And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) to the LORD … You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”[Leviticus 23:33-34, 41-43]
The third and final fall feast is the Feast of Tabernacles — or Sukkot in Hebrew. Sukkot is the Hebrew word for booth or temporary shelter, which is why this appointed feast is also called Booths. The Feast of Tabernacles always falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of Tishrei, which is 5 days after the Day of Atonement.
In contrast to the Day of Atonement, which is commemorated with fasting, repentance, and solemn self-examination, Tabernacles is a joyous occasion with feasting, dancing, singing and worshiping the LORD. Tabernacles is to be celebrated for an entire week, followed by a special 8th day solemn day of rest called ‘Shemini Atzeret‘ (the eighth day of assembly). I will discuss the significance of this 8th day in my next post.
Like every other appointed Feast of the LORD, Tabernacles was designed by God to be an annual memorial of the past and a dress rehearsal for the future. It is no surprise that Tabernacles is directly connected to the most important event in Israel’s history — the Exodus.
After Yahweh redeemed the children of Israel from bondage and demonstrated His supreme power over Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, He led Israel through the Red Sea on their way to the Promised Land. That journey lasted much longer, however, because of the people’s stubborn unbelief, which derailed them into a 40-year wandering in the wilderness.
During this wandering, the Israelites were forced to dwell in temporary shelters, or booths. The LORD also instructed Moses to build a Tabernacle for Him — the Tent of Meeting — which always was located in the center of the camp. All 12 tribes of Israel were to remain encamped around the Tabernacle of the LORD.
To remember the Exodus story, the LORD instructed the Israelites to build their own temporary shelters — or booths — and dwell in them for an entire week each year. As you might imagine, this appointed feast also points to a time when the LORD will once again dwell in the midst of His people.
The Tabernacle and the Temple
Once the Israelites settled in the Promised Land and the 12 tribes received their allotted inheritance, the Tabernacle lost some significance in the Biblical narrative. Although the Tabernacle was moved around some, it eventually landed in Shiloh, where a community of priests took care of it’s contents, especially the Ark of the Covenant.
Years later King David established Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel and resolved to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Zion. The Bible says that David erected a replica of the Tabernacle to house the Ark, which the Prophet Amos called the “tent of David” [Amos 9:11].
Although the LORD would not allow David to build Him a permanent dwelling place, David’s son, King Solomon, was chosen by God to build the Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon dedicated the Temple on the 15th of Tishrei — the Feast of Tabernacles — and the Shekinah glory of the LORD filled the Temple [2 Chronicles 7:8-10]. For this reason, sometimes Tabernacles is also called the Feast of Dedication.
“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you, that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place.”[2 Chronicles 6:18-20]
Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles
Although we do not have Biblical clarity on the exact time of the birth of Jesus, I do not believe that December 25 is the best option. If God is true to task with giving prophetic significance to His appointed Feasts, then it would stand to reason that the Lord Jesus likely was born during one of them. The best candidate in my opinion is the Feast of Tabernacles.
John’s gospel doesn’t begin with the birth of Jesus, yet John does provide the most thorough theological explanation of how God the Son became the Son of Man.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made …
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.[John 1:1-3, 9-14]
Interestingly enough, the Greek word used for “dwelt” here in John 1:14 is skénoó — meaning to dwell as in a tent, encamp, have my tabernacle.
Taking this into consideration, John could be saying that the Son of God literally took on a human tabernacle, or body, on the actual Feast of Tabernacles.
For a more in-depth explanation of this concept, you can read here.
One of the complementary festivals that traditionally became associated with the Feast of Tabernacles was called the Festival of Lights. During this festival, four massive golden lampstands [50 cubits high] were setup in the Temple Compound and lit at sundown. The lampstands emitted light all over Jerusalem, which according to the Jewish rabbis, was symbolic of the God’s Shekinah glory that was promised to return to Israel with the coming of the Messiah.
It is interesting that Jesus appeared in Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths and caused great controversy with His teaching [see John 7-8]. With the massive golden lampstands serving as a backdrop, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” [John 8:12].
Tabernacles in the Future
As we will see next time, the Feast of Tabernacles has prophetic significance that will be realized after the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus! Stay tuned.