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The 7 Biblical Feasts Part 2
Last week we followed the series of God’s Appointed Times developed in Leviticus and refined in Deuteronomy. And, what we saw was that there were several purposes and manifestations of those Biblical Feasts. While we will talk about Sukkot this week, in more detail, it is key to understand that all of the 7 Feasts work together; they are a 7 act play, so to speak. Understanding Sukkot is important; but without seeing where it fits as but one among the other 6 feasts…..even though it represents the Grand Finale….. then we’ll miss the point.
The 7 Biblical feasts were, at their most basic level, agricultural festivals. Each feast was timed to coincide with the seasons of the year, because each season…..spring, summer, fall, and winter…..had connected with it a certain agricultural activity such as planting or harvesting.
Therefore, we find that there are 3 Feasts in the spring, one in the early summer, and 3 more in the fall……for a total of 7.
The 3 spring Feasts are : Pesach, Passover. Followed immediately by Matza, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And, that is immediately followed by Bikkurim, the Feast of Firstfruits. Bikkurim is when the first of the Barley harvest is brought in.
The 1 summer Feast was Shavuot; we know this one better as Pentecost (Pentecost is a Greek word which means “the 50”). Also called by Jews The Feast of Weeks, this feast is to begin precisely 7 weeks plus one day ( 7 weeks equals 49 days, add one more day and we get 50 days), after Bikkurim, Firstfruits. Shavuot is when the first of the WHEAT harvest is brought in (as opposed to Firstfruits, when it is BARLEY that is harvested).
The 3 Fall feasts are Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year. 10 days later is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. And, then 5 days after that is the one we’re going to spend the rest of our time, today, looking at, Sukkot……the Feast of Tabernacles, or The Feast of Booths.
Please notice that the 3 spring feasts are intertwined and begin and end in a very compact period of time….. 8 days. Passover occurs in the Hebrew month of Nissan, and it always begins on the 14th day of Nissan. The next day, Nissan 15, is the first day of the 7 day long celebration of Matza, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And, Nissan 16 is the day of Bikkurim……the Feast of Firstfruits. So, you see how these 3 feasts are not only connected, but they overlap with one another. In fact, it is kind of a traditional shortcut among the Jews to simply call the sum total of these 3 spring feasts Passover or Unleavened Bread.
Now, while Passover, Pesach is indeed a Spring Feast, the one day of Passover, on Nissan 14, is not really an agricultural festival so much as a day of remembrance. It is, for the Jews, to celebrate and remember the day that God forced Pharaoh to release Israel from their captivity in Egypt. More specifically, Passover recalls that great and terrible night that the Lord killed all firstborn of Egypt, including the firstborn or domestic
livestock. Those who followed the Lord’s command to paint the blood of a yearling ram on their doorposts were spared.
In the same way so is Matza not so much an agricultural festival as a remembrance. For this recalls that the people of Israel, in readying for their Exodus, were instructed to prepare bread without the use of yeast, leavening, for their journey. This was because it was going to happen very rapidly……a matter of hours in reality…..that they would be released to leave Egypt, and there would not be time to allow the bread to sit and rise as they normally would.
Firstfruits was indeed all about agricultural, as its immediate point was to give to God the first of the Barley Harvest; and this is part and parcel with the Biblical principle that all firstling….the first of everything……automatically belongs to God.
Shavuot, which celebrated the first of the WHEAT Harvest, was a purely agricultural festival.
Several months later, in the month of Tishri, begins the series of 3 Fall festivals. These are also tightly compacted in time….though not quite so tight or integrated as the Spring
Feasts. From the first feast, Rosh Hashanah, to the BEGINNING of the 3rd feast, Sukkot, is 15 days.
Now, where as the first two spring feasts were memorial days….days of remembrance of things that happened in Israel’s history……the first two fall feasts were religious rituals that exemplified God’s holiness and His justice. Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the religious event calendar year, celebrated new beginnings and repentance. Yom Kippur which followed 10 days later celebrated God’s presence among Israel, and the cleansing
of the Sanctuary of its sin, AND the cleansing of the people of Israel from their sin in the Scapegoat ceremony which was but a part of the Day of Atonement’s rituals.
