Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, (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. (35) On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. (36) For 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 offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it. (37) These are the feasts of the LORD which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering and a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, everything on its day-- (38) besides the Sabbaths of the LORD, besides your gifts, besides all your vows, and besides all your freewill offerings which you give to the LORD. (39) Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. (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. (41) You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. (42) You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, (43) that 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." (44) So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD. (Leviticus 23:33-44 NKJV)
We often speak of various Jewish feasts and celebrations in our theological pursuits. The Feast of Tabernacle (or "booths") is one such feast. It is one of the most unique feasts in Judaism, in my opinion. This is due to the peculiar instructions God gave the Israelites. The Feast of Tabernacle (FOT hereon) was the fourth in a set of annual festival celebrations of Judaism (2 Chron. 8:13; Ezra 3:4; Zech. 14:16). On the Gregorian calendar this time is fixed around September or October. This feast was so well known in Judaism and the Old Testament scriptures that it was simply referred to as "the feast" (1 Kings 8:2; 2 Chron. 5:3; 7:8; Neh. 8:14; Isa. 30:29; Ezek. 45:23,25).
FOT encompasses a variety of Jewish historical and Torahic (something finding origin in the Torah) meaning. Whatever its nuances might be it is clear that it is to be celebrated perpetually (vs. 41) and with rejoicing (vs. 40). Today, this particular feast includes a celebration of the fall harvest and God’s provision for Israel. It is generally a very celebrated and anticipated feast. As the Leviticus passage demonstrated, above, FOT has origin in the Torah (Lev. 23:29-43). It is a time for remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their subsequent wandering in the wilderness for forty years. During this time Israel lived in tents and worshiped at the Tabernacle which was also a tent, both having specifications from God on the way each was to be built.
FOT was held after harvest and vintage (Deut 16:13); it began on fifteenth of seventh month (Lev 23:34,39); lasted seven days (Lev 23:34,41; Deut 16:13,15); all males obliged to appear at (Ex 23:16,17); to be observed with rejoicing (Deut 16:14,15); perpetually (Lev 23:41); people dwelt in booths during (Lev 23:42; Neh 8:15,16); the law publicly read every seventh year at (Deut 31:10–12; Neh 8:18); to commemorate the sojourn of Israel in the desert (Lev 23:43) and had remarkable celebrations of at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (1 Kin 8:2,65) as well as after the Egyptian captivity (Ex 3:4; Neh 8:17).(1)
Today, when remembering this time Jews build small tabernacles or booths with walls of plaited branches and thatched roofs as God explicitly instructed in Leviticus 23:42. These booths/tents are still constructed in modern times. God instructed them to live in these booths for seven days. This served as a clear reminder of their days of tent living while wandering in the wilderness.
As we read the Leviticus passage, we can readily see that this event was a staged celebration by the Almighty Himself. Although, symbolisms and metaphors exist in this feast God makes it very plain his reasoning for this feast. It is encapsulated in vss. 42-44:
“You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt:” (NKJV)
FOT “was instituted to remind the Israelites that their fathers dwelt in tents or booths in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:43), and to be an annual thanksgiving after all the crops of the land were gathered for the year (Leviticus 23:39). (2) It seems, then, that God’s express purpose is to cause Israel to remember His mercy and provision upon them by celebrating with the booths. A secondary purpose is to cause rejoicing and thanksgiving because of mercy and provision as well. A positve remembrance then can lead to thanksgiving and rejoicing.
The term "tabernacle" (rendered “booth” by KJV) or אהל in Old Testament Hebrew refers to a "tent of nomad" or a "dwelling" or a "sacred tent of Jehovah" (3) or a general covering. The idea was not, necessarily, to indicate Yahweh as the protector, preserver, and covering in heat and storm (Psalms. 27:5; 31:20; Isa. 4:6) only but to also serve as a celebration for the entire community, including family, slaves, widows, orphans, Levites, and sojourners (Deut. 16:13-15). It appears possible, then, for foreign slaves and those destitute and without familial connection, were to rejoice in the Feast!
As mentioned earlier, the Tabernacle in the Wilderness as well as the booths of the feast were to be built with explicit instruction from God. It was not a contrivance of man then, but something gifted to Israel, via Moses, by God.
Our savior, Jesus Christ, attended FOT. In fact, "after the Feast of Tabernacles in the temple, Jesus angers the Pharisees by claiming to be the light of the world" (4) as custom, FOT occurred in Jerusalem. After Christ arrived in Jerusalem and entered the Temple John’s Gospel proclaims,
"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. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. 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 7:38-39 NKJV)
The phrase “on the last day” means that this event occurred on the last day of FOT.
As mentioned just prior, Jesus also upset the Pharisees by proclaiming to be the “light of the world”. Those travelling to the Temple would bring lights and torches. To add to the significance, the golden lamps stands would also be lighted thereby illuminating the Temple. Prophetically, this looked forward to the coming of the Messiah—Jesus Christ. Shortly, after FOT, Jesus spoke and said,
“…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 NKJV)
By the pen of Luke, Paul carries this further at Antioch,
“For so the Lord has commanded us: I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth." (Acts 13:47 NKJV)
Paul tells us here that, not only is he sent to carry this light, but that this light is to be carried to the ends of the earth!
For certain, there are several nuances in this particular feast. However, there are at least two things, in FOT, that we have discussed prior that give some further meaning to practical Christian living.
First, as mentioned prior, a possible secondary purpose for FOT was to cause rejoicing and thanksgiving because of mercy and provision. Remember the recent death of a loved one does not always bring thanksgiving or rejoicing, but in some sense if the person is saved we should rejoice. So, positive remembrance should lead to thanksgiving and rejoicing. We should be careful in our daily lives and especially in public worship to always give proper remembrance (Rev. 2:4-5) and thanks (Eph. 5:20) to the great things that God has done.
Second, it appears all members then, even possible foreign slaves and those destitute and without familial connection, was to rejoice in the Feast. There is possible Christological symbolism here. In the NT Paul later tells us that it is by grace through faith that we have been saved. God's grace has been extended to all mankind (John 3:16); It is not the will of God for any man to perish (2 Peter 3:9); Race, gender, nor economic status are perquisite to salvation (Gal. 3:28). Likewise FOT extended rejoicing privileges to everyone regardless of status. Christ our covering and protection can be celebrated by ALL (John 3:16)!
- The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Re 21:27). MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). Nashville: Word Pub.
- Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (2000). Strong's, TWOT, and GK references Copyright 2000 by Logos Research Systems, Inc. (electronic ed.) (13). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.
- Manners & Customs of the Bible. "Rewritten and updated by Harold J. Chadwick" Freeman, J. M., & Chadwick, H. J. (1998). --Cover.; Includes index. (Rev. ed.].) (123). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers
- A Harmony of the Gospels. Robertson, A.T., , Harper & Row; New York` 1950.