‘Nations will come to your light’ (Isaiah 60:3)
Israel had always to look back on its history in order to understand its future. It’s annual feasts especially were both a remembrance of its past as well as an anticipation of things to come. The feasts are described as ‘signs’ and ‘appointed times’ (Exodus 31:13 ; Leviticus 23:2). ‘Signs’ (אתת) are a visible or present assurance of a future promise, while ‘appointed times’ (מעדים) designate specific events ordained by God in the fulfilment of His prophetic plan (see for example Exodus 9:5 and Hab. 2:3, where the same word is used).
‘Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ (Isaiah 46:9-10)
The prophetic nature of the feasts is confirmed by their frequent use as a theme of the Prophets. In respect of Tabernacles in particular, Alfred Edersheim writes: ‘It is remarkable how many allusions to this feast occur in the writings of the prophets, as if its types were the goal of all their desires’ (Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, p. 215, f.1).
Tabernacles is indeed the last of the appointed feasts and concludes the festive calendar. As such, it anticipates the culmination of God’s purpose for Israel, the final fulfilment of God’s promises for and through that nation. To emphasise perfection and completion, it occurs in the seventh month, lasts for seven days and the number of its sacrifices are divisible by seven. “Whereas the sacred number seven appeared at the Feast of Unleavened Bread only in the number of its days, and at Pentecost in the period [which must transpire before] its observance (7 x 7 days after Passover), the Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days, took place when the seventh month was at its full height, and had the number seven impressed on its characteristic sacrifices.” (Edersheim, Temple, p. 219.)
Tabernacles is also called ‘the season of our joy’1 the ‘Feast of Ingathering’ (Ex. 23:16), the ‘Feast of YHVH’ (Lev. 23:39) or simply ‘the Feast’ (1 Kings 8:2). All these names add to its significance.
The ‘joy’ was at the ingathering at the end of the harvest season: ‘Sukkot [Tabernacles] is the time when the produce of the field, orchard and vineyard is gathered in. The granaries, threshing floors and wine and olive presses are full to capacity. Weeks and months of toil and sweat put into the soil have finally been amply rewarded. The farmer feels happy and elated. No wonder Sukkot is ‘the Season of Rejoicing’.2
But the Feast really anticipated the time of God’s harvest, when the remnant of Israel and the residue of the nations are reconciled and gathered to Him – the harvest of souls – hence ‘the Feast of YHVH’.
Tabernacles in relation to the other feasts
The earlier feasts build up to the climax and finale of Tabernacles. The calendar begins with the Passover – historically, the starting point of the Exodus. The Exodus resumes the call of Abraham – “I will bless you and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed”. After the intervening years of bondage, Israel is delivered from Egypt to serve God3 and fulfil its prophetic mission.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread signifies Israel’s period of consecration, which in the New Testament corresponds with baptism and ‘the washing with water through the word’. While the old yeast was the influence of paganism, unleavened bread represents Israel removed from its influence. During the course of Unleavened Bread, first-fruits are offered to the Lord. First-fruits (bicurim) is associated with “Israel the firstborn” (bechor).4 First-fruits is the first of three harvest festivals, linking Israel’s history to three stages in God’s redemptive plan.
The first-fruits that are offered to the Lord represent and anticipate the whole harvest. Israel is described as a planting of the Lord, describing its role in the more abundant harvest to follow. Israel was to bear the fruit of universal salvation at the ‘fulfilment of the ages’ when the nations are gathered in during the final harvest. (The ‘servant nation’ would not succeed in its mission until the advent of its ‘servant king’, who would ‘triumph gloriously’ and accomplish Israel’s prophetic destiny on its behalf. Jesus explained: ‘unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed’).
Shavuot or Pentecost is the second of the harvest festivals and traditionally associated with the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. The blessing promised to Abraham would be his restoration to the rule of God, with all its glorious benefits (read Deut. 28:1-14 as the recreation of Paradise on condition of perfect obedience). The Law of Moses brought about the restoration in typological manner until the Holy Spirit was given on the same day, two thousand years later. Two loaves are offered up on this day with new leaven. While various explanations are given of the spiritual significance of this, I propose that the word of God always divides its hearers on the criterion of obedience, so Israel after Sinai would always be divided into two camps. The new yeast may represent the Law by which Israel would be ‘infused’ and equipped (‘the Law is spiritual,’ according to Rom. 7:14). Israel under the Law would be a manifestation of God among the nations and provoke them to jealousy (see Deut. 4:5-8). Nations would be attracted to this light – which became a central theme in the celebration of Tabernacles, the feast that anticipates the fulfilment of Israel’s divine commission.
