Sukkot - Feast of Tabernacles
Leviticus 23: 39-44
39Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto YAHUVEH seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.
40And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before YAHUVEH seven days.
41And ye shall keep it a feast unto YAHUVEH seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.
42Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths:
43That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am YAHUVEH.
44And Moses declared unto the children of Israel the feasts of YAHUVEH.
The Feast of Tabernacles is a week-long (7 days) autumn harvest festival. Tabernacles is also known as the Feast of the Ingathering, Feast of the Booths, Sukkoth, Succoth, or Sukkot (variations in spellings occur because these words are transliterations of the Hebrew word pronounced "Sue-coat"). The two days following the festival are separate holidays, Shemini Atzeret and Simkhat Torah, but are commonly thought of as part of the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Feast of Tabernacles was the final and most important holiday of the year. The importance of this festival is indicated by the statement, "This is to be a lasting ordinance." The divine pronouncement, "I am the Lord your God," concludes this section on the holidays of the seventh month. The Feast of Tabernacles begins five days after Yom Kippur on the fifteenth of Tishri (September or October). It is a drastic change from one of the most solemn holidays in our year to one of the most joyous. The word Sukkoth means "booths," and refers to the temporary dwellings that Jews are commanded to live in during this holiday, just as the Jews did in the wilderness. The Feast of Tabernacles lasts for seven days and ends on the twenty-first day (3x7) of the Hebrew month of Tishri, which is Israel's seventh month.
This holiday has a dual significance: historical and agricultural (just as Passover and Pentecost). Historically, it was to be kept in remembrance of the dwelling in tents in the wilderness for the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert.
It is expounded in Leviticus 23:43 That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your YAHUVEH.
What were they to remember?
Matthew Henry's commentary explains,
1.) The meanness of their beginning, and the low and desolate state out of which YAHUVEH advanced that people. Note: Those that are comfortably fixed ought often to call to mind their former unsettled state, when they were but little in their own eyes.
2.) The mercy of YAHUVEH to them, that, when they dwelt in tabernacles, YAHUVEH not only set up a tabernacle for Himself among them, but, with the utmost care and tenderness imaginable, hung a canopy over them, even the cloud that sheltered them from the heat of the sun. YAHUVEH's former mercies to us and our fathers ought to be kept in everlasting remembrance. The eighth day was the great day of this holiday, because then they returned to their own houses again, and remembered how, after they had long dwelt in tents in the wilderness, at length they came to a happy settlement in the land of promise, where they dwelt in goodly houses. And they would the more sensibly value and be thankful for the comforts and conveniences of their houses when they had been seven days dwelling in booths. It is good for those that have ease and plenty sometimes to learn what it is to endure hardness.
They were to keep this holiday in thankfulness to YAHUVEH for all the increase of the year; however, the emphasis is that Israel's life rested upon redemption which in its ultimate meaning is the forgiveness of sin. This fact separates this holiday from the harvest festivals of the neighboring nations whose roots lay in the mythological activity of the gods.
Was the first Thanksgiving a Feast of Tabernacles Celebration?
Many Americans, upon seeing a decorated sukkah for the first time, remark on how much the sukkah (and the holiday generally) reminds them of Thanksgiving. The American pilgrims, who originated the Thanksgiving holiday, were deeply religious people. As they were trying to find a way to express their thanks for their survival and for the harvest, it is quite possible that they looked to the Bible (Leviticus 23:39) for an appropriate way of celebrating and based their holiday in part on the Feast of Tabernacles.
Note: celebrating Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November was established by the American government and may not necessarily coincide with the pilgrim's first observance.
YAHUSHUA celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. He taught in the Temple on the Feast of Tabernacles. Although His disciples had not expected YAHUSHUA to attend the feast, the vast majority of the pilgrims from afar who had heard of Him entertained the hope that they might see Him at Jerusalem. They were not disappointed, for on several occasions He taught in Solomon's Porch and elsewhere in the temple courts. These teachings were really the official or formal announcement of the divinity of YAHUSHUA to the Jewish people and to the whole world. YAHUSHUA risked His life to go to the Feast of Tabernacles, but the audacious boldness of YAHUSHUA in publicly appearing in Jerusalem overawed his enemies; they were not prepared for such a daring challenge.
On the last day and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles (the day the Rabbis poured the water) YAHUSHUA stood (calling special attention to his message) and proclaimed Himself the very fountain of living water in John 7:37-38.
