Hebrew Roots/Holy Days/Tabernacles/Tabernacles/History of the Feast
HISTORIC OBSERVANCE OF THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
This feast is first mentioned in the scriptures at Sinai with the giving of the Law in Exodus 23:14-16 as the Feast of Ingathering. It was to be celebrated after they entered the land at the end of the year after gathering in the fruits of their labors from the field, as one of the three times in the year which all males were to come and appear before Yahweh God to worship Him. The typology for it was established during their wilderness journey when they dwelt in 'booths' (sukkot)
In The Wilderness
The word 'succot' is first mentioned in the Bible where Jacob built such shelters for his cattle, and the place was thereafter called "Succoth" (Genesis 33:17) The first place where the Israelites camped after coming out of Egypt on their exodus they called Succoth also. (Exodus 12:37; Numbers 33: 5,6)
"In ancient Israel, booths were in common use throughout the land. The Hebrew word sukkah originally meant 'woven.' Temporary shelters were woven together from branches and leaves to protect livestock (Gen.33:17), to provide resting places for warriors during battle (II Samuel 11:11), to shelter watchers in the vineyard (Isaiah 1:8), and to protect the people from the incessant heat of the merciless Middle-Eastern sun. During harvest time, Israelite fields were dotted with such booths, woven hastily together as temporary homes for the harvesters" Mitch and Zhava Glaser in The Fall Feasts of Israel (p.157).
When the Jews left Egypt and began wandering in the barren desert, they were unarmed, unprotected, and left vulnerable to the elements of wind, cold, bandits and animals. Since they were constantly traveling, God instructed them to build flimsy, temporary booths,- called Sukkah - "That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am Yahweh your God" (Lev.23:43).
In the Promised Land
The Feast of Tabernacles was first celebrated by Israel when they were in the Promised Land. It commemorated the wilderness wanderings, and illustrated the Tabernacle in the wilderness, the tent of God, in the midst of the tents of Israel.
The command of God to observe the Festival of Tabernacles comes at the end of Yahweh's commands concerning the Seven Festivals, in Leviticus 23: 34-36. "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, 'The fifteenth day of the seventh month shall be the feast (festival) of tabernacles for seven days unto Yahweh. On the first day shall be an holy convocation; you shall offer an offering made by fire unto Yahweh; on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you, and you shall offer an offering made by fire unto Yahweh; it is a solemn assembly, and you shall do no servile work therein'."
For seven days the people of Israel moved out of their houses and lived, day and night, in small arbors, which could also be called huts, booths, or tabernacles. These were to be temporary shelters made of a few upright posts or poles, with a few rods across the top on which branches of thick trees were laid, to form a 'brush arbor" roof. The succoth were made of four main types of branches, the palm as a symbol of victory. the willow for weeping, the myrtle for joy and the olive to represent fruitfulness.
For an entire week they ate in and socialized in the Sukkah, they learnt Torah in the Sukkah and weather permitting, even slept in the Sukkah. The Sukkah became their temporary home. Deuteronomy 16:15
This Festival was celebrated as a 'harvest home' celebration, for the fruits of the ground had all been successfully harvested by this time in the month of Tishri. They could all celebrate and rejoice in all Yahweh's blessing for the bountiful provision over the year in this festal season.
First Temple Period
The next mention of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Scriptures occurs when Solomon dedicated the newly-constructed Temple of God during his reign. The Temple was dedicated in 1004 B.C., exactly 1000 years before the birth of Y'shua the Messiah, the true living "Temple of God" (John 2:19-21; Eph.2:21-22; 4:15-16).
"And all the men of Israel assembled themselves unto king Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month" (I Kings 8: 2). Also in II Chronicles 7: 8-10.
The Feast was re-instituted and kept in the days of king Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 31: 3).
Whether or not Sukkot (Tabernacles) was regularly celebrated during the period of the first temple is not clear. After the return from Babylon, Nehemiah wrote that from the days of Joshua's crossing into the land of Israel until his own day, the children of Israel had not built the huts of Sukkot (Nehemiah 8:17). But from Nehemiah's time onward, the festival continued to be celebrated during the time of the second temple.
The Second Temple Period
In the seventh month after their return from exile from Babylon to the land of Israel, the priests rebuilt the altar of God to begin to offer the daily offerings. Ezra, a righteous scribe of God, gathered the people and read to them from the law of God (Nehemiah 8: 1-8) on the first day of Tishri, which was the Feast of Trumpets (Nehemia 8: 2).
