I’ve gone through yet another season of what we often call Jewish holidays (I call them Feasts of the Lord), and we’ve come to my favorite one of the year. Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles, is the most joyful feast of all to me.
It is the 7th feast, held in the 7th month, lasting for 7 days. Ahhh, perfection.
And because God loved His people so much, He asked them to extend the festival 1 more day, to tarry with Him a little longer. In fact, an ancient Jewish midrash (story, exposition, interpretation) claims that what God said to His people about His rationale for the extra day was, “Your departure is difficult for me. Stay with me one more day.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Think of how much you love your significant other and what it would mean to you if he/she begged you to stay a little longer with him/her. Surely it would thrill your soul. Well, even more so when it’s the Creator of the Universe–the ultimate Lover of your soul–who asks you to linger with Him.
During this 8-day celebration, there is an emphasis on good food. I like that! Each night, observant Jews eat dinner in their sukkah (booth)–a little hut constructed in the yard to recall the reason for this holy feast: that God provided well for the Israelites as they dwelt in booths (sukkot is the plural of booth in Hebrew) in the wilderness. You might invite the neighbors over for cake and wine (grape juice for me–ha ha!) in the sukkah as you enjoy the evening air and gaze on the stars and nearly-full moon in the night sky.
Sound like fun yet?
And guess what God commanded the Jews to do during this week? REJOICE! Wow, somebody please command me to rejoice–I will definitely oblige!
But this is just for the Jews, you say. We Gentiles don’t bother, do we? Well, if we do choose to celebrate Sukkot, we will enjoy the blessing of it. The early church, which was of course predominantly Jewish by birth, still celebrated the annual Feasts of the Lord, until this practice was eventually frowned upon when Catholicism took root.
But the main reason we Christians would profit from studying and/or celebrating Sukkot is that it is a festival of hope for the future. Yes, it celebrates the past (“He has provided for us before, as in the wilderness”) and it solidifies the present (“He is providing for us even now!). But this Feast points forward to the future when His provision will be eternal.
It reminds us that we will tabernacle with our Lord forever one day. Every day in eternity will be Sukkot. You see, the Feast could’ve ended in the prescribed 7 days–7 being the number of divine completion.
But it didn’t. There is an 8th day–8 being the number of new beginning, a number outside of time as it doesn’t exist within our neat, little 7-day week. The 8th day represents eternity.
Jesus fulfilled the 4 spring feasts: His death (Passover), His burial (Feast of Unleavened Bread), His resurrection (Feast of Firstfruits) and His outpouring of the Holy Ghost (Pentecost). But the 3 fall feasts have yet to be fulfilled. A little over 2 weeks ago, we celebrated the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah)–representative of His 2nd coming. Ten days after that, we had Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)–symbolic of the coming Judgment Day when His atoning blood will make all the difference for those who follow Him.
What’s next after His return and judgment? Eternity with Him–Feast of Tabernacles–the grand diamond in the crown of Jewish holy days.
When you study this Feast, some passages of the New Testament make even more sense. You’ve probably read John 7 and totally ignored that the whole chapter is about our Messiah celebrating Sukkot. You’ve probably read verses 37-38 and never questioned why Jesus suddenly rose up in the Temple and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, 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.”
Just a random comment? No! If you understand Sukkot, you realize that each morning during the Feast, the priest drew a pitcher of water and poured it out as a sacrifice as part of a plea/prayer to God for rain during the coming winter months. After the long, dry summer, the rains, which began about November in Israel and lasted until around March, were crucial to crop development in the coming year. Sukkot was the time to beseech God to send the blessed precipitation.
So imagine that this water ceremony has just taken place in the Temple. And here comes Jesus–this “upstart” from Nazareth–who interrupts things by crying out that HE is the water they need. And the Word doesn’t say that He just spoke up. HE CRIED OUT.
Can you imagine the horror the Temple leaders felt? “Blasphemy!” they may have whispered to each other.
And our Lord wasn’t finished. The next day, it is recorded in John 8 that Jesus went back to the Temple to teach. He didn’t just haphazardly speak what is written in verse 12: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
That statement seems to come from nowhere. But if you know about Sukkot, you would know that each night of the Feast, there was a fabulous light display in Jerusalem. Not only were the huge Temple lampstands blazing, but also the multitudes of pilgrims in the city celebrating Sukkot would have their sukkahs alight as they rejoiced into the night.
The Jews at that time, who had just been dazzled by the nightly light show for a week, would totally “get” what Jesus was saying. He had just diverted their focus during the water ceremony to Himself, pinpointing Himself as the water they needed. NOW, He diverts their focus on light to Himself, declaring that He is the light they need.