Spiritual Lessons from the Feast of Tabernacles
YAHUVEH is Our Shelter
This holiday reminds us not to hold too tightly to material things. We live in a very materialistic age. When the Israelites were wanderers in the desert, they all lived in tents–rich and poor alike. Material possessions can control and manipulate us; they become gods, or idols, over us. We must remember that this life is only temporary. We are also on a pilgrimage to a Promised Land in eternity. We need to seek YAHUVEH's kingdom, not earthly comfort. As we seek first the Kingdom of YAHUVEH (Luke 12:31), YAHUVEH is our shelter. For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall (Isa. 25:4).
YAHUSHUA is the Living Water
Our spiritual thirst cannot be quenched with anything less than YAHUSHUA. But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14).
YAHUSHUA Washes Away Our Sins
YAHUSHUA is the true living water cleansing us from sin through His blood. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of YAHUSHUA, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to YAHUVEH, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living YAHUVEH (Heb. 9:13-14).
YAHUSHUA is the Light of the World
The light from the Feast of Tabernacles lamps illuminated the whole city. Scholars suggest that YAHUSHUA referred to this custom when he spoke those well-known words, "I am the light of the world…" (John 8:12) Also see John 1:1-9 and John 9:5.
YAHUSHUA is Preparing Our Permanent Home
These physical bodies we now occupy are only temporary dwelling places. Our bodies are frail, and will eventually begin to deteriorate. Life is short. Our hope is not in what the world has to offer, but in what YAHUVEH has already provided for us for eternity. Our permanent home is being prepared for us in eternity. YAHUSHUA said in John 14:2-3, In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
As the Israelites Left Bondage, We Leave the Bondage of Sin
YAHUVEH brought the Children of Israel out of the bondage of their Egyptian taskmasters into freedom. For Christians, we can celebrate that YAHUVEH redeemed us from a life of bondage to sin and brought us into His freedom in the Kingdom of YAHUVEH.
Was the Birth of YAHUSHUA during the Feast of Tabernacles?
Many scholars believe YAHUSHUA was born during the Feast of Tabernacles. Matthew Henry states:
It is supposed by many that our blessed Saviour was born much about the time of this holiday; then He left his mansions of light above to tabernacle among us (John 1:14), and he dwelt in booths. And the worship of YAHUVEH under the New Testament is prophesied of under the notion of keeping the feast of tabernacles, Zec.14:16. For, [1.] The gospel of YAHUSHUA teaches us to dwell in tabernacles, to sit loose to this world, as those that have here no continuing city, but by faith, and hope and holy contempt of present things, to go out to YAHUSHUA without the camp, Heb. 13:13, 14. [2.] It teaches us to rejoice before the Lord our YAHUVEH. Those are the circumcision, Israelites indeed, that always rejoice in YAHUSHUA, Phil. 3:3. And the more we are taken off from this world the less liable we are to the interruption of our joys.
The Bible does not specifically say the date of YAHUSHUA' birth. We know it was not during the winter months because the sheep were in the pasture (Luke 2:8). A study of the time of the conception of John the Baptist reveals he was conceived about Sivan 30, the eleventh week.
When Zechariah was ministering in the temple, he received an announcement from YAHUVEH of a coming son. The eighth course of Abia, when Zekharya was ministering, was the week of Sivan 12 to 18 (Killian n.d.). Adding forty weeks for a normal pregnancy reveals that John the Baptist was born on or about Passover (Nisan 14). We know six months after John's conception, Mary conceived YAHUSHUA (Luke 1:26-33). Therefore, YAHUSHUA would have been conceived six months later in the month of Kislev. Kislev 25 is Hanukkah. Was the "light of the world" conceived on the festival of lights?
Starting at Hanukkah, which begins on Kislev 25 and continues for eight days, and counting through the nine months of Mary's pregnancy, one arrives at the approximate time of the birth of YAHUSHUA at the Festival of Tabernacles (the early fall of the year).
During the Feast of Tabernacles, YAHUVEH required all male Jews to come to Jerusalem. The many pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for the festivals would spill over to the surrounding towns (Bethlehem is about five miles from Jerusalem). Joseph and Mary were unable to find a room at the inn because of the influx of so many pilgrims. They may have been given shelter in a sukkah, which is built during a seven-day period each year accompanying the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Due to the difficulties during travel, it was common for the officials to declare tax time during a temple Feast (Luke 2:1).
