When I was growing-up, the Feast of Tabernacles was relegated to stories of ancient Israel laid-out on flannelgraph boards. I loved those stories and the teachers who used that medium to communicate Old Testament truths. My impressions of the Feasts of the Lord, however, 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)
LOOK 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.
LIVE 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 and was fascinated 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 represents exuberant rejoicing in God’s provision and expresses wholehearted thanksgiving that engages every aspect of man’s being in devotion to God. This is Israel’s most joyful feast.
Our church sets-up a beautiful sukkah decorated with dried autumn foliage, fruits, veg and potted chrysanthemums. 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.
PREPARE 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.
God’s covenantal promises to the nation of Israel will literally be fulfilled to the Jewish people. 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. 7:13-14 cf. Mt. 24:27). After the judgment of the nations, Messiah will establish His kingdom in Jerusalem for one thousand literal years (Rev. 20:2-6). 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. Sukkot is the yearly reminder that the hatred and violence that has plagued Israel will not last indefinitely.
The Bible clearly teaches that the whole world will join the Jewish people in celebrating Sukkot during the Messianic Kingdom (Zech. 14:16).
Today, Sukkot can be an annual opportunity for Christians to praise God with joyful determination and enthusiastically serve Him. 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.
Copyright © Charles E. McCracken 2016 (updated) 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. (Photo credit: By Gilabrand (Own work)/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) Negotiating for the Lulav at the Bnei-Brak Market. (Photo credit: By Pikiwiki Israel (Gady Munz)/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
3) The Four Species with an exquisite silver etrog box. (Photo credit: By Gilabrand (Own work)/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
4) 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, as in Zechariah 14:16. (Photo credit: background image courtesy, Pixabay/Digital composition, MKM Portfolios)