PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D Pace
Festival of Tabernacles
Sukkot, Booths, Ingathering
The first question I want to answer about this study is, how does an Old Testament festival apply to New Testament Believers of the 21st Century? Is there really something about the Festival of Tabernacles that remains significant today? Let’s investigate this:
Do you realize that, according to the Apostle John, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the New Testament, attended this festival (John 6:2—3)? That alone is sufficient evidence of its significance.
But further, when it appeared that Jesus would not attend this festival, James, Joseph (Joses), and Jude—his siblings—urged him to attend it (7:3—4).
While Jesus delayed his trip to Jerusalem to attend it, it was important enough for him to send his disciples ahead of him and celebrate it.
Finally, of the seven Israeli festivals, Tabernacles is the one the Bible mandates to be observed perpetually, even throughout the coming Millennial Reign of Christ. And this command not only applies to the Jews, the Bible makes certain to instruct Gentiles to observe this festival during this time. Here is what Zechariah 14:16—17 says about it:
“Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. (17) If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain.”
Zachariah puts the “fear of God” into the nations daring to ignore this festival during the Millennial Kingdom. But don’t let this frighten you, because Tabernacles is the most spectacular, pageantry-filled extravaganzas of Israel’s seven festivals. It is an honor for people to participate in it. So, suffice it to say, these few facts reveal the tremendous importance of Tabernacles.
(Transition) Now let’s consider some significant insights to the Festival of Tabernacles.
Insights to the Festival of Tabernacles
1. The most obvious aspect of the Festival of Tabernacles is how worshipers constructed temporary huts/tents to sleep in for one week.
This is the reason it’s called Tabernacles or the Festival of Sukkot/Booths. Moses instructed worshipers to construct frail, makeshift shelters as reminders of their ancestors’ forty-year journey through the wilderness. After piecing together their tents, the participants would then live in them for seven days. In so doing, it would remind them of how God kept Moses and the Israelis safe, even in flimsy tents, during their four-decade journey through the desert!
It was God’s way of reminding worshipers of what he could do for his people when they were pressed into the most desolate places.
While that is an important reason for observing Tabernacles, there is another question to ask: Why does God love the tents of Israel so much that he asks Believers to live them for seven days a year? Further, why has God constructed an affinity with tents throughout the Bible? I want to give you a few passages where God identifies with tents:
God’s Affinity with Tents
“God is renowned in Judah; in Israel his name is great. (2) His tent is in Salem [or, Jerusalem], his dwelling place in Zion” (Psalm 76:1—2).
“Look on Zion, the city of our festivals; your eyes will see Jerusalem, a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved; its stakes will never be pulled up, nor any of its ropes broken” (Isaiah 33:20). In other words, if God opened our spiritual sight we could see that Jerusalem is completely enshrouded by a resplendent tent.
God so loves the concept of tents that at Creation he meticulously fashioned our solar system like a tent. Notice what David said in Psalm 104:2. “The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent.”
And the prophet Isaiah agreed the Psalmist when he said in Isaiah 40:22, “He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” Even astrophysicists describe our Milky Way as being cast forth as a tent! But I don’t believe, for a moment, that these astrophysicists consulted the Bible from which they drew their conclusion.
But also notice the scriptures that speak of God’s eternal love–not transitory love—but his everlasting love for tents. And you’ll notice that the Bible speaks of tents and tabernacles interchangeably:
Hebrews 8:1—2 says: “[Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, (2) and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.” In heaven we will gather to worship under God’s eternal tabernacle.
Revelation 15:5 says: “After this I looked, and I saw in heaven the temple—that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law. . . .”
Revelation 21:3 says: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them” [NASB]. Thus, it is God himself that is our eternal tabernacle.
So to answer the question—Why does God love the concept of a tent?—It will be necessary to draw that conclusion from the remaining points of this message.
(Transition) So, let’s consider the second insight to the Festival of Tabernacles:
2. This festival is also referred to as the Feast of Ingathering (Exodus 23:16).
This was called the Festival of Ingathering because it spoke of the Fall crop, which was the final harvest of the year. You see, Moses instructed worshipers to appear at this feast with a freewill offering from their produce. It gave them the opportunity of returning a portion of their increase to God and thank him for his blessings.
It is interesting that the Feast of Ingathering is what the American Pilgrims identified with on their first observance of Thanksgiving Day. They based it on the books of Moses.
(Transition) Let’s move on to the third insight of Tabernacles by considering an odd request that God makes of his people when celebrating it.
