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The Great Feast of Tabernacles

Leslie A. Turvey: Every one of God's holy days is vital to His children, and those who observe them look forward to each with enthusiasm. But the Feast of Tabernacles elicits the most excitement. It's God's great getaway from the cares of this world. Christians plan for it months in advance.

"Where are you going for the feast?" is possibly the most-asked question in the autumn. People from the south often travel north, passing their northern brethren on their way south. East often goes west, and vice versa. Some stay close to home, while others travel great distances, depending on their circumstances.

Feast sites vary in size and location - but the Feast of Tabernacles is no mere vacation. It is that, but it's more. It's an opportunity to share eight great days with people of like mind, to get away from the cares of the world back home, and to make new friends and renew old friendships. But it's even more than that.

The Feast of Tabernacles is an annual opportunity to drink in the fine wine of God's Word as served by His ministers and teachers, in some of the most beautiful areas of the world. In short, it's a glimpse of God's soon-coming kingdom.

What Is A Tabernacle?

The first Biblical reference to a tabernacle is in Exodus. God commanded the people to bring offerings of gold, silver, and brass, of fine cloths and multi-colored skins, and oil and spices and precious stones" (Exodus 25:8-9).

So the first tabernacle mentioned in the Bible was a place for God to live among the Israelites. But as you study the movements of Israel, you find the tabernacle was not permanent: it was dismantled when they moved, and reassembled when they settled. So the tabernacle in the wilderness was a temporary dwelling place for God.

Throughout most of the Old Testament two words are translated as tabernacle, mishkan and obel. One English noun is common to them both: tent. And although the tabernacle in the wilderness was rather lavish it was, nonetheless, a tent.

The Jews call the Feast of Tabernacles Succoth, a word first mentioned in Genesis 33:1 It means booths, temporary dwellings.

There was a difference, however, between Jacob's booths and the tabernacle in the wilderness. Jacob built two structures, a house for himself, and booths for his cattle. The Hebrew bayith, meaning house, refers to a permanent structure. In opposition to mishkan and obel meaning tabernacle, one of the meanings of bayith is a temple.

But the booths he built to protect his cattle were temporary in nature, and were lightly constructed and moved here and there as the cattle moved from pasture to pasture.

What, you may wonder, do cattle shelters have to do with God's Feast of Tabernacles? Let's read Leviticus 23:41-43: "And ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month. Ye shall dwell in booths [sukkah] seven days; all that are Israelite born shall dwell in booths: that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."

During their forty years in the wilderness, the Israelites lived in succoth, temporary dwellings. So the Feast of Tabernacles, Succoth as the Jews call it, looks back in Judaism to the days of the Exodus.

You may read more about these booths in Nehemiah's account. (Nehemiah 8:14-17). During these days, Ezra read to the people from the book of the law of God.

Booths Today

Many Jews today still build booths from branches, and live in them during the days of Succoth. But Christians observing the feast normally do not. Are they being disobedient to the laws of God?

Times change, and situations change. A good example is a comparison of sewage disposal then and now (Deuteronomy 23:12-13) If Christians who do not build booths are disobeying the laws of God, so is every Christian who uses a flush toilet in his home!

The ancient Israelites were told to use the technology they possessed a shovel-like device - to dispose of their sewage. If God were giving His law today, He would tell us to use the technology we possess.

The ancient Israelites were also told to use the building materials available, "olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees," to make their temporary dwellings. But what do people use for temporary dwellings today? Hotels and motels, right? Those who prefer to rough it may set up temporary housekeeping in a trailer camp. The hardier ones may choose to live in tents.

So when Christians attend the Feast of Tabernacles - the feast of temporary dwellings - they live in hotels, motels, house trailers, or tents as they desire. And if some decide to build booths, the churches have no objection.

Regardless of where they stay, the main point of the Feast of Tabernacles, and of each of God's holy days, is worship. So for the eight days of the feast, God's people gather in a suitable auditorium to worship God in prayer, in song, and in hearing His word expounded.

And as in the days of Nehemiah (ch. 8:17), there is very great gladness!

To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.

For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Issue 23, September/October 2000. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.

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