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September/Tishrei 5769

October/Cheshvan 5769 

We've been looking at the Fall Feasts from the book of Leviticus. A study of the traditions associated with the Feasts helps us to better understand the Scripture by providing us with the "background" to many of the events and teachings recorded there. But there is also a "prophetic" element to these Feasts.

In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul writes that the festivals are "shadows of things to come." As we have seen in earlier studies, the Appointed Days of God provide on "overview" of history - each speaking to a specific event in the life and work of Messiah. The Spring Festivals of Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Pentecost received a Messianic fulfillment within the events of the first coming of Messiah. Because of this, many believe that it's not unreasonable to think that the Fall Festivals speak to Messiah's return. Today, we'll be discussing the Feast of Tabernacles, the final "Appointed Day of God" described for us in the book of Leviticus.

The Feast of Tabernacles is a week-long autumn festival, also known as the Feast of the Ingathering, Feast of the Booths, or Sukkot (pronounced sue-coat). The word Sukkot means "booths," and refers to the temporary dwellings the people are commanded to live in during this holiday, just as the Jews did in the wilderness. The two days following the festival are separate holidays, Shemini Atzeret (Eight Day Solemn Assembly) and Simchat Torah,(Rejoicing in the Law) but are commonly thought of as part of the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast begins five days after Yom Kippur on the fifteenth of Tishri (September or October). This year, it began the evening of September 20th and ended today at sundown.

Tabernacles has a dual significance - both historical and agricultural, just as Passover and Weeks, the other two Pilgrim Festivals, where all Jewish males were required to travel to Jerusalem to observe these Appointed Times of God. Agriculturally, it was a celebration of the final harvest of the year and an occasion to thank God for the provision of the necessary rains. Historically, it was to be kept in remembrance of the dwelling in tents in the wilderness for the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert - a celebration of God's dwelling among His people.

In ancient times, The Feast of Tabernacles was by far the most festive of the Appointed Times - a drastic change from one of the most solemn holidays of the year to one of the most joyous. We'll discuss some of the elements of the ancient celebration in detail a little later, but, briefly, it was celebrated following the outline in Leviticus and Numbers:

  • They lived in booths made of boughs of trees and branches of palm trees for the seven days of the feast

  • They rested from all regular work on the first and eighth days.

  • The Priest offered sacrifices on the seven days, beginning with thirteen bullocks and other animals on the first day and diminishing by one bullock each day until, on the seventh, seven bullocks were offered.

  • On the eighth day there was a solemn assembly when one bullock, one ram, and seven lambs were offered. The sacrifices offered during this time amounted to 189 animals.

  • Men carried the cluster of branches to the synagogue to wave as they rejoiced before the Lord, as commanded by the Lord.

In the ancient celebration, on each day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the people in the Temple courtyard would hold the clusters of branches, waving them before the LORD and make a circular procession around the altar. The first six days they would circle the altar once. On the seventh days, they would circle the altar seven times, to increase the joy. During the procession they would pray a prayer that came to be known as Hoshanos. It is a prayer for God's blessing, ending each phrase of the prayer with the word hoshana ("Please save" or "save now!"). For this reason, the last day came to be known as Hoshana Rabba, meaning the Day of the Great 'O Save'.

The services in the synagogue today are modeled after the ancient services in the Temple, although, of course, sacrifices are no longer performed since the time of the Temple's destruction. Traditionally, both the Great Hallel - Psalm 113 through 118 and Psalm 27 are recited at the service of the Feast of Tabernacles. It is still the usual practice to build and decorate the sukkah - booth. The processionals and the waving of clusters of branches are also still a part of the celebration.

Many Americans, upon seeing a decorated sukkah for the first time, remark on how much the tabernacle - and the holiday in general - reminds them of Thanksgiving. The American pilgrims, who originated the Thanksgiving holiday, were deeply religious people. It is quite possible that as they were trying to find a way to express their thanks for their survival and for the harvest, that they looked to the Bible (Leviticus 23:39) for an appropriate way of celebrating and based their holiday in part on the Feast of Tabernacles. We should note that the modern observance, on the 3rd Thursday in November, was instituted by the American government and does not necessarily coincide with the original observance.