3. God commanded worshipers to REJOICE at this festival!
Of the seven annual festivals of Israel, this is the one that involved the act of celebration above all others. Let’s turn to Deuteronomy 16 and read about the merriment that God ordained for this festival. I’ll start reading in verse 13.
Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. (14) Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. (15) For seven days celebrate the festival to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete (Deuteronomy 16).
Those three verses emphasize celebrating and joy four times! Isn’t it strange that Moses in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament had to remind Believers to rejoice? Paul said in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice!”
The act of rejoicing is important in our relationship with God. That’s why I want to clarify the difference between rejoicing and praising, because while they are similar each maintains distinctive differences:
Praise is our perceptible worship that ascribes merit, worth and, dignity to God. It extols the beauty of his being and his creative acts.
But while praise exalts God, times of rejoicing are festive moments of worshipers that celebrate God’s goodness toward them.
I want to point out several examples of God’s people rejoicing for his intervention:
You recall that Miriam and the Israeli women rejoiced with dancing and singing after God delivered them through the Red Sea.
Then, David rejoiced with dancing after he recaptured the Ark of the Covenant.
In Acts 4, the lame man rejoiced with leaping after his healing at the Temple gate.
And you and I can rejoice over God’s work toward us—especially his salvation through Christ Jesus.
(Transition) The fourth insight I’ll make about Tabernacles is this:
[Show slide 2]
4. The Festival of Tabernacles reminds worshipers of how God pitched his tent in the midst of Israelites, and personally dwelt with them during their 40-year journey through the desert.
Folks, this is astonishing! It’s profound; extraordinary; remarkable; incredible! You can invoke any profound adjective imaginable, but there has never been a time in the Old Testament, or in all Jewish history, when God’s abiding, manifested presence upon his people was the prevailing characteristic. With the Tent of Meeting at the center of camp and the Israelites encamped around it, God’s presence was the central feature of their journey from Egypt to Canaan. And God’s continued, manifested presence was absolutely indispensable to their survival!
As desert dwellers they were shut off from the rest of the world! And yet, despite their total isolation from the world, with God “tabernacling” among them, the Israelis were deprived of nothing! Moses even noted that, “neither did their clothes wear out.”
Think for a moment of the destitution of a desert. The very word, desert, suggests deprivation: (a) There is scarcity of natural resources to sustain people in the desert, which could lead to starvation or dehydration; (b) There is intense heat from the sun that can blister the skin and cause strokes; (c) There are predators such as snakes, coyotes, spiders, and scorpions; (d) There is lack of pastureland for cattle, and; (e) There is vulnerability to foreign armies.
But as worshipers have celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles each year and camped in their makeshift tents, it has demonstrated the limitless resources that “God among us” supplies for his people. No extenuating circumstance can prevent our God from meeting our needs. He is our Jehovah-Jireh—God our provider—at all times!
It’s easy to identify the prophetic significance here: It points to Jesus, when he would come to earth and “tabernacle” among his people. Here is how the apostle stated it in John 1:1—4, 14.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was with God in the beginning. (3) Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (4) In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Now you know why God repeatedly told worshipers to rejoice at this festival. It was the festival that illustrates God living with his people! And when God is present he brings joy! This is what King David said in Psalm 16:11. “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
(Transition) Let’s look closer and investigate the all-sufficiency that God’s presence brings:
The Ceremony of Water
Once the Israelites left Egypt and passed through the Red Sea they were in the desert. And I just mentioned the hazards of these dry, parched places. This meant there were two-million people in need of water on a daily basis. Here is what Psalm 78:15 says:
“He split the rocks in the wilderness and gave them water as abundant as the seas; (16) he brought streams out of a rocky crag and made water flow down like rivers . . . (20) True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, streams flowed abundantly.”
Notice what type of water this festival emphasizes. There are drops of water that fall from the sky, which we call rain, but this isn’t the type. This is water that comes from deep within. It is a well; a fountain; or a spring that bubbles forth from beneath. And again, there is wonderful prophetic significance here. And that is why the Jews attached a magnificent water ceremony to this Festival.
Once the Jews had settled in the Promise Land this festival was celebrated in Jerusalem. The Pool of Siloam was a spring-fed pool that bubbled forth on the southwestern side of the Temple. This is where the priests would go to draw water and then walk it into the Temple for a “Pouring out Ceremony.”
