The Feast of Tabernacles
Brethren and sisters, in about two month's time we shall be celebrating the final and most important biblical holiday of the year which in the Hebrew is known as Sukkot but is known to us in English as the Feast of Tabernacles. And though technically separate festivals, Shemini Atzeret and Simkhat Torah , these two immediately follow Sukkot and so are regarded as part of Sukkot also. As this is the first time we have ever celebrated this festival, which Yahweh has commanded all true believers to observe, I felt it was worth spending a little time giving you some background so that we have time to make adequate preparations.
Like all of Yahweh' festivals, Sukkot commemorates both an historical and agricultural event as well as containing important keys for the regulation of our spiritual lives. Like the other major festivals, the Roman Catholics removed these ordinances at a time when Jews were being persecuted so as to escape persecution themselves, for both Christians and Jews used to celebrate the same festivals. Instead we were given various pagan substitutes which omit many important spiritual truths that the Lord would have us understand.
Here is the original instruction given by Yahweh to His people: "So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month [Tishri], after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to Yahweh for seven days; the first day is a day of rest, and the eighth day also is a day of rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before Yahweh your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to Yahweh for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so that your descendants will know that I made the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God" (Lev.23:39-32, NIV mod.).
We are also told that on the eigth and final day Yahweh's people are to "hold a sacred assembly....it is the closing assembly; do no regular work" (v.36).
There are two things I would like to mention before we start a close analysis of this celebration. Firstly, the New Testament clearly teaches through the apostle Paul that all true believers in the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus) are true Israelites, and that those Israelites by birth who reject the Messiah cease being Israelites even though they ought to be because of the promises made to their forefathers. That means that all the festivals given by God to the Israelites through Moses and subsequently are given to Christians also, though of course without the animal sacrifices which were fulfilled in the person of Christ Himself.
Secondly, with the coming of Christ, the true messianic significance of these festivals was revealed in a way that had never been revealed befroe. So whilst modern talmudic Jews today continue to celebrate Sukkot and the other ordained festivals they do so in an incomplete way, for they are still awaiting the Messiah who has already come. We shall see in a moment how Yah'shua (Jesus) injected new meaning into these festivals, and especially Sukkot, as He did at Hannukkah which we celebrated for the first time last year.
Historically, Sukkot is celebrated to commemorate an event, namely the way in which the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land from Egypt had to live simply in the desert. They had no permanent homes but lived in tents.
We are reminded by this way of living, which was not necessarily particularly comfortablle and enjoyable, that in order to obtain the heavenly blessings which being a Christian entails means making substantial sacrifices along the way. The desert journey from Egypt to Canaan was tough for not only did the people suffer from a lack of the basic comforts of life but they had to face hostile tribes, infestations of snakes and, at times, a pretty boring sort of diet. Eating manna and quail day after day, though a miraculous blessings of God out there in the middle of nowhere, did get rather tedious at times. And yet without this provision they would certainly have died. And if they hadn't made the journey in the first place they would have died as slaves in Egypt and ended up as unsaved pagans.
We are reminded, therefore, that in order to inherit the Celestial City and the glories of the next life in the presence of God, we must make some painful sacrifices. I use the word "painful" cautiously, though, for compared to their lost state and what they were going to inherit, the sacrifices were nothing. There are many false pseudo-Christian gospels being taught in the world today which say that the Christian's life involves nothing but wealth, health and an easy life. The Festival of Tabernacles testifies to the opposite for it is telling us that, like the Israelites, in order to be saved, we must uproot ourselves and let God replant us in new spiritual soil.
Now those of you who are gardeners know that when you dig up a plant and replant it that it is quite a shock for the plant. It has to be well watered after it has been planted otherwise it may wilt and die. It is a fact that no matter in what circumstances we grow up, moving home and country can be quite traumatic. Everyone of us here has actually done that, some of us many times. I've now lived in four countries, some of you even more. And especially when you first move it can be particularly unpleasant until finally you grow your roots deep into the new soil and begin to settle down.
Becoming a Christian is not unlike moving country. In fact, it's very much like it. The immediate experience of some people may be less than joyful. I remember how miserable some of us were when we first moved here and we wanted to go back to Norway or England. The Israelites were exactly the same. You will remember how they kept on grumbling and complaining because they missed their old way of life as slaves in Egypt compared with their suffering in the desert. They complained, and even rebelled, because they lacked faith in what was to come. We, in our fallen human nature, are a bit like that too. We waited nine years to come here to Kadesh. Sometimes we really got our hopes up, thinking that "next year" we would find our spiritual home, only to be disappointed. And then, when everything looked hopeless, there it was. And when the Israelites sent out spies into Canaan - when they finally got there - and the spies reported how wonderful the land was, they were overjoyed...until they heard about the giant inhabitants, of course, and then they panicked. You see, if you look at all the elements of the history of Israel's wandering from Egypt to Canaan you will find that it is a brilliant depiction of the spiritual struggle we must go through in order to reach our holy land, the New Jerusalem, which is in heaven - a journey so beautifully portrayed by John Bunyan in his epic story, Pilgrim's Progress. Israel's journey to Canaan is also, on another level, our own journey back to God, of which the Festival of Tabernacles is a reminder that we must make sacrifices to accomplish the journey.
