THE FESTIVAL OF SUKKOTBack to Alphabetical Index | Back to Chapter Index
The English phrase 'Feast of Tabernacles' occurs nine times in the Old Testament, and it is translated from the Hebrew phrase 'hag sukkot'. See Lev.23:34; Deut.16:13 & 16; 31:10; 2.Chron.8:13; Ezra 3:4; Zech.14:16,18-19.
The Word 'Hag'
The basic meaning of the root word 'hag' is 'to keep a feast' or 'to celebrate a holiday', and it usually refers to the three main pilgrimage-festival seasons that were to be kept in the place chosen by God.
In the nine usages of the phrase 'hag sukkot', the word 'hag' defines the Feast of Sukkot as one of the three pilgrimage-festivals of God on which there is to be a celebration. However, the word 'hag' does not define what is to be celebrated, whereas the word 'sukkot' does define the exact thing that must be celebrated.
The Word 'Sukkot'
The Hebrew word 'sukkot' not only describes the seven-day feast of the seventh month, but is also used in the explanation of how to observe this festival.
From the Hebrew word 'sakak' come the words 'masak' (to cover), 'musak' ( a covered structure), 'sok' (a covert, thicket, or booth), and 'sukkot' (the place Succoth. i.e., the place of booths or shelters).
It is from derivations of the root word 'sakak' that the translators for the King James Bible coined the phrase 'feast of tabernacles' and the word 'booths', which are associated with the celebration of the seven-day feast of the seventh month.
The many words and various meanings that are derived from the root word 'sakak', from which 'sukkot' is derived, will help clarify the literal, symbolic, and prophetic meaning of the feast of the seventh month.
The Command to Keep the Feast and Dwell in Shelters
Leviticus 23:33-41 KJV
"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of shelters for seven days unto the Lord" (vs.33-34).
This festival is to be a seven-day festival just as the Festival of Unleavened Bread. And as with the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the number seven is significant. It pertains to perfection and bringing to an end but, moreover, when this festival ends, the Feast of The Eighth Day begins, which pictures an ending of the old order and the beginning of the new.
"On the first day shall be an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein. Seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord:. . ." (vs.35-36). See also Num.29:12.
On the first day of this seven-day festival, the people were to cease from all their normal work (whatever they did to make a living) and attend a sacred assembly to worship God and learn his laws. During these seven days, there was to be a series of specific offerings and sacrifices made by the priesthood as a part of the formal worship at the tabernacle/temple. This seven-day festival was also an opportunity for anyone who wanted to make personal sacrifices and offerings to do so.
The first major meaning and lesson of this festival, which sets it apart from the other festivals, is contained in the making of and dwelling in shelters made from the boughs of trees:
"And you shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice (Hebrew, sawmayakh) before the Lord your God seven days" (v40). See Nehe.8:14-18.
The usage of the word rejoice indicates that this was to be a feast of great joy. It was to be a time of rejoicing and thanksgiving before the Lord for the blessings of the past year.
"You shall live in booths seven days; all who are home-born in Israel shall live in booths" (Lev.23:42 Para.).
In verses 40 and 42 there are two important commands concerning the observance of this seven-day festival:
1. The Israelites were to gather tree branches, make shelters from them, and dwell in these shelters for seven days.
2. All Israelites were to dwell in shelters made from tree branches for seven days.
These shelters made from the boughs of trees were not very strong and did not provide much in the way of protection from the weather (e.g., rain, wind, cold, and heat).
These shelters were not for the purpose of physical protection from the weather; they were to be a yearly reminder of what God had done for Israel when he brought them out of Egypt. Moreover, they were prophetic and symbolic of something far more important than physical protection from the weather.
Prior to and after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., many people took this instruction literally by building shelters of tree branches, sleeping in them, and eating all their regular meals in them. Even in this age, some people eat meals in a communal or congregational shelter made of tree branches during this festival.