Some Bible interpreters have connected this ceremony with Isaiah 12:3 that says, “With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation. When this ceremony occurred, people would gather around the priest to watch him draw water and then walk in procession to the Temple Court where he poured it out. (It was filled with fanfare!) But there is something fascinating that the apostle John pictures happening when Jesus attended this festival. In John 7:37—39:
On the last and greatest day [Hoshana Rabba,] of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. (38) Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (39) By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Isn’t that wonderful? Jesus showed up at the Festival of Tabernacles to proclaim that the celebration was about him. Jesus is the living water that can supply refreshment for every parched soul on Earth. And without this living water no human can survive.
Give them Water!
I want to show you one more passage that deals with our vital need for water. This passage is found in Numbers 21:16—18, where once again the Israelis were in the wilderness traveling toward the Promised Land:
From there they continued on to Beer [water], the well where the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together and I will give them water.” (17) Then Israel sang this song: “Spring up, O well! Sing about it, (18) about the well that the princes dug, that the nobles of the people sank—the nobles with scepters and staffs.
This passage is a celebration of water—natural water and spiritual water. And if you noticed, the Lord disclosed the appointed time that this spiritual water is needed. It is when Believers “gather” for worship. Notice again verse 16: “The Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together and I will give them water.”
(Insight) Here’s what I see in this passage: When I, as a preacher of the Gospel, minister to Believers gathered for worship, I must allow God to refresh his people from the living waters of the Spirit. That is my responsibility! And along with that, my desire is to preach from the outflow of the Spirit so you will never leave a service thirsty and dry.
(Transition) But there was not only an elaborate water ceremony the Jews also implemented a magnificent ceremony of light.
The Ceremony of Light
Before the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, the Jews would construct giant, 40-foot tall pillars that stood like gigantic candelabras. As they soared seven stories high, and with the Temple perched atop Mount Zion, people could see these candelabras miles away! Here’s why this light ceremony is important: It reminded worshipers of that divine blaze of Shekinah light that towered over the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness. And here again, we see something remarkable happening at the First Century Festival of Sukkot that Jesus attended. It is highly probable that this is where Jesus uttered another significant proclamation about himself. In the next chapter—John 8:12—Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Here is the underlying message of Christ’s statements when he proclaimed to be the “living water” and the “light of the world.” He was saying: “I am here! I am “tabernacling” with you! My ever-abiding presence that accompanied your ancestors in the wilderness is available for you, too!
Is it becoming clearer as to why Sukkot is significant to God and his people?
(Transition) Now for the final insight about the Festival of Booths.
5. This festival also shows the privilege that Believers have to live as strangers and outsiders to the natural, habitable world. And yes, I noted it was a privilege for the Israelites to live separated from the normal way of life!
As I mentioned earlier, the tents of Israel encircled the Tabernacle of God. And the Tabernacle is where God resided for those four decades that Israel traveled through the wilderness. And this is why it was Israel’s incomparable privilege to live this way: It’s because they remained in God’s glorious presence for four decades! And as outsiders to the world they were insiders with God! And what greater privilege can a Believer have than that!
As Christians, we must always remember where our eternal citizenship resides. And it’s Heaven! This world is not our home! There are several scriptures we can pray as reminders that God has separated us from the world:
“I am a stranger on earth, do not hide your commands from me” (Psalm 119:19).
“Hear my prayer, LORD, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping. I dwell with you as a foreigner, a stranger, as all my ancestors were” (Psalm 39:12).
Hebrews 11:13 says: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”
1 Peter 1:17 says: “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.”
(Question) I have a question: Do you fellowship with God in a private place of refuge? A place where you regularly meet with him in prayer and reading his Word? I urge you to find sanctuary in a Tent of Meeting that is your secret place with God. Good things happen when you do this!
(Transition) I want to close by making one more observation of our relationship with God.
Theologians describe the Israelis’ 40-year wandering in the wilderness as God’s courtship with his people. This is what God loves! He loves to romance his people. And tents are places that enhance such communion between God and Believers.
It is the Festival of Tabernacles that points to the day of eternal romance when Believers will dwell with their Redeemer in Heaven. This is how John characterized it in Revelation 21:1—3.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (2) I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (3) And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
(Question) If you could live during any epoch of the OT, which would you choose? For me, it would not be during the glorious reign of Solomon when the Temple stood magnificently on Zion’s hill. It would not be during the times of Samson, or David, or Elijah. My choice would be during Israel’s journey through the wilderness under that magnificent cloud, when God’s grand and continued presence rested upon his people and every need was met!