Of all the various feasts in the Bible, three are known as the great “pilgrimage” feasts because the men of Israel were required to travel to Jerusalem in order to observe them. First is Passover or Pesach, then Pentecost or Shavuot and lastly the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot.
All three feasts celebrate some aspect of the kingdom of God. Passover is the door to the kingdom because you only get into this kingdom by the shedding of blood. Pentecost is the power of the kingdom because it celebrates the coming of the Spirit of God. And last, the Feast of Tabernacles celebrates the final triumph of the kingdom of God.
It can be said that redemptive history has three segments: a Passover segment from Moses to Jesus, the sacrificial lamb; a Pentecost segment during which the Spirit of God is being poured out with a harvest of souls gathered from every nation; and we are moving into the final great segment, the Tabernacles segment. That is when the kingdom that is here in our hearts, comes in its fullness on earth.
To understand the Feast of Tabernacles, we turn to Leviticus 23 where we find that it occurs in the fall and is preceded by two other very important feasts. Together, they are known as the High Holy Days.
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, and it marks the beginning of the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah literally means “beginning of the year” even though it occurs in the seventh month. That is because the Jewish calendar is built on two cycles: the religious calendar beginning in the spring and the civil calendar beginning in the fall.
Rosh Hashanah is also known as the Feast of Trumpets for it is on that day a shofar (ram’s horn) is to be blown. While the shofar may be announcing a new year, it is also proclaiming the coming kingdom of God, which inspires a response of repentance in His people. Thus, Rosh Hashanah ushers in ten days of repentance, known as the “days of awe,” that climax with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Yom Kippur is the highest holy day in the Jewish calendar because it was on this day that the High Priest entered into the Holy of Holies and made atonement for the sins of the people. Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, however, there has been no sacrifice and no way of making restitution other than through prayers and fasting.
It is an amazing experience to be in Jerusalem for Yom Kippur. The entire city, in fact the entire country, shuts down for 24 hours. There is no television or radio; no buses, trains or cars; and all stores are closed. In Jerusalem, the streets are completely empty except for the many people walking in them, most on their way to the synagogue or the Western Wall to pray.
The Feast of Tabernacles
Three days after the solemn fast of Yom Kippur, begins the joyous celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, or Feast of “Booths.” And what a joyous feast it is! In Leviticus 23:40 the children of Israel are literally commanded to rejoice for the seven day holiday.
I often reflect on the wisdom of God that He not only instituted the Sabbath for one day of rest each week, but He commanded a full week of joyous celebration every year! He knew that man needs both physical and emotional respite from the ongoing pressures of life.
The feast is also a week of celebrating God’s care for His children by commemorating His provisions for the Israelites during their wilderness journey. The Jewish people do that by living in booths with a flimsy roof made out of tree branches. They are exposed to the elements as a reminder of the time when their ancestors lived that way but were cared for by God.
The Feast of Tabernacles is also a celebration of the Fall harvest, another indication of God’s care for His people. Since the harvest occurs after a long period without rain, the occasion is also used to beseech the Lord for the fall rains. God’s provision of rain and harvest are signs of His great love and care for His people. They are also forward looking to that great and joyous day when the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh and a harvest of souls is ingathered from the nations.
God’s Care for All People
The beautiful thing about the Feast of Tabernacles is its inclusion of all people in God’s kingdom. This is demonstrated by the gathering of four species of leafy branches said to represent the four types of people in the world. The branches are then waved towards the four corners of the earth demonstrating God’s care and love for all people.
Hence, the Feast of Tabernacles is ultimately about the nations. That is why Zechariah 14 tells us that all the nations will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles when the Messianic kingdom has been established. In the meantime, thousands of Christians gather in Jerusalem each year, from as many as 100 nations, to participate in this joyous celebration of the eventual rule of the kingdom of God on the earth.
Susan Michael is the US Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. The ICEJ hosts the annual Christian Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem.