The wisest man that ever lived wrote "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." And then he goes through a long list of life circumstances - sowing, reaping, mourning, dancing, war time and peace time - and he finishes with this conclusion: "God has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in men's hearts...I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God!" (From Ecclesiastes 3:1-13.) Celebrating The Feast of Tabernacles is a picture of what eternity with God will be like and of what God desires for us - to rejoice and celebrate with Him and His desire to dwell among us.
Sukkot is the Hebrew word for booths or sometimes it is also translated as tabernacles - hence the various names for it. A sukkah is a temporary structure, a shelter, that reminds us of the booths that the children of Israel lived in during their journey through the wilderness. It helps us recall all the provision and care of God for them during that time - for forty years their clothes didn't even wear out - what it actually says in Deuteronomy 8:4 is "Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years." (Can you imagine ladies?! Being pregnant and not having your feet swell?!! That's pretty spectacular and miraculous provision any way you look at it!) At any rate, the temporal quality of that structure also reminds us of the temporary nature of our lives here on earth - compared to eternity our lives are "a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." (James 4:14) That's why we need to make our time here on earth count - doing good and rejoicing in all that The Lord gives and entrusts to us. This is the season to really take time to do that!
This feast is referred to so many times in scripture - Leviticus 23, Deuteronomy 16, 2 Chronicles 8, Ezra 3, Nehemiah 8, John 7, Zechariah 14, that I won't quote them all, but I do want to point out some of the more captivating references. Jesus participated in this feast in an incredible way. John 7 gives an account of Jesus during the Feast of Tabernacles - He went up to the synagogue and taught and people were saying all kinds of things about Him - some were claiming He was a good man, some were claiming that He was deceiving the people by giving them false hope, even his own brothers did not believe in Him, some wanted to arrest Him, and there were some who wanted to kill Him. But this is what Jesus had to say about Himself, vs.37-38, "Now on the final and most important day of the Feast, Jesus stood, and He cried in a loud voice, If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink! He who believes in Me as the Scripture has said, From his innermost being shall flow continuously springs and rivers of living water."
Now water was an extremely important part of this festival. Keep in mind, this was harvest time and society was a lot more agricultural than what it is today. It was the custom to have a water pouring ceremony every day of the feast as a way of enacting their faith that God would indeed send rains at the proper times. There was much singing, dancing, playing music and rejoicing accompanying this ceremony and the last day was the greatest and most important. Here in the midst of all of that, Jesus declared that if people were thirsty to come to Him. Can you imagine? What a bold statement to make in the midst of all this carrying on!
But this theme of Jesus being the source of water is carried all throughout scripture. Isaiah 55:1-2 says, "Wait and listen, everyone who is thirsty! Come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your earnings for what does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness [the profuseness of spiritual joy]." Jesus asked the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink and then went on to say in John 4:10, "If you had only known and had recognized God’s gift and Who this is that is saying to you, "Give Me a drink", you would have asked Him [instead] and He would have given you living water!"
Revelation 7:13-17 has some profound imagery about water. "One of the heavenly elders said, "Who are these people clothed in the long white robes? And from where have they come?" I replied, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are now before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His sanctuary; and He Who is sitting upon the throne will protect and spread His tabernacle over and shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun smite them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb, Who is in the midst of the throne, will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to the springs of the waters of life; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Wow! That sounds like rejoicing to me!
Sukkot is also known as The Feast of the Nations. More than any other feast, this celebration also belongs to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, to all who will keep it! Zechariah 14:16-17 prophesies that, "Everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship The King, The Lord of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths.) And it shall be that whoso of the families of the earth shall not go up to Jerusalem to worship The King, The Lord of hosts, upon them there shall be no rain."
Rain often signifies The Spirit of God and rain in due season is like the pleasure and favor of God in our lives. Leviticus 26:4 says, "Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit." Deuteronomy 11:13-14 states, "And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil." And Deuteronomy 8:6-10 promises, "“Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills...a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing...when you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you."
This is really what this time of feasting with The Lord is all about. A time to reflect on how He has kept us and provided for us, the promises where He will continue to do that in our lives, the good things He plans for us, and the promise that one day He will dwell with all mankind on the earth giving us His enduring light and glory. There will be a massive celebration the day that He finally wipes all the tears away!
If this isn't enough to convince you to put tears away and rejoice than there is one more reference we are going to examine. It comes out of the book of Nehemiah. This was written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. when Nehemiah had a mandate to rebuild it's walls. Scripture reading had basically been put to rest during that time. In the 7th month, which is the month for all the fall feasts of The Lord, the scribe, Ezra, read aloud to all the people from the Book of the Law of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy or what is referred to as the Torah). The people were so moved to hear God's Words to them again that they wept.
Nehemiah 8:10-12, and 14-18 gives the account, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then Nehemiah said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them. And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim. So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner."
So there we have the model for how to celebrate Sukkot. It's a time to rejoice! It's a time to celebrate! I confess that I have not always felt like rejoicing during this time. And my family and I don't necessarily dwell in booths for 7 days. We do get to build one in our church sanctuary and we do get to spend some time under it. This year more than any other I have felt the desire to go beyond where I have been before in celebrating. I know I am in a progression of celebration. God has to show us individually how we can keep these special days and we are all at different levels. We are all progressing in our understanding and demonstrations of faith and that's ok. I think God understands. I think He's thrilled when we deem to pay attention to something that is obviously close to His heart in a number of ways. That's seen in all the elements when we study about this feast. He is looking forward to the time when He can rejoice and celebrate with us for all eternity. That's pretty incredible when we take time to think about it!