We know our Messiah was made manifest into a temporary body when He came to earth. Is it possible He also was put into a temporary dwelling? The fields would have been dotted with sukkoths during this harvest time to temporary shelter animals. The Hebrew word "stable" is called a sukkoth (Gen. 33:17).
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).
Joseph and Mary took the child and flew to Egypt and remained there until they were told by YAHUVEH that Herod was dead. Joseph and Mary brought the baby YAHUSHUA into Jerusalem forty days from His birth for Mary's purification and the child's dedication (according to Torah this had to be done within forty days of the birth of a male child–not doing so is considered a sin). This indicates that Herod died within the same forty days, because as long as Herod was alive, they could not appear at the Temple. (According to Josephus' calculations, Herod's death occurred during the Autumn in the fourth year before the Common Era 4 b.c.e.).
Later in His life, YAHUSHUA celebrated His birthday on a mountain with three of His disciples. In contrast to birthday parties, such as Herod's, where people were killed for entertainment, His was a celebration of life. On the Festival of Succoth, Moshe and EliYahu (Elijah), from centuries past, representatives of the Torah and the Prophets, appeared and talked with YAHUSHUA. One disciple, Kepha (Peter), suggested building three succoth for YAHUSHUA, Moshe, and EliYahu, because it was required for the festival, but he did not understand that these three were fulfilling that which the festival symbolized: they were dwelling in their succoth (temporary tabernacles) of flesh, awaiting their eternal resurrection temples (Killian n.d.)
A number of Christians are celebrating YAHUSHUA's birth during the Feast of Tabernacles, complete with decorations and lights on the sukkah, a birthday cake, and music celebrating YAHUSHUA' birth.
YAHUSHUA preached three sermons in which he declared himself the "light of the world," and all three would be during the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) in the winter of the year (December).
These fall festivals speak of a future time when men will again tabernacle with YAHUVEH, when He will dwell with them and they with Him (Rev. 21:3). They speak of a day in which all nations will gather to Jerusalem (Zech. 8:22; 14:16). Curiously, even in the days to come, Bible prophecy tells us that people from the nations of the world will come up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with the Jewish people in Jerusalem (Zech. 14). The stage is being set and prophecy is being fulfilled. The "coming-up" (aliyah, in Hebrew) is taking place now in Israel with the massive influx of Jews from over a hundred nations. Christians, also, are already visiting the land in record numbers—the majority of pilgrims coming to Israel are Christians! We believe this is all in preparation and building for future scriptural events. Jerusalem continues to be the focus of YAHUVEH's earthly pattern and plan, for ultimately it is to Jerusalem that Messiah is coming (Wagner 1996).
YAHUSHUA Ha Mashiach is the tabernacle or dwelling place of YAHUVEH. In Him dwelled the fullness of YAHUVEH (John 1:14, Col. 2:9), and YAHUVEH dwells in our midst through YAHUSHUA (Matt. 18:20). It may be that YAHUSHUA will ultimately fulfill the Feast of Tabernacles at His second coming. There will be a literal rest for planet earth and all its inhabitants. Until then we can find rest in our souls.
The Beginning of the Millennium
Most Bible scholars agree that Tabernacles represents the beginning of the Millennium. We should look forward expectantly to the Feast of Tabernacles, just as we look forward to the coming of the Messiah, to bring His government, His Kingdom, and His laws. But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the YAHUVEH of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Micah 4:1).
Tabernacles and Passover are the only holidays mentioned in the millennial worship (Ezek. 45:21-25; Zech. 14:16). Note that the number of days between Nisan and Tishri is always the same. Because of this, the time from the first major festival (Passover in Nisan) to the last major festival (The Feast of Tabernacles in Tishri) is always the same. Could this have any connection to YAHUSHUA's birth during Tabernacles and His death on Passover? Passover is in the first month in the religious calendar and Tabernacles is in the first month of the civil calendar. Hosea 6:3 explains YAHUSHUA will come as the latter and former rain. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. The spring holidays are during the former rain and the fall holidays are during the latter rain.
Zechariah chapter 14 introduces the millennial age. The chapter tells of the liberation of Jerusalem and how the Messiah will be king over the whole earth. It ends with all nations keeping the laws of the Most High. The Feast of Tabernacles–that great feast which symbolizes the very presence of YAHUSHUA the Messiah (He is the very "Tabernacle of YAHUVEH"), will be kept by all the nations of the world. The prophet tells us that fearsome punishments and plagues will be meted out on nations that refuse to send delegates to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.
