As we were erecting our family Sukkah this season, I was reminded by the imagery it communicates - that we are but pilgrims/sojourners dwelling here temporarily on this earth. My family was working hard to setup something that then had to be broken down after the 8th day. The transient nature of their labors became apparent to me and yet we are commanded to be “joyful” during this season of celebration/“Chagag”. Sukkot follows the solemn day of repentance of Yom Kippur exactly five days later. What a drastic change from solemn to the most joyous day of the year. The climax of the Fall Festivities according to G-d’s redemptive calendar is Chag Sukkot/Festival of Booths. It was known throughout the centuries as the Zeman Simchateinu/Season of our Rejoicing. Tehillim/Psalm 136 would be recited as part of the tradition as pilgrims would make their way to Yerushalayim /Jerusalem:
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Tehillim/Psalm 136:1)
But what if I don’t feel like rejoicing? What am I supposed to be rejoicing about anyway? Why should I even care about this ancient Jewish holiday? These are all great questions. Let’s take a journey thru the Scriptures to discover the Past, the Present and the Future of this Moedim/Appointed Time that the G-d of the Universe and the G-d of Israel has established – its meaning to our lives, its application to our faith and its future prophetic fulfillment.
Any journey has to have a starting point. In our case, we begin with where this Festival is 1st mentioned in the Scriptures which takes us back to Shemot/Exodus. After Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, G-d gave the Torah to His redeemed people (a mixed multitude that left Egypt), and part of that instruction for this Fall Appointed Festival is given in Shemot/Exodus 23:16-17:
…You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord G-D.
In Chapter 19 of Shemot/Exodus, G-d descends on Mt. Sinai and speaks 10 words, known as the 10 commandments; thus, the context of this verse is G-d giving the Torah to His people Israel before the Golden Calf incident.
- It is a command “You shall keep”, in the imperative form.
- The name is given as the “Feast Of Ingathering” or Chag HaAsif(חג האסיף).
- It is a harvest festival when you gather.
- It marks the end of the year.
- It is a pilgrimage festival, one of the three. The location is not given at this time.
After the Golden Calf incident, Moshe/Moses pleas on behalf of Israel before G-d and G-d reiterates His steadfast love for His people. In light of this, we read again about His Moedim/Appointed Times:
… and the Feast of Ingathering at the year's end. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD G-d, the G-d of Israel. (Exo 34:22-23)
- Identification as the G-d of Israel.
At this time, the people of Israel were still in the wilderness - and yet the command is to celebrate it as an “Ingathering” or “Harvest”. They had not been sowing or reaping. They were dependent completely on G-d for His provision. This seems like a prophetic command. At times, it is hard for us to imagine how G-d is going to accomplish something, but His promises are in His timing.
In Chapter 23 of Vayikra/Leviticus we read about the Moedim/Appointed times of the LORD. They became known and associated with the Jewish people, nevertheless, the words and language at the beginning of the chapter are clear; that is, these are the Moedim/Appointed times of the LORD. The timeline of the Moedim/Appointed times starts with His Shabbat day, the 7th day of His creation, and ends with Chag Sukkot/Festival of Booths as we read in Vayikra/Leviticus 23:34,39:
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD… On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest.”
- The audience is the “Children of Israel” or Bene Yisra'el.
- The Feast is to start on the 15th day of the 7th month.
- The new name is revealed as the “Feast of Booths” or Chag HaSukkot (חג סוכות).
- We are commanded to “Chagag” celebrate this Moedmim/Appointed Time after we gather.
