Feast of Tabernacles... Sukkot... These words describe a favorite time of year for me. Eight days of celebration in the fall. Usually it is in the month of October, but has happened before in late September. Why are they important? Why should someone celebrate them?
This little book will describe a journey that God has taken me on. A journey that began in 2001 and now burns more inside of me than ever before. It is a journey that has changed my life, yet one that continues to inspire and mold me every year. One that, as I share it with you, will hopefully bring you into a deeper relationship with your Creator, who I believe to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This beginning will be a little bit of my background of how I ended up in Israel. It will give you insight into why I now share more of Judaism than Christianity. It will hopefully give you an idea of why I believe these festivals are important for those who say they believe in Jesus as their Messiah.
I said that my journey began in 2001, and for the most part it did. My husband, who has always been on the edge and wanting more, decided to ask God what he needed to learn about. You can read his story in his book called, "No Box Needed." It truly describes him and his frustrations with "Christians" and the church.
When he came in from an afternoon in the backyard hammock, I knew something had changed inside of him. I knew that what had happened was truly going to be life changing, even for me. He came in and told me that God had told him to learn about Israel and that one day we would go to Israel.
Go to Israel? Me? A mid-west raised girl still trying to figure out what God wanted her to do in life? What did all of this mean?
Todd began attending groups that were learning about Israel. I went along because I was his wife and knew I should support him. I was learning new things and it was interesting, but nothing was connecting with my heart. I participated in several Passover dinners. They were interesting and I enjoyed them. However, it was still just knowledge and not changing me.
In 2005 that all changed. I received an invitation to attend a 24 hour retreat. I didn't know much about it, but a friend had gone and really wanted me to go. For several years the invitation had come, but between work and having a child, the timing was not right. In October of 2004 I had our second child and took a step of faith to come home as a stay at home mom. When the invitation for the retreat came in the mail, Todd told me I was going. He would stay home with our two little ones so I could get away and seek God for answers on some questions.
I left and went several hours away. I had no idea what to expect. I just knew I was supposed to go.
While I was gone I was asking God about a part time job to work from home. The retreat was designed to spend time with God. I can still see the little cabin where 10 or 12 of us were. There was a lake to sit beside. Everything was lovely and inspiring. Perfect scenario to actually hear from God.
I took the opportunity to literally ask God what I should do. I kept hearing God say that I needed to take care of my family. That I was supposed to love them. The part time job wasn't supposed to happen.
Of course this wasn't really what I wanted to hear. Financially we needed the money. How would we make ends meet if I wasn't going to have an income?
At one point I was lying on the bed and trying to put on a necklace. The chain had gotten tangled and it was a mess. As I was working to get it untangled I heard the Spirit say, "you are going to help people get their lives untangled."
The final time together for the retreat began. I was a little unsettled in my spirit because I knew that I was not supposed to work, but I did not know how God was going to provide. The leader of the retreat began to pray over us individually and had a verse for us. I was the last person she came to in the circle and when she began to read the verse over me I began to weep. The verse she read was Isaiah 58:11
“Then Adonai will guide you continually, satisfy your soul in drought and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail.”
Isaiah 58:11 TLV
As she read that verse I heard the word Israel. The version she read said, "God will guide you continually. Your need will be supplied in a sun scorched land." Israel is a sun scorched land. Instantly I knew that Israel was part of God's plan for my life and for our family's life. I did not know how it would look, or what would happen, but I knew that it was important.
When I returned home and walked in the door at midnight, Todd was up waiting. He was cleaning the kitchen, making sure everything was in place like he always does. He asked me how the retreat had gone. I told him it was good. He asked what God had told me about the part time job. When I told him I wasn't supposed to take it, I could see the questions in his eyes. A little surprised, because I knew that he also was wondering how God would take care of us on just his income.
I then pulled out the verse and showed it to him. I shared with him that God had given me the word Israel. I told him that I did not know how, but that some way God would make a way and Israel would be a part of our lives. We both went to bed that night not completely understanding anything, but had faith that God would give us the answers.
