When I was growing-up, the Feast of Tabernacles was relegated to stories of ancient Israel laid-out on nappy flannelgraph boards. I loved those stories and the teachers who used that medium to communicate Old Testament truths. Unfortunately, although state-of-the-art at the time, my impressions of the feasts were flat and mostly irrelevant to reality in the modern world.
God designed each of Israel’s feasts so that successive generations can participate in a way that not only communicates the history of the Jewish people, but the principles of the Law He gave to Moses at Mount Sinai. The Jewish community still celebrates all of Israel’s biblical feasts to the present day, as God instructed.
Tabernacles—also known as Sukkot—is the final feast in the annual cycle of feasts given to the nation of Israel. It is sometimes identified as the “Feast of Ingathering” or “Feast of Booths” in Scripture (Ex. 23:16; 34:22).
Using Moses as His mouthpiece, God outlined the requirements for Sukkot.
“‘But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to observe the festival of Adonai seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest.
On the first day you are to take choice fruit, palm fronds, thick branches and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of Adonai your God for seven days.
You are to observe it as a feast to Adonai seven days in the year; it is a permanent regulation, generation after generation; keep it in the seventh month.
You are to live in sukkot for seven days; every citizen of Isra’el is to live in a sukkah, so that generation after generation of you will know that I made the people of Isra’el live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am Adonai your God’” (Leviticus 23:39-43, CJB)
LOOKING BACK TO THE PAST
Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah describing a booth or temporary shelter. While the construction of the sukkah outside the home is the primary feature of the holiday, there is more to this feast.
Families eat meals, rest and may even spend the night in the sukkah during the prescribed seven days. Parents have the opportunity for interaction with their children that connects them to God’s provision and faithfulness during the Israelite’s 40 years of wilderness wandering.
The first time I saw a sukkah, the prospect of “camping” when most families had packed and stored their gear for the winter filled me with longing! Other key elements of Sukkot were somewhat enigmatic in my childhood Sunday school experience.
LIVING IN THE PRESENT
In connection with this feast, God commanded Israel to,
“take choice fruit, palm fronds, thick branches and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of Adonai your God for seven days” (v.40).
All symbolically remind of provision in the bountiful land that God gave to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Rabbinic tradition identifies the four species as:
- the etrog or citron (growers specifically harvest crops for Sukkot),
- the lulav (date palm frond),
- the hadass (myrtle branch) and
- the aravah (willow branch).
The three required tree branches are tied together with date palm fronds and collectively called the Lulav. Each day of the holiday, the etrog and bound lulav are waved three times in six distinct directions corresponding to the four points of the compass as well as upward and downward.
Waving the lulav is an expression of great joy that tradition has infused with significance worth noting. Recently, I listened to a rabbi explain the symbolism was struck by the imagery associated with this centuries-old tradition.
- The citron symbolizes the heart as the center of man’s will.
- The palm frond is likened to the spine giving the ability to stand firm despite opposition.
- The myrtle leaves represent the eyes by which we see and recognize God’s provision.
- The leaves of the willow branch picture the lips that allow us to praise God and speak of His blessings.
In effect, the waving of the lulav symbolizes exuberant rejoicing in God’s provision and expresses whole-hearted thanksgiving that engages every aspect of man’s being in devotion to God. This is Israel’s most joyful feast.
Our church set-up a beautiful sukkah decorated with dried autumn foliage, fruits, veg and potted mums. For me, it’s a 3-D labor of love that is used to teach the next generation profound Bible truths. Whether or not you build a sukkah or assemble a lulav to celebrate the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, the eight-day celebration is none-the-less a wonderful time for all who serve the One-true God to rejoice in His faithfulness.
The sukkah memorializes God’s faithful provision in the past as Israel wandered in the wilderness. Waving the lulav joyfully acknowledges His bountiful supply in the present. But, there is also a future element to Sukkot.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Just as the spring feasts align with the fulfillment of God’s redemptive program, the same can be expected for the fall feasts as well. Jesus was crucified during the celebration of Pesach (Passover) rose victorious from the grave on Bikkurim (First Fruits) and the church began on Shavuot (Pentecost). Sukkot is the final feast of the fall cycle and it embodies a powerful hope.
