The Feast of Tabernacles
Lorraine Day, M.D.
The last of the three main feasts of ancient Israel is called the Feast of Tabernacles and represented the final restoration. It occurred six months after the Passover feast that celebrated redemption. Passover and Tabernacles commemorate both the beginning and the end of the historical journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan and also the inauguration and consummation of our spiritual journey from Calvary to the world to come.
In the Old Testament, the Feasts of Tabernacles is known by two other common names: the Feast of Ingathering and the Feast of Booths.
“Most pagan religions see nature as god. In the Bible, nature is not God, but points to God’s creative and redemptive activity. In the Feast of Booths, the appreciation for the bounties of nature is linked to the commemoration for divine protection and freedom. Nature is seen not as an end in itself but as a means to acknowledge God’s creative and redemptive activities.” God’s Festivals, Samuele Bacchiocchi, p 210
The timing of the Feast of Booths on the fifteenth day of the seventh month is significant. In his classic study, The Temple, Its Ministry and Services, Alfred Edersheim observes that “What the seventh day, or Sabbath, was in reference to the week, the seventh month seems to have been in reference to the year. It closed not only the sacred cycle, but also the agricultural or working year. It also marked the change of season, the approach of rain and of the winter equinox, and determined alike the commencement and close of a sabbatical year (Deut 31:10).”
The celebration of the Feasts of Booths was to begin and end with a special Sabbath day in which the Israelites were to cease working and gather for worship (Lev. 23:39; Num 29:12,35) An eighth day was added to the feast on which people came together for worship and sacrifice (Lev 23:39).
The three main characteristics of the Feast of Booths were 1) the dwelling in booths, 2) the unusual number of sacrifices, 3) the joyous festivities.
The Symbolism of the Booths
Living in booths served as a reminder of God’s protection during the forty years of wandering in the desert (Lev 23:42). The temporary booths symbolized the human need to depend upon God for His provision of food, water, and shelter.
“The prophet Isaiah describes how God will protect the faithful remnant during the time of trouble by sheltering them with the cloud by day and the flaming fire by night:, “It will be for a shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain” (Is 4:6). In this context, the cloud and fire of God’s presence function as a protecting booth over His people.” Ibid. Bacchiocchi p 213.
The imagery of the “booths sukkot” is used in the Bible as the symbol of God’s protection.
Each day the sacrifices consisted of two rams and fourteen lambs which were to be offered with their respective grain offerings and a male goat as a sin offering. Bulls were also sacrificed each day, although their numbers decreased from thirteen on the first day (Num 29:13) to seven on the seventh day of the feast (Num 29:32).
Edersheim keenly observes that “the number of the burnt-sacrifices, whether taking each kind by itself or all of them together, is always divisible by the sacred number seven. We have for the week 70 bullock, 14 rams, 98 lambs, or altogether 182 sacrifices (26X7), to which must be added 336 (48X7) tenths of ephahs of flour for the meat offering. . . Seven appeared at the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) only in the number of its days, and at Pentecost in the period of the observance (7X7 days after Passover), but in the Feast of Tabernacles, its duration was seven days, it took place when the seventh month was at its full height, and had the number seven impressed on its characteristic sacrifices.” p. 240
A Season to Rejoice
A third characteristic of the Feast of Booths is that it was a season of rejoicing, in contrast to the Feasts of Trumpets and Atonement which were a time of introspection and repentance.
The Eighth Day
An Eighth day was to be observed in addition to the seven days of the feast. “You shall keep the feast of the Lord seven days; on the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest “ (Lev 23:39; cf.23:36; Num 29:35).
The Eighth day may depict the Great White Throne Judgment described in Revelation 20:11-13, the time when the vast majority of human beings will be raised from the dead to receive their opportunity for salvation.
The only actual description of the celebration of the feast during the monarchy is the dedication of the Solomonic temple (1 Kings 8:1-66; 2Chr 5:2 to 7:22). At the end of his dedicatory prayer, Solomon reflected on the completion of the final harvest, a time of rest and thanksgiving when God would give “rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised” (1 Kings 8:56).
The Eschatological Feast of Booths
Zechariah sees the ultimate fulfillment of the Feast of Booths on the day when “the Lord your God will come and all the holy ones with Him” (Zech 14:5). “On that day,” the prophet explains, “there shall be neither cold nor frost. And there shall be continuous day. . . not day or night, for at evening time there shall be light” (Zech 14:6-7).
