THE FEAST OF SHELTERS: SUKKOT

The Old Covenant sacred Feast of Shelters, called Sukkot in the Hebrew, and also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Ingathering was an annual holy feast established by Yahweh at Mt. Sinai.  This feast was also designated one of the 3 pilgrim feasts, along with the feast of  Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Weeks, in which all men of the Covenant must appear before Yahweh at His holy Sanctuary [Exodus 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Deuteronomy 16:1-16].  You can find references to this feast in Exodus 23:16b; 34:22-23; Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-39, 42-43; Deuteronomy 16: 13-15. See the document: The Seven Sacred Annual Feasts of the Old Covenant.

The Feast of Shelters (Sukkot), also called the Feast of Tabernacles from the Latin word for "dwelling", was the last feast of the liturgical calendar [Passover was the first feast; see Exodus 12:1].  Also known as the Feast of Ingathering, Chag Haasif in Hebrew, [Exodus 23:16], this feast was celebrated for a week in the fall from Tishri 15-22, five days after the Feast of Yom Kippur [literally the "Day of Covering"] also known as the Feast of Atonement.  The Feast of Shelters/Tabernacles, the most joyous and the longest of the festivals, was also considered to be the greatest of the feasts [The Jewish Festivals page 170].  The Feast of Shelters/Tabernacles memorialized God's holy Dwelling place, the desert Tabernacle, the design of which was given to Moses by God Himself and which was later replaced by the Temple built by Solomon in the 10th century BC on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. The feast also recalled the booths or shelters the people lived in during the time they received the 10 Commandments at Sinai and during the rest of the Exodus experience.   Therefore, as a reminder of the time they were homeless when God delivered them from their enemies and protected them, the people were commanded to leave their homes and dwell in shelters. In addition to the connection to the Exodus experience, this feast was also a harvest festival, occurring at the time of the fruit harvest of the grapes and olives. Consulting the chart on the 7 annual feasts in the appendix at the end of this lesson you will notice that the first 4 feasts occur at the time of the gain harvests of barley [Feast of Firstfruits of the barley harvest] and wheat [Feast of Pentecost with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest], and the liturgical year closes with the grape and olive harvest.  The Feast of Shelters/Tabernacles is also referred to as the "Feast of Yahweh" or simply as "the Festival [see Leviticus 23:9; 1 Kings 8:2].  The Greek name for this feast expressed as "construction of shelters/tabernacles" occurs only in John 7:2 in the New Testament [Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament: volume II, page 156].

At Mt. Sinai God not only gave Moses the 10 Commandments as the moral law of perfection, but He also gave the 613 articles or instructions within the Law as well the liturgical feasts and the different classes of sacrifices as the means to fulfill Israel's obligation to the Law.  These feasts included:<>

In addition to the weekly and annual feasts there were several periodic feasts:

Please consult the notes at the end of the Chart in the appendix for information on the periodic feasts.

Other feasts like Hanukkah /Chanukah [1 Maccabees 4:52-59; 2 Maccabees 10:1-8; John 10:22], referred to as the "Feast of Dedication" in John 10:22 and the Feast of Purim [Esther 9:18-32] were national feasts established by the people and not by Yahweh.

The ancient Rabbis taught that before the sin of the Golden Calf, God intended to indwell the tents or dwellings of all His holy people.  But once the Golden Calf was worshipped the firstborn sons who had been redeemed the night of the Passover in Egypt lost their "sonship" and the result was the fall of Israel.  The Golden Calf was to Israel what the forbidden fruit had been to Adam.  No longer would Israel be a nation of priests.  Now only the Levites, the tribe of Moses and Aaron, would serve God in a ministerial priesthood subservient to the high priesthood of Aaron's descendants:

But there was hope for Israel's redemption and that hope was the holy Tabernacle, a tangible, physical sign that God had not abandoned His people but would continue to be present with them.

