Sukkot is an annual reminder of God’s provision during Israel’s 40-year wilderness sojourn. It is also known as the “Feast of Ingathering,” because it was observed after all crops had been harvested and gathered.
Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field.
You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.
This feast occurs on the 15th day of Tishri, the 7th month (usually late September to mid-October), only 5 days after the solemn Day of Atonement. It lasts for 7 days (8 days outside of Israel). The 1st day and the day after Sukkot are considered sacred assemblies, or sabbaths (Lev. 23:36, 39). As such, no work of any kind is permitted on these.
The Modern Observance
The primary symbol of Sukkot is the sukkah or tabernacle. It recalls Israel’s hastily-built housing in the wilderness. As soon as Yom Kippur is past, booths are constructed in yards and patios of Jewish homes. The booths are made with at least three walls that are covered with intertwined branches.
The roofs are thatched so there is more shade than sunlight during the day, but sparsely enough to allow the stars to be seen at night. Inside they are decorated with colorful harvest fruits and vegetables. During the Feast of Tabernacles, Jewish families eat their meals in their sukkah, and the very observant even sleep in them. It’s considered a good deed (mitzvah) to invite others into your sukkah.
Say “Chag Sameach!” (Happy Holiday) to wish someone a Happy Sukkot!
Rabbis have commanded that four species (arbat ha’minim) be held in a bundle and waved during Sukkot. The waving of the four species in every direction symbolizes the harvest and God’s presence throughout the entire world. These four items are plants mentioned in Scritpure and include: an etrog (citrus fruit), lulav (palm frond), hadas (leaves from the myrtle tree), and aravah (willow tree leaves). This ceremony of waving the four species in the air was performed in the Temple. Many modern synagogues continue this practice.
The Biblical Observance
Three portions of Scripture outline the biblical observance of Sukkot:
Leviticus 23:33-43 – the people were to live in booths and rejoice before the Lord with branches
Numbers 29:12-39 – there were to be many daily, sacrificial offerings
Deuteronomy 31:10-13 – in a sabbatical year, the Law was to be publicly read during this feast
It was one of the three pilgrim feasts. Three times during the year, all Jewish males were required to appear before the Lord in the Temple (The Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles) – Exodus 23:17; 34:22-23; Deuteronomy 16:16.
In the days of the Temple, Jewish pilgrims came in great numbers to Jerusalem. Once they arrived, they focused their energies on building booths for the feast. All of the thousands of booths that lined the streets, fields and hills were carefully located within a Sabbath’s day journey (a little more than a ½ mile) of the Temple. At sundown, the blast of the Shofar from the Temple announced the arrival of the holiday.
During this feast, the people brought their tithes and offerings to the Temple, they were not to “appear before the LORD empty-handed” (Deut. 16:16). We can see how important this feast is by the number of sacrifices required during the feast week. Each day one goat, fourteen lambs, 2 rams, and a number of bullocks (thirteen) on the 1st day,(decreasing by 1 each day) were offered in the Temple. Each of the sacrifices was offered with its appropriate meal offerings (flour and oil) and drink offerings (wine). All 24 divisions of priests shared in the sacrificial duties during the week.
It was during this feast that Solomon dedicated the newly-built Temple to the Lord (2 Chronicles 5:3). At this time, the Shekinah glory of the Lord descended from Heaven to light the fire on the altar and fill the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 7:1-10).
God Gathers His people
The Bible speaks of the final judgment as a harvest (Hosea 6:11; Joel 3:13; Matt. 13:39; Rev. 14:15). It is a future Day of Ingathering when God gathers His people unto Himself and burns the wicked like chaff and stubble.
For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts,“so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.
When the Messiah sets up His millennial kingdom, He will gather the remnant of Israel back to her land. Isaiah described this event as the harvesting of olives. Tree branches are beaten with rods and the olive berries gathered once they fall to the ground. See Isaiah 27:12-13; 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:7-8.
The righteous among the Gentiles, too, will be gathered to the Lord. In that day, the Gentiles will pray in Jerusalem. See Zech. 14:16-17.
The Gentile nations that refuse to keep the Feast of Tabernacles in the millennial kingdom will receive no rain upon their lands. This passage provided the biblical basis for the tradition of praying for land during the Feast of Tabernacles (Howard/Rosenthal 145-6).
The Lord will not only gather His people, but He will tabernacle in their midst during the coming messianic kingdom – see Ezek. 37:27-28; cf. Rev. 21:3.
The sign of God’s presence, the Shekinah glory, will be seen in Zion again (Is. 60:1, 19; Zech. 2:5). It will appear as a shining fire over the whole of Mount Zion. It will be like a tabernacle, providing protection and refuge for the nation after centuries of persecution and the time of Jacob’s sore trouble.
[T]hen the Lord will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain.