A Picture of the Kingdom

The Feast of Tabernacles

The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the LORD.—Leviticus 23:34

David Rice

The feast of tabernacles was the last in the annual series of Israel’s festivals. Its name derived from the custom of building temporary dwellings from "boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook" (Leviticus 23:40), in which they resided for the seven days of the feast. This practice was in memory of the temporary dwellings they lived in during their forty years in the wilderness. The purpose was to remind the Israelites of God’s care for them then, as a stimulus to their faith and appreciation of Jehovah’s concern for them in all their circumstances.

This feast was also termed the "feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labors out of the field" (Exodus 23:16), for it was also a time of thanksgiving for the bounties of their harvest just past. The Jewish agricultural year ran from Tishri to Tishri, and as this feast was in Tishri, numbered month seven counting from Nisan in the spring, it fell "in the end of the year," which is also the beginning of the next. To this day the Jewish calendar reflects the same oddity; Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the year, is day one of month seven.

A Picture of the Kingdom

Zechariah 14 connects the feast of tabernacles with the kingdom. Verse 3 speaks of the time when "the LORD [shall] . . . fight [for Israel] as when he fought in the day of battle." The passage continues in verses 8 and 9: "In that day living waters shall go out from Jerusalem . . . and the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one." This is clearly a picture of the kingdom. Of this time, verse 16 says "the nations . . . shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles."

From this passage we conclude that the feast of tabernacles was a type whose fulfillment is during the kingdom. Concerning this feast of thanksgiving and rejoicing, three particular staples are mentioned for which Israel gave thanks: wheat, wine, and oil (Deuteronomy 11:14; 16:13). By then the wheat class (the church) will have been all gathered in and their blessed influence as the new rulers of the world will be cause for thanks and rejoicing. By then the sacrifices of the Gospel age will be complete, and the blood of atonement, represented by the wine "which cheereth God and man" (Judges 9:13), will be making reconciliation for the world. By then the work of the holy spirit will have completed the church, and the spirit will be poured out freely upon the world. The harvest of these three products aptly represents the provisions God makes of all the necessary elements for the blessing of mankind.

The remembrance of the forty years in the wilderness, by dwelling in temporary structures, also fits this picture. The wilderness wanderings picture the Gospel age, as contrasted to the Israelites settling into the promised land which represents the kingdom. "In that day there shall be no more the Canaanite" (Zechariah 14:21), because in the kingdom the enemies of righteousness will be subdued. The feast of tabernacles, or booths, thus represents the kingdom during which mankind will look back with remembrance upon the Gospel age during which God cared for the church while she "wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way," until they receive their "city of habitation" beyond the veil in glory (Psalms 107:4, 7).

Passover and Tabernacles Compared

The feast of Passover was seven days, Nisan 15 through 21. The feast of tabernacles was seven days, Tishri 15 through 21. The obvious comparison suggests some connection between the meaning of the two festivals. When we look deeper at the spring and fall festivals, the comparison is even stronger. The Passover lamb was selected on Nisan 10; the day of atonement was on Tishri 10. The 50th day celebration (Pentecost) was in the spring; the 50th year celebration (Jubilee) began in the fall.

Reprint page 3575 contains a letter to the editor from Bro. John Edgar which comments on these similar sets of observances: "Brother Hemery of London mentioned to me some time ago that he had noticed that events which occurred in the spring foreshadowed blessings for the church, while those which occurred in the autumn foreshadowed blessings for the world. This appears to me to be a natural arrangement, as spring is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, whereas autumn is the beginning of the civil year. Applying this thought, we find that the Passover and Pentecost, etc., foreshadowed blessings for the church, whereas the Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Jubilee foreshadowed blessings for the world."

This is a fruitful suggestion. The death of the Passover lamb in the spring applies to everyone, the church and the world, but the types attending the Passover pertain more directly to the church—the firstborn—than to the world. (By comparison the Passover a month later than usual is more relevant to the world which is unclean by contact with death, the Adamic curse, or away on a journey, not close to God, Numbers 9:5-11.) The Day of Atonement in the fall focused primarily on the nation (a picture of the world), the cleansing of the priests (a picture of the church) being but a necessary step to the main purpose.

The seven days of the Passover feast represent the Gospel age feasting of the church, and indeed the church is represented in seven stages in the visions of Revelation. "We celebrate that feast antitypically, continuously feasting and rejoicing in the grace of God toward us" (Reprint, p. 2918). The seven days of the feast oftabernacles is a feast of thanksgiving and remembrance which mankind will observe for what God did during the seven stages of the Gospel age, and it is thus fitting that it also is seven days in length.

