The Meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles

By Randall E. Ricker

Welcome to the Feast of Tabernacles with the Great Lakes Church of God. During the Feast and Last Great Day, we have the opportunity to get away from home and think about the plan of God for eight days.  The plan of God is the most important thing taking place on the earth today; it is restoring God’s government to the world!

Every day during the Feast, we will have instruction about God’s plan, how He wants His people to live during the Millennium, and how we must be living right now.  We want to try to live like the people will live in the Millennium.  Physically we will try to enjoy some nicer things that will remind us of the prosperity that people will have in the Millennium, and in the spiritual sense, we will practice the way of love and outgoing concern toward each other that everyone will be practicing during Christ’s reign.

Some may believe that the Feast of Tabernacles is only an Old Testament festival, but that is untrue.  John 7:1-2 calls it the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles because the apostle John was writing mainly to Gentiles at the time.  In other words, these were the people who were not Jews and who never would have heard of the Feast of Tabernacles since at that time, only the Jews were keeping the Feast.  John 7:3-11 tells us that the Jews knew that Jesus Christ would be at the Feast.

Continue reading John 7:12-14.  Jesus Christ went to the Feast, even though there were people who would have liked to have killed Him at that time.  Jesus Christ knew it was important that He should go to the Feast.  If anyone had a reason not to go to the Feast, Christ certainly did; yet He went anyway.

In the Old Testament of the Bible we are commanded to keep the Feast.  In Leviticus 23 we have a listing of all the holy days of God (all of the festivals).  Verse 34 talks about the seventh month of God’s sacred calendar: it is not the calendar we use in the world today.

In Leviticus 23:35-37, we see that on the first day of the Feast and on the eighth day we are to have a holy convocation (in other words, a Church service).  These verses talk about physical sacrifices, but the New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ fulfilled the physical sacrifices.  We are not required to do them anymore, so we do not. We are instructed to keep the Feast, and we are to have a holy convocation the first and last days and also to meet on the other days as well.

Let’s continue now in verse 38 of Leviticus 23:  “‘…besides the Sabbaths of the Lord, besides your gifts, besides all your vows, and besides all your free-will offerings which you give to the Lord.  Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land…’”  Remember that word, “gathered.”  We’ll come back to it in a few minutes.   “‘…when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the Feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a Sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a Sabbath-rest.’”  The first day of the Feast and the eighth day (the Last Great Day) are to be days of rest, and we are not to be working on those days.

As we study the Bible, we find that the festivals are based on the harvest year in Palestine, where the Israelites first settled.  In that area, as well as in many parts of the world, there are two harvest seasons: a small spring harvest and a later, larger autumn harvest. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Feast comes at the autumn harvest.  The spring harvest in Palestine would start during the Days of Unleavened Bread and would be finished by Pentecost.  In the northern United States where I lived, we used to see the spring harvest start around July 1st, usually with the wheat being harvested.  The larger autumn harvest can be seen taking place at the Feast time in the United States, and in Palestine, which is a warmer climate, that harvest would be complete by now.

Leviticus chapter 23:40-42 instructs us to dwell in booths.  “Booth” just means a temporary dwelling place.  In our modern society our temporary dwelling might be a hotel room or a tent.

Let’s keep reading in Leviticus 23:43-44.  Verse 43 gives the reason that Old Testament Israel kept the Feast: they kept it so that they would know that God had made their ancestors dwell in booths when they came out of Egypt.  For them it was a harvest festival, and it was a commanded reminder that their ancestors had come out of Egypt and stayed in temporary dwellings.

Turn in your Bibles to Colossians chapter 2 for the spiritual meaning of the Feast.  As we study, we are going to find that the Feast of Tabernacles pictures the Millennium (the one-thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on the earth).  Read Colossians 2:16-17.  I am reading from the New King James Version, but there are some errors in this translation.  Firstly, in verse 17 it says, “but the substance is of Christ.”  That word “substance” is better translated as “body.”  It should read, “but the body is of Christ.”  Also the word “is” is not really supposed to be there.  In some Bibles it is shown in italics, indicating that it was added by the translators because they really did not know what else to do with this verse.  So, properly translated, the last half of verse 17 is, “but the body of Christ.”  Now we can understand this better.

