The Feast of Tabernacles

The Feast of Tabernacles

“Blow the Trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the Full Moon, on our solemn feast day.  For this is a statute for Israel, a Law of the God of Jacob.”  (Psalm 81)

The rabbis used to say that one had never seen or experienced joy until they experienced the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem.  This extremely joyful time is celebrated in the month of Tishri (A), at time of the full moon.  The rabbis would say that the month had to come to its fullest so that all of creation could worship God during the Feast of Tabernacles. Joy is commanded during the feast, and is the central theme of the Feast.  Scripture states, “And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the father less, and the widow, who are within your gates.  Seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice.”  (Duet 16:14-15 emphasis added for clarity).  Yes, mandatory fun from heaven.  God is so good that he doesn’t just ask you to generate your own sense of joy.  He prepares the way and actually blesses us and give us something to be joyful about.  Indeed, in one of the biblical references to the concluding day of the feast under the reign of Solomon is described as, “He (Solomon) sent the people away to their tents, joyful and glad of heart for the good that the Lord had done for David, for Solomon, and for His people Israel.” (2 Chron 7: 10 parenthetical note added for clarity)

Tabernacles, affectionately known as “The Feast”, is one of the three holy convocations that occur during the regular biblical calendar.  (Duet. 16:16-17)  These gatherings are Biblically described by the word “miqra.”  It is roughly translated “a gathering of the called out ones” and can also be translated as a “rehearsal”.(3)  This later definition provides us with a prophetic element to the feast that has both an immediate and future fulfillment while the former definition provides the backdrop for the joyous occasion.  Additionally, tabernacles takes place during the time of the fall harvest of crops, which further denotes it as a time of festivity and gratefulness to the Yahveh Yireh (The  Lord who provides. Genesis 22:14)

(A.) Tishri is the seventh month out of the year, and it is considered the most holy of months.  On its New Moon, the feast of Trumpets is celebrated.   Ten days later, the day of Atonement occurs with prayer and fasting.  Lastly, the greatest of all the fall feast occurs, the Feast of Tabernacles.  The Hebrew term is “sukkot”, which is translated as “tabernacle, or tent, or booth,”(1) “refers to a hut made of wattled twigs or branches.  In countries where trees are abundant such wattled structures are common as temporary buildings as they can be constructed in a very short time.  The booths, which were simple shelters made of interlaced branches were the people’s living quarters during the festival.” (2)  The weather in Israel in the fall is perfect with very little temperature changes from day to night, around 80 in the day and 70 at night which allows for comfortable outdoor living.

The Feast lasts eight days (Lev 23:33-36, Duet 16:13-17).  The first and the last days are celebrated as types of Sabbaths where customary and laborious work is forbidden.  These are the days of worshipful gatherings.  During these gatherings, followers of God are commanded to worship the Lord with objects known as “the four species.”  Scripture describes it this way, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.” (Lev 23:40)  The orthodox rabbis define these as, “The esrog (fruit/esrog) resembles the heart, the lulav (Palm branches) the spine, the boughs of leafy trees resemble the eyes, and the willows resemble the lips.  By holding all four together, we symbolize the need for a person to utilize all his faculties in the service of God.” (4)  Thus, worship during this feast calls for the consecration of the entire believer to worship is “spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)

The Bible describes this feast with the Hebrew phrase, “Chuqqat L’Olam” which translates to “a statue forever” (Lev 23:41).  This phraseology lends little ambiguity as to God’s intention regarding the Feast.  It was something that was that was to be kept and practiced, rehearsed, from generation to generation.

The purpose of dwelling in booths

“All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may now that I made the children of Israel swell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”  (Lev 23:42-43)

Paul writes, “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…Now these things became our examples to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted…Now all these things happened to them as examples and they were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”  (I Cor 10:1-11).  Here Paul tells us that the things which happened to the children of Israel were written for our benefit, so that they might be a memorial to us. Biblical memorials are alive and remind us of the past actions of God.  This builds present day faith, because what the God, who changes not, has done in the past, is what He will do again in the future.  To remember the mighty acts of God is to build faith in what God is going to do in the future.  Paul is telling us that the biblical accounts  of the Old Testament were written for us, so that we could remember the ways that God interacted with His people, and the way He will continue to interact with us.  Tabernacles is a profound example of what God wants to do in the future and what He wants to do while we keep this feast.

