AND THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
The Jewish historian Josephus referred to Tabernacles, or Sukkot,
as "A feast very much observed among us." (Ant.
From the time it was first instituted at Mount Sinai, this feast has
held a unique and special place among the festivals of
Its legal structure was given by God, its future significance expounded
by the prophets, and its spiritual substance exemplified by Jesus
during His brief life on earth. This paper will consider first the
origins of the Feast of Tabernacles, then its role in prophecy, and
finally its use by Christ as an object lesson to reveal to a darkened
and spiritually thirsty nation the truth about Himself.
The Feast of Tabernacles was instituted by divine command, one of three
major feasts in Israel's annual cycle which required that every male in
the nation appear before the Lord in Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16). The last
feast in the yearly series, it was held for seven days in the seventh
month, from Tishri 15 to 21 (Lev. 23:34). This placed Sukkot
the pleasant weather of early autumn, after the completion of the
harvest (Deut. 16:13). Beginning with a day of rest, it was
concluded by an eighth day, also a day of rest, featuring a closing
assembly accompanied by the relevant sacrifices (Lev. 23:36).
A time of universal joy and celebration (Deut. 16:14), the Feast of
Tabernacles commemorated the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness,
during which they lived in temporary shelters (Lev. 23:43).
Though life in the desert was hard, it was a time at which Israel
depended wholly on God for her sustenance and direction -- a situation
spiritually ideal for the infant nation. The settled
of the Promised Land, therefore, were to remember the lessons learned
during their years in the wilderness by taking seven days out of the
year to live in ramshackle dwellings as their wandering ancestors had
In Jesus' time, Jewish pilgrims came from the farthest distances,
representing a multitude of nations. Many would leave weeks
advance, so as to reach Jerusalem and complete the necessary
preparations before the Feast began. Upon arrival in the
city, each family would construct its own tabernacle, or booth, in
which to live. They would move into the booth on the first
the Feast and stay there for the rest of the week -- effectively going
camping with God.
The ritual associated with the Feast was nothing short of spectacular.
Thousands of "tabernacles" made of olive, myrtle, palm and other
branches (Neh. 8:15) dotted the streets and roofs of Jerusalem, as the
Feast opened with an exuberant celebration at the Temple.
flames from four gigantic menorot
flooded the Temple Mount with daylight brilliance, while beneath the
great lampstands the people danced and sang to the Lord.
the open gates leading from the Court of the Women the illumination of
the candelabra and the sounds of worship and praise spilled out into
the Court of the Gentiles.
Over the course of the Feast of Tabernacles no less than 189 animals
were sacrificed to God -- more than at any other festival in Israel's
calendar. These sacrifices included 70 bullocks, which
tradition claims were offered for the "70 nations" of heathendom (Sukk.
55b). Every sabbatical year, the Feast also included a public
reading of the entire law (Deut. 31:10-13). The whole
the Feast of Tabernacles was that of spiritual revelation and
enlightenment, given first to Israel, then through her to all the
nations of the world.
This point was further illustrated by the daily outpouring of water.
Each morning the High Priest, accompanied by a procession from the
Temple, went down to the Pool of Siloam and filled a golden pitcher
full of water. As the sweet savor of the last morning
rose from the altar of burnt offering into the sky, the High Priest
re-entered the Temple through the Water Gate on the south
There he was met by another priest bearing wine for a drink offering,
crushed from the grapes gathered in just before the Feast. Through
silver funnels the priests simultaneously poured their libations out at
the base of the altar. The water, symbolizing the Holy Spirit
poured out upon men, flowed down the Temple steps into the outer
courts. Though introduced solely by tradition, this
aspect was regarded as one of the Feast's most significant features.
On the "last and greatest day" of the Feast, the people gathered at the
Temple, bearing lulav,
a cluster of palm, myrtle and willow branches, in one hand and ethrog, or citron
fruit, in the other. As the libations of water and wine were
poured out, the priests sang the Hallel
psalms, remembering God's mercies to Israel and praising Him for His
greatness. As the singing drew to a close, the people
shook their palm branches toward the altar, with the possible intent of
ritually reminding God of His promises to the nation.
