Feast of Tabernacles: The Beginner’s Guide
...and the Real Birthday of Jesus
It’s just a few more days until one of the most special times of year at our house: The Feast of Tabernacles! There is something very special and exciting about the days between Yom Kippur and this feast, in which we build an outdoor shelter, invite friends to camp out at our place, and plan a big week-long living-it-up outdoor extravaganza.
You might call them the Jewish feasts, but I call them the Feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23:2), the Lord Jesus, our Messiah, and Feast of Tabernacles is a seriously significant Feast for believers in Messiah Jesus to be aware of!
“When God designed the earth and the universe and filled them with all that is in them, he gave us the moon and the sun and the stars to declare to us the signs and seasons (Genesis 1:14). …The signs and seasons, which He created, were meant to point to times, or rather appointments, with our Lord. These appointments are the feasts–the feasts He scheduled according to moon cycles and solar seasons.”
“For about 1,700 years the Christian church has largely ignored them. But there is a new movement, a revival even, of believers who are beginning to research, celebrate, and discover the truth in these feasts.”
“Our family discovered this truth approximately seven years ago. We’ve found it to be one of the greatest launch pads of spiritual growth in our family. And now I’m going to share with you what we’ve learned.”
Maybe, you live near a vibrant Jewish community, which celebrates by placing a Sukkah outside and eating outdoors for a week. Maybe where you live it’s still warm and balmy. But in the Northeastern United States, the temperatures are dropping and we know that Summer is over, Fall is here and Winter is just on the horizon. There is also no strong Jewish community in our little town, nor is there an active fellowship of likeminded Torah keeping believers. Nonetheless, this is an occasion for us to embrace the final days when it is comfortable (or sometimes barely tolerable) to eat under the stars, to worship Messiah, and to celebrate a special feast as commanded by the LORD God!
WELCOME TO THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
It occurs on the 15th day of the seventh month (Tishrei), and lasts for eight days, according to the Hebrew calendar. As a result of the calendar discrepancies between the Hebrew and Julian calendars, it occurs most often in October, but the actual dates vary year to year.
It is a truly special Feast at which food offerings are brought to the LORD, and we are commanded to live in haphazardly constructed shelters outside the comfort of our well-constructed homes.
The name Feast of Tabernacles is in reference to the hastily built shelters we are commanded to live in for seven days. In Hebrew, this Feast is known as Sukkot.
The first Sukkot occurred while in the wilderness when the Hebrew people were dwelling in quickly erected shelters as they moved from place to place. It is said that these Sukkahs, also called Booths, erected at this celebration are to help the Children of Israel remember their time in the Wilderness.
The Feast also occurred immediately after the end of the harvest. In fact, it was a sort of deadline. In Israel, the rainy season begins very soon after the harvest, meaning any crops, yet un-harvested, would soon be ruined by the coming rains. So, as the harvest ended, God commanded a Feast in celebration and thanksgiving to Him for a bountiful harvest before the weather worsened.
The Feast is also bookended by two Sabbaths. The first day and the eighth day are both special Sabbaths to the LORD, during which no work should be done, the obedient should assemble together for the reading of God’s Word, and celebration was in order.
As Israel settled into the Promised Land, God commanded them to assemble together in Jerusalem, whenever they were able, at three special Feasts of the year. The first of these significant feasts was Passover, the second was Pentecost, and the third was Feast of Tabernacles. As a result, it was common for much of Israel to assemble in Jerusalem, often staying in Sukkahs all over the holy city, as well as in neighboring towns, such as Bethlehem.
WHY CHRISTIANS SHOULD CELEBRATE THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
- We Should Celebrate it Because it was Very Likely Jesus, our Messiah’s, Real Birthday
While the Bible makes no specific detailed reference to the date of Jesus’ birth, we can glean a lot of factual data and idioms from the birth account that all seem to point to a Feast of Tabernacles birthday.
Interestingly, it is commonly held that the word “manger,” in the Luke account of Jesus’ birth shelter, was a mistranslation for what was, in fact, a Sukkah. At that time of year, many traveled there and while Mary and Joseph were traveling for the census, much of the rest of Israel was traveling in the area for Feast of Tabernacles.
The word translated “swaddling cloths,” also may have been a mistranslated word for the sheets of fabric used as wicks on giant torches in Jerusalem as part of this massive and special celebration.
Another key indicator that this may have been the time of year at which our Savior was born, is the fact that it is said he came to Tabernacle among us – a clear reference to Feast of Tabernacles.
For many years, I’ve settled in my heart that He was born at Feast of Tabernacles. The sheep would have still been in the pasture; neither was it too cold for the shepherds to sleep outside. Bethlehem would have been packed with people all visiting Jerusalem… likely leaving no room in the inn. So, it seems fitting, and even likely when also factoring in John the Baptist’s likely Spring birth date. However, I would also like to speculate that Jesus was born on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
The First Day of Feast of Tabernacles is a Sabbath, a holy assembly, a day of making offerings and thanking God for his provision. The following days are also a time of tremendous celebration! And the whole feast closes on the eighth day, at which the Word (another name for Jesus, see John 1) is read aloud, another Sabbath, and the grand finale to the Feast occurs. If you factor in Hebrew law and culture, at which a child is born, celebrated for seven days, and then circumcised and named on the eighth day, perhaps you can see the elegant pattern suggesting a plausible date for the birth of Messiah – the 15th day of the seventh month on the Hebrew Calendar!
- We Should Celebrate it Because We Will Celebrate it In the Millenial Reign on Earth.
If you read Zechariah 14, it is easy to see that it refers to the time of the end. It references prophesy that has yet to occur, including the Mount of Olives splitting in two. And as you continue reading this passage, you come to verse 16, where it says, “Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.” (NIV)
That’s right. Scripture, referring to the end of all things, mentions the continuation of the celebration of Feast of Tabernacles, celebrated by ALL NATIONS.
“So should Christians observe it? I’d say, yes! Because whether you love it or hate the idea of it now, we will all be celebrating it in eternity! This is your dress rehearsal. It’s time to get dressed and rehearse.”
SO, HOW DO I CELEBRATE IT?
While I have recently heard from certain Christians that we can’t get caught up in tradition, I still stand by the fact that what God commands is not a mere man-made tradition that can easily be cast off. Rather it is a command of God, and whether we understand it fully or not, there is value in obedience. In fact, I contend the very act of obedience without understanding is the thing that often will bring the understanding through the experience of the act.
I believe there is value in building a hastily built shelter, through which you can see the stars. I see value in “living in it” to whatever extent you can. If you can camp and sleep in it, do so! If you can only eat your meals there, then do that! I see value in giving offerings to God any time of year, so why not then?! I see value in the worship and the feasting and the reading of God’s Word… so why not!?
While we do not get legalistic about it at all, we embrace it to the best of our ability and love every minute of it. It is truly a fabulous feast.
“Ultimately, however, the most important thing is that you do your best! You don’t have to get legalistic about it or follow meaningless tradition, but you should do it unto the Lord! It’s His day, after all.”