The Feast of Tabernacles
The Feast of Tabernacles
Today is the final day of the week-long Jewish holiday known as Sukkot, in English we call it The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). It is the sixth feast in the Hebrew calendar and the last of autumn holidays. It is also known as the “feast of ingathering”, a harvest festival, if you will, when a primarily agricultural society gives thanks to God for his blessing and provision.
However in scripture we find that this thanksgiving was really to remember what God had done for the Hebrew people when He led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness for 40 years. In Leviticus we read:
"Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the LORD. 'On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. 'For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the LORD; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work.
'Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. 'You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 'You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'"
(Lev 23: 34-36 & 40-43)
This instruction was to be a very practical experience that every year would act as a memorial remembrance of how The Lord had provided for His people in the wilderness.
If you were to visit Israel (or any Jewish community) at this time of year you will find that each household will have constructed a temporary shelter outside their house in which they eat all of their meals. These booths would, in Israel at least, be covered with the branches of leafy trees, normally palm branches.
At this time of year the Jewish people read from the book of Ecclesiastes to remind them of the temporary nature of this life. It reminds us that If you live in a nice house and have a comfortable life that these things are only temporary and mean nothing in the face of eternity. There is a tradition that the father of the house would take his son into the booth and point to the leaves on the roof and say “do you remember that when we cut these branches that the leaves were green”. He will point to the leaves and say “you see how these leaves have turned brown and how the flowers are dying” and then quote from Isaiah the prophet:
The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.
Our experiences in this world have a “shelf life” and are soon forgotten - God established this feast to help the Jewish people remember what He had done for them in the wilderness but also to remind all of us that our lives and experiences are but fleeting moments and fade away. The only thing we can rely and depend on is the eternal Word of God. And in this Word we find revealed The Word made flesh, the son of the most high, Jesus our saviour.
A Future Hope
In the book of Zechariah we read how, in the coming kingdom, all the nations of the earth will come up to Jerusalem to worship King Jesus and celebrate the feast of booths:
Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.
The feast of tabernacles is the only one of the Jewish feasts that will continue into the kingdom. A permanent reminder and memorial of God’s provision, the sacrifice of the lamb of God for us, of how Jesus first came as a suffering servant but now reigns as king for ever and ever. As such this feast is closely connected to the coming of The Lord to establish His kingdom.
It is for this reason that when Peter, James and John saw the glorified Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah on the mountain that their first instinct was to build tabernacles - To their minds the kingdom had arrived!
This feast of booths is not only a memorial for us but a reminder that there will come a day when we too will stand in the presence of the glorified Jesus and fellowship with Moses and Elijah and all the other members of that heavenly kingdom. Hallelujah!
... a Final Thought
I have already made mention of how this feast points to the need to rely and trust on God’s word, as Isaiah said “the word of our God stands forever”.
You might think that Peter, having experienced the transfiguration, would use this event as a buttress for his faith. But he understood that experiences (even the most powerful) fade, that although powerful from a relational perspective are subjective and hold little weight to those outside the experience. No, rather than experience, Peter held up The Word of God as his barometer of truth. Speaking of the transfiguration he says:
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Peter explains how this “experience” only served to confirm what the Word of God had already taught via the prophets. It indelibly stamped the words of the prophets in his heart, as he said “So we have the prophetic word made more sure”. God has blessed us with His very own words, a lamp shining in a dark place, breathed out by The Holy Spirit through the writers of the scriptures, the prophets and apostles.
Oh, Lord God - We thank you for the bible, let us not belittle your Eternal Word or make it subservient to our own understanding or experience. Lift up your Word in our hearts that we might come to know you better. May your living word reveal in us all ungodliness that we might come to the cross in repentance. May Jesus, the Word made flesh, who tabernacled amongst us, help us to see this life as it is - a decaying, temporary booth. Help us to keep our eyes on you and look to your soon return, as you have promised in your Holy Word.