The Feast of Tabernacles has a fuller and deeper significance than a
mere memorial celebration, however. It also holds a future
meaning, as Zechariah the prophet made clear -- a meaning not only for
Israel, but for all nations. When Messiah comes to reign over
earth, God tabernacling in the midst of men, He will insist that the
Gentile nations make a universal pilgrimage to Jerusalem to join Israel
in celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. If any nation
will be severely punished (Zech. 14:16-19). Jerusalem will
be the spiritual centre of the world.
In light of the symbolic and prophetic aspects of the feast, Jesus's
words and actions as recorded in John 7:2 - 10:21 take on new and
profound significance. He, God in human form, came to
to tabernacle with the nation of Israel. In keeping with his
first advent He did not come with fanfare as a conquering King, but
quietly as the Son of Man. However, as the feast progressed
began to teach, offering spiritual light to a people in
Those with eyes to see were amazed at the brilliance of His
revelation. On the final day of the Feast, very possibly at
climactic moment of silence after the last ritual outpouring, He
announced in a ringing voice that He had "living water" to offer to any
thirsting soul who would come to Him and drink. Those with
to hear would understand His promise to pour out the Holy Spirit on
those who would place their trust in Him (Jn. 14:16-17). As
this were not clear enough, He turned to the great candelabra for
another metaphor, claiming, "I am the light of the world" (Jn.
8:12). Just as the light from the Temple shone out into the
of the Gentiles, so the spiritual light Jesus brought would illumine
the hearts of all men.
Sadly, however, the majority of Jews were not prepared to receive the
gifts Christ offered. Though His message had come to them in
clearest possible terms, they refused to admit either their thirst or
their blindness. As a final demonstration of the genuineness of His
offer, and a final rebuke to those physically sighted but spiritually
in the dark, Jesus made use once more of the symbols of water and light
as he healed the man born blind (Jn. 9:1-7).
The religious establishment understood what Christ was saying (Jn.
9:39-40), but stubbornly refused to accept it for themselves.
They had forgotten the lessons their ancestors learned in the
wilderness, the very lessons of which the Feast of Tabernacles was
designed to remind them: the principles of humility and
faith in God's provision. Instead, they arrogantly relied upon their
own self-righteousness, denying their need of spiritual refreshment and
illumination. As a result, Christ's message would go out from
Israel to those who would accept it -- just as the water flowed from
the Temple into the outside world. As He said:
the good shepherd... I have other sheep that are not of this sheep
pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen
voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
For a time the Gentiles would rejoice in the light of God's revelation
and know the blessings of His Holy Spirit, while Israel stumbled about
parched and unseeing. However, in the day that the nations
together in rebellion against the Lord to destroy Jerusalem, Israel's
eyes will be opened to their Messiah (Zech. 12:10). As they cry out to
their God in repentance, He will come to deliver them, trampling the
pagan Gentiles in the winepress of His wrath (Rev. 19:15).
Jerusalem itself will become a source of living water (Zech. 14:8), and
the Lord will reign supreme over the whole earth. Christ's offer,
rejected once by Israel, will now be joyfully received, and the Feast
of Tabernacles will find its ultimate fulfillment.
Rebecca J. Anderson 1994
Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.
Master Search Bible [Computer Program]: The Handbook to Bible Study
Manners and Customs of Bible Lands
, The NIV Scofield
, The NIV Study Bible
The Wycliffe Bible
Encyclopedia. McQuaid, Elwood. The Outpouring
Bellmawr, New Jersey: Friends of Israel, Inc., 1990.
Ostrovsky, Solomon. Moses
on the Witness Stand
. Toronto: Neon
Graphics Ltd., 1991.
Whiston, William A. M., Trans. The Works of Josephus
Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.
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