- The 1st day is to be a Sabbath’s rest and the 8th day a Sabbath’s rest as a Solemn Assembly or Shemini Atzeret (שמיני עצרת) Note: literally the eighth day is a sacred occasion. It is almost two celebrations in one as we can also see from the following verses:
On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. For seven days you shall present food offerings to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work. (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:35-36)
- 7 days we are to offer food offerings
Verses 37 and 39 speak of the sacrifices that are to be offered before the LORD. A detailed list of all of the sacrifices can be found in Bamidbar/Numbers 29:12-40. It is the prescribed amount of each sacrifice per each day of the celebration as follows:
1st day – 13 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs
2nd day – 12 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs
3rd day – 11 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs
4th day – 10 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs
5th day – 9 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs
6th day – 8 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs
7th day – 7 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs
8th day – 1 bull, 2 rams, 14 (7x2) lambs
Total: 71 bulls, 16 rams, 112 labs
The number of bulls sacrificed total 71 bulls. This number is believed significant in light of the belief that the representation of the (70) nations, plus the (1) Children of Israel, totaling 71 which is represented at Mt. Sinai. The final bull sacrifice was offered for Israel herself. These sacrifices were not for redemption or purification but considered to be a “burnt offering”. The final 8th day commandment to offer one male goat was for a sin offering. Moshe/Moses was commanded to build the Mishkan/Tabernacle, or better yet, a residence and dwelling place exactly as G-d commanded him. The sacrifices were to be offered as instructed, as well.
Next is the prescription of how the personal celebration was to take place:
And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your G-d seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths. (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:40-42)
- On the 1st day, the following 4 species are to be gathered:
- The fruit (per-ee) of splendid trees, the same word for fruit as it is used in Genesis 1-3.
- Branches of palm trees/date branches
- Boughs of leafy trees/the branch of a thick tree
- Willows of the brook/willows of the creek
- 7 days of celebration/rejoicing or Samach שָׂמַח
- The Israelites are to build Sukkahs and dwelt in them for the duration of the 7 days.
As we all know, Israel chose to trust in the bad report that the 10 spies brought back, and as a result, they wandered about the wilderness for 40 years. G-d’s plan did not change at this point. He would still bring them to the Promised Land. Moshe/Moses once again instructed the new generation of Israelites born in the wilderness about Sukkot in Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:13-17:
“You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your G-d at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your G-d will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful”.
- Chag Sukkot is to be kept for 7 days.
- The list of people you are to rejoice and celebrate it with lists: family members, servants, Levites, the fatherless, the widows AND the sojourners.
- A promise is added of the blessing by the LORD in “the work of your hands”.
- Twice the Hebrew word “Samach” is mentioned for rejoicing and being joyful.
So far we have learned a good bit of what G-d has commanded to be done to celebrate and to be joyful as we build temporary shelters as reminders. Historically all of these instructions were to be fulfilled once the Children of Israel crossed over the Jordan and took possession of the Promised Land. One might think that we will see the references to this joyful day at the end of the year throughout the different Books of the Bible, although the next time we see it being celebrated and mentioned is in 2 Divrei Hayamim/ Chronicles stretching thru Chapters 5-8. We will look at some passages from this book to see the significance of what is being recorded.
King David desired to build a Beit/House to the LORD, yet he could not, so he saved and prepared all of the materials for the construction of it. His son Solomon was the master builder of the Beit/House.
And all the men of Israel assembled before the king at the feast that is in the seventh month. (2 Divrei Hayamim/ Chronicles 5:3)
What feast are they gathering for? The clue to this question is found in Chapter 7:8-10:
At that time Solomon held the feast for seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great assembly, from Lebo-hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, for they had kept the dedication of the altar seven days and the feast seven days. On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their homes, joyful and glad of heart for the prosperity that the LORD had granted to David and to Solomon and to Israel his people.