Then, 5 days later, on Tishri 15, begins The Feast of Tabernacles. Interestingly, right from the beginning, it carried with it BOTH a meaning as a day of remembrance AND as a day of agricultural significance. It was remembering Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the Wilderness, part of their exodus from Egypt, while living in temporary shelter……tents, also referred to as booths or tabernacles….hence the name The Feast of
Tabernacles. Agriculturally, it was to celebrate the last of the harvests. This was the Fall season, so as winter approached, the last little bit of all the various grain and grape harvests was taken, before the growing season came to a close. Agriculturally, this was a time of transition; a transition from ONE growing year to the next. It marked the END of the agricultural year. And, following the end of the agricultural year would come an extended time when there would be neither planting nor harvesting. The plants would decay back into the soil, the ground would rest for a few months, and then would come
early spring and the cycle of planting and harvesting would start all over again.
By our current calendars, we are in the middle of Sukkot. It began on Tuesday, Oct. 18 (technically it began as the sun set on Monday evening Oct. 17, because biblically a day begins and ends at sunset, not by a mechanical clock as made by men). The last day, the 8th day, of Sukkot therefore is this coming Tuesday, and then the day after that is a day of Tradition called Simchat Torah, a day of celebrating the reading of the last section of the yearly reading cycle of the Torah).
Let me whet your appetite a little for learning about Sukkot with this reading taken from the prophetic book of Zechariah.
READ ZECHARIAH 14 all
This is speaking about those days of judgment just ahead and the coming of the Lord….the Day of the Lord. We spoke last week about my firm belief that this will occur during the Fall feasts, otherwise the pattern of the Messiah Yeshua performing His signal works precisely on the feast days would be broken. And, NONE of God’s patterns have EVER been broken. Remember: He was executed on Passover, He entered the tomb on Unleavened Break, He arose on Firstfruits.
Let me point out one other thing: notice the 3-1-3 pattern of the Biblical Feasts: 3 spring feasts clustered together…..then a pause…..then 1 summer feast……then a pause……then the 3 fall feasts clustered together.
The work of Messiah……1st His sacrifice, then His sinless body not decaying in the tomb, and lastly then His resurrection…..all happened in rapid succession, only about 72 hours! This direct work of Messiah all happened on those 3 Spring Feast days.
But, then, there was a pause. The resurrected Messiah, Yeshua, now departs. A little time passes and in His place, the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, is sent. It is a singular, stand alone, event. And, of course, as per the pattern, the Holy Spirit comes on the Feast day of Shavuot….Pentecost.
Now…..since Shavuot….. there is another pause. And, we are today living during the time of that pause. There has been a pause in the direct work of Messiah on earth, since the day of Pentecost. But, if I am right…..and I believe the Bible completely bears this out……when the prophesied return of Yeshua occurs, several things will again begin to happen in rapid succession. First, Messiah arrives on the Mt. of Olives. Next, He begins to judge mankind and separate those who love Him from those who have opposed Him. Part of that process is the Battle of Armageddon, where He fights for Israel. The outcome results in the final ingathering of His Believers and the entry into the 1000 year reign of Christ.
Many who, up until His feet touch down on the top of the Mt. of Olives……and then it dramatically splits……. Had NOT believed and trusted Him, suddenly will. Out of terror and awe, they will. But most of earth’s inhabitants, who are firmly committed to their faith in the Anti-Christ, will stubbornly deny Yeshua, and be lost for all eternity. Those brand new Believers along with those who had long trusted Him, are that FINAL ingathering. Why final? Because when the Day of the Lord, judgment, occurs, those who at that moment do not trust Him, have sealed their fate forever. There is no more 2nd chances to repent. No more do-overs. No more walking down the aisle to confess Christ.
There is coming a moment in the history of the world…..and it is oh, so near…… when we of the church will STOP beseeching the world to repent……because, it will be too late……and forgiveness and mercy are no longer available.
Rosh Hashanah, Tishri 1, Jewish New Year…….will be, in my opinion, that Day of the Lord, when He returns. Yom Kippur will be the day that Yeshua fights for Israel and saves them from the gentile nations and the Evil One. It is the day that all those who rebel against God, are destroyed. The Feast of Tabernacles is the day that the work of judgment is completed, and the only humans who remain on the face of the earth are in the camp of
the Lord; this is the first day of the Millennial Kingdom. All this is described here in Zechariah; but then we get to those important words of verses 16-18. That the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot, will remain a fixture into the Millennial Kingdom and beyond.
There is so much else we could talk about regarding this chapter of Zechariah, and the 1000 year reign and so on, but we need to stop and talk some more about Sukkot. But remember……you and I will be celebrating this Feast, forever. So, let’s understand it and learn HOW to celebrate it.
