Sukkot – An Ancient Festival & Joy to the World

According to Leviticus 23, which describes the Feasts of the LORD (Leviticus 23:1), the children of Israel were commanded to keep the Feast of Booths in the seventh biblical month. The feast was to follow two other feasts of the seventh month, the Feast of Trumpets on the first day, and the Day of Atonement on the tenth day. This feast was to begin on the fifteenth day, following the ingathering of the land’s produce (Leviticus 23:39). The first day, and the eighth day were to be “holy convocations;” no work was to be done. The feast is mentioned in several passages in the Torah, which describe the reason for the feast, and provide details for how it was to be kept. According to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, its observance was restored after many years of non-observance upon the return of Israel from its exile in Babylon, and according to the prophet Zechariah, its observance will be required by delegates from all nations in the future.

The Feast of Booths in Hebrew, is called Hag HaSukkot. The principle feature of the feast involves dwelling in temporary dwellings for the duration of the festival. These temporary dwellings were to be constructed of “branches of palm trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook” (Leviticus 23:40). The purpose stated in the Bible is so that, “your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:42).

In addition to dwelling in temporary dwellings, the children of Israel were to rejoice for seven days (Leviticus 23:40; Deuteronomy 16:14). This rejoicing was required of all in attendance, “you, your son, and your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns” (Deuteronomy 16:14). The joyous attitude was to be gained through the fact that “the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyous” (Deuteronomy 16:15).

The Festival of Booths was one of the three “pilgrim festivals.” These three festivals required all males to appear with gifts “before the LORD” in the place “which He will choose” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). In Exodus 23, also relating the three pilgrimage festivals, the Feast of Booths is called the Feast of Ingathering (Exodus 23:16). There we read that it is to be kept at “end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor” (Exodus 23:17). The phrase “end of the year,” is more literally translated the going out of the year. The English of Exodus 34 also employs the phrase end of the year, but here, the word is more accurately translated at the “turn of the year.” The idea intended by both appears to indicate that the biblical year, which began in the spring (Exodus 12), was passing the half-way mark.

According to Deuteronomy, it was during this festival that, once every seven years, during the commanded year of release, the Teaching of Moses was read aloud to the entire nation of people.

“And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths,when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law,and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.””
(Deuteronomy 31:10–13 ESV)

But despite these clear instructions demanded by the Teaching of Moses, the Festival of Booths apparently was not kept with any regularity by the children of Israel for centuries. There is one passing reference to the obedient offerings of Solomon in accordance to the “commandment of Moses, for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the three annual feasts – the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles (booths)” (2 Chronicles 8:12-13). Ezra too mentions the offerings associated with the Feast of Booths (Ezra 3:4), but here too, only the passing reference to the offerings associated with the day are mentioned. According to the Book of Nehemiah, it was only after the “heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the law” (Nehemiah 8:13), that anyone seemed to be inclined to keep the commanded Feast. The story, there recorded, says that upon finding this passage “written in the law that the LORD commanded Moses,” that they kept the Feast once again. It further clearly says in this passage that, “for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so” (Nehemiah 8:17). The question obviously raised by this is the identity of “Jeshua the son of Nun.” Is this a scribal error in the spelling of the name of the famous “son of Nun” – Joshua? If so, the text would imply that the Festival of Booths was not kept since the children of Israel had entered into the land under the leadership of Moses’ successor! While this is hard to accept by many, it certainly would explain the scarce mention of the Feast in the biblical records since the Torah.

According to the Hebrew prophet Zechariah, the Festival of Booths will become important to every nation of the world in days to come. The context of the fourteenth chapter places the reader in the latter days, and specifically says that people from all nations “shall go up year after year to worship the KING, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain upon them” (Zechariah 14:16-17). The text goes on to say that the plague of drought will afflict the nations that do not keep the feast of booths (Zechariah 14:18-19), underscoring the necessity of global adherence to the ancient Feast.

In our day, more and more people are feeling drawn to these ancient festivals described in the Hebrew Bible. There is a growing recognition that these festivals, while given to the people of Israel, are the Festivals of the LORD. People from every nation, who love the Bible are beginning to study them, and to keep them.

Keeping the Feast of Booths, according to Zechariah will one day be required by all nations. One could argue that there is no better time than the present to begin keeping the feasts, especially the Feast of Booths. Every nation needs rain, and heaven knows that we can all use seven consecutive days of joy, so why not begin this year? Build a booth. Invite everyone you know. Read the Teachings of Moses. Worship the LORD of hosts and rejoice for seven days in temporary dwellings!

Chag Sukkot Sameach! Have a joyful Sukkot!

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