And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: ... And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Lord and his name one ... And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came up against Jerusalem shall even 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 whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, even upon them shall be no rain. And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, wherewith the Lord will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles (Zech. 14:8-19).
Building A Sukkoth
The Bible says "Build a sukkah (or booth)." Rabbis have added all details about size, materials, location, etc. You might want to use any scrap lumber you have available, pitch your tent, or use old sheets to create an adventure for your children (attach tarps with bungee cords to your deck or swing set). One family had sick children and made a booth out of old sheets in their living room. Meals were eaten in it and they occasionally spent the night. The importance of this and each holiday is making a memory - not getting hung up on customs.
Building and decorating a sukkah is a fun family project. Jim Gerrish, with Bridges for Peace in Jerusalem, describes one plan for building a sukkah:
Actually it is not such a difficult job. You will need to start planning early though, in order to begin your construction as quickly as possible after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In Israel some devout Jews begin construction as soon as the sun is down on Yom Kippur, four days before the Feast of Tabernacles starts.
Since the sukkah is not to be an elaborate or permanent structure, the most inexpensive materials may be used. You will need 4 sturdy posts (2 x 4s in the U.S.) for the corners, 4 smaller poles (2 x 2s) for the roof. All of these boards should be approximately 7 or 8 feet (2.5 meters) in length. To cover the roof you will need several slats or small boards capable of holding up light tree branches. For the sides, old bedsheets seem to work well. Other materials like canvas, cane matting or even light plywood are also fine. You will need enough to enclose three sides, with a drape for the entrance. For the top you simply need to trim a few trees in the back yard.
Now for the actual construction. The tabernacle can be almost any size so long as it is large enough to sit in. A seven foot cube (2.5 meters) is recommened, since this will allow plenty of room for guests (make a larger Sukkah if you are blessed with a big family).
First, you will need to sink four holes in the ground for the four upright corner poles. In lieu of this, you may anchor the uprights in the holes of stacked concrete blocks, or design other sturdy legs for them. If you want to do it the easy way, you may use an existing building for one side of your sukkah. Once the uprights are firmly in place, then attach the horizontal rods at the top along the outside. With this finished, you can now place the slats or other small support boards on the roof.
The next step is to drape the bed sheets or other coverings around three sides. In the front, a bed sheet attached on a wire track works well for a door. Finally, place the tree branches on top, but if you like to see the stars, don't make the roof too thick. The sukkah can now be outfitted to your own taste. A table and chairs are a must. You may wish to decorate the walls with pictures or Bible verses. Fruit may be hung from the ceiling; paper chains and other decorations may be hung on the walls. Use your imagination, and by all means, let the children participate.
It is customary to decorate the inside of the sukkah with pictures, hangings, and the agricultural produce for which Israel is famous: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olives, dates, and pomegranates.
All that is left now is the enjoyment. Invite your friends to see your masterpiece and rejoice with you. Try a meal out in the sukkah, or even spend the night there. It will be an unforgettable and blessed experience.
What to do in a Sukkah
Praise YAHUVEH through prayer.
Praise YAHUVEH by singing praise songs.
Invite relatives, friends, and neighbors to celebrate with you.
Wave the Lulav.
Eat, drink, relax, nap.
Read the section titled "YAHUVEH is Our Shelter" and "YAHUSHUA is Preparing Our Permanent Home" from the "Messianic Significance of Tabernacles."
Sing songs to celebrate the birth of YAHUSHUA. Such as "Joy to the World," "Silent Night," "Away in a Manger," "The First Noel," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," etc.
The light from the Feast of Tabernacle lamps illuminated the whole city. Decorate the sukkah with strings of light. Read Bible verses about YAHUSHUA being our light (John 1:1-9; 8:12; 9:5).
Set up a nativity scene. Read the story of YAHUSHUA's birth in Luke or one of the gospels.
Pour water on the ground and read YAHUSHUA' proclamation (John 7:37).
Read aloud the verses explaining this feast (Lev. 23:34-43 Deut. 16:13-15, and Num. 29:12-40).
Read John 7:2-39 about YAHUSHUA celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles.
Many Bible prophecies tell of the Messiah's reign over all nations. Read some of them aloud to your family (Psalms 2, 47, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 110, and 126).
Tell Bible stories.
Get started, evaluate each year, and have fun. Plan to eat at least one meal in your sukkah, and use it for your time alone with YAHUVEH, perhaps. Younger children will want to "play house" which is alright since the Israelites were "housed" in them for forty years.