The pogroms of Europe where Jewish people were persecuted mercilessly, the murderous crusades, the bloody inquisition and the gruesome Holocaust are only a few of the horrors the Jewish people have endured over the past 20 centuries. Moses predicted the current Diaspora when the Israelites entered the land of Canaan.
“In the morning you will say, ‘Oh, how I wish it were evening!’ and in the evening you will say, ‘Oh, how I wish it were morning!’ — because of the fear overwhelming your heart and the sights your eyes will see. (Deut. 28:67).
The rebirth of the state of Israel didn’t change that reality. For 70 years, Israel’s neighbors have been determined to destroy the Jewish state.
Over the past 6 months, Israel has been under vicious and unrelenting attack. Rockets and mortars from Gaza have pummeled the kibbutzim, towns and villages in Israel’s northern Negev. Balloons used to deliver incendiary devices have caused fires that have burned thousands of acres of fields, orchards, forests and the livelihoods of Jewish farmers. Almost 7 months of rioting along the Gaza border included numerous concerted attempts to breach the border fence for the sole purpose of attacking towns and villages “to murder Jews.”
Last week as joyful greetings of Shana Tova were on the lips of many, the Jewish community in the biblical heartland of Israel experienced an unthinkable tragedy. A Palestinian Arab teenager murdered Ari Fuld—an outspoken defender of Israel—while he was standing in front of a grocery store in Efrat. This was only the most recent in a long string of cowardly attacks on Jewish Israelis in what is being described as the “stabbing intifada” that goes back to 2015.
- Eighteen year old Zvi Mizrahi was murdered by a knife-wielding terrorist at a gas station near Jerusalem on Route 433.
- Daphne Meir was repeatedly stabbed and killed in front of her six children outside her home in Otniel.
- Shlomit Krigman, a 23-year-old young woman, was stabbed to death while shopping in a Beit Horon grocery store.
- Thirteen year-old Hillel Yafa Ariel as repeated stabbed by a Palestinian Arab intruder as she lay sleeping in her bed at home in Hebron.
- Yoseph, Haya and Elad Salomon were slaughtered in their own home by a Palestinian Arab guest as they celebrated the brit of a new grandson on Shabbat.
- Rabbi Itmar ben Gal was stabbed to death by a knife wielding terrorist while boarding a bus in Ariel.
This is the reality of terrorism that Israelis face on a daily basis. Sadly, Christians seem to b ignorant of these atrocities. But, I’m thankful for the growing number of people who are seeking out the facts and now stand with God’s Chosen People.
God’s covenantal promises to the nation of Israel will literally be fulfilled to the Jewish people. Sukkot is the yearly reminder that the hatred and violence of the current situation will not last indefinitely.
The Feast of Sukkot also prophetically represents the culmination of all of God’s covenantal promises during the Messianic Kingdom. Messiah will come in the clouds and everyone on the planet will see Him as He descends to earth (Dan. 7:13-14cf.Mt. 24:27). Yeshua the Messiah will establish His kingdom on the earth for one thousand literal years (Rev. 20:2-6).
After the judgment of the nations, Messiah will establish His kingdom in Jerusalem. The struggles the Jewish people have endured throughout their 4,000 year history will be replaced by permanent and glorious peace. It will be the greatest era of human history. The whole world will thrive under Messiah’s rule and Israel will be at the center enjoying all the benefits of God’s covenant relationship.
The Bible clearly teaches that the whole world will join the Jewish people in celebrating Sukkot during the Messianic Kingdom (Zech. 14:16).
Sukkot is an annual opportunity to praise God with joyful determination and serve Him with every aspect of our being. If you have never thought about enjoying this biblical feast, now is a great time to begin. Because, it won’t be long before all earth’s inhabitants will celebrate Sukkot with Messiah in the Messianic kingdom.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1) Canvas-sided sukkah on a roof in Jerusalem. By Gilabrand (Own work)/Wikimedia Commons /Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
2) Negotiating for the Lulav at the Bnei-Brak Market. Pikiwiki Israel (Gady Munz)/Wikimedia Commons/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
3) The Four Species with an exquisite silver etrog box. By Gilabrand (Own work)/Wikimedia Commons/Enhancement,MKM Portfolios