Five days after the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, at sundown on Wednesday, October 4th, 2017, comes the joyful seven day observance known by the Hebrews as Sukkot. We Gentiles call it the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles. It hearkens back to the days when their ancestors wandered in the wilderness after escaping Egyptian captivity till God delivered them to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. It’s a thanksgiving celebration to Him for providing for their needs, physically and spiritually during those forty years.
In was in the harsh, unforgiving environment of the desert wilderness that the Hebrew nation learned that despite their murmurings they had to depend on Christ for everything and that He would never let them down. He gave them manna from the sky and water from the rocks. He did this to teach his chosen people to never forget that He and only He was their benefactor. So He pronounced in Leviticus 23, specific instructions to Moses:
34“Speak to the children of Israel, saying: The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord. 35On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. 36For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall an offering made by fire to the Lord. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it.” (NKJV)
In addition, God, in his infinite wisdom, must have wanted the future generations of Hebrews to experience just a hint of the sacrifice of living on the trail their ancestors endured. So He commanded that the people shall dwell in booths, or “sukkots” for an entire week, a practice still carried out.
42You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (NKJV)
In backyards or rooms in their homes Jews construct these simple yet practical structures from wood, tree branches, corn stalks or reeds; just the kind of things their forefathers would find in the wilderness, and then live and sleep in them.
God gave another command about how to show recognition that He is everywhere:
40”And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.”
So, like their ancestors Jews gather branches of palms, willow, citron and myrtle, bind them together forming what they call a lulav. With the lulav in hand a blessing is given as it is waved up and down and in the four directions, symbolizing the Lord’s beauty and bounty, that He is everywhere and how all good gifts come from Him and only Him.
Another Jewish tradition was the pouring of water from the pool of Siloam upon the altar at the Temple. This was to thank the Lord for the life giving rains He would send in the coming winter assuring a bountiful spring and summer harvest. Likewise Christ, in His earthly walk, gave another symbolic clue that He was the promised one they were waiting for when he was recorded as saying:
37“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37-38 (NKJV)
We Gentiles may find this festival something of a recall of what many of us did when we were kids- camping out. But it should be more seriously remind us of the presence of God the Father in this, our temporary earthly lives, seeing to our daily needs in preparation for our final destination- paradise.
In the feast of Tabernacles there is a remembrance of their ancestors dwelling in tents or booths in the wilderness and in Canaan; and their deliverance. Christ’s presence on earth is also be prefigured. It also represents the believer’s life on earth: though a stranger and pilgrim here below, his home and heart are above with his Savior. They would the more value the comforts and conveniences of their own houses, when they had been seven days dwelling in the booths. It is good for those who have ease and plenty, sometimes to learn what it is to endure hardness. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible
It is my hope we Gentiles become more aware of, and better honor what our friends in the Jewish faith hold so dear. May this new awareness and respect for them enrich our understanding of Christ’s earthly walk, and our relationship with Him. May it shorten the distance between our hearts and those of that special race of people He declared to be his chosen.