It was about a month later that Todd got in touch with an acquaintance who offered him a job as the bureau chief (manager) of their office in Jerusalem. A month after that Todd was in Jerusalem learning about the position. That fall, of 2005, our family of four boarded a plane to live in Israel for an indefinite number of months. At the time we did not know how long we would be there. It ended up being only 4 months, but amazingly it felt like home from the minute we stepped off the plane.
Why did I tell this story when I want to tell you about Sukkot? Well, our family arrived in Jerusalem right before the Feast of Tabernacles, so our first holiday in Israel was seeing the sukkahs (make shift tents) all around the city. It was an amazing way to be introduced to this land. I learned so much being in the middle of the ceremonies. It truly is a festive time of year.
Sukkot, it really is about faith. A man named Abraham left his home and went to a place that a God told him about. He was from a people group who believed in many gods and all of a sudden he said he was going to follow a God who spoke to him. Many had to think he was crazy. Travel to a foreign land? Where you don't know anything about the weather, landscape or people? Follow one God?
This man, Abraham, believed and went. He trusted and had faith that this God would follow through on his promises. At one point he did doubt and we still have consequences because of his disobedience (that is another discussion), but God's plan is ultimately the best.
Abraham's son Isaac, and his son Jacob, continued following the same God. The One God Who is alive. God continued to give these leaders direction and showed them where to go. At the point when the people, under the leadership of Moses, decided to not trust God, they were disciplined. This discipline cost them 40 years of wondering in the wilderness.
When God began to give His decrees of how the Israelites should celebrate and remember all that He has done for them, this is what He said:
“Adonai spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, and say, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Feast of Sukkot, for seven days to Adonai. On the first day there is to be a holy convocation—you are to do no laborious work. For seven days you are to bring an offering by fire to Adonai. The eighth day will be a holy convocation to you, and you are to bring an offering by fire to Adonai. It is a solemn assembly—you should do no laborious work. “These are the moadim of Adonai, which you are to proclaim to be holy convocations, to present an offering by fire to Adonai—a burnt offering, a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, each on its own day, besides those of the Shabbatot of Adonai and besides your gifts, all your vows and all your freewill offerings which you give to Adonai. “So on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruits of the land, you are to keep the Feast of Adonai for seven days. The first day is to be a Shabbat rest, and the eighth day will also be a Shabbat rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit of trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and rejoice before Adonai your God for seven days. You are to celebrate it as a festival to Adonai for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations—you are to celebrate it in the seventh month. You are to live in sukkot for seven days. All the native-born in Israel are to live in sukkot, so that your generations may know that I had Bnei-Yisrael to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am Adonai your God.” So Moses declared to Bnei-Yisrael the moadim of Adonai.”
Leviticus 23:33-44 TLV
It is given again in Deuteronomy:
““You are to keep the Feast of Sukkot for seven days, after gathering in the produce from your threshing floor and winepress.” So you will rejoice in your feast—you, your son and daughter, slave and maid, Levite and outsider, orphan and widow within your gates. Seven days you will feast to Adonai your God in the place He chooses, because Adonai your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hand, and you will be completely filled with joy. Three times a year all your males are to appear before Adonai your God in the place He chooses—at the Feast of Matzot, the Feast of Shavuot, and the Feast of Sukkot. No one should appear before Adonai empty-handed— the gift of each man’s hand according to the blessing Adonai your God has given you.” Deuteronomy 16:13-17 TLV
There are a couple of verses I want to focus on from the passages. First is from Leviticus. It is chapter 23 verse 40 which says:
“On the first day you are to take choice fruit of trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and rejoice before Adonai your God for seven days.”
Leviticus 23:40 TLV
The Israelites were told to take the first fruits of the fall crops and rejoice before Adonai. It was a time of thanksgiving for what they were given. Even though Israel is a dry, arid land, there are many fruits which can be grown here. Dates, figs and pomegranates are all first fruits of the fall.
How do the Israelites celebrate this today? They carry with them the four species (explained below) and use it as a wave offering before the Lord. In Israel it is common to see the Jewish men carrying a plastic sheath with four plants inside. Let's take a look at what the four are and the meaning behind this way of observing the commandment. Each branch represents a type of person.