In the prophetic vision, the unusual night illumination of the Feast of Booths finds it ultimate fulfillment in the new earth where “there shall be continuous day. . . for at evening them there shall be light” (Zech 14:7). A clear description of this fulfillment is found in Revelation where we are told that “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23). We shall see how the major themes of the Feast of Booths, namely, light, water, and booths, are extensively used in Revelation 21-22 to describe the conditions of the new earth.
Zechariah links the theme of water to that of light in his description of the eschatological Feast of Booths: “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem. . . it shall continue in summer as in winter” (Zech 14:8). The water flowing out from Jerusalem is a clear allusion to the water processions that took place each day of the Feast of Booths from the pool of Siloam to the Temple. A priest would pour a golden flagon of water into one of the two silver bowls that had been positioned on the altar. On the second bowl, the priest would pour a libation of wine. Zechariah explicitly mentions “the bowls before the altar” (Zech 14:20). Spouts in each of the two bowls allowed the water and wine to flow out onto the altar.
The prophet Zechariah envisioned a day when “all nations (unbelievers) that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of host, and to keep the feast of booths” (Zech 14:16). The meaning of this mysterious observance of the Feast of Booths by the nations of the world can be understood in the light of Israel’s calling and mission.
God’s plan for the mission of His chosen people reaches back to His covenant with Abraham. In that covenant, God promised: “I will bless those who bless you and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). God’s choice of Israel was for service. Israel’s mission was to bring the knowledge of the true God and of His plan of salvation to all the nations of the world.
“All the people of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord” (Deut 28:10). Israel was to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6) that would intercede with a holy God for a sinful world so that ultimately God’s Temple “shall be called a house of prayer for ALL people
The prophet Zechariah envisions the fulfillment of God’s plan when the faithful among the nations (the unbelievers) will come to Jerusalem “year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feasts of booths” (Zech 14:16). Why did the prophet mention specifically the Feasts of Booths and not one of the other major festivals, as the sign of obedience of the Unbelievers (Gentiles nations)? Presumably, because the Feast of Booths, being the Feast of Ingathering, fittingly represents the ingathering of the redeemed from ALL the nations of the earth.
It is noteworthy that in Jewish literature, a major theme of the Feast of Booths is Israel’s role in the redemption of the world. The Talmud explains that the seventy bulls sacrificed during the seven days of the Feast of Booths were offered on “behalf of the seventy nations of the world.” Philip Goodman, The Sukkot and Simbat Torah Anthology (Philadelphia, PA. 1973), p 135
Seventy nations was the traditional number of ALL the nations of the world. In the prophetic perspective, the Feast of Booths came to represent the final ingathering of all the nations to worship and praise the true God. This explains why the feast was also called “The Feast of the Nations.” John the Revelator depicts the day when the whole earth will become the booth of God who will dwell among His people (Rev 21:3).
“The Feast of Tabernacles is mentioned explicitly only once in the New Testament (John 7:2) in conjunction with an event of Christ’s life. The event is Christ’s self-proclamation as the Living Water (John 7:37-38) and the Light of the World (John 8:12) in the context of the water and light ceremonies of the Feasts of Tabernacles. Through the Feast of Tabernacles is mentioned explicitly only once in the New Testament, a closer look at the frequent use of the themes of the feast shows that the feast plays an important role in portraying not only the nature and mission of Christ but also the consummation of redemption.” God’s Festivals, Samuele Bacchiocci, pg 239
The Feast of Tabernacles and the Incarnation
The Feast of Tabernacles serves to reveal in the Gospels what Christ has already done for us at the incarnation, and in Revelation, what He will do for us at the final restoration of this world. For John, the author the Gospel of John and of Revelation, the dwelling in tents is a primordial symbol of the Incarnation: ‘Thus the Word became flesh (a mortal man) and dwelt (pitched his tent) in the midst of us.’ (John 1:14) Thus, the birth of Jesus is linked to the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Feast of Tabernacles and the Transfiguration
At the Transfiguration Peter saw in the dazzling appearance of Christ and in Moses and Elijah, the inauguration of the Messianic times prefigured by the Feast of Tabernacles. Without hesitation he exclaimed; “Let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:5)
“In Revelation, we are told that God “will shelter them (the redeemed) with His presence” (Rev 7:15). The Greek verb used skenosei literally means that God ‘will build a tabernacle’ over the redeemed. Thus Peter’s offer to build three booths must be seen not as an isolated incident in the life of Christ, but as an expression of Messianic significance. The scene of the Transfiguration represented for Peter the realization of the Messianic times foreshadowed by the Feast of Booths.” Ibid. p 246
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
The palm branches carried by Jesus’ followers, the chanting of the Hosanna (Psalm 118 which was sung during the procession of the Feast of Tabernacles) suggest a connection with the liturgy of the feast. Similarly, the crowd accompanying Jesus as He entered Jerusalem riding on an ass reflects Zechariah’s description of the messianic king, coming ‘triumphant and victorious. . . humble and riding on an ass” (Zech 9:9).