Verse 40 of Leviticus chapter 23 contains the command for all the native-born descendants of Israel to dwell in booths. The English phrase 'home-born' is translated from the Hebrew word 'ezrah', which is a noun that means 'a native' or 'one rising from his own soil'. In the Mosaic legislation, this term is used frequently to indicate the specific native origin of the descendants of the Patriarchs to whom God made the covenant promises.
Although the command is specifically meant for the descendants of Israel to make and dwell in booths during this festival, the command did not prohibit non-Israelites from observing the festival in this way.
Why Dwell In Booths?
The reason God gave for having the Israelites dwell in shelters made from tree branches for seven days was so that their descendants would be reminded that he made their ancestors dwell in shelters when they came out of Egypt:
"So that your generations shall know that I caused the sons of Israel to live in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God" (Lev.23:43 Para.)
Verse 43 shows the overt meaning of dwelling in shelters; however, there are prophetic, symbolic, and spiritual meanings in this ritual. The prophetic, symbolic, and spiritual meanings are the most important meanings for dwelling in shelters because these meanings concern the salvation and happiness of humanity.
Israel Camped at Sukkoth
There are a number of scriptural references to the place named Sukkoth (Succoth: this name is derived from the root word 'sakak' ):
"And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house [Heb.'bet/betan'], and made shelters [Heb. 'sukka'] for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth [i.e., Shelters]" (Gen.33:17 Para.).
Here, Jacob journeyed to this place, built himself a permanent residence, and made shelters for his cattle. We are not told how long Jacob stayed in Succoth. However, his stay must have been somewhat lengthy, because he built a home and provided shelter for his cattle.
The Israelites camped in shelters when they first left Egypt and they camped in shelters at Succoth (i.e., the place of Shelters), which got its name from the fact that Jacob built shelters from the boughs of trees there. It is at this place that the presence of God in a towering cloud and a pillar of fire first began to lead Israel after they left Egypt:
"And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent to them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians. And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth. . ." (Ex.12:36-37 KJV).
"And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped at Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them by the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people" (Ex.13:20-22 KJV).
The Presence of God
The pillar of cloud and fire is very important to understanding the meaning of dwelling in shelters during this seven-day festival, because within the pillar of cloud and fire resided the presence of God. See Num.9:15-23; 10:33-36.
Isaiah chapter four concerns the time after the return of Jesus Christ when the government of God will have been established on earth. Moreover, Isaiah records that, during this time, the sheltering presence of God in the pillar of cloud and fire will return to Mount Zion where it will shelter and guard all of Israel:
Isaiah 4:4-6 Paraphrased
"When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and the blood of Jerusalem shall have been rinsed away from its midst by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning" (v4).
This is clearly a prophecy that will be fulfilled after the return of Jesus Christ. It is only after his return that the process of purifying Israel's people will have been accomplished.
"Then the Lord will create a cloud and a smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night, for over all the sight of Mount Zion, and over her assemblies; for over all the glory will be a canopy" (v5).
The English word 'canopy' noted at the end of verse 5 is a translation of the Hebrew word 'choop-paw', which means a 'canopy', 'chamber', 'closet', or 'defense'.
"And there shall be a booth for a shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge, and for a hiding place from storm and rain" (v6).
The word 'booth' in verse 6 is translated from the Hebrew word 'sukkah', which is the singular form of 'sukkot' ('booth' or 'shelter'). Sukkot is the same word that denotes the first meaning of the seven-day feast of the seventh month (i.e., Hag Sukkot, the Feast of Shelters).
Isaiah clearly makes the point that this pillar of cloud and fire will be a protective covering and shelter for Mount Zion and those who dwell there, just as it was over the Israelites as they sojourned in the wilderness. See Ex.19:9,16,18,20.
The scriptures indicate that, after the return of Christ as King of kings, there will still be rebellious people dwelling on the earth who do not have the spirit of God. Therefore, God's protective care will be necessary for the nation of Israel and its people. In verse 6, the word 'sukkah' emphasizes God's sheltering protection and presence in the pillar of cloud and fire.