There are several symbols associated with Sukkot; but two are probably the most outstanding: the Lulav, and the Succah. I’m standing under a Succah as I speak. I hold in my hand a Lulav and etrog…..the etrog is this lemon-like citrus fruit you see. The Lulav consists of these palm branches that are bound together, plus two other types of bush or tree branches. Let’s talk about the Lulav and Etrog.
Now, it might surprise you to know that in the midst of the celebration of Sukkot, in which most elements of it are Tradition and not Biblically called out, the Lulav….which is also spelled L-u-l-a-b……IS commanded in Scripture.
READ LEV. 23:39-41
The Lulav is to consist of 4 parts: the Scripture says those 4 parts are something called 1) choice fruit, 2) palm frond, 3) something called thick branches, and 4) river-willows.
Now, the river-willow and palm frond are explanatory enough; but there was and remains some argument over what is meant by the “thick branches”. Way before Jesus, it was determined that myrtle would be used for the thick branches.
Now, exactly how this Lulav was to be put together is largely Tradition. And, the Tradition is that the palm frond is NOT to be allowed to spread out. Rather, it is to be folded, and held together with a twig and a piece of palm frond wrapped around it to keep it from unfolding. The Myrtle and the river willows are to be tied at the bottom of the unfolded palm frond……and voila! You have a Lulav.
The Etrog has been more of a subject of controversy……and in various Rabbis’ and Sages’ attempts to convince others to their viewpoints on just WHAT that “choice fruit” should be, quite a bit of questionable legend has been employed to win over followers of their beliefs. This yellow, oversized lemon-like fruit you see me holding has become the Traditional solution to the “choice fruit” called for in Lev. 23:40. The so-called Etrog is
of the citrus family, so we’ll see some Bibles call the fruit a “citron”, which is certainly not far off the mark. It is edible, and often IS eaten. Some Jews call the Etrog the “Adam’s apple”, or the “Paradise fruit”…….because some Rabbis have suggested that the Etrog is the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. Your guess as to that speculation is as good as mine.
Now, the way the Lulav was used as part of the Sukkot ritual has varied a bit over time. The primary difference occurred as to WHERE the Lulav was employed. That is, whether at the Temple, in Jerusalem, or someplace else like a synagogue. Because Sukkot was one of the 3 Biblical Feasts that God instructed that a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple was to be made (the other 4 feasts did NOT have a requirement to be present in Jerusalem), then that’s where the Lulav was to be used. Obviously, when there has BEEN no Temple, or when the Jews were in exile, that changed.
During the eras when there was a Temple……and let me point out that the issue of going to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage was to be at the TEMPLE, not simply being in the city of Jerusalem….the Lulav and Etrog were to be held and waved. The Lulav would be held in the right hand, and the Etrog in the left. In the grounds of the Temple area, the worshipper would begin by facing east; he would then start reciting some prescribed prayers, and shake, or wave, the Lulav. He would shake it up and down, side to side, and then turn to the right, face south and do it all again; he’d make another turn to the right, face west, repeat, turn to the right once more, face north and complete the cycle. The symbolism was to announce and acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all of nature; after all, this was an agricultural festival.
Generally, the prayers they spoke were from the Hallel; the Hallel is composed of the Psalms 113 through 118. At least in the 2nd Temple era, the most common Psalm used in the ceremony of the Lulavs was from Psalms 118, verses 1-4. As you think about what we talked about earlier, that Sukkot will be practiced by all Believers, on into the Millennium and beyond…..and if you’ll contemplate that it certainly appears that the Feast of Tabernacles will be the entry into the Millennium……listen to the words of these verses as spoken by the ancient Hebrews, as they shook those Lulavs at the Temple:
NAS Psalm 118:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 2 Oh let Israel say, "His lovingkindness is everlasting." 3 Oh let the house
of Aaron say, "His lovingkindness is everlasting." 4 Oh let those who fear the LORD say, "His lovingkindness is everlasting."
EVERLASTING lovingkindness is the theme. How much more appropriate it will be that day that we’re all in Jerusalem, facing our Lord and shaking our Lulavs, during His 1000 reign, saying adoringly to Him…… “your lovingkindness is everlasting”.
In addition, after some sacrifices were made, there would be a parade around the altar of the Temple, where the Lulavs would be carried. They would circle it once each day for the 1st six days, and circle it 7 times on the 7th day.
