To help the Israelites remember His goodness, God gave them three feasts to celebrate every year; Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. As I write this, Jews all over the world are celebrating Tabernacles, but we Christians should pay attention to it too because it also speaks truth to us.
Many years ago, our local church invited a visiting British Pentecostal to preach at a Sunday service. He asked for two lecterns to be set up about three meters apart, and then proceeded to put his bible on the one and his notes on the other. He spent his whole thirty minutes or so prowling between the two and shouted out “Glory!” as he approached the one and “Hallelujah!” as he neared the other. The sad thing is that I remember his antics so vividly, but I cannot tell you the subject matter of his sermon. It would be a lot sadder if we acknowledge Tabernacles as an ancient biblical festival, but fail to receive the message it conveys to our generation.
The feast is a drama in three parts. Rosh Hashana, the blowing of trumpets, took place on the 22nd of September 2017, followed by Yom Kipor, the Great Day of Atonement, on Sunday 1st October. Both of these significant days have great meaning for Jews and Christians alike, but I want to focus on the third part of the drama, Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles that starts on the 5th and ends on the 12th of October.
To Jews, Sukkot is a remembrance of how their ancestors lived in tents in the wilderness, and how Almighty God was present to protect, guide and sustain them. To Christians, the Feast of Tabernacles is a reminder of how God ‘tabernacled’ among His people as Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It is also a recognition that through the Holy Spirit He is with us now in the tabernacle of His church, and a reminder that He is coming again soon to dwell permanently with His children. The appropriate response to this is “Glory hallelujah!”
There are many facets of wonderful truth embedded in the Feast of Tabernacles, but in this article, I want to develop just one aspect, which Haggai 2:2-9 introduces.
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”
Significantly, Haggai uttered this prophecy on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles in the year 520 BC.
The ‘former house’ was Solomon’s temple, built 438 years earlier and dedicated on the last day of Tabernacles 958 BC. This temple was a magnificent structure adorned with silver and gold, but its true glory was something much more than gold. 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 records what happened when the temple was dedicated to God;
‘When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.” ‘
Its true glory was the presence of Almighty God.
Now, in Haggai’s day, Zerrubabel was restoring the temple and the prophet was trying to encourage the people because it was obvious to all that this restored temple was but a shadow of its former grandeur. But, in reality, the glory of the Lord had departed from Solomon’s temple just 46 years after it was dedicated and this restored temple never did ‘contain’ the glory of the Lord. History records that successive nations plundered this temple, and that its final shame came in 167 BC when Antiochus Ephinies slaughtered a pig on the altar and erected a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies. ‘Ephinies’ means ‘the god who appears to reveal himself’ – what blasphemous irony!
In 20 BC Herod the Great rebuilt the temple, but still it did not manifest God’s glory… until between 5 BC and 27AD when The Glory returned to it three times. More than 500 years after Haggai the prophecy he uttered came true and the glory of Herod’s temple indeed surpassed that of Solomon’s temple. In 5 BC Jesus was brought as a baby to this temple to be dedicated– glory! Twelve years later, He came again to the temple to teach the teachers of Israel – glory! Then, when he was 33 years of age Jesus came again to this temple to fulfil all righteousness and to bring to an end the sacrificial system – glory! Antiochus called himself ‘the appearance of God’ and slaughtered a pig. Jesus, the true revelation of God, offered himself for slaughter, a lamb without blemish – Hallelujah!
In Jesus’ day, they celebrated the feast of Tabernacles for seven days and regarded the 8th day as a special Sabbath marking the first day of a new period of grace and mercy. On this ‘last and greatest’ day, a priest went down to the pool of Siloam, filled a golden pitcher with water and then led the procession back to the Temple. They then walked around the Great Altar of Sacrifice 7 times singing and joyfully shouting out “Hosanna” (Save us now). The climax of the ceremony came when the priest raised the golden pitcher and poured the water onto the Altar. As he did this, the people recited Isaiah 12:3 “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
The trumpets of Rosh Hashana announce the coming of the King of Kings, Yom Kipor signifies the great act of atonement of The Saviour on our behalf, and Sukkot reminds us that Jesus was, is, and will be with us. Glory Hallelujah!