What a nerve, the “big wheels” of that day must’ve thought. Their familiarity with Sukkot made Jesus’ comments even more inflammatory than what we clueless Gentiles perceive. It is imperative that we get out of our comfort zones and study the culture that Jesus preached in. It gives us knowledge we have been ignorant of for too long. Think about how we have sometimes made erroneous doctrines from things the Apostle Paul said in his letters–all because we did not understand the culture of that day or the circumstances of the people to whom he wrote.
Perhaps another reason that we would do well to study Sukkot in particular is that we very well may be celebrating it in Jerusalem one day. Zechariah 14:16-18 says this: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, 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. This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.”
This is an endtime prophecy that pertains to us. EVERYONE will keep the Feast of Tabernacles. Wouldn’t we do well to learn about it now? The Jews see each Feast of the Lord as a “mikrah”–a rehearsal or foretaste of what is to come. So when I keep Sukkot, I see it as a rehearsal of my blessed eternity with Him!
If we belong to Him, we have already started our eternity! We are eternal beings just passing through this mortal life before we move on to our “real” life! We rejoice because He came down to tabernacle with us in the flesh for 33 1/2 years and then returned again as the Holy Spirit Who tabernacles with us constantly!
May we give Him all the glory in this the season of our rejoicing! And to think, WE’VE ONLY JUST BEGUN!
Click on the link below to watch the teaching I did on Sukkot at our church, Times of Refreshing, this past Sunday morning. Just ignore the phone ringing on camera; we are a casual group that meets in a home temporarily. Beneath this link is a handout that will help you follow along with the video. Enjoy!
FEAST OF TABERNACLES (SUKKOT)
What is Sukkot?
The final Biblically-commanded feast of the Jewish year (Lev. 23:33-44)
–Celebrated in the seventh month Tishri on days 15-21 (Lev. 23:34)
–Tishri 22–Day 8–is also celebrated (Lev. 23:36)
–A sabbath with new offerings specified (Num. 29:36-38)
–Called “Shemini Atzeret” (8th, solemn gathering)
— “Atzeret” comes from a root meaning “to hold back”
–God asked Israel to tarry 1 more day! (“Your departure is
difficult for me. Stay with me one more day.”)
“Sukkot” = “booths” (singular is “sukkah” = “booth”)
–Sometimes called Festival of Booths
–Reminiscent of how Israel had portable dwellings in the wilderness
Also called Feast of Tabernacles
–“Tabernacle” = “mishkan”; also means “dwelling place”
Celebrates fruit harvest (grapes, olives)
–Exod. 23:16– “. . .the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field.”
–Firstfruits celebrated barley harvest, Pentecost–wheat harvest
Called “The Feast of all Feasts” (I Kings 12:32)
–Pilgrims came from all over Israel to Jerusalem (like Passover and Pentecost)
What is required on Sukkot?
First day is a full Sabbath (Lev. 23:35)
Only four things commanded in Torah for this Feast
–Live in sukkah (Lev. 23:42)
–Bring offering in addition to regular offerings (Num. 29:12-39)
–1st day: 13 young bullocks and many other things
–Number of bulls goes down each day: significant
–Gather the four species (Lev. 23:40)–probably to be waved joyfully
–Etrog (citron): “boughs of goodly trees”
–Lulav: “branches of palm trees”
–Myrtle: “boughs of thick trees”
–Willows: “willows of the brook”
–Rejoice (Lev. 23:40)
–Because harvest is done and/or repentance is successful
–Called “season of our rejoicing” (Deut. 16:15)–“. . .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.”
Every 7th year at this Feast, a public reading of Torah (Deut. 31:10-13)
How is Sukkot mentioned in the Bible?
Solomon chose it for consecration of Temple (I Kings 8:2-4)–shekinah glory fell!
Celebrated while wall was being rebuilt in Nehemiah’s time (Ezra 3:4)
Jesus sent His brothers to the Feast (John 7:2-8) then He went secretly (John 7:10-53)
It is mentioned for the future: all nations will come to Jerusalem for Sukkot
–Zech. 14:16– “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.”
What are the Jewish traditions of Sukkot?
Many Jews don’t connect this to High Holy Days
Some say living in huts comes from agricultural component (harvesters in huts in fields)
They begin building sukkah at end of Yom Kippur–families building together often
–Sukkah: temporary shelter, roof of branches/twigs/leaves to keep sky visible
–Must eat in it; some sleep in it. Rejoice in it; don’t suffer (go home if it rains!)
