Rejoice Before the Lord
Today’s Text: Leviticus 23:39-43
SEASONS: SUKKOT 5778
When I was growing-up, the Feast of Tabernacles was relegated to stories of ancient Israel laid-out on nappy flannelgraph boards. To be clear, I loved those stories and the teachers who used that medium to communicate Old Testament truths.
God designed each of Israel’s feasts, however, to provide sensory participation for successive generations that not only communicate the history of the Jewish people, but the principles of the Law He gave to Moses at Mount Sinai. As God instructed, the Jewish community celebrates all of Israel’s biblical feasts to the present day.
Tabernacles also known as Sukkot is the final feast in the annual cycle of feasts given to the nation of Israel. It’s sometimes identified as the “feast of ingathering” or “feast of booths” in Scripture (Ex. 23:16; 34:22). Using Moses as His mouthpiece, God outlined the requirements for Sukkot:
“Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, 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.
And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.
You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations.
You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Looking Back to the Past
Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah describing a booth or temporary shelter. While the construction of the sukkah outside the home is the primary feature of the holiday, there is more to this feast.
Families eat meals, rest and may even spend the night in the sukkah during the prescribed seven days. Parents have the opportunity for memorable interaction with their children that connects them to God’s provision and faithfulness during the Israelite’s 40 years of wilderness wandering.
The first time I saw a sukkah, the prospect of “camping” when most families had packed and stored their gear for the winter filled me with longing! Other key elements of Sukkot were somewhat enigmatic in my childhood Sunday school experience.
Living in the Present
In connection with this feast, God commanded Israel to take,
“the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook . . . and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (v.40).
All symbolically remind of God’s provision in the bountiful land He gave the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Rabbinic tradition identifies the four species as:
- the etrog or citron (growers specifically harvest crops for Sukkot),
- the lulav (date palm frond),
- the hadass (myrtle branch) and
- the aravah (willow branch).
The three required tree branches are tied together with date palm fronds and collectively called the lulav. Each day of the holiday, the etrog and bound lulav are waived three times in six distinct directions corresponding to the four points of the compass as well as upward and downward.
Waving the lulav is an expression of great joy that tradition has infused with significance worth noting. Recently, I listened to a rabbi explain the symbolism embedded in the waving of the lulav. I was struck by the imagery associated with this centuries-old tradition.
The citron symbolizes the heart as the center of man’s will. The palm frond is likened to the spine giving the ability to stand firm despite opposition. The myrtle leaves represent the eyes by which we see and recognize God’s provision. The leaves of the willow branch picture the lips that allow us to praise God and speak of His blessings.
In effect, the waving of the lulav symbolizes exuberant rejoicing in God’s provision and expresses wholehearted thanksgiving that engages every aspect of man’s being in devotion to God. This is Israel’s most joyful feast.
The sukkah memorializes God’s faithful provision in the past as Israel wandered in the wilderness. Waving the lulav joyfully acknowledges His bountiful supply in the present. But, there is also a future element to Sukkot.
Preparing for the Future
The Bible clearly teaches that the whole world will join the Jewish people in celebrating Sukkot during the Messianic Kingdom (Zech. 14:16).
Our church set-up a beautiful sukkah decorated with dried autumn foliage, fruits, veg and potted mums. For me, it’s a 3-D labor of love that can be used to teach the next generation profound truths. Whether or not you build a sukkah or assemble a lulav to celebrate the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, the eight-day celebration is none-the-less a wonderful time for all who serve the One-true God to rejoice in His faithfulness.
Sukkot is an annual opportunity to praise God with joyful determination and serve Him with every aspect of our being. If you have never thought about enjoying this biblical feast, now is a great time to begin. Because, it won’t be long before all earth’s inhabitants will celebrate Sukkot with Messiah in the Messianic kingdom.
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Rev. McCracken is known for authenticity in communicating biblical truth that makes his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author via Contact Form under ABOUT. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (Emphasis added.)
1) Sukkah, Synagogue Beith Yossef, Paris. Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) Negotiating for the Lulav at the Bnei-Brak Market. Pikiwiki Israel (Gady Munz) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
3) The Four Species with an Exquisite Silver Etrog Box. By Gilabrand (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios