What Is The Feast of Tabernacles?
The Feast of Tabernacles is one of the seven annual biblical festivals (holy days) of God, introduced to Israel at the time of the Exodus (see Leviticus chapter 23). The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the annual pilgrimage festivals, when the people journeyed from all over the nation of Israel to keep the Feast in Jerusalem. It was to be a joyous celebration, to be observed throughout the generations.
All of the annual holy days are rich with meaning and symbolism. Taken together, they reveal the progressive fulfillment of God’s plan for mankind, and they present a framework or model showing the individual believer’s growth and salvation. A study into the annual holy days can be both fascinating and rewarding, and reveals a definite Christology. That is, the annual holy days join with the Messianic prophecies to bring into sharper focus the plan of God and the reason for Christ’s first and second coming. There is a definite Christian application to God’s annual holy days!
What does the Feast of Tabernacles represent? At its most basic level, it is a fall festival, celebrating the abundance of God’s blessings in connection with the ingathering of the fall harvest.
It is also a memorial of the Exodus, when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, living in tabernacles, or tents, en route to the Promised Land. It is, therefore, a representation of faith in God’s protection and promises.
In addition, the Feast of Tabernacles looks forward to the great ingathering of believers after the return of Christ, during the time of His millennial rule on earth.
Comparing scriptures and history, it appears that Jesus the Messiah, at his first coming, was born during the fall holy day period. Just as the tabernacles, or tents, represented temporary dwelling places, the Messiah was made manifest in a temporary dwelling (body) as He came to tabernacle among us (John 1:14). The symbolism of Tabernacles may ultimately be fulfilled at His second coming, when He will once again tabernacle among men, this time as the King of kings and Lord of lords, the mighty Ruler, finally providing a millennial rest for all mankind and the earth (see Hebrews chapter 4).
Interest in the annual holy days, and their deep meaning and rich symbolism, has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years. More church groups and individuals are rediscovering the holy days and are attempting to recognize and observe them in some fashion, in order to learn and benefit from them. These holy days are instructional aids to help us learn the deeper truths of God. Many of the various Sabbatarian Churches of God have been observing these holy days, including the Feast of Tabernacles, for years.
The basic tradition currently extant among most of the Church of God groups involves an eight-day observance (including seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles plus an eighth day commonly referred to as “The Last Great Day”) held at designated sites around the world. Site attendance may range from a few dozen to a few thousand, depending on the location and the sponsoring group. The object of meeting at designated sites is to observe the pilgrimage festival, to leave our homes to meet together as one before God. We cannot help but notice the corresponding symbolism of living in temporary dwellings, as we look to the future and the triumphant return of our Lord and Savior.
The daily format at the Feast varies among different groups and organizations. Typically the format includes an opening prayer; praise and worship in the form of singing, praying, and reading of scriptures; some announcements as needed; a main message (often followed by open discussion); some closing songs; and a prayer. Some groups also offer praise dancing (sometimes called Davidic dancing) and other offerings and celebrations. Services seldom run more than two hours, and the remainder of the day is usually free for individuals to spend the time as they wish with their families. There are usually a number of optional activities scheduled throughout the week, including workshops, Bible studies, talent shows, fellowship evenings, dances, special youth events and activities, etc.
During services, the speaker may wish to conduct his teaching sessions in the traditional sermon format, or he may decide to lead a seminar, providing some opportunity for the audience to interact and to ask questions of the presenter during the presentation.
Depending on the group, additional activities might include such things as: building a sukkah (booth), daily Torah readings (the five books of Moses), Davidic dance instruction, instructional re-enactments of some of the Festival-related events of the first century (such as the Water Pouring Ceremony, during which Jesus presented his Living Water message, John chapter 7), or perhaps an “Israel Night” banquet, providing an opportunity to sample some traditional foods and to learn more about the land and people of Israel. Some Feast sites have a distinctively Messianic flavor, some are set up like a church retreat, and others are conducted with traditional formal church services.
Many Feast sites are located in areas that can serve a variety of needs in terms of lodging, from campgrounds to cabins, lodges, and conventional hotel / motel rooms. Services during the Feast can range from the informal to the very formal, depending on which Feast site you attend. All Feast sites are filled with happy, purposeful people who have gathered together to worship God and fellowship before His throne.
For a more in-depth Bible study about the Feast of Tabernacles, click here.