The long intermission following Pentecost signifies an indefinite period of Israel’s history largely marked by apostasy and disobedience. The last three feasts all occur in the seventh month (the sabbatical month). Trumpets are the first of these, signifying both the call to battle and the call to repentance. It commences the ‘season of repentance’ (teshuvah) and precedes God’s judgment on the Day of Atonement, when the first part of Israel receives forgiveness and is preserved and sanctified while the other part is cut off for its sins.
In the prophetic / eschatological application of the Feasts, it is thus only a remnant of Israel that fulfils and celebrates Tabernacles (since it occurs after Israel’s judgment). To this remnant is promised the abiding presence of God, and the light of His glory, by which the nations are conquered and gathered in.
Tabernacles as a memorial of the Exodus
During Tabernacles all native born Israelites were required to live in tents for seven days, in remembrance of the fact that “I had Israel dwell in tents when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:43). It was from this history that Israel had to understand the feast’s significance. Of what importance, then, were the events of that time?
As tainted as the Exodus was by Israel’s cumulative failures to trust and believe, it was also the time that God was manifestly present in her midst. In this she was protected and guided: ‘By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people’ (Ex. 13:21-22).
The same manifest presence of God was later concentrated on the mishcan, the makeshift Temple of the wilderness, which Moses completed according to the Lord’s command: ‘Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out – until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels’ (Exodus 40:34-38).5
With God’s abiding presence and by His leading, Israel entered its Promised Land and conquered Jericho.
‘Hear, O Israel: today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies; do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them; for the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’ (Deut. 20:3-4)
The hosts of Israel marched around the city for seven days, and seven times on the final day. At the blast of trumpets, Israel gave a loud shout and the wall collapsed (Joshua 6:2-5). This culminating event of the Exodus was ritually re-enacted in the Temple duringTabernacles as an integral part of its celebrations: ‘On every one of the seven days the priests formed a procession, and made the circuit of the altar, singing: ‘O then, now work salvation, YHVH! O YHVH, give prosperity!’ (Ps. 118:25). But on the seventh, ‘that great day of the feast,’ they made the circuit of the altar seven times, remembering how the wall of Jericho had fallen in similar circumstances, and anticipating how, by the direct imposition of God, the wall of heathenism would fall before YHVH, and the land lie open for His people to possess it.’ (Edersheim, Temple, p. 222.)
Water was poured out onto the altar during this ceremony – ‘with loud exclamations of joy’6– symbolising the Holy Spirit,7 and commemorating the victory that is ‘not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord Almighty’ (Zech.4:6).
The conquest of Jericho contains another important precedent linked to the theme of ‘ingathering’ – namely, the incorporation of faithful Gentiles into God’s people, as prefigured in the salvation of Rahab and her house. ‘Rahab’ – the Hebrew word for ‘enlarge’ – is used in Isaiah 54:2: ‘Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them extend the curtains of your habitations … for you will break forth on the right hand and on the left; and your seed shall take possession of nations, and make desolate cities to be inhabited.’8
In later history, the seventy bullocks prescribed as sacrifices at Tabernacles9 were offered up at the Feast for the seventy nations of the Gentile world.10
The tabernacle of David and temple of Solomon
The conquest of Jericho was soon overshadowed by Israel’s defeats and humiliations at the time of the Judges. ‘Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD … whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress’ (Judges 2:11, 15).
Israel eventually asked for a king, ‘like the other nations’ and was once more victorious under David and Solomon. From that time on, Israel’s final deliverance and conquest was prophetically linked to the advent of God’s anointed King, the conquering Messiah.
David battled in the mode of the Exodus. The ark of the covenant was housed in a tabernacle, i.e. a mobile dwelling, (2 Sam. 6:17) and accompanied the Israelites in battle (2 Sam. 11:11). The LORD was thus everywhere present with the hosts of Israel and led them on in victory. Nations were defeated and put to the sword – while others become servants of Israel. Those who were subdued brought their wealth and treasures as tribute (2 Sam. 8:1-14).
After David’s death, Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. In the seventh month, during the time and celebration of Tabernacles, Solomon dedicated the Temple and the glory of the LORD descended on it: ‘When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it’ (2 Chron. 7:1-2). God now had a fixed place of abode – in contrast with David’s tent.
