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Feast of Tabernacles

The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) points to the final phase of God's plan of redemption for mankind—the Second Coming of Christ and the Millennium. In this article from the series Festivals of the Lord, you will learn how Yeshua (Jesus) observed the Feast of Tabernacles. And you will learn the answer to the question; Should Christians celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles?

by William L. Nowell
  • Feast of Tabernacles: Sundown Sunday, September 23 to sundown Sunday, September 30, 2017
  • Last Great Day: Sundown Sunday, September 30 to sundown Monday, October 1, 2018

God-Ordained Holy Days

Leviticus 23 outlines seven annual “appointed times” of the Lord. The Hebrew word for “appointed times” translates as “feasts” and/or “festivals” in most English Bibles. Though called feasts/festivals, they are actually special Holy Days created by God for the purpose of our meeting with Him. Each Feast/Festival of the Lord has three defining characteristics: the people of God observe the festivals in the present to remember past works of God, all the while looking ahead to greater future works of God. The first four feasts were prophetic foreshadows of the first-coming of Yeshua (Jesus). Consequently, Yeshua (Jesus) fulfilled the first four feasts in His first-coming, and no doubt He will fulfill the remaining feasts in His second coming.

The Feast of Tabernacles is the seventh and last of the Festivals of the Lord. It is also one of the three pilgrimage festivals that required all Jewish men over the age of 20 to return to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. The other pilgrimage festivals were Passover and Pentecost. Most scholars agree that the Feast of Tabernacles is symbolic of Christ's Second Coming when He will establish His earthly kingdom.

The Feast of Tabernacles begins on the 15th day of the 7th month on the Hebrew calendar, and usually occurs in late September to mid-October. The Feast begins five days after the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and lasts for seven days. (Leviticus 23:33-34, Numbers 29:12, Deuteronomy 16:13) However, the day after the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles is also a Holy Day. Called the Eighth Day, and more commonly known as “The Last Great Day,” it has its own spiritual and prophetic significance. (Leviticus 23:36, Numbers 29:35)

Brief Historical Overview

In Biblical times, the Feast of Tabernacles was a seven-day celebration that took place annually at the end of the fall harvest. (Deuteronomy 16:14-15) Also known as the “season of our joy”, the Feast was a time of thanksgiving for the current harvest. Plus, it commemorated the Exodus from Egypt. (Exodus 16:12, 17:6)

The Feast of Tabernacles began with a “holy convocation”, i.e. a Sabbath day, on which no regular (laborious job-related) work was done. (Leviticus 23:35) For the duration of the Feast, the people lived in temporary shelters (or "booths"). These shelters were reminiscent of the dwellings their ancestors lived in for 40 years while in the desert. In addition, the people gave gifts to the Lord in proportion to how God had blessed them. (Deuteronomy 16:16-17) Finally, the Feast of Tabernacles concluded with a holy convocation on the Eighth Day which included a sacrifice offered to God.

Various Names for the Feast of Tabernacles

The Feast of Tabernacles is also known by the following names.

  • Sukkot (in Hebrew),
  • The Feast of Booths,
  • The Feast of the Ingathering,
  • The Season of Our Joy,
  • The Feast of the Nations, or simply as
  • The Feast

Significance of the Feast of Tabernacles

The significance of the Feast of Tabernacles is clear by the number of places it is mentioned in Scripture. For instance, each of the following verses refer to the Feast of Tabernacles. Exodus 23:16, 34:22, Leviticus 23:34, Numbers 29:12, Deuteronomy 16:10, 16:13, 31:10, 2 Chronicles 8:13, Ezra 3:4, Nehemiah 8:15, Hosea 12:9, Zechariah 14:16, 14:18-19; and John 7:2. In fact, in ancient Israel, the Feast of Tabernacles was so popular that it became known simply as "the Feast". (See 1 Kings 12:32)

In addition to the many verses referring to the Feast, several noteworthy events took place at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles:

  • The dedication of the First Temple (aka Solomon's Temple) (1 Kings 8)
    • Though commonly called Solomon's Temple, the First Temple was actually the result of a joint effort between the Hebrew King Solomon and the Gentile King Hiram. (1 Kings 5) Jew and Gentile together as one has always been part of God's plan of redemption, but that's a topic for another article.
  • One of the greatest awakenings/revivals in the Bible took place immediately after the Feast ended. (Nehemiah 8:1-9:3)
  • The birth of our Savior, the Lord Yeshua (Jesus) Christ most likely happened during the Feast of Tabernacles. I cannot be dogmatic here since the Bible does not pinpoint the date of our Savior's birth. However, there is strong scriptural evidence in support of the Feast as the time of His birth. (Plus, it's common knowledge that December 25 is the wrong date.)