Thus, the celebration of Sukkot and the dedication of the Beit/House of the LORD fall on the same timeframe of G-d’s Moedim/Appointed Times. Solomon was not a Priest or from the Priestly family yet the sacrifices he offered were accepted by G-d. The ark of the LORD also rested in the Beit/House of the LORD, symbolizing the permanent place for G-d’s meeting place. Through Solomon’s reign, Israel experienced its climax of its kingdom, but the future Messianic Kingdom and restoration of Israel, along with the many Messianic prophecies have yet to be fulfilled. In light of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Beit/House, the LORD responded to him in 2 Divrei Hayamim/ Chronicles 7:12-14:
Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land…
I often hear people quote verse 14 while denying the entire context of the text. The context of G-d’s answer was that He answered Solomon’s pleas for the blessing of the Beit/House. This is why Daniel, while in exile in Babylon, prayed three times a day towards the Beit/House of G-d. Yes, the place doesn’t save people, but the point here is that G-d didn’t show a.) His displeasure b.) He chose to call it “a house of sacrifice” c.) He promised that if the Jewish people would repent from their evil ways, then He would forgive them. Who can blame the desire of the exiled Jews to return and rebuild that which was lost? The issue of the House of G-d is not a matter of salvation but rather an identification of the promises that G-d has given His people. I am not advocating any “temple doctrine” but rather attempting to look at the text within its context.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Jewish people knew that their exile was not forever and that they would return once again to their Promised Land. Not all of the Jews returned, and the ones who did return, struggled to survive and complete their mission. G-d raised a leader for them, Nehemya, who served wine to the King. The humble servant was a powerful leader in a time when encouragement was needed in order for the people to rebuild. Part of the restoration of the remnant was the discovery of what the Scriptures said. They held public readings of the TORAH, and upon hearing the scriptures, they were convicted and grieved. As I mentioned earlier in my post on Yom Kippur, each generation has its decision to make either to accept G-d’s truth or to reject it. The hearers of the Torah during Nehemay’s time realized that the only way to live was in accordance to G-d’s instruction- not apart from Him.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your G-d; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Torah/Law. (Nehemya/Nehemiah 8:9)
The climax of their obedience was the following:
On the second day the heads of fathers' houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. And they found it written in the Law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of G-d, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of G-d. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule. (Nehemya/Nehemiah 8:13)
There was great rejoicing in the midst of their struggles and difficulty. They took G-d’s words for what it said and they obeyed the instructions.
The House Of G-d and Israel’s Messiah
The Messiah of Israel has visited the Beit/House of G-d and declared this:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Yeshua stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Yeshua was not yet glorified. (Yaconan/John 7:37-39)
At that time there was a great water pouring ceremony that took place in the Beit/House of G-d. Yeshua took that opportunity to point Israel to Himself.
Shelahim/Disciples of Yeshua asked this question before He ascended Acts 1:6-8:
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The Messiah is to reign as the King of Israel from Jerusalem. This was the disciples understanding. If they had been wrong, this would have been a perfect opportunity for the disciples to have been corrected by Yeshua. He could have said: “You’re all mistaken – We’re going to instead abandon everything from before, build a Church, and at Pentecost I will establish a special organization with Deacons, Bishops and Elders to take over from here.” No, of course this didn’t happen. He simply informed them that they need not be concerned with the timing of the restoration, but rather be his witnesses, spreading the good news to the ends of the earth. This should be our understanding and mission, as well.
We know that Israel must acknowledge Yeshua before He returns to rightfully take hold of His Kingdom promised to King David of long ago:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
So, what is the reason for our rejoicing? He is coming back, He will fulfill the promises to Israel, and through those fulfilled promises, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. The nations restoration can never occur apart from Israel’s fullness. One day in the future, we will all celebrate Chag Sukkot, as the prophet Zechariah 14:16 stated:
Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths.
The question arises as a Gentile believer, why not begin the celebrations now, and with His people?
Our family used electrical galvanized conduit pipes, purchased from a local hardware store, with the connectors to frame it all together. Twinkle curtain lights, purchased inexpensively online, were strung around 3 sides, leaving one side as an entrance. Leafy palms were used from the Fall trimming of trees located on our property. This Sukkah was joyfully setup with our children in a manner of a couple of hours.