The Feast of Tabernacles is the climax of the Jewish festivals and also God’s prophetic timeline. It marked the end of the harvest season (Lev. 23:39), is known as the ‘Feast of Ingathering’ in Exodus 23:16 and Deuteronomy 16:13 associates it with the end of the harvest.[i]
Following the Day of Atonement, preparations are swiftly made for building sukkot. Interestingly the Torah portion for day 1 and 2 is from Leviticus 22:26-23:44 and includes all the feasts of the Lord and culminates in Tabernacles. In addition, the Maftir (last Torah reading) is from Numbers 29:12-26 regarding the designated offerings. The Haftarah portions include Zechariah 14:1-21 which speaks of all the nations celebrating Sukkot, obviously an event still future and 1 Kings 8:2-21 which describes when the ark was brought into the inner sanctuary of the temple.
In the ancient world many civilizations celebrated festivals in connection with agriculture. Building a shelter to reside in and the specific use of the etrog and waving of the willow, palm and myrtle was not just another variation in the midst of other rituals common to Israel’s neighbours. These feasts of the Lord that God appointed were in stark contrast from surrounding peoples who worshipped the creation rather than the Creator.[ii]
Like Pesach and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, this feast remembered Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery and that they continued to reside in tents through to when Moses received the law at Sinai and the wilderness years until arrival at Canaan.[iii]This was a joyful festival. The Lord had provided for them in the past; would He not know provide for them in the Promised Land?[iv]
Yeshua at the feast of tabernacles
Just like the preceding feasts, sukkot also foreshadows Messiah. Jesus made clear and emphatic declarations concerning His messianic identity at the feast of tabernacles. Noticeably, He arrived in the middle of the feast, not at the beginning. Why was that? Everyone else would have a mikvah, a ritual bath identifying that person as being cleansed. But exactly what sin had Jesus ever committed? Since He was sinless, He could go to tabernacles without any requirement to be cleansed.
Yeshua made an immediate impact through His teaching. It became apparent that He was a heavenly scholar and taught with authority. Is it surprising that Jesus has altered the course of history considering that He taught as no one else ever taught? How was that possible?
‘And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me (John 7:15-16).”
A conversation followed about Moses and the inability to keep the whole law and some even recognised Him as ‘the Prophet like Moses’ and others as the Messiah (John 7:40; c.f. Deuteronomy 18:15-22). What was it that they heard that led them to say that?
At the time of Yeshua, a vital part of the celebration was the bringing up of the water from the Pool of Siloam through the Water Gate to the Temple where it was poured out as a supplication to God.[v] This was brought in a golden flask and poured into a basin near the altar.[vi] This was based on Isaiah 12:3 “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” and they sang the psalms of ascent (Psalms 120-134) as they returned and arrived at the close of the morning service.[vii] This was a hope that symbolised the day of Messiah, when living water would proceed from the temple.[viii]
‘On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39).’
This was an unmistakeable messianic claim. John had carefully selected the term ‘tabernacled among us’ in John 1:14 describing how Jesus took on flesh and was begotten by the Father. He explained that the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Is it surprising that some of those at the feast concluded that He was ‘the Prophet’ and others thought He was the Messiah? In John 4:1-26, Yeshua met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and claimed that whoever drinks of the water that He would give, would never thirst again (John 4:14). The Samaritan woman mentioned that Messiah was coming and when He did, He would tell of such things. Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you, am He (John 4:26).”
Isaiah had prophesied of the invitation to abundant life in connection with an everlasting covenant.
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters;
And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
3 Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you—The sure mercies of David (Isaiah 55:1-3).”
Light of the world
The Talmud pictures a vivid scene of the evening celebrations, providing insight and a fascinating window concerning the background of Yeshua’s next messianic declaration.
At the conclusion of the first festival day of Sukkot they descended to the Women’s Court (Ezrat Nashim) and they would make there a great enactment. And golden candlesticks were there, and four golden bowls on the top of each of them and four ladders to each, and four youths drawn from the young priests, and in their hands there were jars of oil containing one hundred and twenty logs which they poured into the bowls.
From the worn-out pants and belts of the priests they made wicks and with them they kindled the lamps. And there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not illuminated by the light of the Bet Hashoevah.
