SUKKOT, THE GREAT FEAST!
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
A study article by Pr AbriBrancken, Ph.D
Sukkot is the Hebrew name for the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths or Feast of Ingathering. In this study article, we will discover the beauty of this Biblical Feast and how it testifies about the Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus Christ).
The start of Sukkot falls on the Hebrew calendar date of 15th of Tishrei. It corresponds with the Gregorian calendar months of September-October.
Leviticus 23:39-43; Deuteronomy 16:13-15; Zechariah 14:16-19; John 7:2-52
The Sukkah, Lulav and the Etrog (citrus fruit) are the basic symbols of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Before we begin our study on the Feast of Tabernacles, allow me to first lay a foundation of why I believe it is important for us to gain greater understanding about the Biblical Feast of the LORD.
In order for us as believers in Christ to fully comprehend our Biblical faith, it is important that we gain an understanding of our Hebraic heritage. We often forget that we study a Hebrew book (the Bible) that was written predominantly by Hebrews; we serve a God who chose to reveal Himself firstly to the Hebrews (Genesis 12). Our Hebrew Messiah had Hebrew disciples (Luke 5:1-11). We honour and try to follow the example of the first-century church, which was first predominately Hebrew (Acts 2-5). Not only that but through Christ, we are grafted into a cultivated olive tree (Romans 11:17). All the gates of the New Jerusalem bear the Hebraic names of the 12 tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:12). Taking all of this into account, it makes sense to study the Hebrew culture, for it was the cultural setting in which the Bible was written. If Christians continue in their ignorance concerning their Hebraic heritage, they will certainly miss out on so much, especially what the Lord is about to do in these last days.
I often find that the majority of Christians struggle to understand large portions of the Bible, simply because they don’t have an understanding and knowledge of the Hebraic culture. Seemingly strange parables, holidays, puzzling actions of Biblical characters, and word play by Jesus and His disciples cause the Bible to appear more complex than what it really is. There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Scripture simply because of a lack of basic knowledge.
When you conduct a proper study on the Biblical Feasts of the Lord, you will find that hidden within them are every major doctrine of Christianity. All the Feasts point towards the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In fact, the feasts were given for the purpose of revealing Him to us. Each and every one of the Biblical Feasts teaches us about our wonderful relationship with God. It is not strange then that God’s whole story of redemption is portrayed for us in these festivals. The Feasts are therefore blueprints for the plan of God. Let us, therefore, begin our study to discover the great and wonderful truths revealed and spoken by God through the “Feast of Tabernacles.”
Sukkot - An Agricultural and Thanksgiving Feast
Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a feast to Jehovah seven days. On the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath. And you shall take the fruit of majestic trees for yourselves on the first day, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the valley. And you shall rejoice before Jehovah your God seven days. And you shall keep it a feast to Jehovah seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall keep it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths seven days. All that are born Israelites shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I made the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am Jehovah Your God. - Leviticus 23:39-43, MKJV
The Feast of Tabernacles was instituted by God as a way of reminding the Israelites, throughout all their generations, that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was the One who delivered them from slavery in Egypt. In its historical focus, the Feast of Tabernacles is a memorial of the Exodus. Not only did He deliver them from physical bondage, but He is also the One who delivers us from spiritual bondage. The natural elements of this Feast point towards important spiritual truths and principles. Israel needs to look back on their own history in order to understand their future. In fact, all the Biblical Feasts are both a remembrance of their past as well as an anticipation of their future, of things to come. The Feast of Tabernacles is significant in that it foreshadows the work and ministry of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Its truths can be applied to all of our lives. The Messiah is the One leading those who believe in Him out of spiritual bondage and slavery towards the Promise Land, which is Himself.
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me; declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done; saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure; - Isaiah 46:9-10, ASV
Date of the Sukkot
The earlier Biblical feasts all build up to the climax and Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. According to the Hebrew calendar, the Feast of Tabernacles starts on the 15th of the seventh month, which is the month of Tishrei. It coincides with the Western Calendar months of September-October. It is important to remember that the Hebraic calendar is a lunar calendar, meaning that the moon determines the start of each new month. The months are a bit shorter than the Gregorian calendar months, which is the calendar that most of the Western world uses. For this reason, the Western calendar dates of the Biblical Feasts seems to change from year to year, although it is not the case with the Lunar calendar. Moses instructed the Hebrews to keep the first day and the eighth day of the festival as special days of rest (Shabbat), set apart from the others. The people therefore started and completed the Feast of Tabernacles by resting.