In addition to the celebration of the Tabernacle, the Feast of Shelters also gave thanks for the productivity of the land in the fruit harvest [grapes, olives, etc.]; it was the last harvest of the liturgical year [the civil year began that month but the liturgical year began with Passover].  The actual feast lasted 7 days with a Sacred Assembly on the 8th day [Leviticus 23:34-36].  Each day of the feast sacrifices and offerings, in addition to the 2 lambs of the daily Tamid [Taymid] sacrifice, were made to Yahweh on His altar in the Temple in Jerusalem [see Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 12-38].  By the end of the 7-day feast period, 70 bulls had been offered to Yahweh in sacrifice in addition to 14 rams, 98 lambs [not counting the twice daily Tamyid lambs], 7 goats, cereal offerings and water and wine libations.  On the 8th day, which was the Sacred Assembly of Israel, 1 bull, 1 ram, 7 lambs, and 1 goat along with cereal offerings and wine libations were given in sacrifice [Numbers 29:12-39].

This was a very joyous festival in which the people were commanded to live in booths or huts [in Hebrew the word for hut or booth, singular = sukka, plural = sukkot] made of branches: Yahweh commanded Israel, 'On the first day you will take choice fruit, palm branches, boughs of leafy trees and flowering shrubs from the river bank, and for seven days enjoy yourselves before Yahweh you God."..."For seven days you will live in shelters; all the citizens of Israel will live in shelters, so that your descendants may know that I made the Israelites live in shelters when I brought them out of Egypt, I Yahweh, your God' [Leviticus 23:39-43].  Mishnah: Sukkah 2.9 records that the faithful were required to live in the booth (sukka) for the first 7day days of the festival, and were required to eat at least 14 meals in it [Mishnah: Sukkah 2.6].

It is important to recall that the Feast of Shelters, or Tabernacles, not only looked backward to the Exodus experience and God's Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant that guided the children of Israel through the desert wilderness to the Promise Land, but the feast also reminded Israel of her mission to the nations of the world.  This is the reason 70 bulls were sacrificed during the feast, one bull for each of the 70 nations which originally composed the nations of the world before the confusion of the tongues at the Tower of Babel [see Genesis chapters10-11 and count 70 names are the fathers of the future 70 nations]. The prophet Zechariah prophesized a day when all peoples and nations of the earth would return to Yahweh: ...all the survivors of the nations which have attacked Jerusalem will come up year after year to worship the King, Yahweh Sabaoth, and to keep the Feast of Shelters. Should one of the races of the world fail to come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, Yahweh Sabaoth, there will be no rain for that one [Zechariah 14:16-17]. At the formation of the covenant at Sinai, Israel had been set apart as God's holy nation to be a witness of the One True God to the other nations of the earth.  That is why the Temple in Jerusalem was built with a special court for the Gentiles to allow them a place come to be instructed in the holy Covenant, and as a place for the Gentiles to pray to the God of Israel who was the "light" of the world.

Both "light" and "water" played an important part in the symbolism of this feast.  "Light" recalled the light of the Glory Cloud as Yahweh led Israel through the wilderness, "the Pillar of Fire."  It was the light of the presence of God, the Shekinah in Hebrew, which made the cloud shine with light.  "Light" was a symbol of His presence and in the Temple.  In the Tabernacle Yahweh commanded that the light of the golden Menorah (candelabra) be kept burning continuously as a sign of His presence [Leviticus 24:1-4].   Water was also a symbol of this feast in memory of the water miracles that manifested God's protection and care in the wilderness:

In 1Corinthians 10:1-5 St. Paul revealed a mystery concerning the Rock that gave life-sustaining water during the desert wandering of the children of Israel in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. Paul revealed that Jesus Christ is the Rock that physically nourished the children of Israel with life-giving water!

These Old Testament passages about water were read during the liturgical ceremonies of the weeklong feast in association with the "Celebration of Water Libation" [in Hebrew Simchat Bet Hasho'ayva], which according to the Mishnah: Sukkah 4.1C was a part of the liturgical service on seven days of the festival.  Every day at the time of the first daily Tamid sacrifice [Exodus 29:38-42] two processions set out from the Temple.  One group, led by priests went to Moza, a place near the city to gather long willow branches, which they placed alongside the great altar of sacrifice with their points inward [Leviticus 23:40-41]. The people had collected the 4 required branches just prior to the beginning of the festival and would carry them each day in the processions, placing them in water after the liturgical service. The four kinds of required branches prescribed in Leviticus 23:40 according to the Mishnah were 3 myrtle ("the boughs of thick trees", hadasim in Hebrew), 2 willow (aravit), 1 palm (lulav) and 1 citron (etrog).  These four species were to be held in the hand and blessed each day of the festival for 7 days [Mishnah: Sukkah, 3.4].

