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The Feast of Tabernacles

By Elie Nessim, October 24 2003 Printer Friendly Version

You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat, and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your sons and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. Seven days you shall celebrate the feast to the LORD your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands.
Our text from Deuteronomy chapter 16 verses 13-15 remind us that every year in the Fall, the Jewish people celebrate the colourful and charming Feast called Succoth -- the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles. It is also called the Feast of Ingathering, as it comes after the annual harvest of crops and fruits. Succoth comes five days after Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement, after the sins of the people have been confessed and put away. The emblems common to this feast are sacrifices, booths, palms, light and water; each with its own significance. In the days of the Temple the pilgrims came to Jerusalem to celebrate and worship for seven days, during which they dwelt in booth in and around the city. Each day they went up to the Temple, and as they circled the Altar they waved their palms and cried, 'Hosanna (Oh, save)!' Water from the pool of Siloam, symbolizing the promise of the Spirit, was poured daily over the Altar; and in the evenings the Temple courts were bathed in the light of numerous candelabra.

Every seventh year the Law was read publicly by Divine command, on the year called the year of remission of debts. At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this Law in front of all Israel in their hearing (Deut. 31:10, 11). The Law commanded that at this Feast all debts should be cancelled, and that everyone should share his good things with the needy. This was also the time of year that Hebrew slaves were released by their masters; the public proclamation of the Law left them in no doubt as to this duty. Thus it was, that this Feast spelled joy and deliverance to many.! Central to all the people’s worship was the daily sacrifice. This was an indispensable part of the observance, and included burnt offerings and sin offerings. But today these are omitted; ever since the Roman armies destroyed the Temple in A.D. 70.

Each Festival in the Sacred Calendar holds a meaning and a purpose, and a reference to the future as well as the past. The Passover commemorated was the Messiah who, in the words of Daniel, was to finish the transgression, a mighty deliverance from bondage, and foreshadowed an even greater one through the Messiah. Likewise, this Feast of Tabernacles commemorates the wanderings of Israel after quitting Egypt, when the Presence of God went in their midst; and promises a far greater era when God would dwell in person among them. This, too, would be accomplished through the Messiah!

The need for mankind to regain the Presence of God arose when Adam, the head of the human race, rebelled and disobeyed God. His fall into sin is recorded in Genesis 3. By Noah’s time virtually all mankind was alienated from God. And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen.6:5). From this sad beginning however, God began to act to remove this obstacle between Him and Man. It is to the culmination of this purpose that this Feast points and promises; and its place in the Sacred Calendar after the Day of Atonement shows that we need to be forgiven if we are to realize and enjoy the promised reconciliation.

To begin with, God communed with individuals; He walked with Enoch, conversed with Abraham, and appeared to Moses at the burning bush. But after the Exodus He appeared to all Israel, in the Cloud of Glory (the Shechinah). It was at this time that He commanded Moses to build him a Sanctuary, where His Presence could dwell 'And let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it (Exod. 25: 8, 9). This Sanctuary, a replica of the heavenly Temple, had an altar of sacrifice outside the door, as well as a Laver for the priests to wash in before entering. Inside was a golden, seven-branched candlestick, a table with a loaf of bread for each tribe, and a screened enclosure called the Most Holy Place. It was in this holy Place that the Shechina rested, and many of the emblems that characterize the Feast: Light, water, sacrifices, and a Booth (in this case the Sanctuary). Two conditions had to be met, to ensure the continual Presence of God: a daily sacrifice had to be offered on the altar, and all uncleanness had to be removed form the Camp of Israel. This arrangement was interrupted when the people were taken captive by their enemies in 587 BC.

Nevertheless, God promised to be 'a little Sanctuary' to them,, until the fulfilment of the promise: Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and He will clear the way before me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts (Mal. 3:1). This messenger, or Angle, was the same that had led them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. By this time the people had discerned that He was their coming Messiah as their writings bear witness. His presence, significantly, was compared to the shelter of a booth. There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain (Isaiah 4:6). To help them to recognize Him, they were given details of the miracles that would attend His ministry among them. In the glowing words of Isaiah, Behold, your God will come, He will save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy (Isa. 35:4-6).

At length the appointed time arrived for God to visit His people Israel. Those who recognized Him proclaimed His arrival with joy; In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory (John 1: 1,2,14). Dumb men sang the praise of God at His touch; the lame man leaped and walked; blind men saw, the dead were raised, and the poor heard the good news of salvation. In amazement the people said, When the Messiah shall come, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He? Others said God has visited His people! - and they were right! God had kept His word.

In Jerusalem, at the Feast of tabernacles, Messiah openly announced Himself to His people. To those who witnessed the pouring of water over the altar He said, If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. And to those who trod the brightly lit Temple courts He said, I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life. As God had given the people of Israel bread to eat in the wilderness, so did He: and as Moses and Aaron offered sacrifices for the sins of Israel, so did He,. But the life He laid down was not another’s, it was His own! His eternal sacrifice replaced the continual daily offerings, as the Bible declares 'For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb.9:13,14). As God went with Israel in their journeys, so He goes with us today, because the requirements securing His continual Presence are finally and fully met.

All this was but the dawning of the Promise. A more glorious day is coming, when the final release from sin will be sounded, and when there will be a Restoration of all things. We would expect from the Bible that the restoration of Israel would take place first, and so it is: In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old. (Amos 9:11). And just as Yom Kippur preceded the Feast, so there will be a time of national mourning and repentance before the great day: And I will pour out on the house of David and on the Inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a fist-born. In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity (Zechariah 12:10; 13:1). The same prophet goes on to speak of the celebration of this Feast of Booths by all the nations, who will go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD 0: hosts (Zech. 14).0 And in the new heavens and new earth, God and man will be together again. Here for the last time, we meet with the emblems of light, water, palms, and Tabernacle: And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them. And there shall no longer be any night and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them. . . and let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost'. (Rev. 21:3; 22:5, 17). All the people of God will be there with their palms, crying, Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, all because, and only because, Jesus the Messiah has reconciled us to God by His blood.

Let us not rest content with singing, "Hosanna (Oh, save):" Let us make sure we are saved, and that we have the right to sing: Salvation to our God and to the Lamb. This song belongs by right to all who believe. How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound: O LORD, they walk in the light of Thy countenance. In Thy Name they rejoice all the day, and by Thy righteousness they are exalted. (Ps. 89:15,16)

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