The Feast of Tabernacles then and now
by Petra van der Zande
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Where does Sukkot come from?
Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) is one of the three (God ordained) festivals during which the Jews made pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Exodus 23:16 mentions the three Feasts, Deuteronomy 16:13 specifically tells the people when and how to celebrate, while Leviticus 23:40-44 gives specific instructions what to do on the first day of the Feast.
John 7 gives the account of Jesus celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles.
Historical and agricultural significance
The three pilgrims feast - Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) have both historical and agricultural significance.
But because Sukkot occurred in the fall harvest, it was also observed as an agricultural event.
The season of rejoicing
Sukkot is a week of rejoicing beginning on the 15th of the Jewish month of Tishrei, the date of the first full moon after the autumnal equinox. (Usually September or October) Israelites eat their meals in a tabernacle or booth that is covered with boughs, (but with the sky showing through) in remembrance of the desert wanderings.
A week-long holiday
In the Diaspora (outside Israel) the first days are celebrated as full holidays (like a Sabbath). The last day (“the Eight Day of Solemn Assembly”) is also kept as a holiday, followed by Simhat Torah (Rejoicing of the Law).
The first sukkah
The first Sukkot built in the wilderness were probably made from the branches of the acacia (Lotus) tree. This tree grows in the desert wadi’s where floodwaters provide the necessary moisture. The Ark of the Covenant was made of acacia wood.
Once in the Promised Land, the Israelites were able to use the trees of the forest to build Sukkot, as we can read in Nehemiah 8:15.
The Bible mentions live, pine, myrtle, and palm branches, including those of thick trees.
The sukkah reminds of Israel’s journey in the wilderness and symbolizes man’s reliance on Divine protection.
The Four Species
A general part of the Festival are the “four species” (Araba’ah minim) which are held together and waved at different points in the religious services, in accordance with the commandment “Rejoice before the LORD”.
The four species consist of a palm branch, citron, three myrtle twigs, and two willow branches. These species combined are called the “Lulav”.
Sukkot’s symbolic ceremonies
During synagogue services the prayer for rain is central, while the believers “wave” the Four Species.
Because water is vital for life, during the holiday so-called water libation ceremonies take place, while singing songs such as, “You shall draw water with gladness out of the wells of salvation”, taken from Isaiah 12:3.
Simhat Torah marks the conclusion of the annual Torah reading cycle and the beginning of a new cycle and is celebrated on the last day of the Feast.
The rainy season
The prayers for rain commence during Sukkot and continue till Pesach, (Passover) which coincides with the end of the Israel’s rainy season.
The Nations will go up to Jerusalem
Not to wage war, but to celebrate Sukkot with the Jewish people.
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the LORD strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:16-19 NKJV)
It’s already happening
The International Christian Embassy yearly sponsors a Christian Celebration which attracts thousands of people from around the world.
People from all nations celebrate this special holiday with the Jewish people in Jerusalem.
“…then the LORD will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering. And there will be a tabernacle [sukkah] for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.” (Isaiah 4:5, 6 NKJV)
This article is an excerpt of the soon to be published E-book called:
“A Christian Guide to the Jewish Festival of Sukkot”.
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