As for the Etrog, it was customary, at the end of Sukkot, to give the Etrogs to the children for them to eat.
All that I’ve just told you takes place in Jerusalem, at the Temple. But, since it was MEN who were required to make Pilgrimage……not children and not women, though at times
a man’s family would go as well……there were requirements and customs to be observed back on the home-front. And, the main one was the building and living in a Succah.
Now, I’m not going to get into all the various requirements for a Kosher Succah. For one reason, various Rabbis have differing requirements for the materials, the size, how the materials are applied, when the Succah must be used, etc. The Bible gives us very little requirements other than a person must build one and LIVE IN IT for the entire time of the Feast of Tabernacles. Now, that doesn’t mean a person had to STAY in the Succah and never leave it. If a person had to tend his flocks or cook a meal, or whatever, he could certainly go outside. The idea was, move out of your house and into a Succah for the Feast of Tabernacles.
Generally speaking, the use of the Succah has reduced to sleeping in it and dining in it. The most observant Jews go so far as to work in it. In fact, there is a whole industry of small, portable Succah makers, enabling folks to carry around and erect these very small Sukkahs at their workplace, so they can perform their jobs, particularly when it’s a deskjob.
Further, if there is one point of agreement, it is that the roof of the Succah must be of palm branches, but they must not be so thick such that one can not see the stars. In Israel, today, city dwellers in particular find building a Succah to be challenging
……particularly if you live in an apartment; because another general requirement is that they be outdoors. So, as one travels through cities in Israel during Sukkot, you’ll see these odd structures on tiny balconies of high-rise apartment buildings. Hotels will erectSukkahs on outside Patios for their patrons, as will cafes.
It is the RARE individual in Israel, however, that actually lives in a Succah during Sukkot. Rather, they either don’t have one at all, or they will take their meals in one. But, just as Lulavs and Etrogs are Biblically mandated, so are Sukkahs. So, we can kind of laugh and scoff at the idea of it all, but perhaps we should rethink it. After all, the vast majority of Christians today take all our supposed devotion to Jesus and the Holy Scriptures, and set it aside in the way we celebrate Easter and Christmas. I mean, we color chicken eggs and hide them for children to find? Just exactly what Scripture are we fulfilling when we do that? We buy our kids giant chocolate bars in the shape of Rabbits,
and then turn around and tell them that the Easter Bunny is coming? Could some one fill me in on the spiritual significance, or the God-principle we are remembering with that? How WEIRD are those practices in the first place? How about we top it all off with celebrating the resurrection of our Jewish Messiah with a meal often consisting of a nice big thick slab of pig…..ham? How much we like to say in our meal blessing, ‘Jesus, come and sit at our table with us’. Right, and our offer to Him is food He would never have touched. Every one of these things…..which, frankly are the main events and the focus of modern Church Easter celebrations……are, without question, following the practice of pagan fertility ritual, and anti-Semitism. I know we haven’t necessarily intended it that way; but that is the result. We’ve just pretty much merrily gone along without really examining the things we do….supposedly FOR God. If we’re going to do something that is pretty strange looking in honor of our Lord…..maybe we ought to put away the egg dye and cellophane fake grass in favor of an honest attempt at celebrating Festivals that God says HE WANTS US TO CELEBRATE, and even tells us when and to a small degree how.
So, let’s kind of pause and review where we stand; during Sukkot, the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, every family is to construct and live in a Succah. Every male, 13 years of age and older, is to go to the Temple in Jerusalem, make a series of sacrifices, and personally participate in the waving of the Lulav. Much prayer is offered up during this serious but joyous time of remembrance of the 40 years God spent forming Israel into a
nation set-apart for Himself, during their exodus from exile in Egypt.
The Bible commands, in Leviticus, that the first day and the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles are to be Sabbaths. Not THE Sabbath, but other Sabbaths. By calling these other non-7th day Sabbaths, Sabbaths, I am using the common way of speaking as among Jews and Christians. Actually, however, this is both sloppy scholarship and a poor use of the word Sabbath; because the Torah does NOT designate these as Sabbath (Hebrew, Shabbat) days. Rather, the words are typically kodesh mikra……a holy convocation. In other words, these are to be days of assembling together. Because these designated days
of kodesh mikra have a requirement to cease from normal work…..which is necessary in order for God’s people to come together in assembly……over the centuries the word Sabbath has been used to connote these special days. This is a sad error that has led to much confusion.
