Why We Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles?Published on: 25.9.2022
By: David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman
“And it shall come to pass that 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.” Zechariah 14:16
This is the fourth part of a special teaching series here on the ICEJ Weekly Webinar where we have been dealing with the Jewish High Holy Days, which are coming up in just a few days. First, my colleague Dr. Mojmir Kallus began with a teaching on Rosh Chodesh, or the Jewish observance of the New Moon festival each month according to the Hebrew calendar. Then the next week, he explained how Rosh HaShana, or the Day of Trumpets, is a special version of these new moon festivals, as it marks the start of the seventh month of Tishrei when all the fall holidays take place. Last week, our President Dr. Jürgen Bühler followed up with a teaching on the significance of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in Judaism.
Now all these sessions were quite excellent, with great biblical insights from both the Old and New Testaments, as well as scholarly references to the Talmud and other ancient Jewish and rabbinic sources. So, I strongly recommend that you make sure to watch those webinars on the ICEJ’s YouTube channel, if you have not done so already. And Jürgen and Mojmir certainly set the bar high for me as I now try to explain the significance of the final fall holiday of Succot, and why we celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.
Indeed, we often are asked why thousands of Christians are coming up to Jerusalem each year to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles? After all, is this not a “Jewish holiday”? The answer lies in the unique, universal nature of this biblical festival and its past, present, and future relevance not just for Israel, but for all nations.
But first, let us quickly review what we have covered so far, because these holidays are all linked and follow a certain spiritual progression or journey. We learned that Rosh Hashana is when a special trumpet blast is heard to awaken the soul to introspection and repentance, because we are about to stand before God in judgment. Then for the next ten days, we are in awe of God as we prepare to receive his verdict on Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. This is a day to “afflict the soul” and humble yourself before the Lord, that He might forgive the nation’s sins through an atoning sacrifice. And if you pass muster and are approved of God, then five days later it is time to rejoice in your salvation in a festival known as Succot, or the Feast of Tabernacles.
So, we can see there is a process or spiritual journey one is supposed to take during these High Holy Days, which is laid out in succession in Leviticus chapter 23. So, we hope it helps you appreciate them more as we are about to come to Rosh HaShana this coming Sunday night, September 25th, and then Yom Kippur starting on the evening of October 4th, followed by Succot as the full moon rises on October 9th.
A Joyous Feast for all People
With that background, I want to start out by noting two aspects of Succot which make it very unique. First, it is a feast of joy. In fact, you are commanded to rejoice. Leviticus 23:40 says: “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.” So, it is actually a mitzvah or good deed to be happy for a whole week at this feast. This also is a fall harvest feast, and it should be marked with great rejoicing in the ingathering of the bounty of the Land. The rabbis also say that Israel was called to instruct the nations in the laws of God and were to take great joy in this task, especially at Succot. Why?
Well, this leads us to the second unique aspect of the Feast of Tabernacles. Of the three great pilgrimage feasts which God gave to Israel in the Wilderness – Pessach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Succot (Tabernacles) – it is the most universal of the three. This is because the Gentile nations also were invited in ancient times to come up to Jerusalem at this harvest season to worship the Lord alongside the Jewish people.
This tradition first arose from the command given to Moses that Israel should sacrifice seventy bulls at Succot, which were offered for the seventy nations descended from the seventy sons of Noah (see Numbers 29:12-35 and Genesis 10:1ff). The Jewish people understood from this command that they served a priestly role for all nations, offering specific sacrifices at Succot and praying that the Gentiles would come to know the one true Creator God, the God of Israel.
Later, we see King Solomon dedicating his Temple at Succot, and remember how at that time he called on the Lord to hear the prayers of all the strangers or foreigners that would come there to pray (2 Chronicles 6:32-33). Thus, Jerusalem and the Temple were called and destined from the start to be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13). So, the tradition developed that Israel expected and welcomed the Gentile nations in Jerusalem to worship God at Succot, and they sought to teach them His law with joy.