Uniqueness of the Feast of Tabernacles

The Feast of Tabernacles is unique in two ways. First, it is unique in that among the Festivals of the Lord it specifically invites the Gentile nations to participate. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12) Second, the Feast of Tabernacles is unique in that the Bible tells us, that it will be celebrated throughout the Messianic Age. Zechariah 14:16-19 makes it clear that during the Millennium, all the nations of the earth will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

Post-Mosaic Traditions in the Feast of Tabernacles Celebration

During the “silent years”, i.e. the gap of time between the Old and New Testaments, the Jewish people made significant additions to the Feast of Tabernacles celebration. Two very important additions were the “water libation” and “illumination of the Temple” ceremonies. These ceremonies symbolized the outpouring of the Spirit and the glory of God's presence with men; and Yeshua (Jesus) used both of them to declare his Deity.

Water Libation Ceremony

Each morning of the Feast began with a water pouring ritual called the “water libation” ceremony. The High Priest led a joyful procession of priests, musicians, and worshippers from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam. From there the Priest filled a golden pitcher with water and, along with the crowd, returned to the Temple through the Water Gate. Then, after entering the Temple, the Priest poured the water into a basin at the foot of the altar as he prayed.

The water libation ceremony had a twofold purpose. The first purpose of the ceremony was to thank the Lord for the current harvest and to ask Him to provide abundant rain for the crops in the coming year. Keep in mind that Israel was an agrarian society for which the autumn and spring rains were a matter of life and death. In addition, the water libation ceremony served as a reminder of God's provision of water for their ancestors in the wilderness.

Second and more importantly, the water libation ceremony was prophetic of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Jewish tradition, the waters of Siloam were called the “wells of salvation”, based on Isaiah 12:3. And it is with these waters that the kings of the House of David, from whom the Savior would come, were anointed. Thus, the pouring out of water on the altar was symbolic of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the coming Messianic Age.

Yeshua (Jesus) used the backdrop of the water libation ceremony as an object lesson to dramatically declare His Deity. It was only on the eighth and final day of the Feast that the water libation ceremony was not repeated. And that is exactly the day Yeshua (Jesus) chose to give a public invitation to accept Him as the source of the living water of salvation. In John 7:37-39 we read, “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Yeshua (Jesus) stood and said in a loud voice, 'Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.' By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time, the Spirit had not been given since Yeshua (Jesus) had not yet been glorified.”

By identifying Himself as the source of living water Yeshua (Jesus) revealed Himself as the promised Messiah. This, however, was only the first of two profound statements concerning His Deity made during the Feast of Tabernacles. Only hours later, during the illumination of the Temple ceremony, He would make the claim, “I am the light of the world.”

Illumination of the Temple Ceremony

The second post-Mosaic tradition added to the Feast of Tabernacles celebration was the “illumination of the Temple” ceremony. This grandiose ceremony involved the lighting of four gigantic golden lampstands (candelabra) within the Women's Courtyard of the Temple. According to the Mishnah (part of the oral traditions of the rabbis), each of the lampstands stood 50 cubits high. A cubit is an ancient measure of length approximately equal to the length of a forearm. And so a cubit was typically about 18 inches long, making each lampstand roughly 75 feet tall—the approximate height of a 7-story building! In addition, each lampstand had four branches, and at the top of every branch was a 5-10 gallon bowl for a lamp; for a total of 16 large bowls. Young priests-in-training carrying 5-10 gallon pitchers of olive oil climbed ladders to fill the four golden bowls atop each lampstand. Then, using worn out priestly garments as wicks, they set the oil ablaze. These lamps were to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had guided their ancestors in their wilderness journey after their exodus from Egypt.

The Temple was on a hill above the rest of the city, with the light illuminating the night sky all around Jerusalem for miles. The Mishnah tells us “there was no courtyard in Jerusalem that was not lit up with the light”. In addition, in celebration and anticipation of the return of the Shekinah glory, the priests performed “torch dances” while the Levites sang psalms of joy and praise and played music well into the night.

The light of the Temple had a twofold meaning. First, the light was a reminder of God's presence as in the pillar of fire that gave the Hebrews light during their wilderness journey. (Exodus 13:21, Numbers 9:15) This explains the 7-story high lampstands. And secondly, the light was a reminder of the Shekinah glory of God that filled the inner sanctuary (Holy of Holies) of the Temple. (1 Kings 8:6-11, 2 Chronicles 7:1-2, and Ezekiel 43:5). It was in anticipation and celebration of the return of the Shekinah glory that the priests and Levites danced and sang. And it was against this backdrop that Yeshua (Jesus) said “I am the Light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light that gives life.” (John 8:12) For Yeshua (Jesus) to say “I am the Light of the world” in this setting was tantamount to saying "I am the pillar of fire and I am the Shekinah glory of God." What a profound statement! Some 2000 years removed from the spectacle of the illumination of the Temple, it's easy for us to overlook the significance of Yeshua's (Jesus') seemingly simple statement, “I am the Light of the world.” However, those in attendance would've taken His statement as an obvious claim to Deity.

