Feast of Tabernacles: Sleeping Under the Stars
We’ve reached the last of the three fall holidays! Sukkot (pronounced Sue-COAT) begins this evening at sundown and lasts for a whole week! God’s instructions for Sukkot (also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths) are found in Leviticus 23:33-43 and Deuteronomy 16:13-17.
The Feast of Tabernacles is a harvest holiday that lasts for seven days; on the first and last days you are to rest and do no work (woo hoo!). God also told the people to live in sukkahs (booths) for those seven days because that is what they did when they wandered in the desert for 40 years. God wanted the Israelite descendents to remember that time — how God brought them out of Egypt and provided for them in the desert. The Bible also tells the people to take ripe fruit and leafy branches and green palm fronds and rejoice before the Lord in thankfulness. He provided for all their needs in the desert, and He brought them into the Promised Land!
People still celebrate Sukkot by building little shelters in their backyards. There are all kinds of instructions for building a sukkah — certain parts must be made out of natural materials and people decorate them with festive colors.
A lot of people don’t sleep in their sukkahs, but they eat dinner in them every night. The sukkah is a place to have fun and enjoy being with friends. Because it is a joyous holiday, your sukkah should have a roof sturdy enough to keep you shaded and comfortable, but not so solid that you are prevented from gazing up at the stars at night.
Sukkot comes right after the serious Day of Atonement, and it switches the tone up completely. It is joyful — a time of gratefulness and thanksgiving to God. Sukkot is also a time of showing hospitality — you can invite your friends over to have dinner with you in your sukkah. So, it’s quite appropriate that Sukkot is coinciding with Thanksgiving this year — a perfect time to show hospitality and thank God for His faithfulness. It’s also a time to be generous — you give to the poor and share with those in need. Part of Sukkot is remembering that our possessions are temporary and can come and go; it is God who provides for us, and God whose love and grace is permanent.
A few years ago there was a good article in the Washington Post that really summed up what we can learn from the seven days of dwelling in temporary shelters during The Feast of Tabernacles:
If one has been blessed — our profits outweigh our expenditures, our portfolio has grown and our wine cellars are full and satisfaction and trust fill our soul — it is at that moment that the Torah tells us to leave our home and dwell in a sukkah. The frail booth teaches us that neither wealth, good investments, IRA’s or even real-estate are life’s safeguards. It is God who sustains us all, those in palaces and those in tents. Any glory or wealth we posses came to us from God, and will endure so long as it is God’s will.
And if our toil has not resulted in great blessing — our investments went south, we lost our job and nest-egg, our cellars are empty, and we face the approaching winter with mounting debt and bills, living off credit from month to month, forlorn and fearful for how we will survive— then as we enter the sukkah we find rest for our troubled soul. Divine providence is more reliable than worldly wealth which can vanish in an instant. The sukkah will renew our strength and courage, and teach and inspire us with joy and perseverance even in the face of affliction and hardship.
Sukkot is a holiday that looks forward to the messianic age when the Messiah will bring the final harvest and each person will enjoy peace and sit under their own vine and fig tree. The messianic age is related to Sukkot partially because Isaiah 4 says that in that day, God will create a canopy of glory over those gathered at Mt. Zion and it will be a “sukkah and shade from the heat of the day.”
As Christians, we look forward to that time when Jesus returns and makes all things new. John related Jesus’ first coming to the Feast of Tabernacles as well. John was the hippie disciple, you know (he was all about the love), and he felt the freedom to just make up words. In the original Greek, John 1:4 says that Jesus, the Word, became flesh and “tabernacled among us.” The first ingathering of Sukkot has already happened, and we look forward to the second — the age of peace when Jesus returns and our sukkahs are made from the glory of God, and our hospitality and fellowship is with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever and ever. Yeah!
So, we have a whole week to celebrate Sukkot! Tomorrow I will post some ideas and suggestions for how we can participate in Sukkot this week!
* What stands out to you most about this holiday?