In his prayer of dedication, Solomon asked: ‘But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!’ (1 Kings 8:27). And further: ‘As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name – for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm – when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel …’ (1 Kings 8:41-43).
Solomon continued in the conquests of David and tribute flowed into Jerusalem in increasing measure.11 These events act both as type and antithesis of Tabernacle’s ultimate fulfilment.
Israel after Solomon
By the end of Solomon’s reign the kingdom was already in decline. The ten northern tribes would soon break away and defeat and exile would follow. The Talmud claims: ‘At first Solomon ruled the whole world, then the Jews, and finally only Jerusalem’ (Sanhedrin, 20b). But it was the moral decline that was critical.
The shechinah departed before the Babylonian conquest and did not return to the rebuilt Temple after the exile (Ezek. 10:19; Yoma, 21 ). Through its own disobedience and apostasy, Israel the appointed light had itself fallen into darkness. The LORD lamented through the prophet Ezekiel: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees’ (Ezek. 5:5 & 6).
Exile and dispersion added a further dimension to the mission of the remnant. Not only would the nations need to be gathered in during the final harvest, but together with them also the ‘dispersed of Jacob’ and the ‘scattered of Judah’. These would come in with the nations and the remnant of Judah in the prophetic fulfilment of Tabernacles: `He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd … they will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD – the grain, the new wine and the oil’ (Jer. 31:12).
More on the ingathering
‘Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.’ (Deut. 16:13)
Tabernacles was the third and last of the harvest festivals. The first celebrated the redemption of Israel (first-fruits), the second Israel as the vehicle of divine revelation(Pentecost), while the third and final, the fulfilment of Israel through the harvest of nations:‘Tabernacles reminded Israel, on the one hand, of their dwelling in booths in the wilderness, while, on the other hand, it pointed to the final harvest when Israel’s mission should be completed, and all nations gathered unto the Lord.’ (Edersheim, Temple, p. 213.)
Harvest is an allegory for the reaping of souls – either to salvation or to condemnation. The prophets often make use of this allegory,12 while the New Testament never speaks of ‘harvest’ except in this sense. Thus, through Israel’s conquest of nations, two seemingly contradictory purposes would be fulfilled simultaneously: those who come into God’s light are saved and those who harden their hearts to resist it are condemned. (The many prophecies that predict both destruction and salvation for the nations make sense only once this is understood.)
The position of the Feast of Tabernacles immediately after Trumpets and the Day of Atonement made it clear that Israel’s own judgment and consecration would precede the time when it would judge the nations. This is borne out in the Exodus story by the death of the faithless generation prior to the Jordan crossing, and the circumcision at Gilgal before the conquest of Jericho. It is also clear from a number of prophecies alluding to the fulfilment of Tabernacles, that Israel’s judgment and sanctification occur first:
‘In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious,
and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.
Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy,
all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem.
The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion;
he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.’ (Isaiah 4:2-6)
Links to Messiah
As appears already from the passage cited above, the prophets linked the fulfilment of Tabernacles to the work of Messiah, ‘the Branch of the LORD’. Most importantly, Messiah would be the dawning of THE GREAT LIGHT:
‘… in the future [God] will honour Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing
and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.’ (Isaiah 9:1-7)
Messiah would simultaneously enlarge the nation and defeat Israel’s enemies. This would not however be achieved by conventional warfare since the ‘warrior’s boot’ was destined for the fire.
At the time Jesus attended the Feast,13 it was customary to light massive lamp-stands in the Temple courts during the seven days of Tabernacles. This was done in remembrance of the shechinah of former times, but arguably also in an attempt to emulate it through human effort. Edersheim describes the magnificent effect of these illuminations: ‘Four golden candelabras were there, each with four golden bowls, and against them rested four ladders, and youths of priestly descent held, each a pitcher of oil, capable of holding one hundred and twenty log, from which the filled each bowl. The old, worn out breeches and girdles of the priests served for wicks to these lamps. There was not a court in Jerusalem that was not lit up by the light of ‘the house of water pouring’. The ‘Chassidim’ and ‘the men of Deed’ danced before the people with flaming torches in their hands, and sang before them hymns and songs of praise.’ (Temple, pp. 224-225.)