The verse says, "choice fruit of trees." This is represented in the sheath by an etrog, also called a citron. It looks like a large lemon. The Jewish men take time selecting their choice fruit and make sure they have the best around. This fruit represents a man who has spiritual understanding and displays his his understanding with his actions. In other words, this fruit represents someone whose mind understands the Words of God and bears fruit.
The second piece is, "branches of palm trees." This one is pretty obvious that it would be a palm branch, known in Hebrew as a lulav. The palm tree bears a fruit that has taste, but no fragrance. This branch represents a man who has spiritual understanding, but his life does not show it. He has a taste of what the Torah (Word of God) says, but does not give off a fragrance. This man can give others a taste, but does nothing to draw someone in through a fragrance of the Spirit.
The third piece is, "boughs of leafy trees." This is represented by a myrtle branch and in Hebrew is called a hadasim. The myrtle branch has fragrance, but no fruit or taste. This is a man who does many good things, but has no understanding of God in his life. This person could not give anyone a taste of the Word of God. We know that the Bible says, “Taste and see how good Adonai is. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” Psalms 34:9 TLV
The last piece in the sheath is, "willows of the brook." There are willow trees in Israel and in Hebrew they are called aravot. The willow tree has no fragrance or fruit. There is nothing in this man to draw anyone to God and there is no fruit or kind acts displayed in his life.
The three species that are branches are placed in the plastic sheath and waved in the four directions (north, south, east and west). The etrog is carried. It is a time to give thanks to Adonai. When these are waved it is called Hoshanot. What English word do you think we get from this? Hosanna!
As you can see, these symbols are directly from the Torah. It is something we can learn from and use today to challenge us in how we live.
A second verse to notice is verse 42:
“You are to live in sukkot for seven days. All the native-born in Israel are to live in sukkot,”
Leviticus 23:42 TLV
What is a Sukkot? Why are they to "live in" one for seven days? The word, "sukkah" means tent. It is a three-sided structure built on a patio or in a driveway. The top of the tent is made with branches so that the evening sky can be seen. During the seven days of Sukkot the Jewish people eat in this "booth." This tent, or booth, reminds them of their time in the wilderness.
“so that your generations may know that I had Bnei-Yisrael to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am Adonai your God.”” Leviticus 23:43 TLV
Eating in one does bring a time of reflection about all that God has done. Sitting and looking out into the sky is a way of being reminded of the greatness of God. These seven days of eating "under the stars" can renew our relationship with God. We remember what He has done, is doing, and then know He will continue to do all of these things for us. We know that God is Someone Who keeps His promises.
This sukkah is also a reminder of God dwelling with us. God took care of the Israelites in the wilderness, and He is taking care of them today. Those who join in the belief and have faith, He also cares for. God truly is in control and spending time with Him reminds us of that.
Thanksgiving... There is an interesting thought that the American holiday of Thanksgiving is taken from this biblical holiday. It has become known that Christopher Columbus is Jewish. He did not practice Judaism, but he has Jewish ancestry. It is also known that the Pilgrims came to the new land for religious freedom. They were escaping the strict orders of the church in England. They wanted to be able to serve God as they read the Bible, not as they were told by church leaders. When they arrived in the new land and wanted to give thanks, they turned to their Bibles and read about Sukkot. They took their first fruits of the year and brought it before God and gave thanks. The first thanksgiving in the new land, but most likely based on the fact that they read the Torah and listened to the Spirit.
The last verse I want to look at is:
“So you will rejoice before Adonai your God in the place Adonai your God chooses to make His Name dwell—you, your son and daughter, slave and maid, Levite and outsider, orphan and widow in your midst.” Deuteronomy 16:11 TLV
This verse holds a special place in my heart because as an "outsider" in the land I am given the opportunity to rejoice with the Jews in their celebration. This verse states that all who are in the place where His Name dwells are able to celebrate. My first year in Israel I was part of these celebrations. I have been blessed to be a part almost every year since. Now we have groups that come for this joyous time of year and we rejoice together with them.