As we've said, Tabernacles is not only a celebration of the harvest, it also celebrates God's dwelling with humanity. It is this element which most clearly shows the Messianic significance. When Solomon built the first temple, it was on Sukkot that the Spirit of God (the Shekinah Glory) descended upon it - God came to dwell with man visibly in the Temple on the day that God Himself set aside to mark His dwelling with Man (1 Kings 8). This is one of the reasons many believe that we can determine from the Scriptures and other records that it during Sukkot that Yeshua was born. There are other reasons for this as well.

First of all, it seems to make sense that God would choose to come and dwell amongst us in human form on the festival that God appointed to remember His dwelling with us. But, while this sounds nice, it's not enough to convince us that this was indeed the time of His birth. So, let's look at a few other things that seem to point in this direction.

We know that when Yeshua was born, that there were shepherds tending to their flocks. The particular area where these shepherds were was for the flocks of lambs that would be used for the Passover sacrifices - a point that some might find interesting. These flocks were not out in the open fields during the winter. We know from the Mishna that they were taken into a protective corral from November through February. So that narrows the timing of His birth down a bit for us.

Next, we know that when Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem, there was no place for them to stay. Why would that be? Traditional thought has suggested that it was because everyone was out and about registering for the census that Rome had mandated. However, that actually plays a very minor part in this, because the census, as it turns out, was not something that had to be done by a specific date. It wasn't like filing taxes - do it by April 15th or face the consequences. Rather, we know from recent discoveries that these censuses went on for quite some time - in many cases over several years. So, it isn't likely that they were rushing to Bethlehem in order to register.

So, if not to meet the deadline for registration, why would Joseph risk a long, hard, dangerous journey with a wife about to give birth? If you have plenty of time for this census, then there is little likelihood that you would endanger your family like this. Is there another feasible explanation for this journey at this point in time? As we mentioned earlier, three of the festivals are what were called "Pilgrimage" festivals. On those 3 occasions it was required for the men and their families to journey to Jerusalem. In other words, it was required by God to be in Jerusalem on those days.

Since they would have been going to Jerusalem, a scant 5 miles from Bethlehem, for the festival, it would be reasonable to assume that they would make the relatively short side trip to attend to the census registration as well. But, when they arrived, because everyone in Israel was heading to Jerusalem, and Bethlehem was only a few miles away, naturally, all the rooms were taken.

We also know from the records that Luke, who was a very precise historian, left us, that when Mary's relative, Elizabeth conceived John, her husband, Zechariah, who was a priest, was serving in the Temple. We also know when he was serving in the temple because we know what priestly order he served in - Abiyah - and the Book of Chronicles, as well as the Talmud tell us when each of the 24 orders of priests would serve in the Temple, and for how long. So, with that information, we can determine when Elizabeth would have conceived, assuming she conceived shortly after the angelic visitation recorded in Luke chapter 1.

We're told that Mary conceived six months later, meaning that Yeshua would have been born six months after John. If all this is true, then interestingly enough, John, whom Yeshua referred to as "The Elijah who was to come" before the Messiah, would have been born during Passover. Based on prophetic passages from Scripture, the rabbi's believed that Elijah would come during Passover. In fact, it is still traditional, during the Passover Seder today, for the youngest child to open the door in anticipation of Elijah's arrival. Exactly six months after Passover is Sukkot. This is when we celebrate God dwelling amongst us, and when Yeshua would have been born - six months after John. John, the "Elijah" came when God appointed for Him to come; and Yeshua came six months later, on the holiday God appointed for Him to come. Again - if this is true - then no wonder why Tabernacles is also known as Z'man Simchatenu (zi-mahn sim-khat-tay-new) - The Time of Our Rejoicing.

Tabernacles has long been associated by the rabbi's with the coming of Messiah, for many reasons. One of them is the fact that Scripture tells us that people from the nations of the world will come up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with the Jewish people in Jerusalem during the Millennial Kingdom: "Then...all nations of the earth...will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles" (Zechariah 14:16). Regardless of whether Tabernacles was the time of His birth - it will definitely find it's full prophetic fulfillment when Yeshua comes to establish His long awaited kingdom and all people who have been redeemed by His glorious sacrifice will gladly celebrate Sukkot in all its fullness - for God will indeed dwell among us - not in a temporary way - but forever!

