2 Chronicles 8:13, but without the temporary dwellings commanded, a central requirement for its commemoration.


Meaning Of The Feast

Succot looks back to the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years after God's miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage.

The hardship endured during those years in makeshift shelters was brought back to their remembrance as they built shelters from palm fonds and other branches.

There, in the wilderness, God provided for their daily needs: food, protection and shelter. Remarkable, considering the length of time that the wandering took from the departure out of Egypt to the crossing of the Jordan under Joshua, some forty years later.

The temporality of life was foremost presented here - the wilderness years for Israel were a terrible waste and trial. The Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, was the ultimate destination of those who had been emancipated from Egyptian servitude, not the desert. Therefore, the booths were a continual reminder of transience until the permanence of realising God's promises and full provision in the place that He had chosen for His people.

But the booths, more than privation, looked surely more on the protection and merciful sustaining of the Lord, His sheltering of His people as often Scripture alludes to:

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock."
Psalm 27:5

And here too:

There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain."
Isaiah 4:6

It is also a Feast that is to be celebrated with much thanksgiving to God, on account of the bountiful harvest of the fields - an occasion for remembering the Lord's goodness, provision and providence in the necessities of Israel. As such, it is the most joyous event, marked with enthusiasm, song and praise.


Practice & Traditions

During the Feast of Tabernacles, Jerusalem was transformed into a glorious riot of colour, noise, activity, dancing, singing, crowded streets and a packed Temple complex. Every possible area was covered in boughs of citron, palm fonds, myrtle and willow twigs. Houses, roads, public buildings, courtyards and gardens all enthusiastically stylised into the motifs of the Feast.

It was a time to renew acquaintance with family and friends; to hear and exchange news from those outside the Land; to strengthen national feelings and the sense of the nation's calling and privileges before God.

A truly electrifying festive atmosphere pervaded the city throughout the seven days.

In the courtyards of the Temple, particularly the Court of the Women, leaders and people danced. Torches were lit and hung up to provide illumination all around.

The Hallel Psalms (Psalm 113-118) were recited and response given by those present. From the Court of Women fifteen steps or ascents led up to the Court of Israel. Upon each step a Psalm was read. These were called the Psalms of Ascent from Psalm 120 through to 134.

15 and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, "Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written." 16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God..."
Nehemiah 8:15-16
And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days."
Leviticus 23:40

A citron, (Hebrew 'etrog'), is held with the boughs of myrtle, willow and palm branch, (the lulav) and brought into the synagogue daily during the Feast. Collectively know as the Four Species, these are then waved in the four directions of north, east, south and west, declaring that God's presence is everywhere.

The etrog must be perfect in form and texture and the Orthodox areas of Jerusalem witness fastidious inspection of the etrog to ensure it is of the highest possible quality. This also means the prices of such a simple citron fruit can be astronomical. Such is the zeal to observe it to the Law.

In Biblical times of this Feast, sacrifices were mandated that required bulls (70 in total), rams and lambs to be offered every day. In fact, more burnt offerings were offered during this Feast than any other. To this were also added the regular meat and drink offerings. It must have been quite a spectacle for the worshippers in the Temple area.

It was a fitting way to express thanksgiving to God through such quantity of offerings as the yearly harvests were now in.
You can find out what the specific animal offerings and quantity were in Numbers 29:12-39.

The Feast itself is prescribed as seven days duration but a separate eighth day is connected with Succot. This has become known as Shmini Atzeret, the 'assembly of the eighth day.' It does not make use of the Four Species as above but has its own traditions and mode of observance.

The rabbis taught that the Almighty had so enjoyed hosting the people during the seven days of Succot, He gave this eighth day to hold them back from returning home and to enjoy one more day with Him.

We read in Leveiticus 23:36:

On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work."

Confusingly, in Israel, this eighth day is also called Simchat Torah, 'the Rejoicing of the Law'.

This particular day sees the conclusion of the yearly Torah reading cycle, Genesis through Deuteronomy.
The last Torah portion is read from Deuteronomy 34 followed by the first chapter in Genesis, beginning the cycle of Torah once more.

Processions are made around synagogues carrying the Torah scrolls, accompanied by singing and dancing. For this reason, and for the joy of having the Law, this particular observance is called a 'rejoicing of the Law'.

Prayers at the end of Succot, acknowledged the gathered harvest but also petitioned God for rain in the coming season.
In a dry middle eastern climate this was critical for Israel's agriculture. This can also be seen by all the region's religions and cults that placed such great, yet gross idolatrous emphasis on fertility, rain and the harvest.

A ritual of a water libation poured out in the Temple, in the period of the Second Temple, bears witness to the importance for bountiful rain through the winter months. It carried more prophetic significance as we shall see when we explore the significance of the water libation in the next section.


Messianic & Prophetic Fulfilment

Jesus was present for the duration of a particular Succot in Jerusalem. We find Him among the people in the Temple area teaching:
"About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching." - John 7:14

But on the very last, significant, day of the Feast, Jesus made two of His most famous, and clearly, prophetic statements. The last day was called 'Hoshana Rabah', the great Hosannah, the Great Salvation:

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"
John 7:37-38
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
John 8:12

Why are these claims deemed so significant? To understand these in context, we must first look at additional ceremonies that were performed in the Temple at the Feast of Tabernacles.


The Symbolism Of Water

It was a custom at Succot that during the Feast, a priest would draw water from the nearby Pool of Siloam, bring it through the Water Gate to the court then to the altar. This act was accompanied by singing from Isaiah 12:3, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation."

