What is the feast of tabernacles?

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By BibleAsk Team


The Feast of Tabernacles, also known as Sukkot in Hebrew, is one of the three pilgrimage festivals mandated in the Old Testament, along with Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost). It is a significant and joyous celebration commemorating the provision and protection of God during the Israelites’ wilderness journey and the ingathering of the harvest.

The Feast of Tabernacles holds profound spiritual significance and continues to be observed by Jewish communities worldwide. Let’s delve into the origins, rituals, symbolism, and spiritual implications of the Feast of Tabernacles, drawing upon relevant references from the Bible.

Biblical Origins and Mandates:

The Feast of Tabernacles is instituted in the Torah (Pentateuch), particularly in Leviticus 23:33-43 and Deuteronomy 16:13-17. It is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei) and lasts for seven days, followed by an eighth day known as the “Eighth Day Assembly” or “Shemini Atzeret.” The feast of tabernacles commemorated the safe passage of the Israelites from Egypt to Palestine.

  • Leviticus 23:39-43 (NKJV): “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.”

The Israelites were commanded to dwell in temporary shelters or booths (sukkot) during the festival, symbolizing their dependence on God’s provision and protection during their wilderness wanderings.

And the feast followed the observance of the great Day of Atonement, when the people received the confirmation that their sins were forgiven. Thus, all were at peace with God. So, now they can acknowledge His mercy and praise Him for His graciousness. It was a happy time (Isaiah 16:10) a season of gladness and thanksgiving.

Harvest Celebration:

The Feast of Tabernacles is also known as the “Feast of Ingathering” because it coincides with the conclusion of the agricultural harvest, particularly the grape and olive harvests in ancient Israel. It is a time of thanksgiving and rejoicing for God’s abundance and provision.

  • Deuteronomy 16:13-15 (NKJV): “You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress. 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 fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates. Seven days you shall keep a sacred 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.”

During the festival, offerings of thanksgiving were presented at the Temple, and communal meals were shared with family, friends, and those in need. The joyous celebrations attracted people, for they were an important means of exchanging information and an opportunity for relatives and families to connect with each other. But most importantly, this feast had a unifying effect on the nation to unite the people together in the knowledge, worship, and service of God.

During the captivity, this feast was not kept, but in Nehemiah’s time it was again observed with gladness (Nehemiah 8:13–18). While “all thy males” were obliged to attend, other members of the family were free to attend if they wanted (1 Samuel 1:1–23; Luke 2:41–45). The fact that Palestine is a small country, less than 145 mi. long by 75 mi. wide, coming to this feast was not a burden.

Historical and Prophetic Significance:

The Feast of Tabernacles not only commemorates historical events but also carries prophetic significance in Jewish and Christian eschatology (end-time theology). In Jewish tradition, Sukkot is associated with the final ingathering of the exiles and the messianic era.

  • Zechariah 14:16-19 (NKJV): “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 prophecy from Zechariah envisions a future time when all of God’s children from among the nations will gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles and acknowledge the kingship of the Lord at the second coming of Christ (Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27).

Rituals and Customs:

Various rituals and customs are associated with the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles, including the construction of temporary booths (sukkot), the waving of the “Four Species” (lulav and etrog), and special prayers and blessings.

  • Leviticus 23:40-41 (NKJV): “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.”

The waving of the Four Species—palm, myrtle, willow, and citron—symbolizes unity and the bounty of God’s creation.

Spiritual Implications for Christians:

While the Feast of Tabernacles holds particular significance within Jewish tradition, Christians also find spiritual significance in its themes of thanksgiving, provision, and dwelling in God’s presence.

  • John 1:14 (NKJV): “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.”

The word “dwelt” in this verse can also be translated as “tabernacled,” suggesting that Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, “tabernacled” or “pitched His tent” among humanity. This connection underscores the spiritual fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jesus Christ, who embodies God’s presence and provision for His people.

Jesus’ Celebration of Sukkot:

The Gospel of John records Jesus’ participation in the Feast of Tabernacles, highlighting His identity as the fulfillment of its spiritual significance.

  • John 7:37-39 (NKJV): “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘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.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

Jesus’ invitation to come to Him and drink from the living water signifies His role as the source of spiritual refreshment and satisfaction.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Feast of Tabernacles is a sacred and joyous celebration with deep historical, agricultural, and spiritual significance. It commemorates God’s provision and protection during the Israelites’ wilderness journey, the conclusion of the harvest season, and the prophetic anticipation of the messianic era. For Christians, the Feast of Tabernacles points to Jesus Christ as the ultimate fulfillment of its themes of dwelling in God’s presence, thanksgiving, and spiritual refreshment. While the observance of Sukkot continues to be an integral part of Jewish tradition, Christians can also find spiritual meaning and fulfillment in its timeless themes and symbols.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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