Keep and Remember
There is another aspect to Succot that is not so unique from the other pilgrimage feasts, and in fact it is common to all the Jewish festivals. Every biblical holiday given to the Jewish people has three facets. Israel was commanded to observe the holiday in the present, so as to remember something God did in the past, and to look forward to some future prophetic purpose hidden within each festival.
Thus, for example, Jews begin Shabbat each week by lighting two candles, which stand for “Keep” and “Remember”. In so doing, they remember how God rested on the seventh day of Creation, while also looking forward to the Millennial rest promised for the whole earth in the Messianic Age to come.
Likewise, Passover and Pentecost look back on the mighty Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law at Sinai, while their hidden prophetic purposes were fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the Church fifty days later. Now note how these spring feasts are tied together by the counting of the omer of grain for seven weeks, and how their prophetic purposes were both fulfilled in one season at the first coming of Jesus. Please keep that in mind as we go forward into the autumn feasts.
The Feast of Tabernacles, or Succot, is the third great annual pilgrimage festival when the Jewish people must appear before the Lord in Zion, or Jerusalem. And this is a time when they not only remember God’s provision in the Wilderness, but they also look ahead to that promised Messianic Age when all nations will flow to Jerusalem to worship the Lord and learn His ways (see for instance, Isaiah 2:1-4 and Micah 4:1-3). So, let us look closer at these three facets of Succot – its past, present and future.
The Past: Remembering God’s Provision
The most visible symbol of Succot is the small huts or booths which the Israelites were commanded to dwell in during the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-43). Here, the Bible says: “You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:42-43) So, Jewish families across Israel build these makeshift booths on their patios and balconies, and decorate them with colourful fruit, ribbons and pictures. Some families eat their meals in the succa and even sleep there with the children at night. To qualify as a kosher succa, the booth or tabernacle needs at least three sides and a roof of branches that allow you to still look up and see the sky and moon and stars at night.
These flimsy booths serve as a reminder to Israel that they once dwelt in makeshift huts during the forty years of wanderings in the Wilderness. It was a harsh environment, and they were totally dependent on the Lord. Yet during that time, God was ever faithful to provide them with water from the rock, manna from heaven, quail, and everything else they needed to sustain them in the barren desert. Their sandals never wore out, no disease was allowed to harm them. He even was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night – a shade from the noon-day sun and then warmth and light in the cold desert darkness.
Indeed, He is Jehovah Jireh, the “Lord who provides”, as He even provided Himself as a sacrifice for our salvation (Genesis 22:14). So, there is every reason for Christians to celebrate the faithful provision of the Lord in our lives at Succot.
The Present: Celebrating His Provision and Presence Today
Succot also marks the ingathering of the harvest at the end of the summer growing season, which provides sustenance for the coming winter. Here in the Land of Israel, Succot marks the time when most of the produce of the land ripens for harvest, including five of the seven species which God promised would sustain them in the Land (see Deuteronomy 8:8). The wheat and barley are harvested in the spring between Passover and Pentecost, while the olives, grapes, pomegranates, figs and dates all become ripe for harvest during the fall season around Succot. And they need to be collected before the autumn rains begin in earnest, which also start around this holiday time.
In fact, the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles is set aside as a special day to pray for the rains to come in their due season. On the eighth day of Succot, there was a special ceremony in the Temple courts called the water libation. It involved the priests going down to the Gihon Spring or Pool of Siloam and bringing up large pitchers of water – the same holy, “living” water that had been used to anoint David as king – and dumping it on the altar in the Temple. This was to wash and cleanse the altar once a year, but also to offer on the altar the very thing you were praying for that day – rains from the heavens. There is no Temple today, so the Jews end the week of Succot with Simchat Torah – a day for rejoicing in the giving of the five Books of Moses. But in Temple times, this water libation ceremony was a very colourful and joyous occasion, and it was the only time the women were allowed to climb on a balcony overlooking the court of the altar and watch what was going on there.
Now it may surprise some, but Jesus also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. The Book of John, in chapter 7, tells us that one year the disciples went up to Jerusalem for Succot but Jesus stayed behind and then came up secretly. Then on the last “great day of the feast”, he stood in the Temple courts and cried out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38) He likely spoke these words as everyone was watching with excitement the water libation ceremony, which gives his message even deeper meaning.