The Word Sukkot
The word 'sukkot' (i.e., booth or shelter) can be used in many ways in order to explain and emphasize different thoughts and concepts. It is used many times to describe a safe place (Psa.31:20), a shade (Jn.4:5), a dwelling-place of animals (Job 38:40; Gen.33:17), and a dwelling place of military personnel (2.Sam.11:11; 1.Kg.20:12,16). It is also used as an example of flimsy construction (Isa.1:6; Job 27:18).
The primary meaning and purpose of the word 'sukkot' in reference to the feast of the seventh month appears to be that of a shade or protective covering, because sukkot comes from the root 'sakak', which means to 'overshadow', 'screen', or 'cover'.
TWO PROPHETIC AND SYMBOLIC MEANINGS
"You shall live in booths seven days; all who are home-born in Israel shall live in booths: So that your generations shall know that I caused the sons of Israel to live in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Lev.23:42-43 Para.).
Why was it important for the Israelite's descendants to know that their ancestors were made to dwell in shelters made from tree branches after they left Egypt? What great significance is there in being made to dwell in booths for seven days, and what does it have to do with being freed from the bondage and slavery of Egypt?
Two major symbolic and prophetic meanings of this festival are found in the answer to these questions.
THE FIRST PROPHETIC MEANING
The first major prophetic meaning of the Feast of Shelters is found in the many scriptures that speak of God's care and protection of his people.
Although this festival's title 'Hag Sukkot' points to a remembrance of the time when the Israelites first left Egypt and God caused them to dwell in hastily erected shelters made from the boughs of trees, even more importantly, the title 'Hag Sukkot' also points to the literal, prophetic, and symbolic protective care and presence of God among his peoplepast, present, and future.
God The Protector
"For in the day of evil he shall hide me in his shelter [Heb. 'sok']: in the secrecy of his sanctuary [Heb.ohel], he shall hide me; he shall set me up on a rock" (Psa.27:5 Para.).
Here, King David uses the words 'sok' and 'ohel' to describe God's protection and care for his servant. The Hebrew word 'sok' which is translated into the English word 'shelter', means a hut made from entwined boughs of trees. Moreover, 'sok' is derived from the word 'saw-kak', which means to entwine as a screen and by implication it means to 'cover over'. Figuratively, 'saw-kak' means to protect. The English word 'sanctuary' is translated from the Hebrew word 'ohel' and refers to the holy sanctuary (the dwelling place of God), from where God's presence cares for and protects his people.
"How great is your goodness, which you have laid up for those who fear you; you have worked for those who trust you before the sons of mankind. In the secrecy of your presence you shall hide them from man's plots: you shall cover them in a booth [sukkot] from the strife of tongues" (Psa.31:19-20 Para.).
Here, David spoke of God's protective care for his people and he used the word 'sukkot' (a hut, booth, or shelter made from boughs of trees), which is the same word used to reveal one of the literal meanings of the seven-day feast of the seventh monththe sheltering presence of God.
A Psalm of Asaph
"God is known in Judah: his name is great in Israel. And his abode [sok] is in Salem, and his dwelling place in Zion" (Psa.76:1-2 Para.).
In this song of praise, Asaph sung of the many attributes of God. In verse 2, he used the Hebrew word 'sok', which has been translated into the English word 'abode.' It is apparent that Asaph's use of the word 'sok' was not intended to refer to God's dwelling place, because God's presence does not dwell in a booth made out of tree limbs and leaves. Asaph's use of the word 'sok' is actually a reference to the protective care and nature of God, which was dwelling in Salem.
"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide in the Almighty's shade [Heb. 'tsel']. I will say to the Lord: my refuge and my fortress: my God; I will trust in Him. For he delivers you from the fowler's trap, from destruction's plague. With his feathers He will cover you, and under His wings you shall seek refuge" (Psa.91:1-4 Para.). See also Isa.32:1-2.