Men of piety and good deeds used to dance before them with lighted torches in their hands, and they would sing songs and praises. And Levites with innumerable harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets and other musical instruments stood upon the fifteen steps leading down from the Court of the Israelites to the Court of the Women, corresponding to the fifteen songs of ascents in the Psalms, and it was on these [steps] that the Levites stood with their musical instruments and sang their songs. Two priests stood by the upper gate which leads down from the Court of the Israelites to the Court of the Women, with two trumpets in their hands. When the cock crowed they sounded a teki’ah [drawn-out blast], a teru’ah [staccato note] and again a teki’ah. When they reached the tenth step they sounded a teki’ah, a teru’ah and again a teki’ah. When they reached the Court [of the Women] they sounded a teki’ah, a teru’ah and again a teki’ah. They would sound their trumpets and proceed until they reached the gate which leads out to the east. When they reached the gate which leads out to the east, they turned their faces from east to west and said, “Our fathers who were in this place ‘their backs were toward the Temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, and they worshipped the sun toward the east’, but as for us, our eyes are turned to the Lord.” Rabbi Judah said: they used to repeat [the last words] and say “We are the Lord’s and our eyes are turned to the Lord.”[ix]
Jesus taught as no one ever taught and performed miracles. He used the tradition of tabernacles to demonstrate that He was Messiah. A woman was caught in adultery and when He was tested concerning how He would respond from the law of Moses He said “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first (John 8:7).”Incredibly, one by one from the oldest to the last they were convicted by their conscience and went out. Jesus told her that He did not condemn her either but to go and sin no more. His next statement explained how He was and is.
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12).”
In John 9 a man was born blind and Jesus gave Him sight. His disciples asked him whether it was that man or his parents that had sinned resulting in blindness. Notice Yeshua’s explanation and revelation of who He was and is.
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world (John 9:3-5).”
Yeshua had offered living water amongst the backdrop of the water ceremony and came as the light of the world when the candlesticks lit Jerusalem. He was about to perform a miracle and told the man to wash. Where? The Pool of Siloam where the water was carried for the water ceremony. These crucial details revealed His identity.
In John 7:52 at the feast of tabernacles the authorities objected asking what prophet ever came from Galilee? We find the answer in Isaiah 9:1-7 which speaks of that Prophet from Galilee whose throne of David would be without end.
‘Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, As when at first He lightly esteemed
The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, And afterward more heavily oppressed her,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, In Galilee of the Gentiles.
2 The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation And increased its joy;
They rejoice before You According to the joy of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
4 For You have broken the yoke of his burden And the staff of his shoulder,
The rod of his oppressor, As in the day of Midian.
5 For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, And garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.
6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this (Isaiah 9:1-7).’
Looking forward to tabernacles
Take encouragement from Zechariah 14. Zechariah 14:4 teaches that the Messiah will stand on the Mount of Olives which faces Jerusalem. Zechariah 14:16-21 tells us that all nations which came up against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King and to keep the feast of tabernacles. Jesus the Messiah is coming again. There will be many trials and tribulations before then, though the Messianic Age is something to look forward to.
The Lord knows the end from the beginning, and He has appointed times and feasts according to His timeline, His prophetic calendar. What Yeshua taught and did at the feast of Tabernacles was remarkable as He revealed who He was, the Messiah who is the light of the world and who offers living water.
One more thing. Carrying the branches at the feast of tabernacles, the words of Psalm 118:25 were sung “Save now, I pray, O Lord; O lord, I pray, send now prosperity. Their prayers were answered when Yeshua appeared at Tabernacles. He revealed Himself as the Messiah, the only One who could save them as He is the provider of living water and the light of the world. The all- important questions remain. Are you saved? Have you had your sins washed away? Are you trusting in Him and are you abiding in Him? ‘Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God (Psalm 146:5).’
[i] P. Grieve Leviticus What the Bible Teaches (John Ritchie Ltd, 2012; Kilmarnock), 259
[ii] David Brickner Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles (Moody, 2006; Chicago), p24
[iii] Bryan W Sheldon The Messiah and the Feasts of Israel (Gospel Folio Press, 2007; Port Colborne), p158
[iv] Derek Tidball The Message of Leviticus (IVP, 2005; Leicester), p280
[v] Tidball, 280
[vi] Peter Sammons Israel’s Holy Moedim (Glory to Glory Publications, 2017; Cambridge), p122
[vii] Sheldon p161
[viii] Tidball, p280