"They kept also the Feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the custom, as the duty of every day required" (Ezra 3: 4). See also Nehemiah 8:14-18; Psalm 137: 1-5
During the time of the second Temple, festival goers would come up from the nations where they had been dispersed to gather in Jerusalem for this season which was the most joyous of the entire year.
All the caravan trails leading up to Jerusalem were filled with a festive air as the pilgrims journeyed up with their sacrifices and offerings for the feast. Jerusalem itself was festive in garlands of olive, palm, and willow branches and fragrant with fruits and flowers. The atmosphere was filled with the stirring religious ceremonies and festal gatherings, the inspired singing of hymns, the Levitical choir and orchestra playing at the Temple, with lively singing, dancing, feasting and public prayers, and with the processions at the Temple, the joy literally ran over the brim.
At night the city was aglow with the light of the four huge menorahs (75 feet high) which were set up in the temple courtyard and which lit the whole city of Jerusalem with their blazing light. As the mighty torches blazed in the night, The Mishna says that pious worshippers, members of the Sanhedrin, and heads of different religious schools would dance well into the night, holding bright torches and singing psalms of praise to God.
The celebration of the Water-drawing was a highlight of the Feast. It was a happy, even ecstatic occasion, with a torchlight parade, including musicians, priests juggling lighted torches, and dancers, marching to the Temple, at night, as the whole city of Jerusalem was lit up by giant torches and the light of the giant menorahs. As the lyres, drums, cymbals, trumpets, drums and horns played, the Rabbis entertained and clowned, adding to the joy. Not one day of Sukkot passed without joyous festivities that celebrated the happiness of the harvest, and the joy of community. Mishnah (Succah 5)
Feast of Tabernacles in the Time of Y'shua
Many scholars believe Y'shua was born during the Feast of Tabernacles. Matthew Henry states: It is supposed by many that our blessed Saviour was born much about the time of this holiday; then He left his mansions of light above to tabernacle among us (John 1:14), and he dwelt in booths. And the worship of God under the New Testament is prophesied of under the notion of keeping the feast of tabernacles, Zec.14:16. For, [1.] The gospel of Christ teaches us to dwell in tabernacles, to sit loose to this world, as those that have here no continuing city, but by faith, and hope and holy contempt of present things, to go out to Christ without the camp, Heb. 13:13, 14. [2.]
The Bible does not specifically say the date of Jesus’ birth. We know it was not during the winter months (December in our calendar), because the sheep were in the pasture (Luke 2: 8).
In John 7: 2-53 - Ch8, the events of the last Feast of Tabernacles are recorded, where Y'shua reveals Himself as the fulfillment of the symbols used in the feast of Living Water (vs.37-39) and the Light of the world which was symbolised in the giant menorah in the courtyard of the women (8:12).
It was during this Festival of Succoth, that Moses and Elijah, representatives of the Torah and the Prophets, appeared and talked with Y'shua in anticipation of the millennial kingdom which the feast represents.
Peter, suggested building three succoth for them, as required for the festival, indicating that he understood the millennial significance of their appearance in their glorified state (Matthew 17: 1-5).
Continued Observance In the Present Age
Josephus, writing during the first century of our present era, who was also a historian, wrote an account in his Antiquities of the Jews about the celebration of the feast as it was in after the destruction of the Temple. He says, "Upon the fifteenth day of the same month [Tishri, the seventh month], when the season of the year is changing for winter, the law enjoins us to pitch tabernacles in every one of our houses, so that we preserve ourselves from the cold of that time of the year; as also that when we should arrive at our own country, and come to that city that we should have then for our metropolis, because of the temple therein to be built, and keep a festival for eight days... And this is the accustomed solemnity of the Hebrews, when they pitch their tabernacles. (Antiqities, Bk.3, chapter 10, sec.4).
The Jews as well as the believers in Y'shua continued the observance of the feast of Sukkot (tabernacles) after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, making their 'sukkah' in their home, as Josephus records, but otherwise keeping the festivities surrounding the feast for the eight days without the animal sacrifices which were required to be offered at the temple in Jerusalem. Services in the synagogue began to include some of the temple liturgy to compensate the absence of the temple ceremonies for the observance of the feast.
A falling away from keeping the Biblical feasts came from the Hellenistic influence which crept in after the line of apostolic succession came to an end in 135 AD. In the falling away from the apostolic faith in the second century, the Sabbath and the Feasts of Yahweh were among the first things to be abandoned of Biblical truth.
There has been an ongoing historical account of believers throughout the early period after the overthrow of the apostolic government of the Body of Messiah in the areas controlled by the Roman Empire and in Asia, and also before and during the Middle Ages. These continue on into, and through, the Reformation. These Sabbath/Feast-keeping groups, termed Sabbatati by their persecutors, have existed at one stage or another over the greater part of the earth and there has always been a witness to the truth as opposed to the counterfeit harlot system. During the course of history wherever the scriptures have been made available, serious students of the Word have come to the conviction that the Biblical festivals are to be kept, as well as many other neglected truths.
