Thoroughly Equipped: The Feast of the Shelters

Today’s reading includes Leviticus 22:17-23:44, Mark 9:30-10:12, Psalm 44:1-8, Proverbs 10:19.

In today’s reading we learn a bit about the annual feasts God gave the Israelites as a perpetual command.  These holy days are still celebrated today among the Jewish people.  I love the fact that God is a God of Celebration.  He loves special, holy days and gave the Israelites 7 holy feast days throughout the year, in addition to the weekly Sabbath celebration, as well as several periodical holy days.  Here is a list of what the Lord required—gave as a blessing—to the Israelites.

.  These feasts included:

  • The weekly feast of the Sabbath
  • The 7 annual feasts which included the 3 “pilgrim feasts”; all introduced in Leviticus 23.

In addition to the weekly and annual feasts there were several periodic feasts:

  • The New Moon Feast which began each month in the lunar calendar [the official calendar of the feast cycle]
  • The Sabbath year feast, held every 7th year
  • The Jubilee Feast which was celebrated every 50th year.

Though we as Christians are not obligated to celebrate these special days, their symbolism is a great source of encouragement for us and a reminder of the truth of God’s plan through Jesus.

The one I want to focus on today goes by several names.  Some refer to it as the Feast of Shelters or the Feast of Booths.  It was also called The Feast of Tabernacles from the Latin word for “dwelling”.  It was the seventh feast, with the first one being Passover.  We have talked quite a bit about Passover and that Jesus indeed was and is the Passover Lamb—the Lamb of God who died so that death could pass over us.  It is also interesting to note that the last of the annual feasts, The Feast of Shelters, had a huge emphasis on light and water.  So, right off we see that Jesus was in the first of the feasts as the Passover Lamb of God, and Jesus was also in the last of the feasts as the Living Water and the Light of the World.  Revelation 22:12 makes even more sense in light of these truths:

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

He is the first and the last in all things.  He was in the symbolism of the first feast and of the last feast.  In time, we will see that He was the symbolism in everything in between, as well.

As for the emphasis of light during the Feast of the Shelters, the folks at had this to say:

During the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) there was a great ceremony called the “Illumination of the Temple,” which involved the ritual lighting of four golden oil-fed lamps in the Court of Women. These lamps were huge menorahs/candelabras (seventy-five feet high) lighted in the Temple at night to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had guided Israel in their wilderness journey. All night long the light shone their brilliance, it is said, illuminating the entire city.

Remember that the pillar of light led the people through the wilderness.  It was the Shekinah glory of God—His constant presence.  In the same way, no matter the darkness in this world, God’s presence will ever be a light for our path. The people would be very familiar with this concept of the celebration of light and it would have had a profound effect for them to hear Jesus declare while he was in the Temple—the very place that was lit up during the Festival of Shelters—the He was the Light of the World.

As for the water significance, we must remember that Israelites lived and wandered through the wilderness in a desert climate.  While we take no thought of our water sources, that was not the case for God’s people in biblical times, as well as in many parts of the world today.  When Jesus said “I am the Living Water” it was not only as a symbol of quenching our thirsty souls, it was also a declaration that He would meet their every need and calm their fears.  During the Feast of the Shelters, they remembered the miraculous ways God used water to save them.  He parted the Red Sea, He provided water which flowed from a rock, and He made the bitter waters drinkable.

The Feast of the Shelters was said to be one of the most joyous times of the year.  The people were to make small tents (or huts/booths) and camp out for seven days.  They decorate their tents with greenery and today, they may even add tiny lights to remind themselves to be grateful for the light of God’s guidance.

During the Feast of the Shelters, as described in Leviticus 23, the celebration was to last for seven days, with a holy convocation on the 8th day.  Leviticus 23:40 said,

40 On the first day gather branches from magnificent trees[l]—palm fronds, boughs from leafy trees, and willows that grow by the streams. Then celebrate with joy before the Lord your God for seven days.”

According to, the Jewish people form bouquets out of four kinds of branches, one of which was palm branches.  Waving these branches was their way of celebrating and thanking God for all He had done for them.  The word hosanna was originally a word of supplication.  It meant something like, “Come to our aid!” or “I beg you to save!” The priests would repeat it over and over in a monotone voice on the seventh day of the Feast of the Shelters.  While they repeated this urgently, they walked around the altar of sacrifice, where they sacrificed a lamb, and urgently prayed for rain.  While the Feast of the Shelters started out as a time of petition, it gradually turned into a time of praise and remembrance of God’s provision.  So, the word Hosanna, gradually turned from a word of petition, to a word of praise.  According to Benedict XVI:

By the time of Jesus, the word had also acquired Messianic overtones. In the Hosanna acclamation, then, we find an expression of the complex emotions of the pilgrims accompanying Jesus and of his disciples: joyful praise of God at the moment of the processional entry, hope that the hour of the Messiah had arrived, and at the same time a prayer that the Davidic kingship and hence God’s kingship over Israel would be reestablished.

The people may have learned the word hosanna during the Feast of the Shelters, but they used it correctly when they spontaneously shouted this word when Jesus entered Jerusalem in what was to be His triumphal entry leading to His death, for He indeed had come to save them and us.  They shouted it in praise and joyful adoration, while they waved palm branches, just as they did during the Feasts of the Shelters.  I believe deep in their spirits it was spontaneous praise, as well as petition.  Their spirits cried, “I beg you to save!”  Little did they know, that was exactly what He was about to do.

And our spirits cry the same in both praise and petition, as we recognize that Jesus, the First and the Last, the Passover Lamb of God, the Living Water, and the Light of the World, is our only hope.

The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

                                                                        Matthew 21:9

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