However, there is a conspicuous difference between the two feasts. In each case the first day of the feast (day 15) was a "holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:7,35). But the seven days in the spring end with a holy convocation on day seven, whereas the seven days in the fall end with a holy convocation on day eight (verses 8, 39). Why this difference?

The seventh day of the spring feast represents the seventh stage of the church, during which the saints are completed as a body and receive their reward—a day of special rejoicing. But if the seven days of the fall festival are a remembrance of the Gospel age, the eighth day would represent the kingdom which follows which is the time of the world’s deliverance. That is the day of mankind’s special rejoicing.

Recorded Observances

There are three observances of the feast of tabernacles mentioned in the Old Testament. Each of these is at a time which harmonizes with a picture about the kingdom.

  • 1. After the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:1,2; 2 Chronicles 7:8-11). Solomon’s temple represents the church in its glorified condition, so its completion and dedication for use brings us to the end of the Gospel age, introducing the kingdom. So great was the festivity and rejoicing that the people feasted for 14 days, twice the normal amount.
  • 2. After the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt in Nehemiah’s day (Nehemiah 7:1; 8:14-18). The building of those walls represented the building of the walls of New Jerusalem. Revelation 21:14,17 show that the walls of New Jerusalem symbolize the church. The foundations of the wall had the names of the 12 apostles, and the measure of the wall (perhaps the height) was 144 cubits. Therefore the building of Jerusalem’s walls in Nehemiah’s time picture building the church "in troublous times" (Daniel 9:25), the Gospel age. This work is complete at the introduction of the kingdom, when the antitypical feast of tabernacles applies.
  • 3. The third case is an observance implied at the time of Joshua. It was not directly recorded in Scripture when it occurred, but evidently carried in memory through Jewish tradition, or writings not now preserved. It was referred to many years later in Nehemiah 8:17. "And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths ... for since the days of Jeshua [sic] the son ofNun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so." This also fits the pattern. Joshua represents Christ leading mankind to conquer their enemies in the kingdom. Thus an observance of the feast in Joshua’s day would find a fulfillment in the kingdom.

Offerings During the Feast of Tabernacles

Numbers 28 and 29 detail the offerings which are made during the various feasts. Chapter 28describes the offerings for the new moons, Passover, and Pentecost, and chapter 29 describes those for the feasts of trumpets, tabernacles, and the eighth day following. Thus chapter 28 deals with the events which picture the Gospel age, and chapter 29 those which picture the kingdom. Here is a tabulation:  

             Burnt Offerings  

Sin
Offerings

Bullocks

Rams

Lambs

Goats

New Moons

2

1

7

1

Passover

2

1

7

1

Pentecost

2

1

7

1

Trumpets

1

1

7

1

Tabernacles

13 to 7

2

14

1

Eighth Day

1

1

7

1

Why these numbers, and these kinds, of offerings? The usual sin offering for the congregation on the day of atonement was a goat, and this never varies during these feasts. The burnt offerings probably are remembrances of the various other offerings during the year. The bullocks probably are a reminder of the sacrifice of our Lord presented at Jordan, complete at Calvary, which is the basis of redemption for all, both the church and the world. The rams remind us of the rams of consecration offered on special occasions, suggesting how all those who approach God must yield themselves in devotion to him. The seven lambs probably are a token of remembrance for the daily offering of a lamb,morning and evening, throughout the year, which represented our Lord’s sacrifice as the ever-efficacious offering as the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

The burnt offerings of the seven days of the feast of tabernacles are unique in number. Excepting those for the time being, note that the bullocks offered in the spring are two in number, and later only one in number. Why this conspicuous change? During the spring festivities, which represent the Gospel age, perhaps the number is two to indicate that during the Gospel age there are two pending benefits to be derived from our Lord’s sacrifice—one for the church, another later for the world. During the fall festivities, which represent the kingdom, perhaps the number is one to indicate that during the kingdom one of these benefits has already been secured and is no longer relevant; but one application of our Lord’s sacrifice remains, namely, for the world in the kingdom.

The burnt offerings during the seven days of the feast of tabernacles differ in two respects. The rams and lambs are double those offered on other occasions, perhaps to show that the feast of tabernacles was the climax, the crescendo, of the annual cycle of feasts, and indeed it represents the climax of God’s divine plan when he establishes his kingdom among men. When the kingdom is twice elsewhere pictured, in the feasting at the inauguration of Solomon’s temple and in the delayed Passover in the time of Hezekiah, on both occasions the feasting was twice as long as customary, 14 days rather than 7. This means of emphasizing the climax by "doubling" is consistent with the "double" offerings prescribed in Numbers 29.

