The Feast of Tabernacles
Its MEANING for
New Testament CHRISTIANS
gave seven annual festivals to ancient Israel to preserve for New
Testament Christians. But ancient Israel did not understand the meaning
of these days. We do. Why?
Have you assumed that ancient
Israel understood the plan of salvation because God gave to them,
through Moses, His seven annual festivals? Nothing could be farther
from the truth.
Ancient Israel as a whole never did understand
God's plan of salvation. Only the few in ancient Israel — those whom
God called to a spiritual knowledge of His way — ever understood. The
rest were blinded spiritually. Read it for yourself, in Romans 11:7-8,
Revised Standard Version:
"What then? Israel failed to obtain
what it sought. The elect obtained it" — those whom God called to a
knowledge of salvation — "but the rest were hardened ["blinded" — King
James Version], as it is written, 'God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this
Think of it! Ancient Israel, even when they observed
the Holy Days, still did not understand their meaning. Only the elect —
the few — were able to understand why they were to keep God's days
holy. As Paul himself wrote the Corinthians: "But their minds were
hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same
veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.
Yes, to this day when ever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds;
but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed" (II Cor. 3:14-16,
If you think that impossible, then look at the modern
history of God's people. How many who were among us, who for years
assembled on God's hallowed time with us, have now gone because they
did not understand what they were doing? As it is written in Hebrews
4:2, "For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which
they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united in faith
with those who heard" (RSV footnote, which translated the correct
original Greek text).
God's Holy Days do reveal the plan of
salvation. But they are a revelation, an unveiling, only to those who
are "united in faith with those who heard" and understood — such as
Joshua and Caleb, and (today) Herbert W. Armstrong. The Holy Days were
preserved by the Jews even though they as a nation did not — and even
today do not — understand their spiritual significance.
professing Christian world is taught just the opposite. They assume the
festivals of God were meant only for the Jews and have been understood
by them. Of course the reason they believe that is they too do not
understand the meaning of the annual Holy Days. But we do — because we
keep them and have God's gift of faith.
What the Jews did — and didn't — know
of all the tribes of ancient Israel only the Jews preserved the Hebrew
Scriptures. The Jews knew the will of God because they preserved the
Book of God. "Then what advantage has the Jew? . . .Much in every way.
To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God" (Rom.
In those oracles are the annual festivals of God.
Among them, the Festival of Tabernacles. The Jewish nation knew God
commanded His people to observe this Festival at the time of the giving
of the law at Sinai.
God's first instruction about the Festival
is found in Exodus 23:16, RSV, "You shall keep the feast of ingathering
at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of
your labor." The Festival is here first revealed under the name "feast
of ingathering." It is a harvest festival celebrated at the close of
the agricultural year in the northern hemisphere. The ancient
Israelites focused in on the literal harvest of crops. They did not see
its significance as a type of a final spiritual harvest of human
beings. Only the few, whom God was calling to salvation, understood.
that summer at Sinai God commanded through Moses, "And you shall
observe the feast of weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the
feast of ingathering at the year's end" (Ex. 34:22, RSV).
Or, as the
Jewish Publication Society translation more specifically renders it,
"the feast of ingathering at the turn of the year." The original Hebrew
for "turn of the year" is tekufah, meaning the (autumnal) equinox. This
was not to be a midsummer festival, celebrated before the grapes and
fruits were fully ripe. It is to be celebrated at its proper season, at
the beginning of autumn. In contrast, the Feast of Weeks (Firstfruits
or Pentecost), is to be celebrated at the end of spring at the
completion of the barley, wheat and spelt harvest.
centuries the Jews have known of these two harvest festivals. Yet they
have not grasped the spiritual significance of the two harvests — that
this is not the only time of salvation.
It was at the beginning
of the following spring (compare Ex. 40:17 with Lev. 1:1) that the Lord
revealed to Moses the name by which we commonly know the festival. In
the King James translation of Leviticus 23:34 we read of "the feast of
tabernacles" and in the Revised Standard Version "the feast of booths"
— "tabernacles" in the footnote. And — you guessed it! — the Jews by
New Testament times had focused on the literal booths, rather than on
their purpose and meaning.
