Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Feast of Tabernacles the Season of Our Joy

The Feast of Tabernacles the Season of Our Joy

September 30, 2012 by Jeanice McDade  
Filed under Focus On Israel, Monthly Articles
The Festivals
The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths, as the name implies) is one of the three "pilgramige" festivals mandated by God in the Old Testament.  Leviticus 23 teaches that along with the weekly Sabbath day, the Israelites are to observe the festival of Pesach (Passover as well as the 7 days of unleavened bread), Shavuot (Penitcost), and Sukkot (Yom Teruah (Trumpets)), Yom Kippur (Atonement), and Tabernacles or Booths along with the one day festival call 'Shemini Atzoreth', the 'Eighth Day').  Each of the festivals (except for the weekly sabbath) are centered around an agricultural harvest, and as such, illustrate God's plan of salvation for all mankind.  Without a good understanding of the festivals, a person simply can not have a biblically based understanding of how God intends to bring salvation to His people.

In spite of the fact that today the Jewish people are the most visible people observing these festivals, the festivals are not necessarily Jewish.  The text shows that these are 'Feasts of the Lord', given to all twelve tribes of Israel, not just the Jews.  Because of a person's belief in Yeshua (Jesus), the observance of these festivals is extended to him, since . . .
 . . . if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.   NKJ Galatians 3:29

In verse 2 of Leviticus 23, the Hebrew word for 'feast' is 'moed'.  In Hebrew thought, a moed is likened unto an appointment.  It's as if God Himself was taking time off from His duties to meet with us.  It's sort of like a date - a special time between God and His people.  For those of us who are married, we know how important it is to be there when you've "got a date", and we would do practically anything not to miss it.  A study of Biblical history will show that many major events took place on one or more of the 'moedim' (the plural form of 'moed').

Also in verse 2, we find the word 'convocation' which is translated from the Hebrew word 'mikrah'.  This Hebrew word implies a reading, presumably of a historical event.  It comes from another word that can mean 'rehearsal'.  The Biblical text is very clear that the Sabbath is a rehearsal of the seventh day of creation - when God rested from His work.  The moedim are likewise rehearsals of God's 7000 year plan, culminating with the marriage of The Messiah to His bride.
Leviticus 23:6 uses the word 'feast' for the translation of another Hebrew word "chag".  This word implies an assembly.  This word is derived from another Hebrew word which means "to be giddy and to dance".  Thus, God's festivals are to be happy occasions, a time for rejoicing in song, dance, good food, etc..

Each year, more and more Christians are coming to the understanding that there is value in observing the festivals. In doing so, they see the scriptures begin to open up and make greater sense.  We invite you to share in the JOY of observing the Festivals of God.

The Festival of Sukkot

Leviticus 23:33 discusses the festival of Sukkot (additional information is found in Deuteronomy 16 and elsewhere).  This fall festival takes place just after the fall harvest in Jerusalem.  It was a yearly reminder of how God provided for the Israelites during their forty years in the wilderness - a time when God dwelled in their midst, fed them daily with bread from Heaven, caused their clothes to not wear out, and provided them with righteous judges.  This temporary time in the wilderness was a picture of the millennial kingdom to come.

Solomon's Temple was dedicated during the feast of Tabernacles.  This was another millennial picture, signifying the establishment of the Davidic dynasty, from which our Messiah sprang.
Though Solomon later turned to idolatry, his (early) kingdom exemplified the millennial kingdom in that Solomon enjoyed tremendous wisdom, great riches, peace with all his neighbors, God dwelling in the Temple, and the establishment again of righteous judges.

In ancient times, the Israelite people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times each year in order to observe the festivals.  Along with their wives and families, they would bring their offerings from the best of their crops and herds, along with the tithes of their increase.  These were joyous times, since they reflected the blessings God had bestowed on a people who walked in His ways.
During the festival of Sukkot, the people would build small huts (sukkot) to live in.  The people would enjoy shopping at the bazaars, visiting the numerous winery's, dining at the various inns, and fellowshipping with friends and relatives.  They would also participate in the many activities taking place at the Temple - listening to an inspired teacher (maybe Yeshua himself), watching the priests perform their daily functions, taking part in the daily prayers, joining the throngs of people watching the priests gather water for the Beit ha Shuavah (the Water Pouring Ceremony), and of course, offering their sacrifices and offerings.  There was always so much a person could do.
At night, the official Temple services were finished, and the Temple took on another role.  Each evening four poles containing four lights each were erected in the 'Court of the Women" just east of the Temple proper.  Each light consisted of a large bowl of oil, and in each bowl was a number of wicks made from 'swaddling clothes, the worn out garments of the priests.  When these lights were lit, it is said that they lit up the entire city of Jerusalem, making it, in effect, a shining light on a hill.  Under these lights, many people would congregate, dancing and rejoicing through the night.
The first and last days of the festival were considered 'Sabbaths'.  On these days, as well as the weekly Sabbath, the stores and inns were closed.  These days were spent resting and studying at the synagogue.  There were specific readings for each of these days, and most of the people could recite them from memory.   Special events were also taking place at the Temple, as additional sacrifices were made on these days.
The prophet Zachariah said that not only God's people, but all mankind would be required to come up to Jerusalem each fall and observe the festival of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16-19). The penalty for not doing so would be that there would be no rain, i.e - famine.  Being that Sukkot is such a joyous occasion, why would a people not want to enjoy the the festival?  'Makes you wonder!