A Great Rejoicing
The Feast of Tabernacles is the last of the 7 Biblically mandated feasts. Not only that, but it is also the most joyful feast of them all. In fact, the Lord Himself commanded Israel to celebrate and rejoice during this Feast. All native born male Hebrews were commanded to participate in this Feast by travelling to Jerusalem. The feast was to be celebrated each year.
If you have not yet been in Jerusalem during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, I encourage you to do so. To be in Jerusalem during this Festive time and to partake in the rejoicing is an experience that will enrich your understanding of the Bible and of this wonderful Feast.
And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your male slave, and your slave-girl, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow inside your gates. - Deuteronomy 16:14, MKJV
Is it not exciting and liberating to know that the Lord’s desire is that we rejoice in Him? He desires it so much that He gave the children of Israel a Feast that has as its main purposes rejoicing and thanksgiving towards Him for His faithfulness. The Feast of Tabernacles was therefore designed by God to give us a platform in which to give Him thanks for providing and caring for us daily. Just imagine what it must be like enjoying a huge celebration party, filled with dancing, music, food and much thanksgiving towards the Lord for a whole week. Well, that is pretty much what the Feast of Tabernacles is all about.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart. Psalm 32:11 – 1833, Webster Bible
The Feast of Tabernacles is not only the most joyful Festival, but it is also the most important Pilgrimage Festival. It is such an important and great Festival of Celebration that in New Testament times the Feast of Tabernacles was simply referred to as “The Feast” (John 7:37). After the second coming of the Lord, we will also celebrate the great heavenly feast. We will eat from the heavenly table and will rejoice in the faithfulness of our Lord.
From all over the Israelites travelled to the Temple in Jerusalem in order to partake of “the season of our rejoicing.” They all brought sacrifices and offerings to present it before the Lord. They did this to say thank you to God for providing for them and enabling them to gather and reap the harvest which they had just harvested. Their barns and sheds were now full, and so were their hearts with thanksgiving towards their Provider. The reason why they had to travel to Jerusalem with their offering in order to celebrate Sukkot, was because this Feast was one of the three most important feasts. In accordance with the Lord’s command they did this:
Three times in a year shall all your males appear before Jehovah your God in the place which He shall choose: in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and in the Feast of Weeks, and in the Feast of Tabernacles. And they shall not appear before Jehovah empty, but each with his gift in his hand, according to the blessing of Jehovah your God, which He has given you. Deuteronomy 16:16-17, MKJV
Commemorating the deliverance from Egypt
The Sukkah, Lulav and the Etrog (citrus fruit) are the basic symbols of the Feast of Tabernacles. Let’s begin by focusing on the Sukkah.
During Sukkot, the Israelites are required to leave the comfort of their homes. Each family has to build a Sukkah or Booth. For seven days they have to live in this temporary dwelling place. A Sukkah is a three-sided structure with its roof made of palm leaves. The roof had to be made in such a way that you were able to see the stars when sleeping at night. During the day the leafy roof provided shade from the sun and at night it served as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in delivering their ancestors from slavery. Just as their ancestors lived in Sukkah’s or Booths after their deliverance from Egypt and their wandering of 40 years in the desert, so they now have to live in booths during this Festive Season. Their ancestors were mere pilgrims in the desert. The desert was not their home. Because of their temporary status, they dwelt in temporary dwellings while travelling. There was a better place to come and that place was the Land God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Promised Land. There they would enjoy great blessings of the Lord.
In the same way, the apostle Peter reminds us as believers in Jesus that we too are but pilgrims here on earth. Our lives on earth is temporary and therefore it is important that we live our lives focused on the heavenly things, that which is eternal.
Dearly beloved, I exhort you as temporary residents and pilgrims to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, - 1 Peter 2:11
The apostle Paul also wrote to the church in Corinth:
For we know that when this tent we live in - our body here on earth is torn down, God will have a house in heaven for us to live in, a home he himself has made, which will last forever – 2 Corinthians 5:1, GNB.
Even though this life is temporary, a mere moment in eternity, the Lord takes very good care of us. We need to remind ourselves of this truth daily.
The Sukkah was, and still is today, decorated inside with colourful fruit of the season. Shiny decorations are hung on the walls and often a table, chairs and pillows are placed inside the Sukkah in order to make it comfortable for those dwelling there during the Feast. Today many Jewish families begin erecting their Sukkah’s after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. They try to spend as much time in the Sukkah as possible. Evening meals are eaten together within a joyful celebrating atmosphere. This family time builds the family unity and together they talk about and remind each other of God’s faithfulness. Christians in the West are currently experiencing a tremendous breakdown in family unity. The drive for success and money are leaving behind a trial of destruction and pain. Great healing will come to so many families when they begin to follow this example of spending time together, worshipping, eating and talking about the greatness of the LORD.