Exodus 33 records God dwelling with a nation for the first time in history.  During this period when Israel was living in tabernacles (booths), God was with them as a “cloud by day and a fire by night.” (Ex 13:21-22)  In fact, this scripture emphatically states that, “He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.”  (Ex 13:22)  This gives us some insight into the heart of God.  God has desired to dwell among people.  He wants to be with us.  It is His desire to “tabernacle” (dwell with) us .  This was the lesson and the promise He made to Israel, that He would make them “a nation of priests”(Exodus 19:6)  In the new covenant, Peter writes the same thing, that we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9)  Christians are a holy priesthood who minister to God and His desire is to tabernacle with His people.  This is to be remembered and experienced through the Feast.

It also reminds us of the dependency that is necessary for the supernatural provision of God.  God was with the Children of Israel and He provided for all of their needs.  He provided food from heaven, water from rocks and clothing that never wore out..  Tabernacles reminds us of our calling to worship God from our calling as priests, and to place ourselves in a position of dependency upon Him to meet all of our needs.

The Progression of God’s Dwelling Place

The dwelling place of God is intimately tied into the Feast of Tabernacles.  It is one of the things God wants us to remember during the feast.  As the biblical narrative unfolds, some interesting points appear as the connection between where God lives and the Feast of Tabernacles becomes increasingly clear.

David desired to build a temple for God so the Divine Presence didn’t have to live in a tent or a tabernacle.  God told David that he could not do this but his son Solomon would build the temple.  Interestingly enough, Solomon finished building the temple at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles.  The Temple was dedicated to God during this Feast.  (I Kings 7 & 2 Chronicles 5)  Again, the glory cloud (Shekinah glory) filled the temple.  The same cloud that lived in the tent now lived in the temple.  Sadly, Israel and Judah fell into apostasy and went into exile leaving the temple and the land desolate for 70 years.  However, God did leave a prophecy that the people would return to the land. (Jeremiah 25:11-12)

Seventy years later, a priest named Ezra leads the people back  to Jerusalem and clears out and restores the temple.  Can guess when the regular sacrifices and worship were restored?  Yes, during the Feast of Tabernacles.  (Ezra 3 Nehemiah 8:13 )  As the Old Testament period begins to wind down, God gives us a prophecy about the temple and the dwelling place of God.  During the time of the rebuilding of the temple, a prophet named Haggai (whose name is derived from the Hebrew “Hag”  which means feast) gives a prophetic word that comes on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles.  So, during the feast, Haggai gives this prophecy, “The glory of the latter temple shall be greater than the glory of the former temple.” (Haggai 2:9)  This word finds its fulfillment in this, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1: 14)  The dwelling place of God had progressed from the tabernacle, to the temple, and then, into a man.  The second Adam who was begotten of God.  Jesus the Messiah, was the dwelling place and the temple of God.  In fact, He describes His body as a temple. (John 2:19)  The temple is were God tabernacles or dwells.  With the coming of the Holy Spirit, anther progression is evident.

Paul describes the New testament believer as the “temple of God.” (I Cor 6:19)  That we now are the actual housing of the presence of God.  Haggai’s word has the prophetic fulfillment that the glory of the latter temple, Jesus and the New Testament believer, is greater than the glory of the former temple, the temple is Jerusalem.  The Body of Christ, His holy priesthood and building, is a greater glory and a greater outreach of and for God, than any building in Jerusalem no matter how ornate.  Tabernacles celebrates this progression of the dwelling place of God.  As John G. Lake writes, “God and man become one.  The heart of man, the mind of man, the soul of man enter into God and God into him.  The divine fires of the eternal Christ, by the Holy Ghost, come from heaven, and the lightings of Jesus flash through the life, bless God, and the powers of Christ invigorate and manifest and demonstrate through that relationship.” (5)

The final fulfillment of the Feast of tabernacles and the dwelling place of God we find in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation.  John has a vision of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven.  Here is how the voice from heaven describes the ultimate fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, “ Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev 21:3)  During Tabernacles, we look forward to the time when all of eternity will be a tabernacle with God.  This is expressed by the prophet Isaiah in his vision of the millennial reign.   He speaks, “Then the Lord will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night, for over all the glory there will be a covering.” (Isaiah 4:5)  Remember that the cloud by day and fire by night that was with the children of Israel in the desert only rested above the tabernacle of the meeting, but in the millennium, it remains above every dwelling and above every gathering place.  The Glory of the Lord shall rest upon us all.  This what we celebrate, pray for, and anticipate during tabernacles.  This is the essence of revival.

