Yeshua and the Feast of Tabernacles: Part Two
By Sue Towne
Last week we began to look at the Feast of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, as it was celebrated in Yeshua’s time. We read the passage in Leviticus 23 where God commands Israel to celebrate this feast, and where He gives certain directions about that celebration.
The feast was to begin with a convocation, an assembly of the people for worship, on the first day of the 7-day celebration. Then for the entire feast every family in Israel was to live outdoors in a temporary shelter called a sukkah.
Think of what that must have looked like in Jerusalem, where a person could build his sukkah in a public garden, in a square or on a rooftop. Imagine how colorful they must have been, these branch-covered structures, decorated with fruit from the harvest. And how exciting it was to camp out, in a sense, with fellow worshippers.
There would have been so many of these sukkot (tabernacles) all around the city, because this feast was one of three in scripture where all able-bodied men were required to assemble in Jerusalem to celebrate it.
The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, is a mo’ed–a divinely appointed meeting with God. Or if we looked at it from a prophetic perspective, we could say that a mo’ed is a “rehearsal” of something greater that is yet to come in God’s calendar of events.
What is it that we are rehearsing in the biblical festivals? Elements of Messiah’s mission and the plan of redemption.
God told Israel to celebrate four feasts in the spring: Passover, Firstfruits, Unleavened Bread and Shavuot (Pentecost). These feasts picture the first part of Messiah’s ministry in the earth, and they have a fulfillment in the life of Yeshua and the events of the early church in the book of Acts.
The fall festivals in scripture, or we could say the fall mo’edim (appointed times) are the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot, also called the Feast of Ingathering in Exodus 23).
These three festivals occur within a period of less than a month. So if one went to Jerusalem to celebrate one of them, one might just as well come for all three.
Of the three, however, only one requires attendance in Jerusalem–the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast was marked by at least three elements.
First, it was to be a time of great joy before the Lord. In Leviticus 23 God even commands joy!
Second, this was a festival to mark “ingathering” or harvest. The rabbis understood this to be not only the harvest of grain and fruit, but also the harvest of the souls of all nations.
Third, this festival was to feature “tabernacling”–living in small temporary shelters as a prophetic sign of an ultimate tabernacling with God, even as it reminds the people of how He tabernacled with them in the desert.
The tradition of the rabbis says that the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night–the Presence–that accompanied Israel after the exodus from Egypt first appeared on 15th of the month of Tishri, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles and that Moses came down from his mountaintop meeting with God with the plans for how to build the Tabernacle of God–the tent of meeting–on the 15th of Tishri!
In Yeshua’s time the feast was specially celebrated in the Temple in Jerusalem. Every male in Israel was required to attend the celebration if possible.
People would come into the city with tree branches to be used in worship before God. In Leviticus 23 four kinds of branches are described for this purpose. We could think of the use of the tree branches like the way some of us use flags and banners in worship today.
The services in the Temple during Sukkot were marked by three main symbols. One symbol was light–a lot of light. In a time when there was no electricity, the Levites set up giant menorahs in the outer courtyards of the Temple which featured huge oil lamps like the kind used during the Feast of Hanukkah. These courtyards were lit day and night by the giant oil lamps. Each menorah holding the lamps was so big that the attendants had to use a ladder to refill the lamps.
Another element was the number seven, which in scripture often refers to God or to things divine. The Feast of Sukkot, of course, lasts seven days. Many animal sacrifices and grain and other offerings were made in the Temple having to do with the sacred number seven.
And water was another important symbol in the Temple during Sukkot. A special water ritual was performed in the Temple only at Sukkot, and we will see that this water ritual had a special connection with Yeshua.
But that will have to wait until next week!