Since I have your attention about a celebration that you have probably heard about before, let's talk about one that may be a little more foreign. It is actually celebrated before Sukkot, but I am bringing it up now because I think that Sukkot is easier to explain and understand. The holiday I will explain next is not as explicit in Torah. Here is the reference to it:
“Adonai spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a Shabbat rest, a memorial of blowing (shofarot), a holy convocation. You are to do no regular work, and you are to present an offering made by fire to Adonai.”” Leviticus 23:23-25 TLV
This holiday today is called, "Rosh Hashana," which means, head of the year. This is celebrated as the Jewish New Year. Why would they celebrate a "new year" in the fall? This is the beginning of the civil cycle. This day, the beginning of the seventh month, is the day the Jewish people celebrate the creation of the world. They make new year resolutions and eat apples dipped in honey as a promise for a sweet new year. They greet each other with a phrase meaning, "May your name be inscribed in the Book of Life (taken from Daniel 12:1)." They also blow the shofar, a ram's horn, on Rosh Hashana because this was commanded in Torah (see the verse above).
There are many references to the blowing of the shofar in the Bible. Here are a few of them:
“My stomach, my stomach! I writhe in anguish! The pain of my heart! My heart is pounding within me! I cannot keep silent because I have heard, O my soul, the sound of the shofar, the battle-cry of war.” Jeremiah 4:19 TLV
“If a shofar alarm sounds in a city, will people not tremble? If there is calamity in a city, has not Adonai caused it?” Amos 3:6 TLV
“The great day of Adonai is near— near and coming very quickly! The sound of the day of Adonai is bitter— the shouting of the warrior is there. That day is a day of wrath a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastating storm and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of shofar and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high corner towers.” Zephaniah 1:14-16 TLV
“All you inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, look! when a shofar is blown, listen!” Isaiah 18:3 TLV
“With trumpets and sound of the shofar blast a sound before the King, Adonai.” Psalms 98:6 TLV
All of these verses remind us that God uses a ram's horn blast to get our attention. It usually signifies something of importance is going to happen. If God commanded the shofar to be blown each year on this day, I believe that we should sit up and take notice. I believe it is time to investigate why He would want this done every year. I would say it is because there is something He wants us to observe or be prepared for.
What could this event be? There are many speculations as to what God is preparing us for. Let's think about a scenario...
It is commonly thought that Jesus was conceived during Chanukah and then born nine months later during the time of the Fall Festivals. This time of celebration, as we discussed earlier, is a time for feasting and offering first fruits. If the Messiah is to return during the season of these fall festivals (remember, Jesus said we know the season, but not the day or hour), a shofar blow would be a wake up call of what is to come. He has already fulfilled Passover and the spiritual cycle through His death, burial, and resurrection. When He returns He will fulfill the civil cycle and declare Himself King over all the earth (a shofar blow always proceeded this event historically). Feast of Tabernacles would become the supper we would eat with our King around His table. I know that my heart is ready at all times, but during the Fall season I definitely take time to reflect and seek the Lord.
Here is some more information about these Fall holidays that tie in with the idea of seeking. After Rosh Hashana there are 10 Days of Awe or 10 Days of Repentance. These 10 days are a time of reflecting and making sure that you have called friends and family and asked for forgiveness in case you have offended someone. It is a time to make your heart right before Adonai. These 10 days of reflection are not commanded in Torah, however it is taught that in Isaiah it says, “Seek Adonai while He may be found, call on Him while He is near.” Isaiah 55:6 TLV and that this is the time to seek Him. The shofar was blown to wake us up, now we seek Him and make things right with others because the Day of Atonement is coming.
The Jews pray specific prayers during these 10 days called, "s'lihot prayers." This translates as, "forgive me." Many take a stone or bread crumbs and throw them into the water as a symbol of their sins being removed. This is from the book of Micah, “He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:19 TLV
These acts are all preparations for Yom Kippur. This day is the highest and most holy day in the Jewish year. I remember well my first Yom Kippur in Israel. The quiet hush that covers the land is even stronger than a Shabbat. The airport shuts down for 24 hours - no planes in or out. All businesses are closed. The gates to the West Bank are closed. The only vehicles on the road are for emergency. There is no other country that takes a holy day so seriously. Even most "secular Jews" stop and reflect on this day.
