Distinctives of the Feast of Tabernacles 1: Dwelling in Booths

Perhaps the most distinctive of the Feast of Tabernacles is that you are to live in temporary dwellings, or literally “booths”. Sometimes this word is translated “tent” or “tabernacle”, but it is actually a broader category than that.

Three things specially marked the Feast of Tabernacles: its joyous festivities, the dwelling in ‘booths,’ and the peculiar sacrifices and rites of the week….

As usual, we are met at the outset by a controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The law had it (Lev 23:40): ‘Ye shall take you on the first day the fruit (so correctly in the margin) of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook,’ which the Sadducees understood (as do the modern Karaite Jews) to refer to the materials whence the booths were to be constructed, while the Pharisees applied it to what the worshippers were to carry in their hands. The latter interpretation is, in all likelihood, the correct one; it seems borne out by the account of the festival at the time of Nehemiah (Neh 8:15,18), when the booths were constructed of branches of other trees than those mentioned in Leviticus 23; and it was universally adopted in practice at the time of Christ.

~ Edersheim, Alfred. (27 May 2001 for online edition). The Feast of Tabernacles. In The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (Chapter 14). Retrieved from: http://philologos.org/__eb-ttms/temple14.htm.

According to Jewish tradition, sukkah are built from organic materials (see Wikipedia article on Sukkah), it seems in spite of the distinction the Pharisees made about whether the organic materials were to be used to carry about or construct the booths. However, when it comes to people, the meaning of “sukkah” is more in line with “temporary shelter” or perhaps “tent made of curtains”. In other words, a hotel room could serve as the modern equivalent of “temporary dwelling”.

A hotel or motel room may not seem as temporary, though, and some feel that takes away from what we are meant to experience during the Feast. Some will actually stay in tents during the Feast for that reason. Legacy Institute actually builds a sukkah and leaves it up for a couple of days during the Feast (no one stays in it, though, and it is inside to boot).

There are actually 2 mindsets going on here similar to divide between the Sadducees and Pharisees, although it may not be immediately obvious. The first mindset is that God pointed out to Israel that He made them dwell in booths when they came out of Egypt (Lev 23:43). They naturally would have stayed in some sort of tents when they wandered the wilderness. The other mindset is that of organic material, reflected in the construction of sukkah by boughs and branches.

However, both eventually bring you to the same point: It is all temporary. This physical existence ain’t it, folks! We will eventually die. Our bodies will decompose. We will return to the dirt and minerals we are made of, in spite of any embalming.

Since the Feast also pictures the Millennium, a time of peace and joy throughout the world, it seems odd that temporary be a key theme. However, it will be a time of peace and joy on the physical earth with physical people, and we all know that the physical is temporary! After the 1,000 years are over, Satan is released for a short while, he tries to attack Jerusalem, he is put away forever, we have the second resurrection, and then what happens? The entire earth is engulfed in flames. Even the Millennium is a type when you properly consider it!

Some scoff at the enjoyment of physical things at the Feast, but is that wrong? God tells us to rejoice at His feasts throughout Lev 23 and elsewhere. We are physical creatures, after all.

18Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.

19Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.

20For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, King James Version)

But, we must also remember that there is a time even beyond the Millennium when the spiritual and everlasting permanence of God’s Kingdom is set.

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