Hebrew Biblical or Modern Israelite Holidays
Tishrei 5779 / September-October 2018
Hag sameakh (happy holiday) and blessings, friends in Messiah!
Yom tov (Good day), and I hope all is fine with you in these days of renewed sanctification after Rosh ha Shanah and Yom Kippur! I hope you will join with us in heart, mind, and spirit to continue to celebrate, enjoy, and worship our Adonai Elohim (Lord God) in this month’s Hebrew Biblical holydays. I encourage you to design something special that you will do devotionally to help you feel more a part of this wonderful Biblical Israelite cultural time. Please join me and interested fellow believers in Yeshua (Jesus) in this blessed and powerfully renewing time of year in the Biblical calendar and culture! It is our Adonai Elohim’s (Lord God’s) desire and schedule that His people establish this new Israelite civil year 5779 in a spiritually revitalizing way.
The current Hebrew Biblical holidays (known as the High Holy Days, or ha moedim [“appointed times”]) are summarized as follows. I will here describe the third holiday: Sukkot.
September 23 (sunset) to October 1 (sunset)
Some relevant passages for reading and meditation: Num. 9:15-23; Lev. 23:33-36, 39-43; Deut. 16:13-17; Psalm 23; 73; 113-118; Prov. 16:18; Book of Ecclesiastes; 1 Kgs 8; Ezra 3:1-6; Neh. 8; Isa. 11-12; Zeph. 2:3; Zech. 14; John 1:1-2, 14; 7; Matt. 8:19-20; Luke 14:11; Rom. 11; Phil. 2:1-13; Jam. 4:1-5:11; 1 Pet. 5:5-6; Rev. 7:9-17.
“And all of you, serve each other in humility, for ‘Elohim [God] opposes the proud but favors the humble.’ So humble yourselves under the mighty power of Elohim, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor.” — 1 Peter 5:5-6, cf. NLT
Sukkot is an eight-day joyful holyday festival, including in Israel today. The name “Sukkot” literally means temporary “booths” or “shelters.” Other well-known appropriate names are the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. Still another name is the Feast of Ingathering (referring to the end of annual harvest season). The term “tabernacles” refers to temporary or portable shelters (the sukkot). This holiday festival week contains three Sabbath rest days and carries much devotional meaning and various customs. Sukkot is one of the three mandatory annual holidays prescribed in the Law of Moses.
Concerning devotional meanings, Sukkot offers a curious mixture of joyful and gracious festival, end-of-harvest thanksgiving, spiritual revitalization of the Ruakh Kodesh (Holy Spirit), humble wilderness wandering, and reminder that this earthly world and life are temporary and not fully satisfying.
First, this festival week is to be a joyful family celebration as it marks the climax and finish of the Israelite harvest season. As part of making joyful harvest celebration, there are three Sabbath rest days of no profit-making labor—the first day of Sukkot, the regular weekly Sabbath in mid-festival, and the last day of Sukkot. This provides nice rest and relaxation time, but not in three consecutive days.
Sukkot is an annual harvest festival, an expression of thanks to Elohim (God) for a successfully productive and completed harvest season. Consequently, diverse activities and interpretations have attached to Sukkot over the centuries. In Yeshua’s (Jesus’) time, some of the popular Sukkot customs included spending time in a sukkah; waving lulav and etrog (a small bundle of myrtle, palm, willow leafy branches with citrus fruit) at worship service; formal synagogue or Temple services; water-drawing and pouring ceremony at the Temple; nighttime festival parties with joyful music and dancing; nightly lighting of the outdoor giant Jerusalem Temple lampstands (around 50 feet high). Some of these customs are continued today. Some observe the eighth final day of Sukkot as a separate special holiday known as Shemini Atzeret (“eighth day of assembly”).
A second aspect of Sukkot is to remember appreciatively the Israelites under Moses wandering and living in the wilderness for 40-42 years after leaving Egypt. Moses and Israelites in their wilderness wandering were forced by YHVH (LORD) to live by faith, taking one day at a time. YHVH (LORD) directed that the Israelites’ experience be memorialized. So people who observe Sukkot festival are supposed to live during the week entirely, or spend some time, in a temporary shelter or tent (called sukkah) somewhere outside of their normal home. Sukkah time helps make Sukkot a sacred memorial but still a joyful and unusual festival. Spending time in sukkah helps one appreciate, in a small modern way, the lessons, sufferings, and hardships of YHVH’s (LORD’s) people in the wilderness as they hoped and waited for their Promised Land.
Third, Sukkot ideally intends to impress upon us a profound and difficult Biblical truth — that we are transient short-lived weak human creatures of Elohim (God) the Creator, and we have all of our temporary being, homes, and possessions by His grace and provision, not by our own strength and resources. This is a lesson quietly taught by spending prayer or thoughtful time in one’s sukkah. Our sukkah time helps us appreciate being homeless and destitute in wilderness wandering, possessing materially very little in earthly life. This should impress upon us: (1) the hope of enjoying our short temporary lives of little strength under Elohim’s (God’s) control; (2) that as His believing redeemed people, we are only visitors and pilgrims in this earthly life. This earthly world is not our great and lasting home, our final Promised Land of shalom; (3) that our lives, success, health, relationships, and all possessions are due to Elohim’s (God’s) willing and generous grace; (4) that Messiah Yeshua’s (Jesus’) kingdom and Elohim’s (God’s) kingdom are the same. Messiah’s earthly kingdom is still to come in the future, where the lessons of Sukkot will continue.
