Tabernacles The Feast of
Tabernacles, The Feast of (Ex. 23:16, “the feast of ingathering”), the third of the three great festivals of the Hebrews, which lasted from the 15th till the 22d of Tisri.
1. The following are the principal passages in the Pentateuch which refer to it: Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:34–36, 39–43; Num. 29:12–38; Deut. 16:13–15; 31:10–13. In Neh. 8 there is an account of the observance of the feast by Ezra. 2. The time of the festival fell in the autumn, when the whole of the chief fruits of the ground, the corn, the wine and the oil, were gathered in. Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:39; Deut. 15:13–15. Its duration was strictly only seven days, Deut. 16:13; Ezek. 45:25; but it was followed by a day of holy convocation, distinguished by sacrifices of its own, which was sometimes spoken of as an eighth day. Lev. 23:36; Neh. 8:18. During the seven days the Israelites were commanded to dwell in booths or huts formed of the boughs of trees. The boughs were of the olive, palm, pine, myrtle, and other trees with thick foliage. Neh. 8:15–16. According to rabbinical tradition, each Israelite used to tie the branches into a bunch, to be carried in his hand, to which the name lûlâb was given. The burnt offerings of the Feast of Tabernacles were by far more numerous than those of any other festival. There were offered on each day two rams, fourteen lambs and a kid for a sin offering. But what was most peculiar was the arrangement of the sacrifices of bullocks, in all amounting to seventy. Num. 29:12–38. The eighth day was a day of holy convocation of peculiar solemnity. On the morning of this day the Hebrews left their huts and dismantled them, and took up their abode again in their houses. The special offerings of the day were a bullock, a ram, seven lambs, and a goat for a sin offering. Num. 29:36, 38. When the Feast of Tabernacles fell on a sabbatical year, portions of the law were read each day in public, to men, women, children, and strangers. Deut. 31:10–13. We find Ezra reading the law during the festival “day by day, from the first day to the last day.” Neh. 8:18. 3.
There are two particulars in the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles which appear to be referred to in the New Testament, but are not noticed in the Old. These were the ceremony of pouring out some water of the pool of Siloam and the display of some great lights in the court of the women. We are told that each Israelite, in holiday attire, having made up his lûlâb, before he broke his fast repaired to the temple with the lûlâb in one hand and the citron in the other, at the time of the ordinary morning sacrifice. The parts of the victim were laid upon the altar. One of the priests fetched some water in a golden ewer from the pool of Siloam, which he brought into the court through the water-gate. As he entered the trumpets sounded, and he ascended the slope of the altar. At the top of this were fixed two silver basins with small openings at the bottom. Wine was poured into that on the eastern side, and the water into that on the western side, whence it was conducted by pipes into the Cedron. In the evening, both men and women assembled in the court of the women, expressly to hold a rejoicing for the drawing of the water of Siloam. At the same time there were set up in the court two lofty stands, each supporting four great lamps. These were lighted on each night of the festival. It appears to be generally admitted that the words of our Saviour, John 7:37–38—“If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water”—were suggested by the pouring out of the water of Siloam. But it is very doubtful what is meant by “the last day, that great day of the feast.” It would seem that either the last day of the feast itself, that is, the seventh, or the last day of the religious observances of the series of annual festivals, the eighth, must be intended. The eighth day may be meant, and then the reference of our Lord would be to an ordinary and well-known observance of the feast, though it was not, at the very time, going on. We must resort to some such explanation if we adopt the notion that our Lord’s words, John 8:12—“I am the light of the world”—refer to the great lamps of the festival. 4. Though all the Hebrew annual festivals were seasons of rejoicing, the Feast of Tabernacles was, in this respect, distinguished above them all. The huts and the lûlâbs must have made a gay and striking spectacle over the city by day, and the lamps, the flambeaux, the music, and the joyous gatherings in the court of the temple must have given a still more festive character to the night. The main purposes of the Feast of Tabernacles are plainly set forth in Ex. 23:16 and Lev. 23:43. It was to be at once a thanksgiving for the harvest and a commemoration of the time when the Israelites dwelt in tents during their passage through the wilderness. In one of its meanings it stands in connection with the Passover, as the Feast of Abib, and with Pentecost, as the feast of harvest; in its other meaning, it is related to the Passover as the great yearly memorial of the deliverance from the destroyer and from the tyranny of Egypt. But naturally connected with this exultation in their regained freedom was the rejoicing in the more perfect fulfillment of God’s promise in the settlement of his people in the holy land. But the culminating point of this blessing was the establishment of the central spot of the national worship in the temple at Jerusalem. Hence it was evidently fitting that the Feast of Tabernacles should be kept with an unwonted degree of observance at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, 1 Kings 8:2, 65; Joseph. Ant. viii. 4, §5; again, after the rebuilding of the temple by Ezra, Neh. 8:13–18, and a third time by Judas Maccabæus when he had driven out the Syrians and restored the temple to the worship of Jehovah. 2 Macc. 10:5–8.