This signifies the coming of the Messiah, prefigured by the solemn procession of the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and is fulfilled in the person of Jesus.
The Water-Drawing Ceremony
“While the morning sacrifice was being prepared, a special procession was organized for the joyous water-drawing ceremony that was rich in symbolism and high drama. The procession of faithful worshippers began at the Temple, led by a priest who carried a golden pitcher. When the Temple procession reached the pool of Siloam, the priest filled his golden pitcher with water. Journeying back to the Temple, the cortege would pass through the Water Gate (its name being derived from the ceremony). The Water Gate had special eschatological significance because it was identified by some rabbis as the south gate of Ezekiel’s Temple through which the water of life would flow to all the land
Most probably it was right after the symbolic rite of the water-pouring ceremony at the altar, after the people had chanted some of the verses of Psalm 118 praying for the Lord to send salvation, that the voice of Jesus was heard loud and clear throughout the Temple: “If any one thirst, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).
“To appreciate the Messianic significance of Christ’s offer of His living water, it is important to remember Zechariah’s vision of the coming of the Lord when ‘living waters will flow out of Jerusalem.’ On that day, all the nations will come to Jerusalem ‘ to keep the feast of booths’ (Zech 14:8,16). Similarly, Ezekiel sees the coming of a Messianic ‘Prince’ who will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Ez 45:25) and then water will flow from the threshold of the Temple to all the land (Ez 47:1-11).
“We noted earlier that the rabbis saw in the water-libation of the Feast of Tabernacles a representation of the wilderness miracle of the water from the rock, a ceremony that pointed to the coming of a redeemer like Moses who would bring forth new water from the rock. This theme of the water is present in the closing visions of Revelation where the Temple is identified with Christ Himself (Rev 21:3) from whose throne flows the river of life (Rev 22:1). In the light of this Messianic understanding of the water ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles, Christ’s offer of His living water at the conclusion of the water ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles represents a most impressive self-revelation of His Messiahship.” Ibid. p 251
In the context of the rich prophetic background of the Feast of Tabernacles as a celebration of faith in the Messiah to come, Christ’s self-revelation as the source of living water has enormous significance. Gale Yee (Jewish Feasts and the Gospel of John, p 80) observes, ‘Jesus becomes the new temple from which the waters of life will burst forth. Jesus becomes the new rock in the wilderness that quenches the people’s thirsts. Jesus invites those who believe in Him to satisfy their thirst now with the water He provides. The outpouring of water signals that the Messianic age has arrived in His own person as the new Moses. John will symbolize this living water from Jesus’ pierced side (John 19:34). It is only after Jesus is glorified in his death and resurrection that the Spirit (which the water represents) will be dispatched.” Ibid. p 252
The Illumination of the Temple
The two major ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles were the water procession and the illumination of the Temple. Most commentators maintain that the setting of Jesus’ self-proclamation as the Light of the World is the nightly illumination of the Court of Women that took place during the Feast of Tabernacles.
The meaning of the illumination of the Temple was similar to that of the pouring of the water. The light shining out of the Temple into the darkness around was seen ‘as a symbol not only of the Shekinah (God’s glory manifested in the Most Holy above the ark) which once filled the Temple, but also of the ‘great light’ that ‘the people that walked in darkness’ were to see, and which was to shine ‘upon them that dwell in the land of the shadow of death’ (Isa 9:2).
It seems most probable that it was in the context of this illumination ceremony that Jesus said: “I am the light of the world’ he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
By proclaiming Himself as the light of the world, Christ revealed Himself to be the fulfillment of the Messianic pillar of fire that guided the Israelites through the wilderness.
The figure of living water typifies Christ as the Savior, while that of the Light represents Jesus as the Revealer of God’s will for mankind. As the Light, Christ ‘enlightens every man . . . coming into the world’ (John 1:9) by revealing the way they should walk (1 John 2:9-11). Jesus said: ‘I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).