Also at that time, pilgrims came to the Feast in Jerusalem from all over the world: ‘this was pre-eminently the Feast for foreign pilgrims, coming from the farthest distance, whose Temple-contributions were then received and counted. Despite the strange costumes of Media, Arabia, Persia, or India, and even further; or the Western speech and bearing of the pilgrims from Italy, Spain, the modern Crimea, and the banks of the Danube, if not from more strange and barbarous lands, it would not be difficult to recognize the lineaments of the Jew … They would come at this season of the year – not during the winter for the Passover, not yet quite so readily in summer’s heat for Pentecost. But now, in the delicious cool of early autumn, when all the harvest-operations, the gathering in of luscious fruit and the vintage were past, and the first streaks of gold were tinting the foliage, strangers from afar off, the countrymen of Judaea, Paraea, and Gililee, would mingle in the streets of Jerusalem, under the ever present shadow of that glorious sanctuary of marble, cedar-wood and gold … ‘ (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p.576).
The true light by which the nations would be attracted was not however the opulence and wealth of Herod’s Temple, nor the grandeur and excesses of Solomon, nor even any re-enactment or return of the shechina, but the light of God’s holiness, an emanation of God’s divine nature through a manifestation of His own being. Nor would the ingathering of the nations be into a defined physical locality, but rather into the Kingdom of God which Jesus had then declared to be ‘at hand’. Nor would the wealth and tribute flowing into Jerusalem be of the kind of silver and gold, but rather the fruits of the faith which are to God more precious than any metal (1 Pet. 1:7).
Messiah would thus come as ‘the radiance of YHVH’s glory’ – full of grace and truth.14Nations would either come to this light, or be condemned by it – for this is the verdict: ‘Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God’ (John 3:19-21).
Restoring the fallen tabernacle of David
The conquest of nations would proceed under the reign of Messiah. It was particularly the remnant of Israel, who survived the judgment – those whom Jesus commissioned with the words ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; therefore go and make disciples of all nations … and, lo, I am with you always’ – it was to these that the abiding presence of God was promised, as they went out with the Holy Spirit and did exploits in His name.
The manner of warfare by which the nations would be conquered and gathered in, is described by the prophet Amos in the allegory of David’s fallen tent.
‘All the sinners among my people will die by the sword,
all those who say, `Disaster will not overtake or meet us.’
In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent.
I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be,
so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,” declares the LORD, who will do these things.
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills.
I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.’(Amos 9:10-14)
The counsel at Jerusalem (Acts 15) recalled Amos’ prophecy as they witnessed its fulfilment in their own time – i.e. the ingathering of the nations: “Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for Himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.'”
As in David’s warfare, God would be ever present with the disciples at the battle-front and not located as He was previously in a static abode (the time had come when true worshipers would no longer worship in Jerusalem only, but anywhere – ‘in spirit and in truth’ 15).
As noted earlier the victory would not come by conventional warfare. The military campaigns of Israel’s history were merely a typology of the true warfare, which is that of God’s truth prevailing over the countless mutations of lies and unbelief. This is the warfare of the gospel age, which is even now proceeding.
Those who received the Spirit would themselves become the weapons in God’s armoury:
‘I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth … I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim.’ (Zech. 9:10-13)
These ‘weapons’ of God are expressly told that their battle is ‘not against flesh and blood.’16 ‘For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (1 Cor 10:4-5). And the ‘sword of the Spirit is the word of God’.
The gospel age is thus the time of conquest and ‘ingathering’ in fulfilment of the prophetic type of Tabernacles.
The dispersed of Jacob and the scattered of Judah
‘In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples;
the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.
In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.
He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth …
There will be a highway for the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel when they came up from Egypt …
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy,
people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.’ (Isaiah 11:10 – 12:6)
As a direct consequence of the spreading of the gospel, as salvation reached the uttermost parts of the earth, those of Israel’s descendants who were dispersed among the nations, or had been assimilated into them, would hear the message, and many would believe. These became part of the final harvest foreshadowed and celebrated inTabernacles, as they were reconciled and gathered back to God and then continued as sojourners in a life of faith, waiting for the restoration of all things at the end of days, when they will rise to receive the Promised Land, as an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Pet. 1:4). In this way, Messiah’s threefold ministry as spoken of in Isaiah 49:6 would be accomplished: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.’