Upon this altar, there were two basins of silver with small openings at each bottom. Into one, was poured wine and into the other, was poured the water libation. Once the water was poured, it flowed through a system of pipes into the Kidron Valley.

This water ritual was a remembrance of the water that flowed from the rock for Israel in the wilderness years but also a hint of the Messianic Kingdom when:

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter."
Zechariah 14:8

Here, too, we see a foreshadowing of the Holy Spirit that would be poured into those who would believe in Jesus, fulfilled at Pentecost with the birth of the Church.

When Jesus cried, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink", He was offering the very Spirit of God, something far more glorious than the traditions of men at hand. It would be life giving, life transforming and life eternal. He drew the attention away from the objects of the ritual and transformed their real meaning to a revelation about His identity and His kingdom mission.

The meaning of His message was not lost on those gathered around Him; they understood what He was alluding to and claiming.

The pouring out of the water at the altar was also a prophetic gesture, infused with meaning of the coming of the Lord, when "the knowledge of God would fill the earth as the waters cover the sea." - Isaiah 11:9


The Symbolism Of Light

Additionally, during this time, four great lights were placed upon stands, illuminating the whole courtyard area. People lit torches and carried them up high, circling the Temple. It would have been dazzling to see the light thrown in all directions of the immediate vicinity and beyond the city walls.

At this moment, Jesus again personalised the lamps to His own person and mission, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

This is the One that gives light unto the world, as John declared in John 1:

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men... 9 the true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
John 1:4,9

It was foreshadowed in the pillar of blazing light that guided Israel through the wilderness years.

God was acknowledged as the light of the world. From a portion in Bamidbar Rabbah: "The Israelites said to God, O Lord of the universe, thou commandest us to light lamps to thee, yet thou art the light of the world: and with thee the light dwelleth."
See also Luke 2:32 and Daniel 2:22

Jesus intentionally made the connection between Himself and that very light, the wisdom and illumination of God. Not surprisingly, the leaders who heard this statement were highly offended.


The Gentiles

The Feast of Tabernacles holds a special place for the Gentile nations. The seventy bulls offered during the seven feast days were representative of the seventy Gentile nations, mentioned in Genesis 10.

The Talmud explains that for these seventy nations, representative of the whole world, seventy bulls were offered for their atonement before the Lord.

Today, many Christians from around the world attend Feast of Tabernacles events and gatherings in Jerusalem to celebrate this Feast.
Many of these groups do so from a conviction to adhere to the words of Zechariah 14:16:

16 Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. 17 And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them."
Zechariah 14:16-17

Taken literally, in the Millennium reign of the Messiah, Gentile nations will be required to go up to Jerusalem and there to worship the Lord during this Feast. In this period, both Jew and Gentile will worship God and His chosen Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Jerusalem shall be the Kingdom capital and the words of Isaiah will find their fitting fulfilment during the restoration of the earth in these times:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it..."
Isaiah 2:2

It is perhaps for these reasons, that many Gentiles today, have already started to make Tabernacles a time of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, in anticipation of these words.


Ingathering Of The Final Harvest And Messiah's Return

A major theme we have already covered of this Feast is that of the ingathering of the final harvest of the year.
As every other major feast, in one form or another, fulfils Messianic expectation, we again find in Tabernacles a fitting climax to the Lord's redemptive work and Second Coming.

Will Jesus return at Tabernacles - where He will 'tabernacle' with man, establish the manifest presence of the Lord, the Shekinah, upon the earth once more?

It seems that Tabernacles by its very nature implies that this Feast, more than any other, should be the most likely season in fulfilling His return to earth to establish His Kingdom.

Between Shavuot and Tabernacles, the workers were in the fields labouring for the fruit that would be gathered in at harvest time.

Likewise, observe the pattern: the planting of the seeds of the Kingdom. Then the labourers in the fields, working diligently to ensure a crop. Then finally, the joyful harvesting of the fruit that had been sown and laboured over.

Tabernacles hints at the great reaping of the earth and the ingathering of the redeemed from the four corners of the world - assembled before the Lord, with palm branches in their hands. See Revelation 7:9-17

Tabernacles marks the Lord's return at the close of the Age, after the harvest is gathered.

While it is clear that Jesus was not born on Christmas Day, in all likelihood He was borne during this this feast. This makes more sense given that He would 'tabernacle' among men:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt (TABERNACLED) among us..." (emphasis mine)
John 1:14

He fulfilled Passover and Shavout as the true prophetic type. It seems only fitting that the third Great Feast, Tabernacles, Jesus fulfilled by His first coming among us, and surely, at Tabernacles once more, the earth will see His return to once more dwell with man.


Summary

The Feast of Tabernacles is truly a wondrous time to remember God's provision and protection of us.

We also do well to consider the transience of life, where nothing is permanent in this world outside of God. We are merely steward pilgrims on earth, progressing toward the permanence of God in eternity and the renewing of a new heaven and a new earth. For this we look and unto this, Succot so succinctly teaches us. See Hebrews 11:9,13

The Lord Himself will fulfil the typology of Tabernacles upon His return and it seems biblically feasible that at this Feast time, He will do so with the great ingathering of His elect into His Kingdom, where once more, the Lord 'tabernacles' with man.

3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the TABERNACLE of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (emphasis mine)
Revelation 21:3-4 KJV

About Ian Jupp

Ian Jupp is Executive Director of Return To Zion Ministries.
Ian's experience as a communicator, pastor, writer, teacher and his understanding of the Middle East, Israel, The Church and God's purposes, place him in a unique position to provide timely commentary on the urgent, prophetic events that are unfolding in our day.
Read More About Ian

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