How wonderful that this year the start of the Feast of Tabernacles (October 3) coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival that the Chinese are celebrating. The date falls on the full moon of the seventh month in the Jewish calendar and the full moon of the eighth month for the Chinese lunar calendar.
The occasion allows me to think about the festival I enjoyed as a child even as I learn more about Sukkot, the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. It makes me wonder what the Lord places in each of our culture to connect us with his great plans and commandments.
This year I learnt that observant Jews in celebrating the festival commanded in Lev 23:33 follow instructions specifically spelt out in Lev 23:39-43.
The booths or sukkah (singular for sukkot) they build in the gardens and yards of their home use leaves and branches from four types of trees detailed in verse 40. They interpret these branches to be from the etrog, a citrus fruit, to represent the ‘beautiful trees’; the branches of the date palm, representing palm trees; branches from the leafy myrtle, representing leafy trees; and the branches of the willow, as in ‘willows of the brook’.
The sukkah is built in such a way that the tree branches covering the top provide more shade than sunlight in the day but has enough gaps so that the stars can be seen through the leaves at night. Together with the leaves and branches, the sukkah is decorated with many fruits and vegetables.
Sukkot is a fall festival and the branches and fruit celebrate the plentiful harvest and God’s provision. It is a fun, joyous family occasion.
Families spend time in their sukkah having meals and sometimes sleeping in them. Watching the stars and the moon and laughing with the family in the sukkah brings joy to the occasion. God commanded that his people were to also remember the time when he led his people in the desert for 40 years and provided for them. The lesson: rather than trust in our own manmade structures, we are to trust in God’s sukkah.
The Chinese celebrate the mid-autumn festival with the abundance of harvest as well. Certainly many cultures also celebrate harvest festivals and the Moon Festival is enjoyed with many traditional fruits and sweet delights with the family coming together for a meal and to enjoy mooncakes under the stars.
Observant Jews look for the perfect etrog, a citrus fruit which looks like a long lemon as part of the celebration. I saw and touched an etrog for the first time last week, and was encouraged to smell it for its scent. It reminded me of the pomelo that we peel when we are enjoying mooncakes.
The Chinese tradition goes back many centuries, and Mid-Autumn Festival is an important time of family gathering as well. We too gather outdoors and enjoy delicious mooncakes under the moonlight. We talk about fun times, and sing songs about the moon. It is a fun, joyous family occasion.
As children we heard folk stories about the moon, of how the earth was in a famine at one time and the god of heaven sent this person down to save the world with his red bow and white arrow and shooting down some suns, he saved the world from drought.
We heard how a young woman fell in love with this savior, about how their plan to live in eternity was ruined by an evil man. There are more details in the story but it ends with her rising up towards heaven and choosing to stay on the moon to be closer to her loved one. An interesting folklore.
In contrast, the Feast of Tabernacles is not folk lore. It was commanded by God, recorded by his faithful prophet, Moses. The difference here is there is indeed a savior who is not dead, is alive and will be returning.
Let us not forget what precedes Sukkot. It is the culmination of the Jewish High Holidays. The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) starts the holiday on the new moon or first day of the seventh month, followed by the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) on the 10th day and Sukkot on the 15th day.
The Spring Festivals, the season of Passover, provided the backdrop for the death and resurrection of Jesus. These great fall feasts, many believe, would be the backdrop for Jesus’s Second Coming, God’s final judgment, the resurrection of all and the return of the Messiah’s reign, not necessarily in that order. Events waiting to be fulfilled when the last trumpet sounds.
As we celebrate this week’s holidays let it be a reminder to all of us that there will be a day when the tabernacle—the sukkah—of God will be with men.
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev 21:3)
When fulfilled, it will be the wonderful festival for God’s family. Yes, just like Sukkot and Moon Festival, it will be a time for God to gather his people together. This time, in His family gathering, it would be a fun, joyous family occasion for all eternity.