Many from among the Gentiles would, in turn, become ambassadors of Messiah, and ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20), and would act as vessels of salvation to the lost and scattered children of Israel: ‘See, I will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders.’ (Isaiah 49:22)
The fruit of goodly trees
‘And you shall take you on the first day the fruits of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.’ (Leviticus 23:40)
David Baron describes how the fruit and twigs waved on high by a joyful procession of pilgrims – perhaps numbering several hundreds of thousands – resembled a ‘forest in motion’.17 While this already stirs up visions of Eden, the goodly trees further remind us of those that were given for Adam’s use and enjoyment, in contrast with the one that caused his downfall and separation from God.
Ezekiel saw in a vision: ‘Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing’(Ezekiel 47:12). The Book of Revelation then reveals that the various fruits and leaves seen by Ezekiel are in fact different emulations of a single tree, namely the Tree of Life:
‘On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.’ (Revelation 22:2-6)
The fruit and leafy twigs used in the celebration of Tabernacles thus signified the Tree of Life from which Israel and the nations could eat to gain healing and immortality – also referred to in prophecy as ‘the Branch of the LORD’. The bread of God ‘is he who comes down from heaven, and gives life [and healing] to the world’ (John 6:33). Jesus said, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world’ (John 6:51).
The pilgrims at Tabernacles, probably without fully understanding it, thus foreshadowed those who would receive this ‘living bread’ during the Messianic age (the ‘great multitude’ envisaged in Revelation 7).
A few notes on the interpretation of Zechariah 14
A study of Tabernacles would be incomplete without considering the leading prophecy in this genre. Zechariah 13 deals with the death of God’s Shepherd – at which time the sheep will be scattered (Zech. 13:7). At that same time – the scattering of the sheep and the subsequent events of Zechariah’s prophecy cannot be separated by an honest interpretation – God’s judgment would come on Israel and two thirds of the land would perish. But the remnant would be purified as in the fire (Zech. 13:8-9). These events would culminate in the destruction of Jerusalem when the nations came to battle against it (Zech. 14:1-2), ‘I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it.’
This was clearly fulfilled in the siege of Titus in AD70 which commenced at the time of Passover, when the whole land had gathered in the city for that feast. Rome, as an empire, was comprised of ‘all the nations’. Josephus records in his history of these events that garrisons from the many diverse countries under Roman control, participated in the siege.
An apparent difficulty arises at this point in Zechariah’s prophecy, over the verse: ‘On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee by my mountain valley…’. This is however prophetic imagery for that very decisive way of escape that God had made for the faithful remnant to avoid His judgment of that time.18 That Way was clearly through the atoning blood of Jesus and, for those who believed in him, in Jesus’ forewarning: ‘let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written’ (Luke 21:21-22). The believers’ escape at the onset of the Roman siege was, incidentally, over the Mount of Olives to trans-Jordan in the east.
The enduring light of God would dawn upon the nations and ‘that Day’ would last indefinately for the duration of the gospel age, i.e. ‘when night comes it will still be day’ (Zech. 14:6-7). During this time living waters would flow from Jerusalem (verse 8) – being explained as the Holy Spirit, in both the New Testament and the Talmud – and the knowledge of God would spread through the whole earth (verse 9). Jesus is both the light (John 8:12) and the source of the water (John 7:38 ). Also at this time, the eternal city would be established, the Jerusalem that is above, seen by Zechariah in chapter 2 and spoken of in Hebrews 11 and Revelation 21. Jerusalem would henceforth be secure (verses 10-11).
The remnant of Israel that escaped judgment and were purified (Zech.13:9) would conquer the nations and bring them under God’s judgment. For, ‘whoever does not believe, stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son’ (John 3:18). Those who harden their hearts toward the Son are earmarked for God’s wrath which will be poured out at the end of the age.
By the same gospel, however, a remnant of the nations is saved, and it is this remnant that is envisaged in the concluding verses of Zechariah:
‘Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The LORD will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles’(Zech. 14:16-19).
Faithful believers celebrate Tabernacles by understanding that we are ‘as strangers on this earth’ (Heb. 11:9; 1 Pet. 1:17). ‘People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them’ (Heb. 11 14-16). We continue to celebrate the ingathering of the harvest while God’s ‘appointed time’ – the Day of Salvation – endures: ‘As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work’ (John 9:4).
The rain, like the streams of water, represents the Holy Spirit. Wherever God is served the Spirit will bring conviction of sin and fruit for His Kingdom. Those who do not submit to King Messiah will not receive this rain and will perish in everlasting destruction. ‘For if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ’ (Rom. 8:9).