So, we as Christians have good reason to also celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, to thank the Lord for His provision in our lives, and especially for the gift of the Holy Spirit here in these earthen vessels. And we also can rejoice at the great harvest of souls taking place right now from every corner of the world into the Kingdom of God. These are all good and valid reasons for Christians to celebrate Succot, and where better to do that than all together here in Jerusalem.
The Future: Entering the Joy of the Lord
The Bible also promises that one day all nations will come to Jerusalem to keep Succot. The prophet Zechariah foresaw a time when all nations will ascend to Jerusalem from year to year to “worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16). This has to do with the future prophetic purpose hidden within the festival of Succot. And it is why we at the Christian Embassy are already keeping Succot now because that future prophetic purpose will soon be revealed – and it has to do with the second coming of the Lord.
During the coming Messianic Age, Zechariah says the entire world will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. It will be a bigger holiday than Christmas or Easter. And I believe this is because it will mark the return of Jesus to the earth. For a thousand years, we will be looking back on the day of his appearing or unveiling, when he will be joined with his Bride, take up the throne of David in Jerusalem, and begin to judge the world in righteousness and peace.
Just as we saw how the spring feasts were linked together by the counting of the omer and their prophetic purposes were all fulfilled in one season at the first coming of Jesus, there are many Christian and Messianic Jewish scholars today who believe the prophetic purposes hidden in the fall feasts will all be fulfilled in one season at his second coming. Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Succot are all linked together, and they all hold great prophetic significance. The shofar blasts on the new moon, ten days later is the Day of Atonement, and five days after that is the start of Tabernacles. Paul talks about “the last trump”, meaning the last Day of Trumpets or Rosh HaShana, when the Lord Himself will descend and set off the events marking the return of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). And for a thousand years, we will celebrate and rejoice in his return at the Feast of Tabernacles.
At that time all nations will be required to join in this yearly gathering, but for now it is voluntary. Yet when Christians flock to Jerusalem now to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, it serves as a powerful statement of faith that we believe that day is coming when the earth will finally be at rest in Messiah, the King of Israel.
For the past 42 years, thousands of Christians from all over the world have come up to Jerusalem each fall to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. They come with much expectancy to take part in a dynamic worship experience, knowing the One we worship will soon be sitting on His throne in this great city. Indeed, celebrating Succot now gives us a foretaste of the joy of the age to come.
As we wind up this teaching, there is another prophetic passage which I believe speaks of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Isaiah chapter 25 states as follows:
“And in this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees. And He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:6-8)
These verses speak of the Lord preparing a glorious feast on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, which is none other than the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Jesus will be joined to the Bride of Christ, and He will be coronated King of all the earth and sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem. The Lord will remove the veil over the understanding of all mankind, as the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14). Death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54), and God will wipe away every tear, just as Revelation 7:17 and 21:4 attest. And the Lord will remove the rebuke or reproach which so many people have held towards the Jewish people over these many generations. Amen!
We often speak of the Bride of Christ making herself ready, that she might be clothed without spot or wrinkle on that day (Revelation 19:7-8; Ephesians 5:27). I believe the Lord is doing a work in our day to prepare His Bride, and that process includes getting our hearts right towards Israel and the Jewish people. Over the centuries, too many churches and Christians have had massive blind spots concerning the Jews and their enduring relationship with God. There has been a veil over our eyes towards them, which has caused so many Christians to hold them in contempt. But Isaiah says that one day the veil will be broken, and the reproach of His people will be removed. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is at work to remove these things now over the eyes and hearts of multitudes of Christians. But I believe the Bride of Christ will never be ready to receive Jesus until we get our hearts and understanding right towards his own people. Yet as this occurs, more and more Christians will no longer be questioning why we celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, but they will be asking: “How can I join you?”
For more information on joining the ICEJ’s upcoming Feast of Tabernacles celebration from 9-16 October 2022, please visit feast.icej.org