Here, an unknown psalmist was inspired to use the Hebrew word 'tsel', which means a defense (protection) in this context.
After the Return of Christ
Isaiah spoke of God's protection after the return of Christ as a covering over and a wall around the Israelites. Additionally, Zechariah said that God's protection around Jerusalem will be as a wall of fire. See Isa.25:1-6; Zech.2:1-5.
Clearly, one of the major meanings of the feast of the seventh month has to do with God's care, concern, and protection for his people.
The first prophetic meaning of 'Hag Sukkot' (Feast of Shelters) is expressed in the protective care that God has for his peoplepast, present, and future.
THE SECOND PROPHETIC MEANING
In the New Testament, we find that the seven-day festival of the seventh month is only mentioned once by name:
"Now the Jew's feast of tabernacles was at hand" (Jn.7:2 KJV).
Here, the English word 'tabernacles' is a translation from the Greek word 'skenopegia', which describes the Jewish feast in which shelters made of tree branches and leaves were erected and lived in.
Beyond The Physical
Beside the festival's meaning of God's care, concern, and protection for humanity (past, present, and future), there is another major meaning in the title 'Hag Sukkot', which is meant for the future beyond human existence. This meaning was spoken of by Jesus Christ, which is recorded in the books of Luke and John.
The Eternal Sukkot
During Jesus' lifetime the worship of God had been greatly perverted, and much of its original intent and meaning was lost in antiquity and changed by the religious leaders and scholars to fit their own ideas of what kind of worship was pleasing to God. However, in regard to the festivals, much of their original meaning was still known and understood, which is evidenced by the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus' Parable Concerning the Feast of Shelters
Luke 16:1-9, 14 Paraphrased
Luke records a parable in which Jesus refers to the Feast of Shelters and its prophetic meaning in a very sarcastic and pointed rebuke to the Pharisees concerning their love for money and their failure to be good stewards of God's word and truth:
"And he also said to his disciples, A certain man was rich, and had a steward: who was accused of wasting his master's goods. Calling him, he said, What is this I hear about you? give an account of your stewardship; for you can no longer be the steward" (vs.1-2).
Jesus was referring to God the Father as the rich man, the Pharisees as spiritual stewards, and the goods as the word and truth of God.
"And the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for the lord is taking away the stewardship from me: I am unable to dig, and I am ashamed to beg" (v3).
Realizing that he would be unable to make a living if his master took away his position, the steward began to plan for the future.
When reading verses 4-7, it appears that this steward was dishonest in giving away his master's goods; however, this is not the case at all. In many ancient societies, when a person was placed as a steward over another's goods, they were given control of the property as if it were their own. Therefore, the steward had the responsibility and the right to administer the master's goods as he saw fit in order to serve the master's best interests. In these verses, Jesus used the steward as an example of worldly wisdom when confronted with the prospect of losing a position of power, wealth, and trust.
If we view God the Father as the master and his goods as his word and truth, it was in the master's best interest for his steward to be very liberal in handling his goods. This is why Jesus said, in verse 8, that the master praised this steward; the praise was for the wise and proper use of his goods:
"And the Lord praised the unrighteous steward, because he acted prudently: for the sons of this age are more prudent than the sons of light are in their generation" (v8).
Luke was inspired to use the Greek word 'epaheeneh', which means 'praise'. This is especially noteworthy, because this word means far more than casual praise. It implies great approval and applause for what is done and it can mean the approval of one's total life at its end.
The Pharisees knew full well that Jesus was accusing them of failing to be good stewards of God's word and truth and was rebuking them for their lack of wisdom in regard to their positions as the religious leaders of God's people.
"And I say to you, Make yourselves friends by the mammon of unrighteous [possessions acquired dishonestly], that when it fails, they may take you into the eternal dwellings [skaynay]" (v9).
