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Tabernacles (Le 23)

33  And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
34  Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the LORD.
35  On the first day shall be an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
36  Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein.

37  These are the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing upon his day:
38  Beside the sabbaths of the LORD, and beside your gifts, and beside all your vows, and beside all your freewill offerings, which ye give unto the LORD.
39  Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.
40  And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.
41  And ye shall keep it a feast unto the LORD seven days in the year.  It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.
42  Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths:
43  That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
44  And Moses declared unto the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD.

This feast follows the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), which evidently symbolizes God’s call of Man to ultimate and final judgment. This final feast, called in Hebrew Sukkot, is evidently both a memorial of how Israel dwelt in temporary dwellings (tents) during their wandering in the desert, and also a reminder that God tabernacled among them during this time.

Firstly, observe that the primary focus of this final feast is solemn rejoicing. God calls us to come together in families and community to engage with Him in His Creation, coming out of our comforts to live in booths or tents: temporary or portable dwellings, to remind us that Israel dwelt in tents the entire time they journeyed through the desert toward the Promised Land. He commands us to dwell in these frail structures together, being reminded of our dependence on Him and His willingness to care for us in our journey Home.

Tree branches are also a significant part of this feast; we are evidently to use them in worship, though God does not specify exactly how. Holding the branches up and waving them in the air seems reasonable, but not required. God is evidently allowing us to employ some creativity in how we enjoy this aspect of the feast. It may be to foreshadow how we will use them in Heaven. (Re 7:9)

During Nehemia’s time, Israel used the tree branches to construct huts as temporary shelters. (Ne 8:15-16) As this is the only actual example we have in scripture of how anyone used tree branches during Sukkoth, we might infer that this is what we are supposed to do. However, it may be that this is simply how Israel chose to improvise to celebrate this Feast when they re-discovered it, perhaps not having sufficient materials to construct regular tents given the two-week notice. To say this is the correct way to use the branches seems a bit of a stretch since a tent, made of cloth or skin, what Israel actually dwelt in during their wilderness wanderings, seems to be the primary meaning of sukkah in this context.

While the above Levitical text describes the sacrificial duties of this festival, as with the other feasts, Deuteronomy provides additional helpful practical details:

“Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine: and thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates. Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the LORD thy God in the place which the LORD shall choose: because the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice.” (De 16:13-15)

This text shows us that the entire feast is to be characterized by solemnity, sobriety, vigilance and reverence. (15) It is a sober kind of rejoicing which God calls us to, not a silly, frivolous kind of joy. We celebrate the holy Creator of the Universe as sinners in His very presence; the careful joy we express must reflect the infinitude of the Godhead, the profound beauty and justice of His character.

“Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy 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 the LORD empty: every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which he hath given thee.” (De 16:16-17)

Here we find again that all the men of Israel are called to assemble together before Jehovah, for a third and final time each year. There is no end to this command, no time when it does not apply. We are not to forsake this call to assemble together with the nation, as many tend to do, but to count it even more important and precious as we see the Day of God approaching. (He 10:24-25)

Also, as noted in Unleavened Bread, a freewill offering is required of the men for a third time in the calendar year, evidently an animal sacrifice symbolic of voluntarily giving our entire selves to God. As men give themselves unreservedly to God they tend to be more charitable, patient and humble, providing for stronger families, blessing the nation and encouraging all to follow their lead.

By looking at both of these texts together we find God calling us in this feast to separate ourselves in community from our routines into a special place to do four things:
[1] rejoice with family, community and others interested in attending;
remember our vulnerability during our journey out of slavery into the promised land and how God miraculously cares for us;
remember how God Himself dwelt among His people in a tent and went with them in their journeys, never leaving them (He 13:5);
[4] voluntarily offer our lives to God, especially men, putting ourselves at His disposal to do with as He will.

From all appearances then this feast is also prophetic, foreshadowing God’s final dwelling among men as He did in the wilderness, and may have been partly fulfilled in His coming to dwell among us in the Person of Christ — Who was very likely born during this feast, a time when all devout Jews would have been in or near Jerusalem along with their families. The ultimate fulfillment of this final feast is likely to be found in God’s physical dwelling with Man in the New Jerusalem which will come down from Heaven and adorn the New Heavens and the New Earth (Re 21:3), which follows the final Judgment and destruction of sin and completes the prophetic calendar.

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