33 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 34 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the Lord. 35 On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. 36 For seven days you shall present food offerings to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the Lord. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work.
37 “These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the Lord food offerings, burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day, 38 besides the Lord’The s Sabbaths and besides your gifts and besides all your vow offerings and besides all your freewill offerings, which you give to the Lord.
39 “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. 40 And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. 41 You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 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: I am the Lord your God.”
44 Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed feasts of the Lord. – Leviticus 23:33-44 ESV
Five days after the Day of Atonement, on the 15th day of Tishri, the people of Israel were to celebrate the last of the seven feasts on Israel’s religious calendar. This feast goes by many names, including the Feast of Booths and the Feast of Tabernacles. Earlier in Israel’s history, it was known as the Festival of the Final Harvest (Exodus 23:16) or the Festival of Ingathering. Today it is known by its Hebrew name, Sukkot or Succoth, which can be translated as “booth” or “tabernacle,” and most often refers to a temporary shelter.
This seven-day-long festival came in the autumn, at the end of the harvest season, and was intended to be a time of thanksgiving and rejoicing. After months of laboring in the fields, orchards, and vineyards, the Israelites would have enjoyed the benefit of all their hard work. Their granaries would have been full. The threshing floors would have been busy. All the wine and olive presses would have been operating at full capacity. And it was at this time of fruitfulness and abundance that God called His people to spend seven days feasting and rejoicing in His presence.
“You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because 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 joyful.” – Deuteronomy 16:13-15 ESV
The Feast of Booths was one of three major holy days that required the Israelites to gather “at the place that the Lord will choose” (Deuteronomy 16:15 ESV). This is a reference not only to the Tabernacle but to the location within the land of Canaan where the Tabernacle would eventually reside. Once they conquered the land of Canaan, the Tabernacle would cease to be a temporary or portable structure. It would be set up as a permanent sanctuary to the Lord in the land that He had promised to His chosen people. After Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and began their conquest of the land, they erected the Tabernacle in Gilgal, there it remained for seven years. Later, it was relocated to Shiloh, where it remained until the period of the Judges. In time, it was moved to Nob and Gibeon and then, during the reign of King David, it was moved to its final location in Jerusalem.
During the Feast of Booths, the Israelites were commanded to leave their homes and live in temporary shelters built within sight of the Tabernacle. These “booths” were to be constructed “from magnificent trees—palm fronds, boughs from leafy trees, and willows that grow by the streams” (Leviticus 23:40 NLT). Gathered from the lush and leafy trees that filled the land, these branches were to be used to make temporary shelters in which the Israelites would reside during the seven days of the festival.
God provides an explanation for this rather strange housing arrangement.
“This will remind each new generation of Israelites that I made their ancestors live in shelters when I rescued them from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 23:43 NLT
One of the things God knew about His people was that they would be prone to self-sufficiency and forgetfulness. He would later remind them of their need to remember all that He had done for them.
“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.” – Deuteronomy 8:2-5 NLT
He was leading them to “a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking” (Deuteronomy 8:8-9 NLT). And this fruitful land, “of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills” (Deuteronomy 8:7 NLT) could prove to be a problem for God’s people if they were not careful. That’s why God warned them:
“Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God…” – Deuteronomy 8:11-14 NLT
God knew that their success in the land would inflate their sense of self-worth and bolster their tendency toward self-sufficiency. And Moses reminded them that all the miraculous acts of provision and providence God did for them in the wilderness had been so they could never say in the future, “I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy” (Deuteronomy 8:17 NLT).
God wanted them to remember that He was their sole provider and protector. He was the one who gave them the land in the first place. It was He who caused the trees to bear fruit and the fields to yield grain. The rivers and streams that provided them with fresh water were gifts from Yahweh. Everything the Israelites would enjoy in the land of Canaan would be the result of God’s grace and mercy. And it is important to remember that this decree to celebrate the Feast of Booths came long before the people ever entered the land of Canaan. In fact, it would be more than four decades before the Israelites ever set foot in the promised land and enjoyed the fruits of its bounty.
But when they eventually did, God wanted them to be prepared to give Him thanks for all that He had done. Each day of the feast was to be marked by sacrifices and the book of Numbers provides the details concerning these elaborate and costly offerings. On the first day, they were to offer “thirteen bulls from the herd, two rams, fourteen male lambs a year old” (Numbers 29:13 ESV). These were to be accompanied by grain and drink offerings. On the second day, they were required to offer “twelve bulls from the herd, two rams, fourteen male lambs a year old without blemish” (Numbers 29:17 ESV). This pattern would continue over the next five days, with the number of bulls that were offered decreasing by one each day, until on the seventh day, they offered “seven bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs a year old without blemish” (Numbers 29:32 ESV). In total, 70 bulls, 14 rams, 98 lambs, and 7 goats were to be sacrificed as burnt offerings to Yahweh.
It is important to note that this festival was inaugurated long before the Israelites entered the land of Canaan. In a time when they were living in tents and still eating manna and quail provided for them by God, they were expected to celebrate this festival that marked God’s bountiful provision. In doing so, the Israelites would be looking back on their time as slaves in Egypt, but they would also be looking forward to the day when they would enjoy all the blessings of the land of promise. Their God was good, gracious, and faithful to keep His promises. During a time when they owned no land to till, had no houses in which to live, or possessed no vineyards from which to harvest fruit or grapes, they were still expected to honor God for His faithfulness and abundant provision.
As Moses would later remind them, God had been abundantly faithful to them.
“Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good.” – Deuteronomy 8:15-16 NLT
In the months and years ahead, the Israelites would continue to learn of the faithfulness of God. He would guide them and provide for them all during their days in the wilderness. Their shoes and clothes would not wear out. Their stomachs would never be empty. Their need for water would never go unmet. God would provide. But He expected them to honor His provision by giving Him the honor He was due. Right now, they needed Him and they knew it. But the day would come when they entered the land and they grew fat and happy because of its abundant provision for all their needs. They would forget their past and place all their hope for the future in their own ability to provide for themselves. But these feasts were intended to serve as powerful reminders of God’s power and provision. That is why Moses told them, “Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful” (Deuteronomy 8:18 NLT).
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.