Dr. Bill Duerfeldt
Sukkot – Feast of Tabernacles
Of the Feasts of the LORD, three are especially important – Pesach (Passover); Shavu’ot (Pentecost); and Sukkot (Tabernacles). These three were called the Pilgrim Feasts, because in times past, every Jewish male age 13 or above, living in Israel, was to make a pilgrimage up to Jerusalem during these three feasts. Even those living outside Jerusalem in the Diaspora, if they could afford to do so, also came to Jerusalem during these three feasts.
At this time of year – in the autumn -- we are entering the season of Sukkot. This year, in 2011, Sukkot will begin at sunset on 12 October and end at nightfall on 19 October. But before I discuss Sukkot, let’s begin by taking a look at Leviticus 23:1-2 – “And the LORD spoke to Moses saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel and say the Feasts of the LORD which you shall proclaim are holy convocations; they are My feasts.”(NKJV).
I want to draw our attention to two things. First, these are the Feasts of the LORD. God says, “…they are My feasts”. I’ve heard many gentile Christians over the years refer to them as “the Jewish feasts” or “the Jewish holy days”. These feasts are not reserved only for the Jews. They are “the LORD’s feasts!”
Second, I want us to look at the word “feasts” in the Scripture above. The word translated “feasts” is the Hebrew word מֹועֲדָֽם (mo’ed’im). The New American Standard Bible translates this word as “appointed times” which is more accurate to the original Hebrew than the NKJV or most other English translations. Mo’ed (or plural mo’ed’im) primarily means “appointed time”, or “appointed meeting”. To use the word in the English vernacular, it is an “appointment”. Now, before my retirement, when I was a practicing physician at Ohio University, every day I had a certain number of appointments with my patients. With each appointment, there was a two-fold expectation – first, I expected my patient would be there to see me; and secondly, my patient would expect me to be there to meet them.
The LORD’s mo’ed’im are no different. He is saying in essence, “These are My appointments with you. I, the King of the Universe, will be there, and I expect you to be there too!” Since the days of Moses the LORD has been keeping His appointments and meeting regularly with His people. With the coming of Yeshua, we gentiles, who believe that He is the Jewish Messiah, have been adopted into the family of Abraham. As new members of the family we, too, have been invited to the LORD’s appointments. Yet for nearly two millennia we have shunned His appointments, choosing instead to set up our own calendar of religious holidays, few of which have anything to do with God’s mo’ed’im.
So…instead of meeting on Shabbat, we gathered in our churches on Sunday; instead of Pesach we celebrated Easter; and so on. The Church came closest to celebrating one of the LORD’s mo’ed’im with Shavu’ot, but even here we called it Pentecost and fixed a date for it completely unrelated to the Passover. Sadly, the celebration of Christian Pentecost is so far removed from the observance of Shavu’ot that one Jewish website correctly notes -- “Shavu’ot has no particular similarity to the Christian holiday of Pentecost, which occurs 50 days after their Spring holiday.” (www.jewfaq.org)
What a tragedy that the Body of Messiah has consistently ignored the LORD’s appointments for all these past centuries. But, Baruk HaShem, in these last days the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) is restoring within the Body of Messiah a renewed hunger and appreciation for the Jewish roots of our Faith. And in that process, He is showing us the richness of God’s Presence which can be ours by celebrating the Feasts of the LORD!
סֻּכֹּות Sukkot in Hebrew is a plural noun. It is usually translated “tabernacles” or “booths” in our English translations of the Tanak (Old Testament). Unfortunately, neither of these words really conveys the true idea of a “sukkah” (singular). Let’s return to Leviticus 23:34, 40, 42, & 43 to get a little better idea of what a sukkah actually is -- "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'The fifteenth day of this seventh month [shall be] the Feast of Tabernacles (Chag Sukkot) [for] seven days to the LORD…'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…'You shall dwell in booths (sukkot) for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths (sukkot), that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths (sukkot) when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I [am] the LORD your God.' "
Therefore, we see that a sukkah (singular of sukkot) is a fragile, flimsy structure made of branches of palms, the boughs of leafy trees, willows, and the like. It is to be created from the bounty of nature. It is insubstantial and temporary in its construction to remind us of the temporary endurance of the physical world as to the eternal security we have in Adonai alone. (For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly “sukkah” which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Cor.4:18 and 5:1.) The roof is partially open so one can see the stars at night. This is to remind us of God’s majesty (The heavens declare the glory of God…” Psalm 19:1). If it rains, the rain (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) will come through the roof, reminding us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. (For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor thing to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Yeshua HaMashiach, our Lord! Rom.8:38-39).
It is decorated inside with the produce of the earth – grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates, and so forth, because this feast is also called The Feast of Ingathering. (When you have gathered in the fruit of the land you shall celebrate the Feast for seven days. Lev.23:39) In modern Israel, many families now string colored lights (much like our Christmas lights in America), and other colorful and glittery objects. The Jewish people will make their sukkot on their porches or on the balconies of their homes or in their back yards. They will have all their meals in their sukkot and many families will sleep in them as well.
One long standing tradition during Sukkot is called the Arba Minim (the Four Species) or the “waving of the lulav”. Here I am going to quote directly from one of my favorite Jewish websites – the one I mentioned above – www.jewfaq.org . Ms. Tracy Rich, who maintains the website writes, “We are commanded to take these four plants and use them to "rejoice before the L-rd." The four species in question are an etrog (a citrus fruit similar to a lemon native to Israel; in English it is called a citron), a palm branch (in Hebrew, lulav), two willow branches (aravot) and three myrtle branches (hadassim). The six branches are bound together and referred to collectively as the lulav, because the palm branch is by far the largest part. The etrog is held separately. With these four species in hand, one recites a blessing and waves the species in all six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down), symbolizing the fact that G-d is everywhere.”
Sukkot is, above all else, a festival of joy. In fact, Adonai actually commands us to be joyful during Sukkot! “You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son, and your daughter…and all who are within your gates, for seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful. (Deut.16:14&15) The rabbis say, “You don’t know full joy until you have danced at Sukkot.”
Of the three major feasts mentioned above, Yeshua has fulfilled two of them already. On Pesach He became our Passover Lamb. On Shavu’ot He sent the Ruach HaKodesh to be our comforter, guide, and source of power for His Body the Church. Yet, Yeshua has yet to consummate this final Feast of Joy and Ingathering. Because of this, many Christian scholars and Jewish rabbis surmise that the Messiah will come during Sukkot. Yeshua said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone”. (Matt.24:36) But remember, Sukkot is a weeklong festival. Of the day and hour we may not know, but maybe – just maybe – we might know the week!
And finally, we might want to get in practice for celebrating Sukkot because we’ll be doing it for a long time – even in the New Jerusalem. And it shall come to pass [that] everyone who is left of all the nations…shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep Sukkot. (Zech.14:16) The Word tells us that even God Himself will build a sukkah and dwell in the midst of His people. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying – ‘Behold, the sukkah of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.’” (Rev.21:1-3)
Dr. Bill Duerfeldt