We know what the body of Christ is: Colossians 1:18 tells us that the body is the Church.  Colossians 2:16 is saying, let no one judge you in festivals but the body of Christ.  In other words, the body of Christ (the Church) determines how we keep the festivals.  We have learned through the Church what the festivals are and how to keep them.

There is more to this verse than that, however, because verse 17 of Colossians 2 talks about festivals, Sabbaths, etc., “which are a shadow of things to come.”  Think of it this way: if a person is walking toward you with the sun at his back, his shadow is going to reach you first.  His shadow has come ahead of him. These festivals are coming ahead of events in God’s plan, and they are showing us in advance something that is to happen.  The Feast foreshadows a future event in God’s plan.

When we were reading Leviticus 23, I told you to remember that the word “gathered” was used in the verse.  It said, “when you have gathered in the fruit of the land.” That is important, because we are going to look at a future gathering or harvest that this Feast pictures in Exodus 23.

This is another chapter where most of the holy days are listed.  Exodus 23:14-16 talks about the Feast of Pentecost (the firstfruits harvest) and then mentions the larger fall harvest in conjunction with “gathering,” referring to the Feast of Tabernacles at the end of the harvest year.  That is what we are observing today (the Feast of Tabernacles).  Again, remember there are two harvests:  the firstfruits harvest and the great autumn harvest.

Jeremiah chapter 3 shows us a  future time of ingathering that is pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles.  Verse 17:  “‘At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it [there is that word “gathered” again], to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem.  No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts.’”

This is a future time when all nations are gathered to Jerusalem (the throne of the Lord); we know it has to be in the future since it hasn’t happened yet.  People clearly haven’t given up their evil hearts yet, and even in the Church, our hearts are far from perfect.

Isaiah chapter 66:18 also talks about a time after the return of Jesus Christ, a time of gathering that has not yet occurred as all nations have not yet seen Christ’s glory.

The final book of the Bible describes a time after Jesus Christ has returned, and after Satan the devil has been put away and bound for a thousand years.  Revelation 20:4 describes people living and reigning with Christ for a thousand years, being kings with Christ and having thrones.  These are the people who were beheaded for their witness to Jesus, people who physically died (were martyred).

Another way to think of it is this: all of us have repented, have been baptized, have received God’s Holy Spirit, and have given our lives to God.  In a sense, we have all died to God.  We have given our lives to God, saying, “Whatever You want to do with my life, You may have it.”  We made a covenant with God so that we agreed to live as He wants us to live.  We repented, and we will live a life of growing and overcoming.  We agreed, and we have been given God’s Holy Spirit.  We will be given eternal life if we keep our part of the covenant!  We have the opportunity to be in the Millennium and rule as kings.

Verses 5 and 6 tell us that those who have given their lives to God will not only be reigning as kings, but will also be priests of Christ.  The priests’ main job was to teach: we will be teaching people in the Millennium God’s way of life.

During this one-thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on the earth, Satan will have been banished already.  God’s Holy Spirit will be made available to everyone, and it will be a wonderful time. The Millennium is the ingathering period that is pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles, when all of the people who are alive will be gathered in and learning God’s way of life.  They eventually will become part of God’s family.

Deuteronomy 14:22-23 instructs us on a few of the more practical aspects of the Feast.  It’s logical to ask, if we are going away from home for eight days (seven days for the Feast plus the Last Great Day), how do we get the money to do this?  God included instruction on that as well with the concept of second tithe.

One of the reasons to keep the Feast is to learn to fear the Lord our God.  This does not mean to be afraid and in terror of God; this means to have a proper respect for God and a proper reverence for God.  The Feast pictures a time when everyone will have that proper reverence for God and God will be first in their lives.  Remember the way God’s law is summarized: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  People will doing that while loving their neighbors as themselves.

Deuteronomy 14:24-25 tells us that the tithe is not just referring to farm commodities, but also to money.  Those of us who make our income in ways other than farming still save a second tithe.  We take it to the Feast and use it for our expenses there.

Verse 26 describes a time of rejoicing;  the Feast of Tabernacles is a time of rejoicing, but it also looks forward to a future time of rejoicing as well. Imagine how people will be rejoicing after Jesus Christ has taken His position as King of kings over the earth, with everyone living God’s way of life in peace.