So remember this important fact: the true Christian journey is a struggle with deprivations along the way, but the reward is not only character development here in this world but the promise of paradise in the next. Life is harsh, even for those who seem to have no difficulties at all, for in truth they are but slaves who never left Egypt. That is why Yah'shua (Jesus) said that it was difficult for a rich man to get into heaven - like a camel going through the eye of a needle - because riches would be the millstone around their necks. Remember the rich man whom Yah'shua (Jesus) invited to follow him? He obeyed the Ten Commandments but he loved his wealth too much. He wasn't willing to sacrifice - to endure hardship - and so he rejected the Messiah for his money. What use is obeying the Ten Commandments in Egypt when God wants you in the Promised Land? Something to think about.
Now this Festival of Booths, as it is also sometimes called, calls to mind other things too. We are reminded that God's chosen people, the Israelites, started from humble beginnings. He did not call a race of princes and princesses and say, "Now I am going to make you My chosen representatives in the world" but picked a multitude of oppressed slaves who had become worldly and pagan through their association with the demonic Egytpian culture. Thus those who may be wealthy are to reminded of the condition of their forefathers and are to be given no excuse for pride or arrogance. It is easy to boast that we are descended from kings, lords, princes or important people, but it is not easy to boast that one is a descendant of a slave class who had fallen deeply into the sin of paganism. Thus Sukkot is a reminder to us to remain humble and not to boast, except in our Messiah. We are to be small in our own eyes, remembering that God has a special affection for the small man or woman, and shows mercy to them.
Inspite of their poverty and nothingness in the eyes of the world, what did God do? He, the Creator of the Universe, set up His tent amongst them. Think about it - Almighty God, Maker of the billions of stars in this vast cosmos - came and lived in a small tent amongst a group of rebellious slaves in the middle of a desert! Do you understand the significance of that? It means that today Yahweh is doing the very same thing - He sends the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) to dwell in the hearts of the spiritually poor and humble - the teachable, the meek, the kind and lowly. And He tells us that this is His natural abode. It is with such people that Yahweh feels the most comortable because they are the cleanest, the purest. This is the class of people which Yah'shua (Jesus) called "blessed" in His Sermon on the Mount. So think of the Sinai desert, of that straggling band of nomads, whose one goal was the Promised Land, and you have a pretty good picture of the kind of person God is searching for today, and whom He is working with. The humble, those aware that they are nothing, who lack pride and haughtiness, those seeking after that which is of eternal value - these are the people God makes His home amongst today.
But Yahweh didn't simply make His home amongst this ragged lot of people. In His great mercy, He both protected and guided them. How did His do this? He covered them with a supernatural canopy which is described in human language as "a cloud by day and a pillar by night". That cloud sheltered them from the blazing heat of the sun and showed them the way they were to go when they were on the move. Imagine having that every day, knowing where you should turn in your journey through life, and having supernatural protection from the heat of the pagan world around us. And so Sukkot reminds us not only of our humble circumstances and origins, but also of the amazing love and mercy of Yahweh in living with us, protecting and guiding us. The born-again Christian has all of these. His journey through life may at times be tough but he can always be sure of protection, guidance and the presence of of God through the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit).
So for seven days Israelites have lived in booths during this time, and on the eighth day they return to their own houses, reminding them that after their long journey of deprivation in the wilderness that they did make it to the Holy Land in the end. We also, in celebrating this biblical festival, remind ourselves both of the tough journey that mortality is and the fact that there is a goal - a goal we must never forgot. For without the goal, everything else is meaningless.
By living in a simple way for one week every year we shall be reminded of just how thankful we should be for all the belsssings we have. Even now there are millions of families and orphans living on the streets, who are at the mercy of cold, famine, disease, violence, kidnapping, rape, and every imaginable horror. For them there is a way out, just as there is for the sinner without Christ who spiritually isn't much better off than those people living on the street. Those street people have no future, no goal to work for, as they are trapped in a grinding cycle of poverty and misery. Even rich people, who have all they want, have no goal. no future - no hope - without Christ. They often think to themselves that the grave is the end of everything so they make no plans for the future. They live for their bellies, sensual pleasures, their families, or philanthropic causes. Whether selfish or well-intended, they are still in Egypt, trapped, with no promised Land to look forward to. And when they awake from death, as they will do, they will still find themselves in spiritual Egypt, but with the Red Sea closed before them and no way of escape. For them there awaits an eternity without God.
Sukkot is therefore both a warning that life will almost certainly be filled with difficulties but a promise of better things to come too. It is a warning that if your goal is not to serve God before anything else, if you are not concerned about the salvation of your soul and the salvation of other souls, that your future is a bleak one indeed. For though there are many who leave Egypt on their journey, seeking God, circumstances in life may tempt them to turn back or to perish in the wilderness. This journey requires courage, resolution, and a clear vision of the goal we are heading for. Without it, we will fall like flies in the desert. It requires above all great faith, and a willingness to put God's promises to the test. If we will exercise faith, Yahweh will show you how with nothing you can have everything. For in Israel's wanderings a dispossessed, homeless people were given a ready made land with farms, orchards, vineyards, and cities. Thus we are assured that heaven is a place ready made for us - everything in prepared, there is nothing for us to do except walk through this mortal life in faith in obedience to the Lord.
Next time we shall look at some of the practical details of Sukkot. Obviously we cannot all go outside and live in tents for a week in bad weather or in a cold climate. We shall construct our own booths and make them indoors. It's a fun activity for all the family but more importantly it will give you a memory and remind you when things get tough in this life - especially for you young ones who have yet to meet the world - that God is right beside us, His Spirit dwelling in our hearts, guiding us onwards. May His Name be blessed. Amen.
 Simchat Torah is a Talmudic addition not commanded by Yahweh. NCCG subsequently dropped this observance.
This page was created on 5 February 2001
Last updated on 5 February 2001
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