What is the reason for this? Leviticus chapter 16 explains what happened when Aaron was the High Priest and then it was said by God that this sacrifice should happen once a year. This special sacrifice, where the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, covered the sins of Israel for the coming year. It was the only time of year when the High Priest spoke the name of God, YHWH.
In Leviticus it states, ““It is to be a statute to you forever, that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you are to afflict your souls, and do no kind of work—both the native-born and the outsider dwelling among you.” Leviticus 16:29 TLV
Most people consider the phrase, "afflict your souls" to mean fast since it is a way of causing affliction to yourself. Jews fast for 25 hours (sundown to sundown) and have no water or drink during this time. Some choose to not wear anything with leather as that was a luxury and anything considered luxurious should be avoided. They truly take this time to afflict themselves as they repent before the Lord.
The Temple is no longer standing, so sacrifices cannot be made by the High Priest. This means they must make themselves available before God and repent. They cannot rely on someone else to take their place.
Technically, the words written do not mean fast, and they truly could spend their time resting before the Lord and enjoying His covering (“He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge. His faithfulness is body armor and shield.” Psalms 91:4 TLV).
As we can see, this day is a day to spend time with God. I choose to be thankful, knowing that God has given me a way for my atonement when He sent Jesus as the sacrifice for my sins. I can enter into the Holy of Holies and not be afraid. I can give thanks for His Holy Spirit that He left as my comforter and covering until His Son returns. I can be thankful that Israel and the Jewish people have kept these commandments from God and handed them down through the years so that I could be grafted in and now celebrate with them just as Jesus would have done.
When this day is done, the next several days are spent building their sukkah. It becomes a joyous time of preparation for the feasting that is to come. Let's stop and think again about how this ties in with the shofar blow from Rosh Hashana. We have God getting our attention that something is to take place. Then we have 10 days of awe where we make things right with family and friends. On Yom Kippur it is a time to "stand before God" and cry out and sacrifice for our sins (for those who believe their sins are atoned for we can give thanks), but this is a picture of Judgement Day when we stand before God and He shows us our life. For those who believe, we can look forward to a feast with the Lord. This is the Feast of Tabernacles.
Many still ask the question, "why should someone who believes in Jesus and the "New Covenant" celebrate these holidays?" Many say that these holidays were commanded by God for the Jews and that those who follow Jesus do not need to follow these celebrations. They believe that the New Testament changed the Old Testament.
My response is, "if we believe that the New Testament is a continuation of the Old, than why would things change?" If we believe that Jesus and His disciples were Jewish, why do we think that He did not celebrate these festivals? For several years the letters WWJD were displayed everywhere in Christian circles. What Would Jesus Do? If we truly say we want to do what Jesus did, then we need to look at the festivals He celebrated and learn from them.
I think we should be asking ourselves, who stopped the celebrations of these festivals and why? It is time we begin to go back to the roots of our faith, which is Judaism. It is time to recognize the covenants that God made with His chosen people, and understand that we are grafted in to that root. They support us. This is all made clear by Paul in Romans 11.
Celebrating the Hebrew holidays on the Biblical feasts has changed my life, in a good way. I have never felt more free, peaceful, and full of life than ever before. I finally understand more things in the Bible.
My prayer is that more and more join me in the quest for Truth. My prayer is that more and more people ask, seek and knock. When we let the Word of God be the lamp to our feet and the light to our path, we cannot go wrong.
This year I will eat apples and honey, throw stones into the sea, reflect and give thanks on Yom Kippur, and put my sukkah up with joy. I will celebrate knowing that my Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is dwelling with me. Will you choose to do this with me?
Author's Note: I don't claim to have all the answers and these subjects are not easily explained. These ideas are what I have found as I read Scriptures. I have also used two books that help in my understanding of these feasts. They are The Feasts of the Lord by Ron Cantrell and A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays by Robin Sampson and Linda Pierce.