Let’s celebrate the biblical Feast of Tabernacles! It symbolizes temporary dwelling in the wilderness, but also on earth.
We’re in the season of the three Fall festivals. Each year the Jewish calendar cycles through seven festivals, also called moedim. Four occur in the Spring, and three in the Fall. They are specific days or seasons that connect Israel’s past, present, and future. Each festival has its own flavor and focus.
The culmination of the moedim calls the Israelites in Leviticus 23:39-43 to: “…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. And you shall…rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days…You shall dwell in tabernacles for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in tabernacles, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in tabernacles when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
This final festival is called Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles. And it is my favorite!
It’s the time of year when the Israelites build temporary dwellings, or tabernacles, and sleep in them for 7 days. Each temporary dwelling is called a “sukkah” in Hebrew, hence the festival’s title “Sukkot.” This season is meant for the Israelites to recall the 40 years that their ancestors spent in the wilderness living in temporary shelters.
Apostle John, in his gospel, actually references Sukkot with the birth of the Messiah in his introduction. If you read closely and know what to look for you can see John dropping a verbal tally in verse 14 of his opening chapter.
He says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
The word “dwelt” used in this verse is “skenoo” in Greek. It doesn’t mean: to live, with permanence. Rather it’s a word that denotes temporary or short-term residency. It means: to dwell in a tent or tabernacle; to encamp; or (properly) to pitch or live in a tent. John using a verbal tally, in Hebrew called “gezerah shavah,” is a classical Hebrew writing style of referencing an audience to another passage or concept.
Just as the other three Gospel writers give a sense of genealogy or birth story when they introduce Yeshua, John does as well. He just does it through undertones, saying that Yeshua enters the world, pitches a tent of flesh – which is dying, decaying, and therefore temporary – and “dwells” among us. Do you think he might be hinting at a certain date or festival?
One of my wisest Jewish friends pointed out to me that many of God’s significant plans happen on His significant days (referring to the festivals). He posed the thought that perhaps Yeshua’s birth (a significant event) occurred on the first day of Sukkot, and that the day of His circumcision (another significant event for any male Jew) happened on the 8th day of Sukkot. It’s a little more difficult to find a proof text for this hypothesis, but it is not unfounded.
Many scholars give a general 3-and-a-half-year timeline for the ministry of Yeshua. According to Luke, He began His ministry when He was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23) and most will say He was about 33-and-a-half when He died.
We know for certain that Yeshua died on Passover, as all four Gospel writers attest to Jesus eating “the Last Supper” with his disciples on the eve of this festival. With Passover and Sukkot being right at 6 months apart, it’s pretty easy to land on His birth happening during Sukkot.
This week, thousands of Jews across the world are starting to celebrate how the LORD led their ancestors through the wilderness and eventually brought them back to the Promised Land.
Consider preparing your heart to celebrate as well. Celebrate what the LORD did for the ancestral lineage you’ve been grafted into (Romans 11). Celebrate the birth of your savior Messiah Yeshua. Celebrate that you yourself are living in a temporary dwelling of flesh, just as Yeshua did.
With every passing day, we are getting ever-closer to the final day when we will shed the perishable for the imperishable, the mortal for the immortal, and the natural, temporary body for the spiritual, permanent body (1 Corinthians 15:42-57).
Yeshua said over and over during His time on earth, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And this is one of the main principles that Sukkot emphasizes – Heaven! It is the festival of rejoicing, feasting, fellowshipping, and spending time in the presence of the LORD (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).
It is the final of the seven moedim cycle and it ends with a massive celebration – just as Heaven is the culmination of time, when we are able to celebrate forever with the LORD, rejoicing and worshiping in His presence for all of eternity.
Until that day, we recognize that wherever we are, whatever the season, chapter, or stage of life we find ourselves in – we are only there “temporarily dwelling.”