Growth in the Christian life occurs through the progressive illumination by the Holy Spirit (John 6:40) that enables the believer to understand and follow the will of God (John 14:26). As the Light of the world, Jesus imparts through the Holy Spirit wisdom to the ignorant, holiness to the impure, gladness to the sad. Moreover, to those who follow His light, He grants the privilege to become “sons of light” (John 12:36).
Before healing the blind man, Jesus explained the divine rationale for what He was about to do. Jesus stated: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). This statement is a possible reference to the ceremony of the illumination of the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles, especially since Jesus made a similar statement in John 8:12 in the context of the feast. After this, Jesus spat on the ground, made clay, and applied it to the eyes of the blind man, saying, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (John 9:7). The blind man obeyed and was healed. As the man bent down to wash his eyes with water, He opened his eyes and a torrent of light flooded his being. Water and light mingled together as the man blinked away the watery mist and light began to clarify objects, faces, reflections. Jubilantly, he rose to his feet as curious onlookers marveled at what they had witnessed --- a man came to the pool blind, had washed, and walked away seeing.”
The Feast of Tabernacles in the Book of Revelation
Several Scholars suggest that the Feast of Tabernacles lies behind the description of heavenly worship in Revelation 7. The visions of the heavenly Feast of Tabernacles in Revelation 7 reveals the countless multitude of the redeemed standing before the throne with palm branches and celebrating how the Lord led them out of “great tribulation” (Rev 7:14) and provided Christians with the needed reassurance that god would see them through their tribulation to a glorious destiny.
The booths that once symbolized how the Lord providentially protected the Israelites through their wandering into the Promised Land, now served to portray how the Lord was leading His followers to the heavenly Promised Land where God would shelter them eternally with His glorious presence.
The waving of the Palm Branches (Rev 7:9) and the Heavenly Booth (Rev 7:15 literally translated reads: “The One seated upon the throne will erect a booth over them with His presence.”) are John’s Old Testament symbols of the Feast of Tabernacles now transferred to God’s Heavenly Feast.
Water and Light
In the apocalyptic fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, we find again both the water and the light. The water is presented not as a goblet from the pool of Siloam, but as “the springs of living water” (Rev 7:17), and “a river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev 22:1). This description finds its most interesting parallel in Zechariah 14 which predicts a future Feast of Tabernacles when “living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem” to the Dead Sea and to the Mediterranean (Zech 14:8,16).
This means that the river of living water flowing from the throne of God in the New Jerusalem represents the antitypical fulfillment of the water ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles. Christ’s final appeal in Revelation may also contain an allusion to the water ceremony of the feast: “Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17). The water of life offered by Christ represents the ultimate fulfillment of the water typology of the Feast of Tabernacles.
The vision of God’s people celebrating in heaven the Feast of Tabernacles in Revelation 7:9-17 is strikingly similar to the vision of the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21:1 to 22:5. In both places we find references to the tabernacle of God over His people (Rev 7:15 21:3), the wiping away of every tear (Rev 7:17, 21:4), and the spring or river of living water (Rev 7:17, 21:6, 22:1-2, 17).
A noticeable difference between the two visions is the Temple, since in Revelation 7:15 the multitude serves God “day and night within His temple,” but in Revelation 21:22 it clearly states: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” How can this apparent contradiction be best explained?
The context can help us to solve the problem. In Revelation 21, there is no Temple because the vision describes the future condition of perfect communion between God and the redeemed where no Temple, altar, and intercessory ministry is needed. In Revelation 7, however, the Temple appears in heaven because the vision focuses on the security and comfort God’s people need in the present in view of the impending tribulation.
The shift in emphasis from Chapter 7 to Chapter 21 does not imply that the Temple will disappear after the final consummation, but rather that God and Christ will be the Temple, just as the people of God will become the Holy City Jerusalem (Rev 21:9-10). In a sense, Revelation 21:1 to 22:5 represent the ultimate fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles when God will tabernacle over His people with His presence (Rev 21:3). At that time, no material Temple or booths will be needed because the reality to which these pointed has come.
Revelation 7:9-17 and 21:1 to 22:5 show that the major themes of the Feast of Tabernacles are effectively used by John to portray the final ingathering of God’s people in their harvest home.
Many excerpts are taken from God’s Festivals in Scripture and History by Samuele Bacchiocchi, Biblical Perspectives 4990 Appian Way, Berrien Springs, Michigan 49103
© Lorraine Day, M.D. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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