Yeshua and the Feast of Tabernacles: Part One
By Sue Towne
For the past several weeks we have been looking at Genesis 26 with a view toward rediscovering or maybe reactivating spiritual “wells.” These spiritual wells could represent different revelations or different aspects of life with God.
I am beginning a new series today on the connection between the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) and the life of Yeshua (Jesus). This weekend begins the eight-day biblical festival known in Hebrew as Sukkot, or as most of us know it, the Feast of Tabernacles.
What is the Feast of Tabernacles? Well, it is one of the special holidays that God gave Israel to celebrate. Let’s begin our study of this very special biblical festival by looking at Leviticus 23:33-43.
“Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the LORD. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. It is a sacred assembly and you shall do no customary work on it.
“These are the feasts of the LORD which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering and a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, everything on its day–besides the Sabbaths of the LORD, besides your gifts, besides all your vows, and besides all your freewill offerings which you give to the LORD.
“Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest.
“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.
“You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.’”
This is a long passage. Let’s go back and look at some highlights. First, although Feast of Tabernacles is described as a 7-day festival, it runs during eight days. The first and eighth days are convocation days, which makes them the most important of the festival. A convocation in this context is a worship assembly.
On the days of convocation for the Feast of Tabernacles burnt offerings, grain offerings and drink offerings are to be made. In addition the people are supposed to bring gifts and freewill offerings into the Temple, because this festival comes at the end of a harvest season. We are going to see that it is a thanksgiving feast.
The people are also supposed to bring fruit and leafy tree branches to the first-day convocation. They are going to wave the tree branches in worship.
But what gives this feast its name is the Lord’s commandment to build “tabernacles” or “booths.” Every family in Israel is commanded to build a temporary shelter and live in it for the whole festival.
What is a tabernacle? The word translated here from the Hebrew is sukkah. The plural of sukkah is sukkot. Hence, the name of this feast in Hebrew is Sukkot.
A sukkah is a three-sided shelter built of tree branches and other natural materials. For the Feast of Sukkot (or Tabernacles) the sukkah is decorated with symbols of harvest–mostly fall fruits.
In Bible times (and even today) the sukkah had to be between 3 feet and 30 feet high and cover an area at least 26 square feet.
The key element in the sukkah was the roof, which even in modern times must be made of organic materials that are open enough to the sky that one can see the stars at night through the roof–kind of like looking at the sky through branches.
Even in modern times it is a religious obligation–a mitzvah–for every Jewish man to build a sukkah for his family for the observation of this festival. The whole structure, especially the roof, must be of a temporary nature.
Nowadays Jewish people build sukkot in their backyards, decks or balconies. If you live near a Jewish neighborhood or have Jewish neighbors, you will see little temporary structures built of wood, maybe with canvas walls, etc. going up this time of year.
Most Jewish families where I live (Chicago area) take their meals outdoors in the sukkah during Sukkot, but they do not sleep in it, unless the family is Orthodox (Torah observant).
But in Bible times, especially in Yeshua’s day, families lived in their sukkot for the festival, taking meals and sleeping in the sukkah. They built their sukkot on rooftops, in courtyards, in streets and squares, and in gardens–wherever they had room.
The key point to remember about a sukkah or tabernacle is that it is supposed to be only a temporary shelter. And the most important point about what the Lord says about the festival of Sukkot in the passage we read in Leviticus is that His command to observe it is to be “A STATUTE FOREVER.”
Sounds like Sukkot is important to God, doesn’t it? Next week we will look at how this festival fits into the cycle of biblical feasts and how it was celebrated in Temple times during the life of Yeshua. And most importantly, what does this festival reveal about Yeshua’s life and mission? Why should we, as his 21st-century talmidim, care about the Feast of Tabernacles?
Stay tuned to find out!