Feast of Tabernacles
First Covenant Application:
enjoying the presence of the LORD, remembering the journey through the wilderness, eating of the goodness of the land
New Covenant Application:
enjoying God's presence, remembering our journey of life (our trials and God's faithfulness), thanking God for His blessings
When all sin is judged and everything is made new, we will enjoy God's presence forever in the New Jerusalem, the bridge between heaven and earth.
The Feast of Tabernacles
Mandated appearance before God
Worship (Burnt) Offerings
Food (Thanksgiving) Offerings
High Holy Day
Sukkot, otherwise known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, should be the most joyful of all the Jewish Feasts. It is the culmination of the commands 'to observe' and 'to remember.' God had told the Israelites to use this time to remember their forefathers’ journey in the desert, and so they were instructed to build temporary shelters with branches for roofs called sukkahs, or booths, to live in for eight days. They were told to revel in God's presence, to eat of the fruit of their harvests, and to complete the fulfillment of all the vows and offerings for that year; thus 'observing' the marvelous miracles and blessings to which God has brought them. In other words, God commanded His people to camp out and have a week-long party! In addition to the sukkahs, God asked His people to provide wave offerings of food and burnt offerings of worship. It is the last of the three 'mandated' festivals, where every male needed to present himself in worship in Jerusalem; so this is less of an individual celebration and more of a national one.
Since Leviticus 23:42-43 states that all the native-born Israelites are to live in their sukkahs for the eight day span in order that the generations to come may remember that YHWH had the Israelites ‘live in booths’ when He delivered them from Egypt, the common Jewish perspective is to focus on the temporality of life, the ‘tent’ of our physical bodies, etc. But there is a bigger lesson that is missed by that perspective.
I was reading an article by a non-Messianic rabbi that actually completed a previous hole in my theological perspective: he said that the Hebrew word below is actually the root word for both sukkah (hut, tent) and Shekhinah (glory or presence, often attributed to the Holy Spirit).
Strong’s #5526: A primitive root; properly to entwine as a screen; by implication to fence in, cover over, (figuratively) protect: - cover, defence, defend, hedge in, join together, set, shut up.
Brown-Driver-Briggs: to hedge, fence about, shut in, to block, overshadow, screen, stop the approach, shut off, cover, to protect, to lay over, to weave together
The point of understanding this is knowing that they were living in the Shekhinah—that His glory surrounded the people—as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night—watching, protecting, dwelling among His people. What a powerful perspective! I knew that the aspect of ‘tabernacling’—God dwelling with man—linked this festival to the New Jerusalem, and so it is a prophetic picture of the end of all days, when heaven and earth will be re-forged and forever linked; and when God lives together with man eternally, where every tear will be wiped away from every eye, and the party will never end. Worship for God and love for all will fill our very existence. It will be the fulfillment of all we have been waiting for.
But until I had read the rabbi’s article, I had not really understood how this paradigm connected with the journey in the desert while dwelling in temporary booths. It wasn’t the mundane drudgery and inconvenience of the temporary living conditions that God wants the Jews to remember; it is the fact that He was with them all the time, even through their lack of faith, the grumbling and complaining, not only is this true in eternity, it is true today—all the time!
Another interesting prophetic event that is a partial fulfillment of Sukkot is originally found in Isaiah 7:14 and is repeated in Matthew 1:23:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (which means "God with us").
Immanuel—God with us. God came in the person of Yeshua ha Notzri ha Mashiach (Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ) to make it possible for us to live, dwell—indeed, tabernacle with Him. Following the calendar from the "priestly course of Abijah" mentioned in Luke 1 to the time of Jesus' birth, we can deduce that Jesus was born sometime around the beginning of Sukkot (see What to Do with Christmas? for more details). This makes perfect sense given the prophetic meaning of both Immanuel and the Feast of Sukkot—and Matthew links these for us.
Similarly, during the Millennial Reign of Jesus (depicted in Revelation 19:11-20:6, and expounded on in passages like Zechariah 14 and Isaiah 64), all the inhabitants of the earth from every nation will be expected to come to the Third Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot. Why? Because God Almighty will be physically reigning in their midst—even though the end of all things will not have occurred at this point. Is this a statement of when Jesus will return? Well, technically speaking from a chronological perspective, Jesus' defeat of the antichrist and His subsequent Millennial Reign are part of the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets; so while Jesus' physical presence is a partial fulfillment of Sukkot, the total fulfillment will not come until the New Jerusalem. No man knows the day or the hour of Jesus' return; even if He does come back on a Sukkot, we don't know—and cannot calculate—which one.
The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshanna Rabbah (lit. 'Day of Great Salvation') in which blessings are read calling for the Messiah to come and save the people. In all three appearances of the Messiah—the Suffering Servant (Jesus' earthly life, death, and resurrection), the Conquering Hero (the Second Coming: the Battle of Armageddon, Rapture and Millennial Reign), and the Great Advocate (High Priest and Keeper of the Book of Life at the Great White Throne Judgment) salvation is provided to God's people. Whether or not you decide to celebrate Christmas in any fashion, on Sukkot a Christian should focus on the salvation our Messiah has provided, is providing, and will provide from His incarnation to the final fulfillment in the New Jerusalem.
In the absence of the Temple these days, Jews all over the world simply build their sukkahs wherever they live; for us in the New Covenant, it is a wonderful way to connect with the LORD and our family; to stop ourselves, slow down, and experience life with its basic elements—only you, those you love, and God your creator in the wonderful world He gave us. When celebrating Sukkot, consider how God has been gracious and faithful to you over the previous year. Ask yourself: in what ways, no matter how small, has He blessed you and reminded you of His love for you? Have you been looking? If not, looking and searching for the ways God has been good actually serve to insulate us from those times the devil comes to us in an attempt to get us to doubt God’s love. Observance of what God is doing in our lives and remembrance of how God has already been faithful nullify the curses that the enemy wants to place in our minds. It keeps us worshiping in the midst of difficult circumstances.