–Kids decorate it: fruit/flowers/paper chains/crepe paper/Indian corn/gourds
–God turned their wilderness into a garden
–Stresses the impermanence of life
Special theme of trusting God (as Israel in the wilderness)
–Don’t become entombed in the safety of your houses; trust God
Special “guests” are invited, 1 per night in order: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David (all wanderers or exiles)
–Women, too, now! Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Abigail, Esther
They believe waving the 4 species brings a blessing of rain
–They circle sanctuary, branches in hands (7 times on 7th day)
–Number 4 is seen as symbolic–completion on Earth
Praise is recited each day (“hallel”)–often Psalms 113-118
Entire book of Ecclesiastes is read
–Stresses the vanity of life (dwell in huts), so eat/drink/be merry (rejoice)
–Festival season in spring starts with Song of Solomon (idealism of young love) and ends in fall with cynicism of old age!
Special readings are Exod. 33:12-34:36, Ezek. 31:18-39:16 (endtime war)
Special emphasis on birth: Day of Atonement wiped slate clean
–We begin over like newborns (water associated with birth)
Anticipates the messianic end of days (Zech. 14:16)
7th day called “hoshana rabbah” (“the great hosanna”)
–Should be full festival day, but adding 8th day changed that
–Seen as final day of judgment
–Solemn morning service (final seal not on Book of Life/Death until then)
–After morning service, festive meal with nuts, carrot rings (wealth)
Some stay up all night on 7th night to study Torah (Deut.)
–Old tradition: if you see your shadow with no head, you’ll die in next year
Week of great hospitality: visiting from sukkah to sukkah, having wine and cake
–Poor should be invited as guests
Theme of gathering in (harvest) and encircling (God surrounded them in wilderness)
Prayers for rainfall in coming winter months (Nov.-March), especially on 8th day
–Water libation (sacrificial outpouring) each morning at service
–Jesus knew this: John 7:37-38
Lighting ceremony each night (Jesus alluded to this in John 8:12 then healed blind man)
Some save lulav or willows to light fire for Passover to burn leaven or bake unleavened bread
–Ties festival cycle together
8th day: Torah festival
–Pentecost celebrates receiving Torah; Sukkot celebrates having it daily
–Very much a children’s festival with dancing, singing, carrying of flags
–7th day was end of perfect time cycle; 8th is a day beyond time
Strict Jews celebrate a 9th day–”Simhat Torah” (rejoicing in the Torah)
–Scrolls taken from ark then paraded around sanctuary
–Final verses of Deut. read, then 1st verses of Gen. (cycle renewed)
Entire festival has redemption theme–God redeemed them in desert
–Dry times in summer represented desert wandering
What does Sukkot mean for us as Christians?
It comes right after Day of Atonement (after judgment, millennial reign of Christ)
Celebrates harvest of fruit (James 5:7-8–“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
–Joel 2:23 prophesies of endtime when God sends former and latter rains in same month–final harvest!
Fruit planting takes place during spring rains (seed planted during Passover)
–Fruit matures during summer and is ready for harvest in fall
Celebrates God’s provision in the past (wilderness), present (harvest done) and future!
This Feast will be celebrated eternally as we dwell with Him (8th day)–mikrah: rehearsals
We are now tabernacles: I Cor. 6:19–“Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost”
–As He dwelt in the tabernacle of the wilderness, now He dwells in us!
Feast demands joyfulness; so does life in Christ
–Neh. 8:10– “. . .the joy of the Lord is your strength”
–Psalm 16:11– “. . .in thy presence is fullness of joy”
–Phil. 4:4–“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.”
Jesus was probably born during this festival: rotation of priests in OT possibly proves it
–At that time, Israel was divided into 24 districts (I Chron. 24)
–Each district sent 2 priests to the Temple each week to serve
–ALL priests went to Jerusalem 3 weeks each year (Deut. 16:16)
–Zacharias, dad of John the Baptist, priest of the order of Abijah (Luke 1:5)
–His division was 8th division to go (I Chron. 24:10)
–He ministered 9th week of year (all went up 3rd week)
–He was serving his time when he was promised a son (Luke 1:8-13)
–Gabriel came to Mary in 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy
–Would’ve been during Hanukkah–starts 10th month, 25th day
–Jesus born 9 months later–Feast of Tabernacles
–He came to Earth to dwell (tabernacle) among men
–He was the tabernacle in which God dwelt fully (Col. 2:9)
–Wouldn’t it be like God to fulfill a festival cycle? (born and return in 7th month)