Should Christians Celebrate the Feast?

Should Christians celebrate the Feast? Before answering that question, I propose we answer another question. What would Yeshua (Jesus) do? That's an easy question. It's an easy question because we know what Yeshua (Jesus) did. He not only attended the Feast (see John 7:10), but He also used it as an opportunity to teach in the Temple (see John 7:14). This was in addition to telling His brothers to go to the Feast (see John 7:8). So if we are followers of Yeshua (Jesus), then it's only logical for us to follow His example. And we know what Yeshua (Jesus) would do.

Now let's tackle the question, “should Christians celebrate the Feast?” from a different angle. Consider that Yahweh, God the Father of our Lord Yeshua (Jesus), commands us to keep the Feast of Tabernacles now and forever. We read in Leviticus 23:41 from the ERV (Easy-to-Read Version), “You will celebrate this festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This law will continue forever.” Now let's unpack this verse bit by bit. First, notice that it says “you will celebrate this festival.” That does not sound like a suggestion, rather it sounds like a command. Then the verse goes on to refer to the aforementioned statement as a “law”, not a suggestion. Furthermore, it tells us that this law will continue “forever”. And to emphasize the fact that forever means forever, let's look at how other Bible versions translate this verse.

  • “It shall be a permanent statute throughout your generations” (AMP)
  • “This regulation is to be kept by your descendants for all time to come.” (GNT)
  • “This law will continue from now on.” (ICB)
  • “This is to be an eternal ordinance throughout your generations.” (ISV)

So should Christians celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles? In a word, YES! Nevertheless, some will answer this question with an emphatic no. They claim that the Feasts of the Lord are actually “Jewish feasts”. It's not uncommon to hear the phrase “feasts of the Jews” in reference to God's Holy Days. Some will even try to justify their claim that these are Jewish-only feasts by pointing to verses such as Leviticus 23:1-2 which says, “The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites ... These are My appointed festivals' ...”. They will say aha, this proves the feasts are for Jewish people only! However, their argument contains a fatal flaw that we cannot be overlook. Galatians 3:29 says, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Furthermore, according to Ephesians 2:14-15, Yeshua (Jesus) made the two groups, believing Jews and Gentiles, into one. His purpose was to create one new humanity in Christ. Hence, from God's perspective, “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him.” (Romans 10:12) In other words, if you belong to Christ, then the so-called “Jewish festivals” are part of your inheritance in Christ. Nevertheless, most Christians today regard the Lord's Festivals as “strange and foreign [alien; irrelevant]”. (See Hosea 8:12 EXB)

The Last and Great Day

Though the Feast of Tabernacles is a seven-day festival, there is an eighth day of celebration. This day points to the period beyond the Millennial Reign of Christ to the time when God creates a new heaven and a new earth.

Ezra reading the Book of the Law
Day after day from the first day to the last day, Ezra read from the scroll of the Torah of God. So they kept the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, according to the regulation, there was a solemn assembly. (Nehemiah 8:18)

Daily Reading Plan

  • Feast of Tabernacles
    • Day 1: Leviticus 23:34-43, Psalm 81,
      John 1:1-4, 14, Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-20, Matthew 2:1-12, John 3:16
    • Day 2: Leviticus 22:26-23:43, Psalms 120-121*
    • Day 3: Deuteronomy 16:13-15, Psalms 122-124
    • Day 4: I Kings 8:2-21, Psalms 125-127
    • Day 5: Nehemiah 8:1-18, Psalms 128-130
    • Day 6: Zechariah 14:1-21, Psalms 131-133
    • Day 7: John 7:1-39, Psalm 134
  • The Eighth Day
    • Day 8: Isaiah 65:17, Revelation 21:1-22:21

*Psalms 120—134, the "Songs of Ascent", were likely sung by those traveling to Jerusalem for the annual "Pilgrimage Feasts" — Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles.

Watch the Feast Live

ICEJ is streaming the 2018 Feast of Tabernacles LIVE from Jerusalem! Join with Christians from around the world in praise, worship, prayer, and the Word of God daily with ICEJ broadcasts live and direct from Israel.

Conclusion

As Believers in Yeshua (Jesus), we celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles while looking both to the past and to the future. The ancient Israelites looked to the past with joy and thanksgiving for their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. But, as Believers in Yeshua (Jesus) we look to the past with joy and thanksgiving for our deliverance from the bondage of sin and its consequence—eternal death. The ancient Israelites looked to the future with the expectation that God would provide rain for an abundant harvest in the coming year. One might argue that the ancient Israelites were short-sighted and materialistic. However, as Believers in Yeshua (Jesus) we look to the future in eager anticipation of the great harvest of souls and the joyous inauguration of Christ's Millennial Kingdom.

All the nations will go up year after year to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. (Zechariah 14:16)

Three Crosses