Summary: Tabernacles points to Jesus as the light of the world, the water of life and the coming King.
The 7th feast of Israel is “The Feast of Tabernacles.” It’s often called “Tabernacles,” because the Jews lived in tabernacles to remind them of God’s provision in the 40 year wilderness wandering, when Israel lived in similar shelters. It’s also known as “The Feast of Ingathering” (Exodus 23:16; 34:22), because it was observed after all crops had been harvested. It celebrated God’s past provision in the wilderness wanderings; and His present provision of the harvest.
It started on Tishri 15, the 7th month of the religious calendar and lasted 7 days. The 1st day and the day after, the 8th day, were sabbaths - no work permitted. There are 3 passages describing this feast. People were to live in booths and rejoice before God with branches (Leviticus 23:33-43). There were many sacrifices (Numbers 29:12-39). Every 7th year, the Law was read (Deuteronomy 31:10-13).
1. The practical significance of this feast for Israel.
A. The importance of this feast.
The importance of the Feast of Tabernacles is also seen in its inclusion as one of the three pilgrim feasts. Three times during the year, all Jewish males were required to appear before the Lord in the Temple. The Feasts of Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Tabernacles were all pilgrim feasts because of the required pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Importance is also seen in the number of sacrifices for this feast. Each day one goat, fourteen lambs, two rams, and a number of bulls (thirteen on the first day, decreasing by one each day) were offered.
B. The prayer of this feast.
Jerusalem receives about 20 inches of rain per year. Tabernacles marked the beginning of the winter rainy season from November to March. So, since Tabernacles came at a time when the anticipation of rain is at its highest, the prayer of this feast was a prayer for rain.
C. The ceremonies of this feast.
On arriving in Jerusalem, pilgrims built booths for the feast. By the afternoon of Tishri 14, thousands of leafy booths lined the streets and covered the hills, all within a Sabbath day’s journey (about 1/2 mile) from the Temple. At sundown, the blast of the shofar from the Temple announced the start of the holiday.
1) The water ceremony.
Each morning, a water libation (sacrificial pouring out of a liquid) was offered as a visual prayer for rain. While the sacrifices were prepared, the high priest, along with a group of worshipers, went to the Pool of Siloam. He had a golden pitcher that held about a quart of water. He dipped it into the pool, then took it to the Temple. Another group went south of the city to a place called Motza, where willows grew. They gathered branches, taking them to the Temple. They were placed on the sides of the altar so the tops formed a canopy over the altar.
Meanwhile, the high priest with the water from the Pool of Siloam had reached the southern gate of the Temple. It was known as the Water Gate because of this ceremony. As he entered, three blasts of the silver trumpets sounded from the Temple, and the priests recited Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (NIV)
The high priest went to the altar in the Inner Court of the Temple, ascending the ramp. He turned to the left where two silver basins were which drained to the base of the altar. One was for the regular drink offerings (of wine) and one for the water libations during this feast. He then raised the golden pitcher and poured out the water offering. At the same time, a drink offering of wine was poured into the other basin.
Three blasts of the silver trumpets followed the pouring and signaled the start of the Temple music. The people listened as a choir of Levites sang the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). Then the congregation waved palm branches toward the altar and joined in singing Psalm 118:25: “LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success!” At the same time the priests, with palm branches in hand, marched once around the altar.
2) The Temple lighting ceremony.
In the evenings, they would have a light ceremony in the Temple. On the second evening, people crowded into the outer court, the Court of the Women. In the center of the court stood four towering menorahs (lampstands). These were lit, and the flames of the menorah oil lamps flooded the Temple and streets of Jerusalem with light.
Then a group of Levites gathered in the Inner Court, standing at the top of the fifteen steps leading down to the Court of the Women. Temple flutes, trumpets, harps, and other stringed instruments played as they sang the fifteen Psalms of Degrees (Psalms 120-134). With each new psalm they descended to the next step. This celebration was repeated every night from the second night until the seventh night.