A second a procession of the people led by the High Priest carried palm branches and the other fragrant branches processed, singing the Hallel Psalms 113-118, from the Temple through the Water Gate to the pool of Siloam. At the pool of Siloam the High Priest filled a golden pitcher with the water from the pool [Mishnah: Sukkah, 4:9B]; then the procession returned to the Temple, the shofar, ram's horn trumpet, announcing their arrival.  The Mishnah records that no fewer than 21 (3 x 7) trumpet blasts on the shofar we given in a liturgical service.  There were three blasts at the opening of the Temple gates at 9AM, nine (3 + 3+3) at the offering of the Tamid morning sacrifice and nine more at the Tamid evening sacrifice.  On the feast days when additional offerings were made, nine additional shofar blasts were given and on the eve of the Sabbath 6 (3 + 3) more [Mishnah: Sukkah 5:5]. 

The return to the Temple was carefully timed so that the morning sacrifice of the lamb was being burned on the great sacrificial altar. It was required at the burning of the daily sacrifice that a libation of wine is poured out on the altar [Exodus 29:39-41], but during the Feast of Tabernacles there was also the libation of water. The High priest slowly proceeded to the great stone altar in the Inner Court of the Temple and ascended to the right side of the ramp. At the top of the ramp the High Priest turned to the left where there were two basins of silver which drain to the base of the great altar of sacrifice.  The basin toward the east was reserved for the libations of wine and the other basin toward the west was used only for the "Celebration of Water Libation" during this feast.  The people chanted as the High Priest poured out the water libation before Yahweh, while another priest simultaneously poured the drink offering of wine into the other silver basin. Three blasts of the trumpets immediately followed the "Celebration of Water Libation". The trumpets would signal the start of the Temple music as the Levitical choruses sang the great Hallel Psalms [Psalms 113-118'the same Psalms sung at the Passover feast]: Hallelujah! Praise, servants of Yahweh, praise the name of Yahweh.  Blessed by the name of Yahweh, now and forever. From the rising of the sun to its setting, praised be the name of Yahweh! [Psalms 113:1]. Now the crowds would wave their palm branches and join in the singing: Hosanna! Save us, I pray, O Yahweh; Yahweh, I pray, send now prosperity [Psalms 118:25], while the other priests carried palm branches and marched once around the altar of sacrifice. [see Mishnah: Sukkah, pages 278-90; The Jewish Festivals, pages 41-42; 171-5; 200-207].  Note: The Jewish Book of Why records that the pouring out ceremony only occurred on the second evening of the Sukkot feast on page 248, but this citation clearly is at odds with the oral tradition recorded in the Jewish Mishnah, citation 4:1C designates 7 days and 4.9L, 8 days.

Note: The pool of Siloam where the water for the "Pouring out Ceremony" was collected was fed by the Gihon spring.  Gihon is the name of one of the rivers that flowed out of Eden to nourish the earth [Genesis 2:13].

In the evening everyone returned to the Temple for the most interesting and joyous part of the festival, the fire ceremony and the torch dance!  This ceremony took place in the Court of the Women [Mishnah: Sukkah 5:2-5:4]. The crowd assembled in the great court.  Above the court on the roof of the colonnades galleries had been built for the women. Below the women were the areas for the men.  In the center of the court there were four great golden menorahs which were set on bases that were fifty feet high and which blazed with such brilliance that it is said that all Jerusalem was lit up by them.  As flutes begin to play young men gathered in the center of the court, each bearing torches in their hands and as they danced they threw the torches high into the air and caught them again in their hands.  While they danced the Levitical musicians played harps, cymbals, trumpets and other instruments along with the flutes as the Levitical choirs sang the Psalms of Ascents [Psalms 122].  Mishnah: Sukkah 5.2 records: And there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem which was not lit up from the light of bet hashshoebah!  It must have been an amazing site.  Mishnah: Sukkah 5:1 records: Anyone who has not seen the rejoicing of bet hashshoebah [fire ceremony] in his life has never seen rejoicing. At dawn the silver trumpets blew the signal that marked the end of the ceremony and everyone returned home to sleep a little before the ceremonies of the day began again [The Jewish Festivals, Hayyim Schauss, pages 180-185; Mishnah: Sukkah 5:1-5.5].

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2007 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.