What Does the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) Mean to Christians?

Sukkot in the Bible: Feast of Booths, Tabernacles, Shelters, and Ingathering

Sukkah hut
Sukkah booth.

tovfla / Getty Images

The Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot (or Feast of Booths) is a week-long fall festival commemorating the 40-year journey of the Israelites in the wilderness. Along with Passover and the Festival of Weeks, Sukkot is one of three great pilgrimage feasts recorded in the Bible when all Jewish males were required to appear before the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Feast of Tabernacles

  • Sukkot is one of the three major pilgrimage festivals of Israel, commemorating the 40 years of wilderness wanderings as well as the completion of the harvest or agricultural year.
  • The Feast of Tabernacles lasts one week, beginning on the fifteenth day of the month of Tishri (September or October), five days after the Day of Atonement, at the end of the harvest.
  • The Jewish people built temporary shelters for the feast to remember their deliverance from Egypt by the hand of God.
  • The Feast of Tabernacles is known by many names: Feast of Shelters, Feast of Booths, Feast of Ingathering, and Sukkot.

The word sukkot means "booths." Throughout the holiday, Jews observe this time by building and dwelling in temporary shelters, just like the Hebrew people did while wandering in the desert. This joyous celebration is a reminder of God's deliverance, protection, provision, and faithfulness.

When Is the Feast of Tabernacles Observed?

Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kippur, from day 15-21 of the Hebrew month of Tishri (September or October). This Bible Feasts Calendar gives the actual dates of Sukkot.

Significance of Sukkot in the Bible

The observance of the Feast of Tabernacles is recorded in Exodus 23:16, 34:22; Leviticus 23:34-43; Numbers 29:12-40; Deuteronomy 16:13-15; Ezra 3:4; and Nehemiah 8:13-18.

The Bible reveals dual significance in the Feast of Tabernacles. Agriculturally, Sukkot is Israel's "Thanksgiving." It is a joyous harvest festival celebrating the completion of the agricultural year.

As a historical feast, its main characteristic is the requirement of Israel's people to leave their homes and to dwell in temporary shelters or booths. The Jews built these booths (temporary shelters) to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt and their protection, provision, and care by the hand of God during their 40 years in the wilderness.

As a feast instituted by God, Sukkot was never forgotten. It was celebrated in the time of Solomon:

He (Solomon) offered the sacrifices for the Sabbaths, the new moon festivals, and the three annual festivals—the Passover celebration, the Festival of Harvest, and the Festival of Shelters—as Moses had commanded. (2 Chronicles 8:13, NLT)

In fact, it was during Sukkot that Solomon’s temple was dedicated:

So all the men of Israel assembled before King Solomon at the annual Festival of Shelters, which is held in early autumn in the month of Ethanim. (1 Kings 8:2, NLT)

The Bible records the Feast of Tabernacle being observed during Hezekiah's time (2 Chronicles 31:3; Deuteronomy16:16), and also after the return from exile (Ezra 3:4; Zechariah 14:16,18-19).

Customs of the Feast

Many interesting customs are associated with the celebration of Sukkot. The booth of Sukkot is called a sukkah. The shelter consists of at least three walls that are framed with wood and canvas. The roof or covering is made from cut branches and leaves, placed loosely atop, leaving open space for the stars to be viewed and rain to enter. It is common to decorate the sukkah with flowers, leaves, and fruits.

Sukkot Festival
A booth constructed for Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Dan Porges / Getty Images

Today, the requirement to dwell in the booth can be met by eating at least one meal a day in it. However, some Jews still sleep in the sukkah. Since Sukkot is a harvest celebration, typical foods include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles

During the Feast of Tabernacles in the Bible, two important ceremonies took place. The Hebrew people carried torches around the temple, illuminating bright candelabrum along the walls of the temple to demonstrate that the Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles. Also, the priest drew water from the pool of Siloam and carried it to the temple where it was poured into a silver basin beside the altar.

The priest called upon the Lord to provide heavenly water in the form of rain for their supply. Also during this ceremony, the people looked forward to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Some records reference the day spoken of by the prophet Joel.

In the New Testament, Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles and spoke these remarkable words on the last and greatest day of the Feast:

"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:37-38, NIV)

The next morning, while the torches were still burning Jesus said:

"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12, NIV)

Sukkot pointed to the truth that Israel’s life, and our lives too, rest on the redemption which is in Jesus Christ and his forgiveness of sin.