Fourth, Sukkot ideally intends to annually remind us of more profound and difficult truths: (1) the natural emptiness and true poverty of imperfect earthly human existence; (2) that all lasting meaning and value in earthly life is found in and with Elohim (God) and Yeshua (Jesus). Everything of material Earth is ultimately meaningless in that it does not last; it is all lost in death. Nothing of material Earth can save our souls or make physical life endless. Everything of material Earth has only temporary limited worth and value. Regardless of whether one is holy and righteous, evil and wicked, rich or poor, wise or foolish, all equally die and lose all earthly possessions. Regardless of how beautiful or sweet any earthly thing may be, it will end. Righteous and clean earthly joys are pleasant and blessed to enjoy and share, but they too are only temporary. Revealing and facing this harsh reality of earthly existence is why the Book of Ecclesiastes is traditionally read during Sukkot. Facing this harsh reality serves Elohim’s (God’s) purpose to provoke mankind to choose to seek Him with faith and hope. In other words, the Book of Ecclesiastes functions as part of the true gospel message in the Tanakh (Old Testament).
Each year Feast of Tabernacles challenges us to learn to find our greatest joy and meaning and satisfaction in Elohim (God) and Meshiakh Yeshua (Christ Jesus) and being truly in His kingdom, not in accumulating earthly material things and in the power of what we ourselves can be or do. Elohim (God) and Meshiakh (Christ) are the only lasting joy and meaning of life. We can have spiritual salvation with eternal life, but these are found only in Elohim (God) and Meshiakh (Christ). We can remember these truths by appreciating the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings with Moses. Our time spent in our sukkot is a reminder of our own earthly lives being a “wilderness wandering” away from our wonderful eternal home with Elohim (God).
Fifth, Yeshua (Jesus) in his human earthly life illustrates the extent of Sukkot in the way he lived his daily life during his public ministry years: humble; poor; homeless and wandering; jobless; unmarried; no physical child-descendants; misunderstood by all; very dependent on Father Elohim’s (God’s) strength, daily provision, and protection; taking one day at a time in faith. For his public ministry years, Yeshua (Jesus) deliberately lived somewhat similar to Moses and Israelites in the wilderness. Gospel of John chapter 7 shows Yeshua (Jesus) celebrating Sukkot festival in Jerusalem as obedient to the Law.
Sixth, it is intriguing that of all Biblical holydays, it is Sukkot that is emphasized in futuristic prophecies, such as in Zechariah 14 where Sukkot observance is mandatory in the future Messianic Kingdom. This emphasis suggests that Sukkot is intended to teach mankind to sincerely humble themselves and their material lives under the mighty hand and provision of their real and true Creator, Elohim (God). Sukkot tells mankind to give Elohim (God) His due glory, honor, and devotion. Mankind who despises Elohim (God) and Meshiakh Yeshua (Christ Jesus) make spiritual evil and material earthly things and people their greatest joys and gods. But all who cherish evil and false gods will suffer for it according to Elohim’s (God’s) holy jealousy and righteous justice.
Seventh, a more Pentecostal aspect of the Sukkot festival is expressed by the daily sacred water-pouring ceremony, as happened at the Jerusalem Temple in the time of Yeshua (Jesus). The daily water-pouring ceremony with dedicative prayer was a festive way for Elohim’s (God’s) worshippers to ask for His Ruakh Kodesh (Holy Spirit) to pour out upon them in power and life and favor. The water-pouring symbolizes the Ruakh Kodesh’s (Holy Spirit’s) presence and power. Modern believers can conduct similar daily Sukkot prayer ceremonies at home or in sukkah or in group assembly.
We should easily see how Sukkot holiday and its deep meaning goes directly against the spiritual evil, money-love, materialistic idolatry, and proud self-glorification that is so much a part of natural mankind. Sincere believers in Yeshua (Jesus) live earthly life as their wilderness wandering. Believers wait hopefully to enter into their Promised Land home, each in his/her due time.
If we may concisely summarize all of Sukkot’s message, we could state it this way: Creator God is real and all of mankind will experience Him in some way. God controls human lives, whether it appears to be for good or not. Therefore mankind is ultimately accountable to God. Therefore mankind should believe God, honor God, and enjoy brief earthly life in balance while it is.
May our Adonai Elohim (Lord God) and Yeshua (Jesus) our Savior and Shepherd encourage us fully as we endure through these our wilderness wanderings where all material things of this earthly life are temporary and come to an end.
May Father Elohim (God) empower and enlighten us to find our greatest joy and meaning and fulfillment in Him and all that He is.
May the Ruakh Kodesh Elohim (Holy Spirit of God) daily pour out upon His believers to enliven and motivate them in His truth and strength.
May Father Elohim (God) and Adon Yeshua (Lord Jesus) enable us to celebrate and enjoy our short and shallow earthly lives in godly fashion, not permitting any earthly blessing or pleasure to become a false god to us.
(Blessed Feast of Booths!)