In late September, just past, the global Chinese community celebrated the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival. However, for the Jewish people, the end of September to the beginning of October is their traditional major festival—the Feast of Tabernacles. This week’s pastoral sharing invites us to briefly revisit the origin of the Feast of Tabernacles and once again reflect on its significance for Christians.
In ancient Israel, there were three major pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was the last of these festivals. It usually falls between September and October in the solar calendar, and this year’s Feast of Tabernacles began at sundown on September 30th and ended at sundown on October 6th. “Tabernacles” is the Hebrew word Sukkot, meaning booths or temporary shelters. According to the scriptures in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29, five days after the sacred Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, a seven-day celebration, commenced. During this time, the Israelites were commanded to offer sacrifices as instructed by God and dwell in a temporary structure covered with branches or leaves on top. This was to commemorate the time when God led the Israelites out of Egypt, and they lived in temporary shelters. While Pentecost celebrated the spring harvest, the Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the autumn harvest, earning it the name “Feast of Ingathering.” God commanded the Israelites to rejoice before Him with the produce of the land during this festival. Therefore, the Israelites would place various fruits and crops in the temporary booths. The Feast of Tabernacles was a joyous occasion. At its conclusion, the Israelites would pray for the coming of autumn rains, seeking the Lord’s blessing on next year’s harvest.
Indeed, the Feast of Tabernacles is a festival full of symbolism. Its establishment foreshadowed the birth of the future Messiah. Apostle John tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Matthew also informs us that Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God with us, willingly dwelling among humanity. Furthermore, the establishment of the Feast of Tabernacles foreshadows the future new heaven and new earth, where God’s tabernacle is among humans, and He will dwell with them. At that time, all nations will turn to the supreme and eternal God.
Today, during the Feast of Tabernacles, many Jewish families build temporary booths on their terraces or in their gardens. They eat in these booths, and some even sleep in them. Since the destruction of the Second Temple seventy years after the self-determination of Israel, Jews cannot sacrifice in the temple anymore. Therefore, modern-day Jews read the book of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to remind themselves to fear the Lord, who created heaven and earth.
For Christians, the Feast of Tabernacles carries multiple reminders. However, the central message of the Feast of Tabernacles remains that God is with us. When the Israelites left Egypt, God, with a mighty hand, parted the waters of the Red Sea to save them. During their journey in the wilderness, God, in His faithfulness and love, provided the Israelites with an abundance of manna. The Israelites entered into the presence of God and experienced the miracles He performed. Today, each of us faces different circumstances, perhaps at life’s peaks or in its valleys. The Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that, regardless of our situation, just as God dwelt with the Israelites in the wilderness in the past, He is still with us today. Some say, “Everything has a crack; that’s how the light gets in.” This worldly philosophy resonates with our faith. Life will inevitably bring challenges, and in those difficulties, the grace of God often shines through.