The last of G-d's appointed times is Sukkot. In English it is called "the Feast of Tabernacles" or "the Feast of Booths". This particular moed occurs on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, four days after Yom Kippur/ The Day of Atonement. The moed pictures the day Messiah returns to dwell [tabernacle] among His people for a thousand years. This "return of the King" is something for which believers have been yearning for almost two thousand years.
What does Scripture tell us about this festival and its related commandments?
As we begin our study of this special appointment with the Most High, we pray once more in the words of King David: oh, Lord, please "open our eyes that we might behold wonderful things from your Torah" and see our returning Messiah in this moed. Scripture was given to mankind to speak of Him and we should listen and hear its voice... His voice... especially during His appointed times.
What Scripture Says About Sukkot
Sukkot (סכות, Strong's #5521) is a plural Hebrew word that means "booths"1 or "tabernacle"2. Sukkot is also sometimes transliterated into English as Sukkoth. The singular version of the word is sukkah.
The very first use of this Hebrew word is found in the story of the patriarch, Yaakov. Shortly after he encounters his brother, Esav, Scripture tells us this:
Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built for himself a house and made booths for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth. (Genesis 33:17)
The "booths" [temporary shelters] described in this passage are in Hebrew called "sukkot".
The last use of this word in Scripture is found in the writings of the prophet Zechariah. In this passage, Zechariah is describing the world after Messiah's return:
Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the LORD smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. (Zechariah 14:16-19)
If any nation does not go up to worship the King and celebrate the "Feast of Booths" [Sukkot] then that nation will not receive rain in the next year.
We see the perpetual nature of G-d's moedim exemplified in this passage.
Particulars of the moed
The sons of Israel (Leviticus 23:34)... specifically the "native-born in Israel" (Leviticus 23:42).
- The first day is a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:35).
- For seven days you shall present an "offering by fire" [Heb: אשּׁה (isheh)] to the LORD (Leviticus 23:36).
- The eighth day is a holy convocation, an assembly (Leviticus 23:36).
- On the eighth day you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD (Leviticus 23:36).
- There is to be a rest [shabbaton] on the first day and a rest [shabbaton] on the eighth day (Leviticus 23:39).
- On the first day you shall take the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches, and boughs of the leafy trees and willows of the brooke and rejoice before the LORD your G-d for seven days (Leviticus 23:40).
- You shall do "no laborious work" [Heb: כל-מלאכת עבדה, לא תעשו (kal melakhat avodah lo taasu) literally: "all servile work not shall you do"] on the first day or the eighth day (Leviticus 23:35-36).
- You shall live in sukkot [booths] for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths (Leviticus 23:42).
- All the generations of Israel should know that G-d had the sons of Israel live in booths when He brought them out of the Land of Egypt (Leviticus 23:43).
Once again, the book of Numbers provides the list of offerings required for this moed.
Then on the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work, and you shall observe a feast to the LORD for seven days. You shall present a burnt offering, an offering by fire as a soothing aroma to the LORD: thirteen bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs one year old, which are without defect; and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for each of the thirteen bulls, two-tenths for each of the two rams, and a tenth for each of the fourteen lambs; and one male goat for a sin offering, besides the continual burnt offering, its grain offering and its drink offering. (Numbers 29:12-16)
- The olah [burnt offering] for the first day of Sukkot:
- Thirteen bulls (+ 3/10 ephah fine flour mixed with oil + 1/2 hin of wine for each bull)
- Two rams (+ 2/10 ephah fine flour mixed with oil + 1/3 hin of wine for each each)
- Fourteen male lambs one year old without defect (+ 1/10 fine flour mixed with oil + 1/4 hin of wine for each lamb)
- One male goat for a sin offering
- The continual olah (Numbers 28:3-8):
- Two male lambs one year old without defect, one in the morning and one in the afternoon (+1/10 ephah fine flour mixed with 1/4 hin of oil + 1/4 hin of "strong drink" for each lamb)
The rest of the chapter is almost entirely dedicated to describing the offerings associated with the remaining days of the moed:
In the seventh month on the fifteenth day of the month for seven days (Leviticus 23:34).