Sacrifices added — why?
the first time also God temporarily imposed, in Leviticus 23:36-37,
special burnt offerings on each of the seven days of the Feast of
Tabernacles. When He initially revealed the Festival of Ingathering or
Tabernacles, God did not command any burnt offerings (see Ex. 23:16 and
The prophet Jeremiah makes this clear. "For in the day
that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your
fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices"
(Jer. 7:22, RSV). It was only when the nation sinned again and again
that first year after the Exodus that God imposed the sacrifices of the
law to remind them of their sins and to teach them that the coming
Messiah would shed His blood for them. But here too the Israelites
focused on the details of animal sacrifices and completely overlooked
It was not until well into the 40th year after
the Exodus that God commanded Moses additional sacrifices during the
Feast of Tabernacles for a special purpose. We read the account in
Numbers 29:12-34. Upon entering the promised land the Israelites were
to offer as burnt offerings 13 young bulls on the first day of the
Feast, 12 on the next day, 11 on the third day, then 10, nine, eight
and finally seven on the seventh and last day of the Feast. That makes
70 young bulls.
Why 70? The Jews searched the scriptures to find
a meaning to these unusual 70 offerings. They knew that to offer a
young bull was no ordinary sacrifice. When Israel as a nation sinned
and sought forgiveness a young bull was offered (see Lev. 4:13-21). The
sacrifice of a bullock was required of the nation or its leaders.
Ordinary citizens could offer lambs or goats or doves. Here, then, were
sacrifices during the Feast of Tabernacles representing nations or
their leaders or progenitors.
The Jews found an answer to the
number 70 in Genesis 10. You can, too. The sons of Noah were three.
Their sons, grandsons and later descendants listed in Genesis 10 as
progenitors of tribes (nations) were 67. That is a total of 70 about
the time of the tower of Babel. Thus we read in the Talmud, "To what do
those seventy bullocks [that were offered during the seven days of the
Festival] correspond? To the seventy nations" (Sukkah 55b). A footnote
to this quotation reads, "Seventy is the traditional number of Gentile
nations, and the seventy bullocks are offered to make atonement for
Yet even Jesus' apostles did not grasp this great
spiritual truth until God revealed His will through Peter at the time
of the conversion of the uncircumcised Italian Cornelius (Acts 10).
When the other apostles and the brethren heard Peter's account, "they
glorified God, saying, 'Then to the Gentiles also God has granted
repentance unto life' " (Acts 11:18, RSV).
When this event in
the history of the early Church of God occurred, shock waves rolled
throughout the organization. Remember, at Pentecost in A.D. 31, when so
many people were speaking different languages, they were all Jews (Acts
2:5) or Jews and (circumcised) proselytes (verse 10). There were no
uncircumcised gentiles converted that day. But the conversion of
Cornelius was different. All God's feasts now took on new meaning.
The Millennium revealed
take for granted today, in the Church of God, the knowledge of the
Millennium — the 1,000 years of God's rule over the earth through His
Son Jesus Christ. But there was a time when this great truth was not
Not one of the prophets of old defined the
length of the Messiah's rule over the nations, bringing them salvation.
They knew there would be a coming spiritual harvest of human beings.
They prophesied the gentiles would seek the Messiah. They knew the
Feast of Tabernacles pictured that coming day. But all they could say
was that it would be fulfilled "in that day."
asked Him in their day if the time had come for the fulfillment of the
Feast of Tabernacles, when the Kingdom would be restored to Israel.
Every Jew knew the week ended with the seventh-day Sabbath. They knew
the Feast of Tabernacles fell in the seventh month of the year on God's
calendar. Moses and Peter were both inspired to compare a day to a
thousand years with God (Ps. 90:4 and II Pet. 3:8). But it was not
until Christ revealed to John the book of Revelation that the picture
became clear (Rev. 20:4, 6). The Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh
month pictures a millennial Sabbath (1,000 years) of rest from sin,
following 6,000 years under the government of Satan.
revelation of the rule of Christ in the seventh 1,000 years of human
experience came to the Church of God because it is a
commandment-keeping Church and observes the Holy Days of God and His
By Herman L. Hoeh The GOOD NEWS August 1980