Tabernacles at the time of Jesus

The New Testament verifies that Jesus kept the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem.  (John 7-8).  Scripture tells us that on the last day of the feast Jesus stood in the temple and shouted, “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit…“ (John 7:37-39)  This statement is awesome enough on its own.  However, when one understands the backdrop against which this statement is made, it becomes even more impressive.  That backdrop is a water libation offering.

“Throughout the seven days of the festival a special priest carries water in a gold pitcher from the Pool of Siloam to be put into a basin at the foot of the alter by the high priest.  It symbolized prayer for rain which begins on the next day, on Sh’mini Atzeret (the eighth day), and pointed toward the outpouring of the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) on the people of Israel.” ([6] parenthetical notes added for clarity)  This ceremony is considered one of the most joyful in all of the feast.  It is noted in the Talmud and the Encyclopedia Judica, as a “time of religious joy were the worshippers draw true inspiration from the Holy Spirit. (7)  The last day of the feast, or the eighth day, was the culmination of the joyful festivities.  On this day, during the ceremony the Great Hallel was sung, which is also called “The Great Hosanna.”  It consisted of the Psalms 113-118 with the concluding passages are “Save now, I pray, O Lord (Hebrew is Hosanna) O Lord, I pray send now prosperity, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 188:25-26)  Here is the sequence of events for this ceremony.  The priest would leave the temple out of the Fountain Gate and make his way toward the pool of Siloam.  (Incidentally, Siloam means “sent one”  or the pool of the sent one, or the pool is sent, it was constructed during Hezekiah’s time which does explain the name in light of the biblical narrative relating to Hezekiah.  Also, this is the pool which the “angel” stirs in John 5 that brings healing.  There was a supernatural presence to this pool both symbolically, as representing Messiah, the sent one from God, and physically, as it waters yielded healing when stirred by the angel)  Crowds would gather, with the four species in hand, particularly the lulav (or palm branch), and a joyful procession would follow the priest down to the pool.  He would fill his pitcher and return to the Temple.  By this time, large crowds had gathered and the High Priest would emerge to the cheers of the people. The worship and prayers to God would be accompanied by the waving of the lulav or the palm branches. The High Priest would encircle the alter seven times and upon each circle the roar of the crowd would grow larger.  The chanting of the Great Hosanna, prayers for rain and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit were all shouted at the same time as worshippers waved large palm lulav toward the alter.  After the seventh lap, the High Priest would pour the water at the base of the alter as the cheering crowd watched him raise his arm to the full extent indicating that all of the water had been poured out.  It is against this backdrop that Jesus makes the aforementioned statements.  As Alfred Edersheim notes, “The pouring of the water was immediately followed by the chanting of the Hallel.  But after that there must have been a short pause to prepare for the festive sacrifices.  It was then, immediately after the symbolic rite of water pouring, immediately after the people had responded by repeating those lines from Psalm 118, and prayed that Jehovah would send salvation and prosperity, and had shaken their lulav toward the alter, that there rose so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the Voice of Jesus…At the close of the most solemn rites of the feast, asserting, within the hearing of all, His claim to be regarded as the fulfillment of all, and the true Messiah.” (8)

Shortly after the aforementioned events, Jesus makes the following statement, “I am the light of the world,  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life,”  (John 8:12)  Again, a very powerful statement, but when understood against the backdrop of the ceremonies of Tabernacles, it becomes more impressive.  Beginning on the second night of the Feast, large crowds would gather into the “Court of the Woman” in the temple precincts.  Seven very large menorahs were brought out and lit in the evening.  The Levites would bring out the temple instruments and worship would take place as priest danced before the Lord with torches and as the Levites led the people in worship. (9)  With the full moon and the seven menorahs, every courtyard in Jerusalem was said to be well lit.  Light, in both Jewish literature and in scripture, is symbolic of Messiah.  Therefore, Jesus meaning could not be mistaken that He was claiming again, His Messiahship and alluding to the fact, that, those who followed Him would not walk in darkness, but would be in the light, just as every courtyard in Jerusalem was in the light during the Feast of Tabernacles.

70 bulls and the Gentiles?