When you have gathered in the crops of the land (Leviticus 23:39).
It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations (Leviticus 23:41).
"In the place which the LORD chooses" (Deuteronomy 16:15). This phrase appears to be a shortened version of "in the place which the Lord chooses to establish His Name" (Deuteronomy 12:21, 14:23-24, 16:2, etc).
Nehemiah the prophet relates G-d's words regarding this place:
'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.' (Nehemiah 1:8-9)
This place where G-d has chosen to place His Name is Yerushalayim, specifically, Mt. Zion: the Temple Mount.
- Those who do not otherwise live in sukkot should build their sukkah between the Yom Kippur and the day before Sukkot so it is ready at twilight to enter into the moed.
- The days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot are the days when Solomon consecrated the altar in the first Temple (see 1 Kings 8).
Arba Minim- The Four Species
On the first day you shall take the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches, and boughs of the leafy trees and willows of the brooke and rejoice before the LORD your G-d for seven days. (Leviticus 23:40)
There are "four species" of plant life contained in this passage:
- The foliage [literally fruit] of beautiful trees
- Palm branches
- Boughs of leafy trees
- Boughs of brook willows
We are commanded to take these and rejoice before the LORD for seven days (Leviticus 23:40).
Leviticus 23 appears to narrow the commandment of Sukkot to the "native-born" in the Land of Israel:
'You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.' (Leviticus 23:42-43)
In a very literal sense today, unless one is "native-born" in the Land this commandment is not binding upon them.
- Exodus 12:19
- Exodus 12:48
- Exodus 12:49
- Leviticus 16:29
- Leviticus 17:15
- Leviticus 18:26
- Leviticus 19:34
- Leviticus 23:42
- Leviticus 24:16
- Leviticus 24:22
- Numbers 9:14
- Numbers 15:13
- Numbers 15:29
- Numbers 15:30
- Joshua 8:33
- Ezekiel 47:22
Each of these instances appears to make a distinction between the "native-born" of the Land and the "foreigner" (ger) who dwells with Israel. This distinction is used to stress the application of a commandment regardless of one's presence in one group or the other. For example, no leaven shall be found in the houses of either the native-born [etzrach] or the alien [ger]. It is as if G-d were saying "I don't care you who are... no leaven in your homes during this week."
The prophet Ezekiel provides a glimpse of the world to come and the status of foreigners in the Land of Israel:
"So you shall divide this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You shall divide it by lot for an inheritance among yourselves and among the aliens [ger] who stay in your midst, who bring forth sons in your midst. And they shall be to you as the native-born [etzrach] among the sons of Israel; they shall be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And in the tribe with which the alien stays, there you shall give him his inheritance," declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 47:21-23)
This passage tells us that the gerim (foreigners/aliens) who reside with Israel will be given an inheritance in the Land among tribes of Israel. There will be one flock with one Shepherd (John 10:16) living in unity.
Not Since the Days of Joshua
The prophet Nehemiah recounts one Sukkot when the Israelites were returning to the Land:
All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. Then on the second day the heads of fathers' households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. They found written in the law how the LORD had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, "Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written." So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. (Nehemiah 8:12-17)
On its face this passage appears to state the that sons of Israel had not lived in booths since the days of Joshua... almost 900 years earlier, including the days of King David and King Solomon! The Talmudic tradition of this passage is that the style or construction of sukkot had not been the same since the time of Joshua.
Let's move on and seek our Messiah in the moed.
Footnotes1. New American Standard® Updated Edition Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries Copyright © 1981, 1998 by The Lockman Foundation, All Rights Reserved [back]
2. Dictionaries of Hebrew and Greek Words taken from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance by James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., 1890. [back]