Although it was strongly legislated against, it was such a matter of strong conviction and seen as so central to the faith, that many were willing to be martyred rather than abandon the apostolic doctrines. They were regarded as heretics, and persecuted as such, and a lot of the records of them have come down to us through their persecutors, although there were periods where whole people groups embraced and walked in the true gospel which was handed down from the apostles which they in turn had received from our Master and Saviour, Y'shua the Messiah.
John Chrysostom (347 – 407 CE) preached his homilies "Against the Jews" primarily in order to try to stop the believers at the end of the fourth century observing the Feasts of Yahweh, mentioning the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Tabernacles, the fasts, [i.e. the Day of Atonement]. Chrysostom went on to attack Christians who celebrated the Sabbath and kept the Biblical dietary laws.
In the western section of the Roman Empire, under heavy persecution, there remained groups of believers who adhered to the truth. Lyons in France (fathered by Iranaeus) and Milan in Italy were two main centres which continued for many centuries. They were first called Sabbatati or Insabatati, later being known as Waldensians.
Also in the eastern section of the Roman empire there was more or less a continuous presence of believers who kept the ordinances as they were handed down from the apostles. In some areas they had never been in contact with Rome and there was quite a bit of outreach into other areas as far as India and China in the east and Poland and Russia in the north and the Balkans in the south, with a major revival breaking out in the 7th century.
At the turn of the Millenium, large scale persecution began in western Europe and in 1160 a group called the Publicani were condemned at Oxford in England because they rejected the non-scriptural practices of Catholicism and kept to a literalist interpretation of the Law with all its ordinances. The truth in England took deep root and continued until the Protestant Reformation when the 'reformers' persecuted and imprisoned them.
The Edict of the Faith issued at Valencia from the Inquisition in 1519 reveals that there were three groups who were persecuted. These were - 'Christians' who held to "Judaising" tendencies, actual Jews and Moslems who all rejected Catholic doctrine and practice. It is noted in the edict that among many other things in the Hebrew scriptures - "They observed the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday doing no labour on the Sabbath. They celebrated the feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover with bitter herbs. They fasted on Atonement" (Roth, pp. 77 ff.).
They also kept all the other festivals including the new moons.
The doctrine of the believers in the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries in Europe is recorded by Samuel Kohn as being keepers of the Sabbaths and holy days in the feasts, as well as all the other original doctrines of the Apostles from which the Catholic Church had departed. The Hungarian/Transylvanian sector of these groups in particular had a written hymnal with specific items for Sukkot, as well as all the other festivals. (the Sabbatarians in Transylvania, by Samuel Kohn, trs. T. McElwain and B. Rook, ed. W. Cox, CCG Publishing, USA 1998) One of the sectors of this movement, the Moravians under Zinzendorf, moved from Europe to America in 1741
The Puritans also were among those who went to the new world seeking religious freedom. They sailed from Plymouth, England in 1620 and landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.
They came to the New World primarily to escape the religious persecution which had prevailed in Europe. The Puritans had zealously endeavored to purify the Church of England, with the result that those who felt they could no longer remain with the established church went afterwards by such names as Non-Conformists and Separatists. They were not a small group of people. In England many Puritans sat in Parliament.
The Pilgrim fathers were also a part of this group having first wandered to Holland to find a home where they had religious freedom and then to the New World.
The Puritans viewed the church calendar, which was filled with saints' days and Marian feasts instituted by the Roman Catholic Church, as indicative of the apostasy into which the church had fallen and renounced them. The Puritan Colonists who landed in America who were great students of the Hebrew Scriptures and they based the first American Thanksgiving on Sukkot.
The Hebraic Roots Movement which began mostly in America, is the latest development of Sabbath and Feast observing believers who are returning to the original faith which was once delivered to the saints and turning away from the pagan rites which have been adopted by the Harlot church system.
There are still people-groups who have continued in the apostolic faith since it's inception and continue to celebrate the feasts as they were originally given to them. Some of these are in the more undeveloped areas of the eastern sector of what was once the Roman Empire.
The 'church' in Ethiopia, whose traditions have been kept in an unbroken historical record, is one which has maintained it's original integrity from the time the Ethiopian eunuch, recorded in Acts 8:26-40, who went back and shared the gospel with them. They have kept all the traditions which were delivered to them to this present day, including the celebration of Shabbat and all the Feasts.