The Jewish Feasts: Part 14, Tabernacles

After leaving Egypt, the Israelites lived in tents in the desert  for 40 years. Despite the hardships, God was living among them and protecting them from the ravages of the desert and from foes around them. God’s Divine Presence (Heb. Sh’khinah) was both spiritual and physical. He was constantly with them in the Tabernacle, and in the pillar of smoke and fire, but His Presence was and is not confined to those places; Sh’khinah, refers to any place where God dwells with His people, whether in a tent, a building, or in any other context. Other visible examples would include the burning bush, the fire atop Mt. Sinai, and clearly, the Incarnate Son, Jesus!

The 7-day Feast of Tabernacles (Heb. Sukkoth) commemorates this 40 year period of God dwelling with His people during their wilderness wandering. He is said during this period to have “tabernacled with His people.” Coming on the heels of the somber Days of Awe, this feast is the consummate time of rejoicing for all Jews. Leviticus 23 also mentions an eighth day, called Shemini Atzeret (“Eighth Day of Assembly“) which signifies the firstfruits of the fruit and vegetable harvest, and the end of the agricultural year. This eighth day is also called Simchat Torah (“Rejoicing with or of the Torah“), and as such it signifies the end of one annual public Torah-reading cycle and the beginning of another. Both the first and the eighth day of Sukkoth are Sabbaths, and the first day is one of the three days of the annual regalim, or Pilgrim Festivals, where attendance in Jerusalem is required of all adult Jewish males.

Example of a canvas sukkah, ©Chabad.org

Sukkoth is marked by daily festivities and sacrifices and, with there no longer being a possibility for the latter, especially by the commandment to build and live in Sukkoth for seven days. A sukkah (singular) is a small booth, or hut, set up outside, with at least three closed sides and a roof. The walls can be of any material, but the roof must be of made of vegetal material (lumber is permissible). To emphasize the temporary nature of the booth, the roof must be of loose enough construction that stars are visible through it on a clear night. Once built, the sukkah is decorated by real or simulated fruit tied to the structure with string. The sukkah must be large enough for at least one person and a table for meals. Typically, it is not necessary to sleep in the sukkah, though many do, but it is best to eat at least part of every meal there.

The Hebrew term Sh’khinah does not occur in the Old Testament, but the concept of God’s Devine Presence occurs in many places. In the New Testament, we see Jesus’ incarnation described by the Greek skenoo, “to reside or dwell, as God did in the Tabernacle of old“. The connection between the Hebrew and Greek concepts is explicit, for example, in

John 1:14 (CJB)
[14] The Word became a human being and lived [skenoo] with us,
and we saw his Sh’khinah*,
the Sh’khinah* of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.

I believe that Sukkoth, with its theme of Rejoicing in God’s dwelling with the Israelites, is prophetic of God again coming to dwell with his people during the First Advent of Jesus. As with all the other feasts, I believe that the prophecy specifies not only an event in Jesus’ life, but the very day, on the Jewish calendar, that the event was to occur. I conclude that Jesus was born on the first day of Sukkoth, Tishri 15, and was circumcised on the last day of the 8-day festival, Tishri 22

Christians celebrate Jesus’ birthday on December 25 with pagan décor and anachronistic legends; however, the only birthdays celebrated prior to Jesus’ crucifixion appear to have been those of pagan gods, including self-proclaimed god-kings. The traditional December date for Jesus’ birth was, I believe, chosen to corresponds to the pagan Saturnalia celebration. What is the evidence of Jesus’ birth on Sukkoth, instead?

  • First, the lack of evidence for a December birth must be noted.
  • According to early Jewish writing, sheep were not in fields during the winter months. From about November through February, they were usually brought in to “sheepfolds”, either a cave or a corral structure protected from the weather.
  • The Roman custom of recalling people to their places of origin is known to have generally been facilitated by scheduling around dates that were convenient to the inhabitants. Rather than expect people to travel during exceptionally hot or cold seasons, it makes more sense that in Israel they would have taken advantage of a festival. The pilgrim festival of Sukkoth would have been an ideal time for the census, when diaspora Jews were gathered within Israel.
  • Since so many events in Jesus’ life happened on feast days, His birth most likely did as well.
  • Unlike any other feast, Sukkoth lasted not one, not seven, but eight days. I think that Jesus was born on the first day of Sukkoth and was circumcised, under Jewish law, on the 8th day.

But Sukkot also speaks of events in Jesus’ Second Advent, and I believe this can be seen best in

Revelation 21:1-3 (CJB)
[21:1] Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had passed away, and the sea was no longer there. [2] Also I saw the holy city, New Yerushalayim*, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. [3] I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “See! God’s Sh’khinah* is with mankind, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and he himself, God-with-them, will be their God.

Table of Contents: The Jewish Feasts
Start of Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 1, Chapter Introduction
Previous in Series:
The Jewish Feasts: Part 13, Yom Kippur Factoids

Author: Ron Thompson

Retired President of R. L Thompson Engineering, Inc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: