The Feast of Tabernacles is a time to celebrate God’s choice to dwell among His people and our complete dependence on Him. We are commanded to rejoice and feast with others: family and friends, the fortunate and the less-fortunate, believers and non-believers.
With that in mind, there is a small detail in the story of Jonah that many of us have probably missed. After Jonah preaches to the Ninevites, after the Ninevites repent, and after God forgives their sin and turns away their deserved destruction, Jonah leaves the city, sits on a hillside, and builds himself a small tabernacle to shelter himself from the sun.
But although he is dwelling in a tabernacle, he is embodying the opposite attitude of the Feast of Tabernacles. Rather than welcoming non-Jews into God’s family, he is angry that they have been forgiven. Rather than rejoicing, he is “displeased exceedingly,” “angry,” and “distressed” (literally, evil). Rather than depending on God, he is yet again trying to escape from God. Essentially, Jonah has a little pity-party on that hillside, a voluntary Anti-Tabernacles, during a time when he should have been rejoicing.
This week is a time for rejoicing. It is a time for celebrating God’s faithfulness and God’s blessings. It is a time for compassionately welcoming those who don’t yet know the truth. It is a time for trusting in God rather than the world around us.
Don’t be Jonah. Don’t choose to be angry and bitter. Don’t look for reasons to be upset. Don’t decide to hate those with different (even wrong) views. Choose to rejoice, to welcome, to celebrate, to feast.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
God commanded His people to keep the Feast of Tabernacles “because the Lord your God will bless you in all your increase and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely will rejoice.” It’s a weeklong festival celebrating the ever-abiding presence of God with us, and the health, prosperity, and joy that comes from the Lord.
So why do we read Ecclesiastes on this celebration? Ecclesiastes is a sermon from a man (“the Preacher”) who got everything he ever wanted. He grew as wise and intelligent as anyone could’ve hoped to become. He acquired more wealth than anyone who had ever lived before. He found great success in all his ventures, and his fame spread far and wide.
He had everything he could’ve wanted, everything any of us could want. He got all the things that the Feast of Tabernacles says we can have. But he got it the wrong way. Rather than sticking with God and being blessed by Him, the Preacher turned from God and tried to get it all apart from Him.
And he succeeded. He got it all. Fame, wealth, women, success. But without God, it all meant nothing. There was no purpose, no pleasure, no joy. It was, as the Preacher put it, “vanity of vanities.” He finishes his sermon by saying, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.”
As we enter this week of celebration, let’s not focus on the stuff. Let’s not focus on our own pleasure and desires. Instead let’s focus on the God who gives us richly all things to enjoy, the God who provides our every need and heals our mortal bodies, the God who is more than enough.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.”
Haggai’s second prophetic word just so happened to be given on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Was this just a coincidence, or was God using this festival to show Haggai—and us—something important?
The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, is a week-long celebration toward the beginning of the Jewish year, where God’s people are commanded to “rejoice before the LORD your God.” As such, it’s sometimes called “The Season of Our Joy.”
So, why do we rejoice? Two main reasons: One, because God eternally dwells with us, and we are eternally dependent on Him. And two, because we are expecting God to bless and increase us this next year, and we’re expecting God to bless and increase His Church through us.
So there you have it. That’s why we celebrate Sukkot. But that begs the question: how are we supposed to celebrate Sukkot?
Step 1: Sleep in a sukkah.
The Bible says, “You shall dwell in booths for seven days.” That’s not some sort of metaphor. You are literally supposed to build a hut in your backyard, just like the Israelites did while wandering through the desert, and then sleep in it for seven nights.
Your tabernacle, or sukkah, is supposed to be open on one side and have a roof made of branches. Here’s a picture of ours from last year. It doesn’t have to be too fancy, just something that hopefully doesn’t collapse while you’re inside of it. And if it’s any consolation, Jewish tradition says that only men need to sleep in it, so ladies, you’re off the hook.
Now we do this to remind our families of our complete dependence on God for the next year. And yes, this is celebrated in the Bible. When Solomon dedicates the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles, the people feast and stay in tents for seven days. And when Nehemiah rededicates the temple, the people all build sukkahs in the city square and live there for a week.
Step 2: Feast in your sukkah.
The Bible tells us to “rejoice in your feast,” with your family and with your coworkers and with your neighbors and with strangers and with orphans and widows and with everyone.
Every night of the week of Tabernacles, you should invite people over for dinner to eat in your tabernacle. They’ll probably have no idea why they are eating in a makeshift hut in your backyard, so it provides a perfect opportunity to explain the feast and encourage them to center their lives on the promises of God.
Show them scriptures about God’s blessing upon their lives. Teach them how they can bless others and bring people into God’s kingdom. And have a good time. It’s the season of our joy, after all. Don’t be afraid to turn on some music and party like Jesus is coming back tomorrow.
Step 3: Shake the lulav.
Now I’m going to warn you that what I’m about to say might sound silly, so I’ll remind you that we do plenty of silly things on other holidays. Like this. Or this. Or this.
All those things are really silly on paper, but we just accept that it’s normal and do it every year, and now we’re used to it and it’s not weird anymore.
The Bible tells us that we’re supposed to take branches from different trees and fruit, and make a lulav, which looks like this. Then you take your lulav and you shake it to the north, to the south, to the east, to the west, up to the sky, and down to the ground, and you declare Psalm 118:25 every time:
“Save now, I pray, O Lord. O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.”
From every direction, you call in God’s blessings for your family and you call in the nations for God’s kingdom. (Mishnah Sukkah 3:9)
And again, if you think that’s weird, just remember that you also do this on Jesus’ birthday.
Step 4: Speak God’s Word only.
You know, we live in a crazy world, and there’s plenty to complain about. And nowadays, social media makes it so easy to get bogged down with all the nonsense that’s out there.
But during Sukkot, we make a decision to start the year off right. Our constant declaration is, “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.” People are gossiping at work? Not you! “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.” The president said what? Who cares? “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.”
Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, so we make a decision to fill our hearts with God’s Word and sing His praises with our lips. It’s a full week to set the course for the rest of the year, a year that is completely dependent on God, a year that is saturated with God’s presence.
Now if you’ve never celebrated Tabernacles before, I want to encourage you to give it a try this year. The Bible says we are supposed to keep this feast “forever in your generations,” so there’s not really a reason not to celebrate it. Even Jesus celebrated it, and the Bible says that we’ll still be celebrating it when Jesus comes back.
It’s a great way to start off the Jewish year, and a fun reason to get together with friends and talk about God’s goodness, so if you’re interested, here are the dates of Sukkot for the next ten or so years.
So in conclusion, Tabernacles—or Sukkot—is a weeklong celebration where we rejoice because God dwells with us, because God will bless and increase us, and because God will increase His Church through us.
We celebrate by building a sukkah in our backyard, where we sleep every night as a reminder of our complete dependence on God. We also invite people over to feast in our sukkah every night of the week.
We shake the lulav and call in God’s blessings for our family and call in the nations for God’s kingdom. And we make it a point to reject gossip and complaining and evil reports, and instead meditate on God’s Word and constantly declare, “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.”
What a great way to start the year.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.