God’s pre-determined plan for redemption occurs by way of a linear progression – it has a definite beginning in the Passover and a definite end as envisioned in Tabernacles in the ingathering of the nations and the dispersed of Israel into a remnant of Judah. The prophets used the allegories of Israel’s feasts and history to speak of eternal realities which at that time were beyond their sight and comprehension. Since Israel’s feasts and history were given as ‘signs’ and ‘indications’ that foreshadowed an ultimate reality, a future (or present) re-enactment of those types and shadows cannot thus constitute their fulfilment! Nor can participation in the events serving as a ‘sign’ accomplish what it was pointing to.
A failure to see, for example, the gospel as Israel’s means of conquest, those being saved as the ‘ingathered’ harvest and the pilgrim lifestyle of believers as their prophetic participation in the Feast of Tabernacles, leads to ‘idle notions’ and the tragic seduction of Christians. Many Christians are waving flags in Jerusalem and concerning themselves with political intrigue and events in Iran and the Middle East rather than fighting the true battle and contributing to the true fulfilment of God’s plan. Our ‘unspiritual minds’ have puffed us up and we fix our eyes once more on what is seen and passing away, rather than on what is unseen and eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).
Jesus will not return to fight military campaigns on behalf of an ethnic Israel against its flesh and blood enemies. The battle is now, and its object is the lies that war against the truth of God’s ultimate revelation which is ‘the fulfilment of all things’ in Messiah, the way to salvation.
Jesus ‘appeared once for all, at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself’ (Heb. 9:26). There is no further age after ‘the end of the ages’, and Jesus need not appear once again for a particular people when he has already appeared ‘once for all’.
The prescribed reading during Tabernacles included Ezekiel’s prophecies on Gog and Magog. The gospel age is ending with one final, concerted, all encompassing onslaught against those who bear witness to God’s eternal truth. This will be quashed by the Lord’s appearing from heaven. (See Peter Cohen’s article on The Millennium part 3 – Gog and Magog, which deals more fully with this topic.)
Tabernacles was immediately followed by ‘the eighth day’ also known in Hebrew asatzeret (which curtly means a ‘terminus‘ or ‘abrupt end’). On this day all the pilgrims abandoned their ‘shacks’ and returned to their permanent homes. Paul says that ‘if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands’ (2 Cor. 5:1). The eighth day in Scripture is the day of the resurrection. On this day our Lord rose, and and on this day all those who became sojourners in this world through faith in Him, will be instantly translated into the presence of our Lord, and inherit the new heaven and new earth. ‘This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you’ (2 Thes. 1:7-10).
Let us then continue to gather-in while it is Day.
1. In the Jewish liturgy, derived from Deut. 16:14.
2. Edward Chumney, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah, Treasure House, 1999, p.163.
3. Exodus 8:1.
4. “Thus says the LORD; I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness to the LORD, and the first-fruits of His increase (ראשׁית תבואתה) (Jeremiah 2:1-3). Cf. Ex. 4:2 (בכרי) and also 23:16.
5. Tradition associates both these events – the first appearing of the cloud and pillar and the building of the mishcan – with 15 Tishri, the date of Tabernacles. See Edersheim, Temple, p. 227.
6. David Baron, ‘Types, Psalms and Prophecies,’ Keren Ahvah, 2000, p.64
7. See Isa. 44:3, John 7:39 and in the Rabbinic literature, Jerusalem Sukkah 5 & the Tosefta, Sukkah 4.
8. Cf. Zech. 2:1-13. Rahab’s prominence in David’s genealogy further amplifies the significance of her salvation.
9. Numbers 29.
10. The number of nations is derived from reading Deut. 32:8 with Gen. 46:27 and Ex. 1:1-5.
11. Solomon collected 666 talents of gold per annum – 1 Kings 10:14.
12. See for example, Jeremiah 2:3 and Joel 3:13.
13. Recorded in chapters 7 to 10 of John’s gospel.
14. Hebrews 1:3; John 1:14.
15. John 4:21-23
16. Ephesians 6:12.
17. Op. cit., p.63.
18. N.T. Wright suggests that the location where Jesus delivered his words of judgement over Jerusalem (Mt. of Olives) was deliberately chosen with the symbolism of Zechariah 14:4-5 in mind. See Jesus and the victory of God page 344.