The Four Species
And you shall take the fruit of majestic (goodly) trees for yourselves on the first day, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the valley. And you shall rejoice before Jehovah your God seven days. Lev 23:40 MKJV
The Israelites had to take the branches of three types of trees and the produce of “goodly trees” and they had to wave them before the Lord as a thank offering.
The three type of branches were:
a. Palm branches (called a lulav).
b. Myrtle (calledhadasim).
c. Willow (calledaravot).
d. Etrog (lemon-like fruit, also called citron in some areas).
Another element that plays an important part is the fruit or product of “goodly trees”, symbolised by the Etrog. The Etrog was symbolic of the fruit of the promised land. (When we remain in Jesus, who is our true Promised Land, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.)
The symbolic items were held and waved before the LORD in four directions, North, East, South and West. Psalms would be sung, especially those Psalms starting with Hosanna (“Hosanna”, meaning “save us”). The true and lasting healing of the nations can only come through the redemptive work of the Messiah. Waving the branches to the four corners of the earth is prophetic in nature, beckoning and calling all the nations to worship the One and only Creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). The “Hosanna” Psalms mostly sung were (and still is) Psalms 113-118. Because of all the Hosanna Psalms that were sung, the Feast of Tabernacles was also referred to as the “Hosanna”.
Also, the above-mentioned fruit and leafy twigs that are being used during the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles signifies the Tree of Life (Genesis 2:9 & Revelation 22:2) from which healing, peace, joy and immortality flows.
On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. - Revelation 22:2, NIV.
During the temple period, sacrifices were offered there. Rams, goats, bullocks, etc. were offered for a sin offering. During the Feast, a total of 70 bullocks were offered. It is interesting to note that some Rabbis believe that the sacrifice of the 70 bullocks was done on behalf of the nations of the world, longing for the day that all the nations will serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Feast of Tabernacles has a threefold time focus, namely past (what the Lord has done for them), present (what the Lord is doing now, providing for them in all their needs) and future (that He will continue to provide).
The Temple - Water and Light
Two aspects of the Temple service stand out during the Feast of Tabernacles.
a. The pouring out of water in the Temple
b. The illumination of the Temple by light.
a. The pouring out of water in the Temple
During Temple times, a specially appointed Priest would go to the Pool of Siloam (close to Temple Mount) to collect water there. He would then bring it back to the High Priest who would then take the golden pitcher of water from the Priest and will begin to pour the water out into a basin at the foot of the altar. This was done with joyful thanksgiving. From another pitcher, wine was poured out into the same basin at the foot of the altar. The water and the wine would then mix and together it flowed back through special pipes to the Brook of Kidron. The joy in which this ceremony was done was almost uncontainable.
The pouring out of the water was very significant. Firstly, it was a symbolic and prophetic prayer action for abundant rain. They were now entering winter time which was also their rainy season. Without sufficient rain, in the months to come, they would not be able to plant and harvest successfully. The pouring of water was a visual prayer, asking God for rain. Not for light showers, but for the rain of blessing which is plentiful. They needed heavy showers to enjoy a successful spring harvest.
Secondly, the pouring out of the water was Messianic in its nature. They did this as a visual prayer that the Lord would pour out His Spirit on them and on the Nations. When the Messiah comes, they will experience God’s Spiritual Blessing of Heavenly rain, and this they prayed for.
The Prophets of the Bible came to see rain as a symbol of salvation and the work of God's Holy Spirit:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean… - Ezekiel 36:25.
Is it not wonderful that the Lord answered this prayer and poured out the heavenly rain of His Spirit on the early believers in Jerusalem (Acts 2). Today this Spiritual Rain is available to anyone who comes to the LORD asking for it with a sincere heart. The pouring of water lasted six days. The seventh day was the climax of the Feast and of the pouring of the water. As we have mentioned earlier, the 7th day was called the “Great Hosanna”, or the “Hosanna Raba.” While the High Priest was pouring out the water from the Pool of Siloam at the foot of the altar, loud and great singing filled the air, sacred music was played and the trumpets would blast. The people waved their palm branches and chanted Psalm 113-118.
Save now, I beseech You, O Jehovah; O Jehovah, I beseech You, cause us to prosper now. Psalm 118:25 MKJV
These Psalms are Messianic Psalms, praying for the salvation through the long awaited Messiah. It was during this time, the 7th and great day of the Feast, where everybody was focused on the Messiah and praying for His soon coming that Jesus came and stood at the Temple. He said;
And in the last day of the great feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. - John 7:37-38
Jesus offered all the people “mayim chayim” (“living water” in Hebrew). Jesus stood at the Temple in front of all Israel praying for the Messiah to come and basically said, “I am the answer to your prayers. I am the One giving the true and living water.” Everyone knew exactly what Jesus was saying. There was no doubt about it. He claimed to be the Messiah. This brought about a division among the people, for some believed Jesus, but other did not.