Jesus sarcastically told the Pharisees purchase friendship with their ill gotten money. Moreover, he told them that, when their money failed to provide the things that are truly important, they should go to their purchased friends and see if they have the ability to provide them with the eternal rewards that are promised to those who are righteous.
In speaking of 'eternal dwellings', Jesus was referring to some type of reward that would be given for righteous and diligent service to God.
Luke was again inspired to use a very specific word to record Jesus' remark about this eternal reward. In verse 9, Luke used the Greek word 'skaynay', which has been translated into various English words, such as 'dwellings' and 'habitations'. The Greek word 'skaynay' literally means 'hut' or 'tent', and it is the equivalent of the Hebrew word 'sakak,' from which the word 'sukkoth' (shelter) is derived.
By using the word 'skaynay', Luke clearly shows that Jesus was referring to the prophetic meaning of the Feast of Shelters, which would be fulfilled in a time beyond this physical existence in the spiritual Kingdom of God.
It is clear from many scriptures that the elect of God are promised to dwell in heavenly Jerusalem and the temple with God the Father and Jesus Christ. This future dwelling place is a place of unimaginable wealth and splendorhardly a tent or a hut.
Jesus' reference to eternal tents or huts can only be understood in the light of what must have been common knowledge among the religious leaders and others at that time concerning dwelling in shelters during the feast of the seventh month. If the Pharisees had not understood what Jesus said in the context of the prophetic meaning of the Feast of Shelters, they would not have responded as they did:
"And being lovers of money, the Pharisees also heard all these things; and they derided him" (v14).
In verse 9, Jesus draws from the prophetic and symbolic meaning of dwelling in shelters made from tree branches during the feast of the seventh month to show the Pharisees that, unless they change their attitudes and became good and faithful stewards of God's word and truth, they would not dwell in the presence of God for eternity; instead, they would lose this reward as well as their lives.
THE HOLY CITY
Revelation 21:1-7 Paraphrased
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away; and the sea no longer is. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, having been prepared as a bride; having been adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tent [Gr.'skaynay'] of God with men, and he will reside [Gr. skay-no-o] with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them, as their God" (vs.1-3).
This text describes the coming of God the Father to earth with his holy city after all the various resurrections at the very end of his plan for the salvation of humanity. Again, we see the Greek word 'skaynay', which means 'tent' or 'hut' and is equivalent to the Hebrew word 'sakak', from which the word 'sukkoth' (shelter) is derived.
It is obvious that the word 'skaynay' is not meant to be a visual description of the holy city within which God dwells. But, it is used as a metaphor to describe a condition of existence that is above and beyond this physical dimension.
"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no longer, nor mourning, nor out cry, nor pain will be any longer, for the former things are passed away "And the One sitting on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. . . To the one thirsting, I will freely give of the fountain of the water of life. The one overcoming will inherit all things, and I will be a God to him, and he will be a son to me" (vs.4-7).
Verses 4-7 prove that this time period is at the very end of humanity's physical existence on earth, because it is only after humanity has advanced beyond the unrighteousness of the physical realm and into the righteousness of the spiritual realm that these conditions can exist.
The second prophetic meaning of 'Hag Sukkot' (Feast of Shelters) is expressed in the condition of righteous, eternal existence within the Family and Kingdom of God.
Both Luke 16 and Revelation 21 show the meaning of the seven-day festival of the seventh month carried to its final prophetic fulfillment. This final meaning and fulfillment is summed up in the reward of eternal life within the Family of God and the eternal relationship between God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the people of God.
The literal meaning of the name 'Hag Sukkot' (Feast of Shelters) for the nation of Israel was that of a memorial to their being brought out of Egypt under the protective hand of God.
The making of shelters and dwelling in them was symbolic of the need for God's care and protection and the futility of human efforts to care for and protect themselves.
The Israelites were to remember that it was through the overshadowing presence of God and his power in the pillar of cloud and fire that they were protected from their enemies.
The Prophetic Meaning