Many around the world will celebrate harvest festivals this fall season. While pagans may offer thanks to mythical Earth deities, the God of the scriptures has been authenticated by the hundreds of prophecies in scripture, including rich prophecies embedded in the seven traditional Israeli feasts.
If you had to choose one word to describe the Jewish fall harvest festival, known as Sukkot and the Feast of Tabernacles, the word would be “joy!” Leviticus 23.41 says “Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year.” In other words, no kvetching allowed! Like the fresh fruit that is being gathered, we may experience fresh joy in understanding our spiritual roots and drawing closer to the Lord of the Harvest. The Psalmist wrote "Light is sown like seed for the righteous And gladness for the upright in heart." (Psalms 97.11) The main question is "Do I want to reap the joy God has to offer?" In these difficult days, you may know a deep kind of joy which is not dependent upon your circumstances, no matter how difficult your circumstances may be! Though the feast of Sukkot begins on a certain date, September 22 at sundown this year, the meaning of the feast is timeless.
Feasts Etched in Time and Eternity
The Hebrew word for feasts (moadim) means "appointed times." There are seven traditional Jewish feasts, which have been shown to underscore God's redemptive plan in Jesus Christ. Amazingly, Jesus already fulfilled the meanings of the first four feasts, the spring feasts, on the very days of the feasts! 1) On Passover, a lamb is sacrificed and consumed to signify atonement for sin. During this feast, almost 2000 years ago, Jesus Himself became our Passover lamb and our sacrifice for sin. 2) During the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jews are to eat bread without yeast, which symbolizes sin. Jesus, the sinless one, was placed in a tomb during this feast, as a wheat grain first “dies” in earth before sprouting up. 3) On the Feast of First Fruits, the very first grain was to be waved in a sheaf before the Lord's altar. On this day, Jesus was resurrected as the "first fruits from the dead." (I Corinthians 15:20) 4) On the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, Jews are “to present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:16). On that day, the Holy Spirit was given to the Church and 3,000 people offered themselves to God by believing in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Feasts: not an Obligation but an Opportunity
As Christians, we aren't obliged to follow the Jewish traditions, in accordance with the New Covenant: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2.16-17). Though not required, if you look at the Jewish feasts as opportunities and not obligations, you will perhaps find them to be great blessings.
The Meaning of the Tabernacle
The first tabernacle mentioned in scripture was a shelter made to enclose the Ark of the Covenant, which highlighted the very real presence of God. There is a direct relationship between God's presence and joy: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalms 16.11 NIV) The Feast of Tabernacles is the seventh and final feast. It is considered the greatest of the feasts, the grand finale, and it is symbolic of the final in-gathering of believers and our incredible joy of knowing God's presence in heaven for all eternity. Hebrews 11.2 describes how there is one “true tabernacle” which is a heavenly reality, and all the examples in scripture and on Earth point to this reality. This feast reminds us that the spiritual reality is higher than the physical reality. John 1.14 says “The word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) among us.” Jesus, who is eternal, became incarnate so as to bring both his salvation and presence into our lives. The real date of Christ's birth, by the way, is not December 25, as decided by Roman pagan influences. Various scriptures support the idea that Jesus' birth was in the fall, perhaps even within the 4 day period determined for the building of the tabernacles for Sukkot each year!
Back to Basics
The feast of Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage feasts, when Hebrew families, or at least the men, would come to the Jerusalem temple from every tribe bringing offerings a great distance from the fields. They would live in small, temporary shelters for 7 days, as a reminder of the 40 years of wanderings in the wilderness. The shelters, which are still made by devout Jews to this day, are topped with leafy branches and palm fronds, allowing the stars to be seen at night. At least 2 1/2 sides of these booths are to be open enough to feel the breezes. As time is spent in the small booths, there is the reminder that we are all on a spiritual pilgrimage in this life. There is the reminder that God is our refuge, our provider and the one who is in control of all the universe. Some Christians are also beginning to observe this tradition, even building small tabernacles, such as the Bartels family.In our high-tech world, with its many distractions and tests, practicing Sukkot seems to offer a much-needed reality-check. Our church celebrated this fall harvest time with an "agape feast" open to everyone.
Jesus Offers Living Water
By the time Jesus arrived on the planet, a few traditions had been added to Sukkot and one was the water-drawing ceremony. A priest would take water from the pool of Siloam in a golden pitcher to the foot of the Temple Mount and pour it into a silver basin beside the altar. The priest would pray that the Lord would send the necessary, life-giving seasonal rains for their crops. The act also signified the pouring out of the Holy Spirit described in Joel 2.28. Jesus Commented on this ritual during the Feast of Tabernacles:
“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow streams of living water.’ ” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39 NASB) How we need to be reminded, it's the Spirit that gives a real and satisfying life, not the materialism the world offers!
Like the Jews have done for thousands of years, may we be reminded this harvest season how we are dependent upon God for our food, our resources and basically everything. We are pilgrims on a journey to a homeland we haven't seen before, like the Jews on the way to Canaan. And may we really appreciate the satisfying living water we've found along the way in Y'shua, Jesus Christ. Let us affirm with confidence together:
“God is Our Provider - God is Our Refuge - God will take us home - Let us rejoice!”
Questions to consider:
Have you studied the Jewish feasts before? Do you think your family would be open to trying some of these Jewish traditions?