So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. - John 7:43, MKJV
The Ruach ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit in Hebrew) falls upon those who identifies with Jesus in His death and resurrection. As the rain fell to nourish the crops, so God’s Spirit nourishes us today. He refreshes us and He causes us to grow in faith, grace and love. Through the Holy Spirit, we can experience Immanuel, God with us.
The pool of Siloam was also the place where Jesus told the blind man to bathe his eyes after He put mud over it and healed him.
When Jesus had said this, He spat on the ground, made some mud, and applied it to the man’s eyes. Then He told him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came back seeing.… - John 9:6-7, BSB.
Another interesting fact is that Jesus was most probably born during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles (September-October) and not in the month of December as many believe. Winter months (December, January, February) are cold in the Middle East, meaning that the shepherds to whom the angels appeared announcing Jesus’ birth would not have been outside at night with their sheep. Most Biblical scholars recognise that the tradition of Jesus’ birth being on 25 December has its origins in the fourth century AD by the Roman Catholic Church. Supporting the view that Jesus was most probably born during the Feast of Tabernacles are the words spoken by the apostle John.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” - John 1:14.
John uses the word “dwelling” among us, which is the word “tabernacle”, pointing towards the Sukkah, the tent or temporal structure the Hebrews lived in during the exodus from Egypt. The Messiah’s (Jesus) was born in a manger in Bethlehem as prophesied by the prophets (Micah 5:2) and shared a physical dwelling on earth about 2000 years ago (1 John 1), but it was only for a short time in order to work about God’s plan of salvation for humanity. The Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) “Tabernacled” among us.
b. The Illumination of the Temple
Those who came to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast came with torches and lights. It lit up the Temple area, making it an adorable focus point at night. The lights from the people’s torches transformed Jerusalem into a golden glow and beautiful radiant city. Seeing that the Temple was on a hill, the magnificent glow of the temple was a sight for everyone to see and it reminded the people of how God's Shekinah glory had once filled His Temple.
Once again, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we read that God had promised that a great light would shine out of Galilee. A spiritual Light will come to shine God’s truth over His people and now, through Jesus, that time has come.
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. - Isaiah 9:1-7, NIV.
Many years later, during this great Feast, Jesus said;
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." - John 8:12, NASB.
By making this statement, Jesus was claiming that He is the exclusive source of spiritual light and the Light of this world. Through Him, the Messiah comes all spiritual truth and in Him is fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1-7). Jesus came from Galilee. He is the Light of the world. He increases our joy by leading us out of spiritual bondage. He is our Prince of Peace (Ephesians 2:13-18) and He is the one from the line of David, reigning on David’s throne and over his kingdom.
Zachariah 14:16 states that all nations will one day come up to celebrate this feast in Jerusalem.
Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). – Zachariah 14:16, ESV.
Faithful believers live their lives with the understanding that they are ‘temporary dwellers on this earth’ (Heb. 11:9; 1 Pet. 1:17). Our bodies are Sukkahs, temporary structures. Life on earth in the dimension of space-time is temporary and will soon pass. We are on our way to a better and everlasting spiritual place, a land of promise.
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: - Hebrews 11:9, KJV.
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. - 1 Peter 1:17, NIV.
We labour towards and celebrate the ingathering of the harvest (souls) into the Kingdom. While we tabernacle here on earth, let’s understand that God’s pre-determined plan for redemption takes place and is fulfilled in a linear progression. It starts with Passover (death, burial and resurrection of Jesus) and it builds towards a definite end in the Feast of Tabernacles. Just like the final harvest of fruit was brought before God during Tabernacles, so too the final ingathering of the nations will take place. The final harvest of souls is coming in at this very moment. The dispersed of Israel are returning to the Promise Land and will be saved into a remnant of Judah.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you will not be conceited: A hardening in part has come to Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove godlessness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them when I take away their sins.”… - Romans 11:25-27, BSB.
I want to conclude by encouraging you to continue to put your faith in the LORD. Grow in your love and devotion towards Him, because He is the only One from which life flows. Life on earth is short, so live your life for His glory so that when your earthly tent (Sukkah) is destroyed, you can enter into an eternal dwelling in heaven built for you by God himself, forever to be with the lover of your soul, Yeshua ha Mashiach, Jesus the Messiah.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. - 2 Corinthians 5:1, NIV.
God bless you richly,
“‘Sukkot, the Great Feast” © Abri Brancken. All rights reserved.