Sukkot Traditions
Enhancing the Beauty of the Festival

Tradition . . .  is not a bad word!  Every family, every nation, and every church has it's own traditions.  Guess what!  The Jewish people have some too.  As believers in Messiah Yeshua, we sometimes believe He was against all Jewish tradition, but a closer look at His words will show that He only had problems with tradition when a person made his tradition equal to or greater than God's law, the Torah.  As long as a tradition was simply that, "a tradition", and assuming the tradition was not in opposition to the Torah, it appears that Yeshua, nor his disciples, had a problem with it.
Scripture states that God's people were to REJOICE during the fall festival of Sukkot -
NKJ Leviticus 23:40   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.
By the time of the first century the Jewish people had developed a number of traditions to enhance the joy of the Festival of Sukkot . . .
Rejoicing in the House of the Water Pouring
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."   NKJJohn 7:37-38
What prompted Yeshua to say these words? Was He just using a metaphor, or was he referring to a custom His followers as well as His detractors were very familiar with? What would be the connection between living water and the 7th day, the last great day of the feast, Hoshana Rabbah - The Great Salvation. According to Jewish historical records, those who kept the festival in first century Jerusalem observed a special ceremony on each day of the festival in addition to the various sacrifices and libation offerings commanded in the Torah (Num. 29:12-40). Sometime prior to the first century this special ceremony, the water libation offering was added to the festival offerings in order to give thanks for the previous years rain, to petition God for more rain, and to picture the great outpouring of God’s Spirit that was to come during the 1000 year reign of The Messiah. This ceremony was connected to a very joyous evening celebration, the Festival of Lights. This evening festival was so joyful that it was said that He who has not witnessed the rejoicing at the water-drawing huts has, throughout the whole of his life, witnessed no real rejoicing.“ (Sukkah 53b).
Each day (except for the first day) of the festival, a group of priests would set out to gather large willows that they would wave back and forth as they proceeded toward the temple, thus making a "swooshing" sound, the sound of the wind or the ruach, Holy Spirit. While this was going on, another group of priests would proceed to the Pool of Siloam from which the High Priest would gather a flask full of "living water". Both groups would then return to the Temple, and while the group with the willows would circle the altar waving their willows, the High Priest with his flask of water and his assistant with a flask of wine would both empty their pitchers on the southwest corner of the altar, thus picturing the coming of the Holy Spirit as living water.
Shortly after the end of the first day of Sukkot, the priests would light four huge lamps in the Court of the Women, each with four huge bowls on each. Each bowl held 7 – 8 gallons of oil and had wicks made from "swaddling clothes", the worn out undergarments of the priests. When the lamps were all lit, it was said that they lit up the entire city of Jerusalem. All the men would then begin dancing and singing in a great celebration. This rejoicing would last late into the night.
These ceremonies and celebrations continued throughout the festival. On the last (7th) day, a change was made to the ceremony. On this day the priests, instead of circling the altar one time, would circle it seven times; this time singing with a loud voice a song of redemption and salvation - Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord . . . (Psalm 118:25-26)
These ceremonies are no where commanded in the Torah or the Tenakh, but the rabbis believed that because of some spelling inconsistencies in Numbers 29 that seem to spell the Hebrew word mayim(water) there was an underlying justification for them.
It appears that Yeshua had no problem with this additional ceremony and celebration.  From His childhood He would have become very familiar with these festivities as His parents made the pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem to observe the Festival of Sukkot. It seems evident that He used the occasion of the seventh or last day (the 8th day is a separate festival) of His last Feast of Sukkot to teach that He was the light of the world and the source of the Living Waters of salvation for all Israel and ultimately all mankind.

Waving the Lulavim

Waving the lulav (lulavim is the plural), is a tradition based again on Leviticus 23:40 . . .
NKJ Leviticus 23:40 '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.

Within this passage is the specific command to take four specific types of plants and use them in your rejoicing during the festival.  Though the prophet Ezra appears to understand the commandment as a mandate to use the plants as building materials (Nehemiah 8:15). the Jewish sages understood that a person was supposed to actually take these four species in their hands and worship with them.
According to Jewish sources, three of the four species - the palm branch, willow branch, and the myrtle - were held in one hand while the fourth species, the etrog (a lemon-like fruit) was held in the other while circling around the altar.   Apparently, this was done in conjunction with the Water Pouring Ceremony mentioned above.

This festive ritual was repeated every day of the festival except for the 8th day, which was a totally separate festival.

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