As we read these verses in Deuteronomy 14, we can see that this is not the same as the first tithe that we pay.  The first tithe was to be given to the Levites for the ministry and for the maintenance of the temple.  In our time now, first tithe is used for the work of God to help the Church to prepare the bride and also to preach the gospel of the kingdom to the world as we are able.

The second tithe, however, is the money that people were actually able to take with them and spend on whatever their heart desires, as it says.  Of course, this is within God’s law.  They could spend it on various types of food, as the verse mentions oxen and sheep (beef and lamb, for example), or on wine or similar drink.  Obviously this is not to the point of getting drunk, because God’s law does not allow that, but one could have a drink if one wanted to.  It says, “whatever your heart desires.”

Years ago I was talking a man who was a farmer.  Depending on when his crops came in, he knew that he would have more or less second tithe to spend at the Feast.  If he had his harvest completed before the Feast, then he had a lot of second tithe.  If the harvest could not be done until after the Feast because of the weather, that year he would not have as much second tithe.  In years with plentiful second tithe, he saved the extra to use during the next year.  In our society right now, most of us are not farmers, and we’re able to use our other incomes for our tithes.

The Feast of Tabernacles is a very special time of the year.  During the Feast we have a tenth of our income to spend in seven days plus the Last Great Day (the eighth day) and for travel expenses.  During this time we can afford some things that we might not otherwise be able to afford to buy.  God has presented us a way of physically keeping His Feasts and makes it possible to do it and to enjoy it, even in today’s predominantly non-agrarian society.

The unity of our congregations is described in Psalm 133:1.  Those of us who are baptized are unified by having the same Holy Spirit and the same purpose in preparing the bride and helping to preach the gospel of the kingdom to the world.  We have the same beliefs and the same doctrines, and we have the same love.  That love is outgoing concern toward each other, making it good and pleasant for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity.

Continue reading in Psalm 133:2.  Remember that oil in the Bible represents God’s Holy Spirit, and it also represents the character that we build by the Holy Spirit.  Holy righteous character is knowing right from wrong, choosing the right, and doing it, no matter what.  Remember, too, that there is a warning in Matthew 25 to half of the ten virgins who do not have enough oil at the end; in other words, they have not built enough character.  When Christ comes they will want to go out and obtain more of that character, but there may not be time.  We need to take these opportunities to build character now.

Verse 2 of Psalm 133 concludes, “…running down on the edge of his garments.”  In the Bible, our garments, or our clothing, symbolize our righteous acts. Righteousness is keeping God’s commandments, so our clothing represents keeping God’s commandments.  According to Revelation 3, we are living in the Laodicean era of the Church, in which the Church is wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. In other words, it does not have garments; the people do not have righteous acts.  Many are not keeping God’s commandments.  We want to be sure that we are to the best of our ability.

Continue reading Psalm 133:3: “It is like the dew of Hermon descending upon the mountains of Zion…” Dew represents God’s doctrine (His teaching), mountains represent governments, and Zion is the Church.  God’s teachings come down on the Church like the dew, and one of the times it comes down on the Church is during the Feast.  Soon that mountain of Zion will cover the whole earth.  That is the time we are looking forward to now: the Millennium when the government of God will be over the whole earth, and the whole earth will be learning God’s way of life.  Verse 3 tells us about God’s plan for eternal life: “…for there the Lord commanded the blessing–life forevermore.”

During this Feast, be unified; be together.  Please come to services every day so that you can learn about God’s way of life and about His plan.  Come to activities together during the Feast, too.  While you are together, talk about the sermons.  Ask questions if you do not understand something.  Let’s use it as a time to learn more about God’s way of life.  Be sure to get along with each other: God’s way of love includes loving our neighbor as ourselves.  The Church is to be known by its love for each other, and people should see us treating each other very well.  Remember that when we are told to bear our cross, that phrase really means to put away all of our selfishness.  When we are together for eight days, sooner or later someone is going to hurt someone’s feelings.  If someone hurts your feelings, please forgive them, and do so quickly!

In Deuteronomy we read that the Feast was partly for rejoicing.  So I say to you, rejoice at your Feast!  Have a wonderful time as you learn more about God’s plan.