I didn't write about the biblical holidays as they came around the way I had intended, but this being the end of the season of Sukkot, the last of the fall festivals, I thought I'd share what I've learned about it so far.
First off, I didn't push the issue of observance of the fall festivals this year with my family because I'm still learning all this for myself and how it fits into my own life. The Spring festivals were a little easier because much of the meaning to those is similar to that of Easter. It was just a matter of observing on a different day and getting rid of the bunnies and eggs...and ham.
There is so much more to know about this festival, but in a nutshell, Sukkot, also known as "Tabernacles," or "Booths," (which I will use interchangeably) is an eight-day festival, celebrated on 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (varies from late September to late October). It commemorates for the Jews the time when God dwelt among their ancestors in the wilderness and led them safely out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. To celebrate, observant Jewish families will build a Sukkah, which is a tent-like structure symbolizing the temporary dwellings in the wilderness, and they decorate the inside with greenery. For eight days, they gather inside their Sukkah for Torah reading, prayer, meals, and in some cases, even to sleep.
Ancient Hebrews also held a ceremony during Sukkot called a "water libation," wherein water was sacrificially poured out by the High Priest as a drink offering to the Lord.
Sukkot is a time to celebrate and be joyful in the Lord - to celebrate his protection and provision. The eighth and final day of the festival is to be the most joyful!
What does the Bible say about Tabernacles?
The most detailed descriptions of Tabernacles are found in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 23:33, the Bible says this (all quotes are from the NIV):
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. For seven days, present food offerings to the Lord, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the Lord. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work.
Continuing in verse 39:
“‘So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of sabbath rest. On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees — from palms, willows and other leafy trees — and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’”
As you can see from this passage, the Lord says that we are to rejoice before Him - for seven days! Seven! And we are to do it each year, for generations to come.
Numbers 29:12-32 goes into detail about the sacrifices and offerings to be made for each day of the festival, and then verses 35-38 say this:
“‘On the eighth day, hold a closing special assembly and do no regular work. Present as an aroma pleasing to the Lord a food offering consisting of a burnt offering of one bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. With the bull, the ram and the lambs, offer their grain offerings and drink offerings according to the number specified. Include one male goat as a sin offering, in addition to the regular burnt offering with its grain offering and drink offering.
Deuteronomy 16:13-17, again tells us to celebrate Tabernacles and to be joyful!
Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your festival — you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.
So, you may be asking yourself, as I did...what's this got to do with me as a believer in Jesus? After all, these passages pretty much appear to apply to Israelites who lived in the wilderness and their descendants, the Jews. But I'm not Jewish. I'm a Gentile. How does all this apply to me? Consider this...
In Romans 11, Paul tells us that the Gentiles, by believing in Jesus as the Messiah, are grafted into the olive tree (His chosen people -Israel). We are, by virtue of that belief and faith in Jesus, heirs to the promises of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the same as the Jews. So, in the spiritual sense, before we came to know Jesus as Messiah, we, too, lived in the wilderness. A spiritual wilderness. Without him, life was pretty pointless. No hope, no joy. Just existence. But when He came to live inside us - inside our earthly tents - we were finally able to experience the fullness of joy, and we received the hope of being heirs to the promises He made to our (adoptive) forefathers. Since the Bible says our bodies are the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19) and He dwells inside of us, we don't have to pilgrimage to the temple, because He's right there within us. We don't have to pitch tents because our bodies are our tabernacles. So, we are, in a sense, walking, talking Booths.
Taking a deeper look into the New Testament, we find that Jesus did, in fact, observe this Festival (and the others, as well). And, in His infinite wisdom, He used the most joyful day of the festival to reveal a very important truth about himself.
Take a look at John chapter 7. Jesus goes to Judea for the Feast of Tabernacles. Verses 37 and 38 say this:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Notice that he waited until the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles (the eighth day), which is supposed to be the most joyful day of the whole festival - the day of the special assembly - to reveal that His Spirit would be a river of living water to all who believe in Him! No one who believes in Him will ever thirst again!
In Matthew 3:11 and 12, John says this: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Throughout the Scriptures, water is symbolic of Holy Spirit. Is this what the water ceremonies, and originally, the drink offerings, of the ancient Hebrews symbolized?
And since Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire, is this what the burnt offerings symbolized - the chaff (sin or unbelievers) is consumed by fire? These are things I'm still learning, but at first glance, it makes sense to me.
It's beautiful how it all connects! It all points straight to Jesus! The Spring feasts have been fulfilled by Jesus already, and he will fulfill the Fall feasts, as well. Specifically, in regards to Tabernacles, when He returns, He will once again physically dwell with us - only at that time, everything will be perfect, just as God intended in the very beginning. If that isn't something to celebrate, I don't know what is!
I believe that as non-Jewish believers in Jesus, we have two very good reasons to observe this and all the biblical feasts:
(1) Because God commanded us to; and
(2) Because Jesus did.
Not to mention, because in doing so, we set ourselves apart from the world in a way that no other religious group can. His way.
So, why do we choose not to observe these times?
That's a topic for another day.