Further, the day AFTER the end of the 7 days of the Feast of Tabernacles…..in the Torah it is referred to as the 8th day…….is also a kodesh mikra……one of those “other” Sabbaths.
But, other things went on as part of Sukkot ritual as well. The Levites had a choir that would play instruments and sing Psalms. These Levite musicians were not priests. Remember now, that while the Temple priests came from the tribe of Levi, it was from ONLY one particular family of Levites that a person could be a priest…..the family descended from Aaron. All other Levites could NOT be priests, but they did have Temple duties ranging from cleaning up the place, to being guardians of the Temple, to being musicians. It’s always well to remember that the Temple guard we read of in the New Testament did not consist of Romans (no gentile was allowed in the Temple
grounds)…..it wasn’t even ordinary Jews……it was made up entirely of Levites.
When there was a Temple, one of the highlights….perhaps the most mesmerizing and awesome part of the daily Sukkot ritual…….was the water libation ceremony. I spoke of this a couple of months ago, but I’d like to bring it up again, so great is its significance.
The libation ceremony is called in Hebrew necek. This libation offering usually consists of water or wine or both. The one for Sukkot is a water libation. And, without going into all the detail of the actual ritual, let me just say that water is put into a golden pitcher, and then it is poured out by a priest at the Temple, each day of Sukkot.
What is the meaning of this water libation? Simple, really. Recalling that all these feasts are agricultural-based, and that the Feast of Tabernacles, Succoth, occurs at the FINAL harvest of the season, before new crops are planted, the water libation is connected with the plea to Yahweh for rain.
As very little is said in the Torah of just HOW the water libation ritual was to be accomplished, traditions were developed on its proceedings; and, of course, these traditions changed over time.
In general, it operated like this: the High Priest would take that golden pitcher, go outside the city walls and down to the Pool of Siloam and fill it with about a liter of water. In the meantime, some other priests went to another pool of water where willows grew; they gathered the willows and laid these long willow branches against the sides of the Great Altar of Burnt Offering, such that they extended above the platform and formed kind of a canopy.
The High Priest would then walk in holy procession to a special gate in the thick walls that protected and surrounded the Holy City: the Watergate (it got its name because of this exact ceremony). He would wait there until some Levite musicians sounded 3 loud trumpet blasts, and then he would go to the Great Altar, and in front of large crowds pour the water out while saying in a loud voice: “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” Isa. 12:3. As the High Priest was pouring the water out of his pitcher, another priest poured wine out of a similar pitcher; when that was done, music was played by the Levites and then the crowd would recite one of the Hallel portions, Psalm 118:25: “ Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity”. This song was called the Hosanna (Hoshanah). During this song, scores of priests would
march around waving palm branches.
The last day of the Feast of Tabernacles is like the grand finale. Tradition even gave that last day a special name: Hoshana Rabbah. On that last day, all the rituals were even grander, and the people even more expectant. On all other days of the feast, the High Priest came through the Watergate with his golden vessel full of water, taken from the Pool of Siloam, and his signal to walk through the gate was the sound of 3 trumpet blasts.
But on the last day of Sukkot, the Levites blew 7 trumpet blasts, and then repeated it 3 times. The crowds waited in great anticipation of this moment, in which the feast was drawn to a close. The High Priest then solemnly proceeded up the several steps to the Altar and waited until the crowd quieted and gave him all their attention. Then, with great drama, he lifted the water libation vessel and poured out it’s contents for the last
time……not to be done again until next year.
The water libation ceremony was THE highlight of Sukkot. The FINAL day’s libation ceremony was like when the fireworks end the day at Disney…..the best was saved for last. It was during the moment of the final day’s water libation ceremony, that we read of Yeshua shouting this out to the thousands who were standing, smashed together in silence, staring in awe as the High Priest held that shiny gold vessel shoulder high and
away from his body, and then tipped it ever so slightly so as to allow the water to pour slowly and with great drama. And, in John 7 we are told that at that very moment Jesus turned and shouted this to the multitude: “ If any man is thirsty, let him come to ME and drink.”
It’s amazing they didn’t kill him right there on the spot. Just think about the words the High Priest had just spoken: “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of
salvation”, to which Jesus responds, “if any man is thirsty, let him come to ME and drink.” He pronounced Himself to be that well of salvation, and the people and the priests knew that was exactly what He meant.