We’re in the midst of the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot, or the feast of Booths. Since Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible, some followers of Jesus dismiss this biblical festival, as if there is nothing to be learned from it. Is that true? What can we still learn from the feast of booths?
The backyards and porches in my neighborhood here in Chicago are dotted with four sided booths, Sukkahs, as they are called in Hebrew. Some students have even put one up right here on the campus of Moody Bible Institute. People might think, “Isn’t the booth from the festival of Tabernacles, outdated? Let’s relegate that to the wilderness wanderings.” But these booths still remind us of the lessons to be learned from the festival of Sukkot.
First, we can learn to be grateful to God from Sukkot. In Leviticus 23:33-43, God establishes the festival of booths as the culmination of the Fall Feasts of Israel. Lev 23:39, gives the significance of these Holy Days, when it says, “when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days.” That’s why an alternate name for Sukkot is Chag Ha-Asif, or the festival of Ingathering. It refers to a celebration at the harvest. Israel was to celebrate and thank God for all His provision. But Sukkot was also about living in booths for seven days every year. Lev 23:42-43 says that Israel was to live in booths “so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” Part of the celebration was to remember God’s protection in the wilderness, not just His provision of food. So if we’re grateful for God’s provision of food and His protection of our lives, Sukkot teaches us to express that appreciation with a great celebration. In fact, when the pilgrims decided to have a great thanksgiving celebration, they got the idea from Sukkot. By the way, if we observe the description of the festival in Num 29, it identifies the many offerings Israel was to bring for this festival. So, another way we can express our gratitude is by giving a special offering to the Lord for all He has given us.
The second reminder we get from Sukkot is that the Lord Jesus fulfilled the messianic expectations related to this festival. There were two special ceremonies practiced at the Temple in Jerusalem during the New Testament era. The first was a special water libation, poured by the High Priest on the alter in the Temple. This signified that when Messiah would come, the knowledge of the Lord would cover the world as the waters cover the sea. Second, there was a torch ceremony where all the Priests and Levites would carry torches to the Temple Mount, anticipating the day when Messiah would come to enlighten all people with the truth of God. It’s said that the light was so blazing on the last night of the festival, that its glow could even be seen in Galilee. So it’s significant that on the last day of Sukkot, the great celebration, the Lord Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). In essence, Jesus was declaring Himself the fulfillment of the water libation. Also, during the great torch festival, Jesus said of Himself, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8;12), indicating that the Messiah had now come to enlighten the whole world.
Finally, Sukkot teaches us to anticipate Jesus the Messiah’s future reign on earth. Zech 14:16 says that all the nations in the future messianic kingdom will go up to Jerusalem “to worship the King . . . and to celebrate the feast of booths” when the Lord will be dwelling in our midst. As we observe the evil of this world, we might despair. But Sukkot reminds that one day, the Lord Jesus will be Lord of all the earth and will reign in righteousness over it.
Obviously, Sukkot is not an archaic biblical festival but one that points us entirely to the Lord Jesus, as our Provider, as our Messiah, and as our King.