Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Feast of Booths—Sukkot

When I met my wife, my education in the Old Testament was sorely lacking. Sarah and I have sometimes mused over why our Lord would bring two people of such diverse backgrounds together—she being Jewish and me a Gentile. Not to wonder so much any more, however. One reason for certain is that Adonai has used this woman’s love and knowledge of the Old Covenant to fill in so much of what I did not give enough attention to in the past. And the joy of that impartation never stops as I am introduced to more and more...

This week, as the sun set on Saturday, September 29, and for eight days following, the Feast of Tabernacles is to be celebrated. This is an event that is recognized and honored around the world by most Jewish people. Whereas this once had no significance for me as a Gentile, it now does. And here in part is why.

For the past few days Sarah has been talking about having a booth in our back yard. It would be a three-sided, structure with a roof through which the stars could be seen. We would eat our meals in it and perhaps even sleep there a night or two. Sounds like a great “camp out,” but what heavenly significance could that have for me? So, with a little direction from this family’s Jewish sector it was time to do some spiritual investigation.

I started in Leviticus 23. There, as Moses is continuing to receive the Law, Adonai delineates seven holy convocations that the Jewish nation is to celebrate. They are called the “LORD’s appointed times” with His people. They were instituted in the wilderness and carried on through Jewish history to this day. Each of these celebrations was intended to be a special time of meeting with God. 

“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 
‘The LORD’s appointed times 
which you shall proclaim 
as holy convocations—My appointed times are these...”

  • Passover (Pesach)  Commemorates the Israelites deliverance from slavery in Egypt through the blood of the Passover lamb. Yeshua came as the Passover Lamb who took away the sins of the world. (vs.4-5)
  • Unleavened Bread (HaMatzot)  Commemorates how the Israelites were brought out of   Egypt in a hurry. (vs.6-8)
  • First Fruits  Commemorates the dedication of the harvest to the Lord. (vs.9-14)
  • Pentecost (Shavuot)  Commemorates the receiving of the Torah (the birth of the People Israel), and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Church. (vs.15-22)
  • Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah, Yom HaTeruah)  Signaled the beginning of the civil New Year. It prophetically looks toward the two resurrections of the righteous dead, and the final return of Yeshua to the sound of the Trumpet. (vs.23-25, 1 Cor. 15:52, 1 Thess. 4:16, Matt. 24:31)
  • Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)  Atonement was made for all the sins of the entire congregation of Israel. (vs.26-32)
  • Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (Sukkot)  This is a time to remember God’s care of His people during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. This Feast has been seen as Messianic by the Jewish People. Psalm 118:25-26 is among the holiday liturgies: "Save us, we pray, O LORD!" ("Hosanna!") would be proclaimed as water was poured from golden pitchers on the Temple steps by the priests. Yeshua came offering the gift of living water, and on the last day of this great Sukkot celebration, He cried out, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" (vs.33-43, John 4:10, 7:37-38)

The Feast of Booths or Tabernacles is an eight day celebration, initially established to remember the Lord’s provision in the Fall harvest (v.39) and His deliverance of Jacob’s people from Egyptian bondage (v.43). Added by those same people into this concept of God’s care was His provision for the people during their forty years of wandering, something not initially intended. This feast is so important in Adonai’s thinking that it will be re-instituted in the Millennium. (Zechariah 14:16) 

So now one may ask, “How is this particular celebration significant for me?” Well first, it reminds me of God’s faithfulness to His people, and that His people are to recognize that faithfulness through substantive actions. That translates for me today in understanding that God is my faithful provider and that I in turn am to be a thankful and productive servant of His. 

Second, this celebration reminds me that disobedience to God’s Word brings consequences. Though this was to be a perpetual act (Leviticus 23:41) it fell by the wayside in the days of Joshua and was not re instituted until Nehemiah’s return from exile (Nehemiah 8:17). Not celebrating this observance never served Israel well and indeed was just one more sin that led to her eventual downfall. Translation? Disobedience to God’s instruction will bring negative results.

Be Ye Joyful!
A third thing that simply has to be so self-evident is that obeying God is joyful! For the Israelite of the Old Covenant the Feast of Tabernacles meant a week’s worth of celebration and time away from the usual rigors of the agrarian life. And for the males it meant a trip to Jerusalem to present themselves to the Lord. (Deuteronomy 16:16) Adonai actually commands celebration and joyfulness—not only for the Israelite, but the Gentile as well. “...and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns”(Deuteronomy 16:14). 

One really must visit Jerusalem during Sukkot to appreciate it celebrated fully today. I’m still working on my wife for that one. Christians from around the world come together for enormous worship services and have grand processions down the thoroughfares with banners proclaiming Yeshua, as well as their solidarity with Israel and the Jewish People. The Jewish People construct elaborate and decorative sukkot (plural for sukkah) in every available space—even apartment balconies become sukkot! The atmosphere is charged equally with celebration and reverence as neighbors, family and friends share meals, liturgy, and blessings during this festival of ingathering—a tiny taste of the final ingathering we can all look forward to! 

This week the Feast of Tabernacles will be celebrated around the world in different ways. With no Temple standing certainly there will be no animal sacrifices—189 animals in the Temple sacrifices for that one week. (Numbers 29:12-38) Some folks will build a Sukkah (booth), or enjoy a community Sukkah provided by friends or their local synagogue or congregation. Some will take most of their meals in their booth. Some may choose only to sleep a night or two in it under the stars so easily seen through the preplanned openings in the roof of palm fronds. Others may spend as much time as possible in their temporary shelter, inviting friends, and engaging in daily prayers, Bible readings, and traditional blessings. Messianic and Orthodox Jews are generally in this latter group, and their children look forward to "tabernacling with the Lord" in this unique and festive way each year.

The rhythm of these seven feasts—and the two later additions not mentioned here—is a rich, enlightening, and blessed means of meeting up with our Creator, and simply enjoying who He is and what He has for us. Whether Jew or Gentile (or neither as Paul says—Galatians 3:28) be encouraged to partake of each of these feasts. In doing so one can’t help but grow further in the grace and the knowledge of both the God of the Old and New Covenant and be a better vessel for His service.   
May yours be a blessed and joy-filled celebration of the Feast of Booths this year! 

In Messiah's Love,
Michael and Sarah