The number of bullocks is clearly unique and must point to something deeper. On the first day of the feast 13 bullocks were offered, the next day 12, then 11, 10, 9, 8, and 7 on the last day. It seems our attention is forcibly directed to the symbolic meaning of the numbers as somehow pertinent to our Lord’s sacrifice.

The last number, seven, is familiar enough —the perfect number which appears so often in Scripture. What of the number 13? It is the sum of seven and six, the perfect number and the imperfect number, deficient by one, and used in Revelation 13:18 in a clearly symbolic way, 666, to represent something sinful.

How could this relate in any way to our Lord? Perhaps the combination of seven and six expresses the thought of the ransom: the perfect one (seven) who took upon himself the sins of us all (six). This surmise finds a foundation in another symbolism which is clearly given in the Scripture about our Lord—the copper serpent the Israelites looked unto for the healing when bitten by serpents in the wilderness. Jesus himself applies this figure to his own offering on the cross: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14).

That this serpent was made of copper shows the perfection of the man Jesus who was our ransom. That the figure was a serpent, an emblem of sin and unrighteousness, shows that the burden of our sins and imperfections was laid upon him. "He hath borne our griefs . . . bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:4,5). Thus the copper serpent is an excellent representation of the ransom, and thus 13 is an excellent way of representing the same thought numerically.

The sum of all these bullocks, 13+12+11 +10+9+8+7, is 70. 70 is 710, combining the perfect number 7 with the earthly number 10, to represent the perfect one, Jesus, who gave his life for humanity, earthly. The same thought in only a little different form is conveyed elsewhere by the number 17, 7+10. When Joseph was sold into bondage (picturing the Jews delivering Jesus to the Romans) he was 17 years of age (Genesis 37:2). The perennial mystery of the 153 fishes taken in the net in John 21:11 is related to the same meaning. Those fish represent the "catch" of the Gospel age—those of earth redeemed by Jesus during the present age—153 being the sum of the whole numbers 1 through 17. (The meal Jesus provided on the shore represented the nourishment of present truth afforded the saints at his second advent.)

New Testament Reference

John 7:2 is the singular reference to the feast of tabernacles in the New Testament. John is themost particular of the gospel writers about marking the episodes of Jesus’ ministry with the mention of particular feasts of the Jews. This allows us to sequence the narratives during the last 3 years of Jesus’ life. John 2:13 refers to the first Passover of his ministry, John 5:1 is generally identified as a spring feast (Passover or Purim), and John 6:4 the third Passover.

The next feast mentioned is "the Jews’ feast of tabernacles [which] was at hand." Jesus advised his relatives to go up to the feast without him, and he later journeyed privately. In the midst of the feast "Jesus went up into the temple, and taught" (John 7:14), resulting in an intense interchange between himself and his enemies. The end of his ministry was but six months away, and he was increasingly direct about his position. "Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am . . . Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come" (John 7:27-30). On "the last day, that great day of the feast," evidently the eighth day which climaxed the feast, "Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" (John 7:37).

This reference to water was triggered by a custom explained by the Jamieson, Fausset andBrown Commentary: "The generally joyous character of this feast broke out on this day into loud jubilation, particularly at the solemn moment when the priest, as was done on every day of this festival, brought forth, in golden vessels, water from the stream of Siloah, which flowed under the temple-mountain, and solemnly poured it upon the altar. Then the words of Isaiah 12:3 were sung, `With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of Salvation.’"

What an appropriate moment for our Lord to step forth and declare that in him was the fulfillment of the prophecy: "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38). This was an offer of everlasting life to those who would drink freely of this living water.

"What an offer! The deepest cravings of the human spirit are here . . . expressed by the figure of thirst, and the eternal satisfaction of them by drinking. To the woman of Samaria he had said almost the same thing, and in the same terms (John 4:13,14). But what to her was simply affirmed . . . as a fact, is here turned into a world-wide proclamation" (A Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown).

Those who drink of this refreshing supply require no other supply. Trials may perplex and troubles assail, but the compliant and grateful heart need never again thirst for another source of life. Today this precious water is appreciated by precious few. In due course itwill be a river reaching every man, woman, and child. "In that day living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them to the eastern sea [the Dead Sea, mankind in their graves], and half of them toward the western sea [the Mediterranean, refreshing the living dead] . . . the LORD shall be king over all the earth in thatday . . . the nations . . . shall go up year to year to worship the King . . . and to keep the feast of tabernacles" (Zechariah 14:8,9,16).