In Numbers 29, God commands the children of Israel to sacrifice many sacrifices during the Feast.  The sacrifices begin with large numbers and move to decreasingly smaller numbers (Numbers 29:12-39).  No reason is given for the sacrifices but the rabbis give us an interesting interpretation.  Rabbi Eleazar states, “To what do those seventy bullocks (that were offered during the seven days of the Festival) correspond?  To the seventy nations.  To what does the single bullock (Of the Eight day) correspond?  To the unique nation.(10)  Assuming the Rabbi Eleazar is correct in his symbolism, this paints a beautiful picture of the nations of the world uniting with Israel for unified worship before their God.  One common body, worshiping their Creator, as the apostle Paul writes, “one new man from the two.” ( Ephesians 2: 15)

Shadows of tabernacles in the New Testament

The Triumphal Entry

At the time of Jesus entry into Jerusalem prior to His crucifixion, the disciples begin to through palm branches onto the road and to shout, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 21:1-11)  Does any of this sound familiar?  Exactly, it is the same event that is described during the temple services that we described above.  What were the disciples and the people really claiming about Him.  That He was in fact the fulfillment of Tabernacles and that God was now dwelling among men.  Proof responds, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”(Luke 19:40)  Thus claiming His Messiahship as the only true one there who was worthy of such worship.   The scribes and the Pharisees recognized it as worship and were astounded that Jesus would receive it.  Proving that Jesus was either a crazed religious fanatic or the actual fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles.   This event happens prior to the Passover, but its rich symbolism from the Feast of Tabernacles must not be missed.  It has evolved into the modern church holiday known as Palm Sunday.  Perhaps it should be recognized as Lulav Sunday.

The Transfiguration on the Mount

“Surely I say to you that there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man in His Kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)

Shortly after making this statement, Jesus takes three disciples onto the mountain.  Right before their eyes, He is transfigured into His Glory.  Moses and Elijah show up and begin to discuss his “exodus” (for so it reads in the Greek).  Peter, although misguided,  recognizes the significance of these three individual standing together, the fulfillment of Tabernacles.  Thus he states, “Let us make here three tabernacles, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”(Matthew 17:4)  Although He was mistaken, he gives us another key insight into the prophetic significance of this holy day.

The Feast continues into the Millennium

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up for year to year to worship the King, the Lord of host, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.  And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, on them there will be no rain.  If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain, they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.”  (Zechariah 14:16-18)

In the preceding verses, Zechariah describes a scene where the nations of the world have gathered against Jerusalem, and then, “And in that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which faces Jerusalem on the east.” (Zechariah 14:4)  This is the second coming of Messiah, as the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown commentary notes, “The place of His departure at His ascension, shall be the place of His return, and the manner of His return also shall be similar (Acts 1:11) …This was the scene of His agony, so it shall be the scene of His Glory.” (11)  Even so, tabernacle among us and inside of us, Oh Lord.

The worshipers at Tabernacles prayed for literal rain, and they prayed for symbolic Holy Spirit rain.  They believed they were going to receive both types.  Interesting that the plague on the heathen nations will be the absence of rain.  Famine, both spiritually and physically.  This is a plague.  It would appear that other nations of the world are going to be left after the return of Messiah and the inauguration of the millennial reign.  This nations will be required to come to Jerusalem and acknowledge the Kingship of Messiah.  What better time to recognize His Kingship than the Feast of Tabernacles!

Endnotes

**All scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version  of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN.**

1.  Strong, James,  The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible,   Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN  1995, Strong’s number 5521.

2.  Bromiley, Geoffrey, The International Standrd Bible Encyclopedia,  Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979,  page 535.

3.  Strongs, number 4744.

4.  Scherman, Nosson Rabbi, The Stone Edition Tanach,  Mesorah Publications, ltd,  Brooklyn New York,  2003, page 305.

5.  Liardon, Roberts, John G. Lake The Complete Collection of His life Teachings, Albury Publishing, Tulsa, OK, 1999, page 462.

6.  Stern, David, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarsville, Maryland, 1992, page 179.

7.  Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkot 5:1, and Encyclopedia Judaica 14:365.

8.  Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Hendrickson Publishing, 1993 Page 584-585.

9.  The Talmud, Sukkah 5: 2-4)

10.  Sukkah 55 from the Talmud as quoted in:  Nadler, Sam, The Feasts of Israel, Word of Messiah ministries, 2002, page 142.

11.  Jamieson, Robert; Faussett, A.R.; Brown, David, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Hendrickson Publishing

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