(The following information is taken in large part from an article titled "Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles" by David Brinker, Executive Director of Jews For Jesus, with a few modifications and additions by Yours Truly. It is used here with his permission - and his prayer that you are blessed by the message.)

The Gospels record that Yeshua not only celebrated the festival, but He took some of traditional elements of the celebration and applied them to His own life and mission. We find this particularly in John 7 and 8 where Yeshua uses two traditional symbols from the Feast of Tabernacles celebration, water and light, to help the people understand who He is and what He offers.

As we mentioned earlier, the seventh day of this festival is known as Hoshana Rabba - the Great Save. Because Sukkot was a festival celebrating the final harvest of the year, it was customary to thank God during this time for the produce of that year and to ask Him to provide the needed winter rains for next years harvest. There were many special observances and traditions developed along this theme. The most spectacular of these was the water drawing ceremony.

Water was an important part of the Feast of Tabernacles. Before the festival, the Rabbis taught on every passage in Scripture dealing with water. During the water drawing ceremony, the High Priest would recite Isaiah 12:1-3: "And in that day you shall say, 'O LORD, I will praise you: though you were angry with me, your anger is turned away, and you have comforted me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.' Therefore with joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation." The word translated "salvation" here is the word "yeshua." Does that sound familiar to anyone?

The ceremony itself was, apparently, quite a sight to see. I'd like you to imagine a whole parade of worshipers and flutists led by the High Priest in his finest garb to the pool of Siloam. He is carrying two golden pitchers. One is for wine. He fills the other with water from the pool. As the flutes continue to play, a choir of Israelites chants the Great Hallel as the whole procession heads back to the Temple through the Water Gate. A trumpet sounds as the priest enters the Temple area. He approaches the altar where two silver basins are waiting. He pours wine into one of the basins as a drink offering to the Lord and water from the pool of Siloam into the other. The whole ceremony, with the parade and the flutes and the singing and dancing, was such a joyful occasion that one of the ancient rabbis wrote: "Anyone who has not seen this water ceremony has never seen rejoicing in his life."

Today, here in the US, it's hard for us to understand all this excitement over water - all we have to do is simply turn the tap and voilá - water! Not so in the Middle East during the first century. Water was often scarce. The people were very much aware of their dependence on God for the rains that were so vital for the preservation of life. No wonder the prophets came to see rain as a symbol of salvation and the work of God's Holy Spirit: "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean . . ." (Ezekiel 36:25). The rabbis taught that this water drawing ceremony was more than simply a request for winter rains. It was to prophetically illustrate the days of Messianic redemption when the waters of the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon all Israel (Sukkot 55). God would, ultimately, build His habitation with His people when the kingdom is established under the leadership of Messiah.

With this historical background, we can more fully appreciate the events recorded on one particular Sukkot - when Yeshua stood in the Temple on this great day of the feast and cried out: "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" (John 7:37-38).

Imagine the setting! We know that, on the great final day, the crowds had to be filled with the joy of anticipation of the coming Messiah and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. At the very time of the water drawing ceremony, Yeshua calls out to the worshipers: "Do you truly want the living waters of the Holy Spirit? Does anyone understand the true significance of this ceremony? If anyone desires what this symbolizes - let him come to Me - I am the Messiah who will pour out the Spirit upon Israel!

The Apostle John commented on this speech in verse 39: "But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Yeshua was not yet glorified."

As the rain falls to nourish the crops, so the Holy Spirit falls upon those who have identified with Yeshua in His death and resurrection. It is that Spirit that refreshes us, and causes us to grow in grace and in faith. It is that Spirit that allows us to experience Immanuel, God with us.

Yeshua's promise to give mayim chayim,(my-im khie-im) living water, prompted even greater discussion and debate during the last day of the festival of Sukkot. The leaders grew angry because the Temple guards refused their order to arrest Yeshua. Even when one of their own, Nicodemus, came to Yeshua' defense, they still dismissed His claims saying, "A prophet does not come out of Galilee" (verse 52). Apparently, those leaders had forgotten about Isaiah chapter 9: "There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; of those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (Isaiah 9:1-2).



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