Home > Biblical Theology, Old Testament > The Feast of Booths

The Feast of Booths

Israelite males were commanded to attend three festivals a year: The Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths (Deut 16:16). All three events were reminders of God’s salvation and goodness to his people. The Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are events in the history of Israel that are fairly easy to develop throughout the plotline of Scripture and see fulfilled in Jesus. For example, Jesus is our Passover lamb as he makes final atonement at the cross (1 Cor 5:7). Likewise, the events in Acts 2:1ff clearly fulfill the Feast of Weeks as the resurrected Christ ascends to the Father and sends the promise of the Holy Spirit to begin a new harvest, which is a harvest of God’s new people called the Church. Yet what do we do with the Feast of Booths? How does this festival find its completion in Christ and his church?

The Feast of Booths celebrated God’s provision for his people in the wilderness. In remembrance of God’s provision in the wilderness, the Israelites lived in booths or tents for one week. Furthermore, the festival was a reminder of God’s deliverance. As God delivered the fall harvest and a new season began (i.e., their agricultural season), both the rich and the poor would gather leafy branches to celebrate this festival. The branches represented the end of the harvest season and the abundance of God’s provision (Lev 23:33-44; Num 29:12-38; cf., Exo 23:16; 34:22). In short, the Feast of Booths represented God’s provision in hostile environments and his eventual deliverance of his people and blessing of goodness and abundance.

Although the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Weeks played a predominate role in the life of Israel and are significant to their typological relationship to Christ and his church, the Feast of Booths should not be underestimated. The next momentous event in Israel’s history where we find mention of the Feast of Booths is the return of the exiles from Babylon. The parallels to the historical situation in which the Feast of Booths is first given under Moses and the celebration of the event under Zerubbabel and Ezra is striking. As Israel had been in exile and the wilderness in the past (Exodus-Numbers) and was eventually brought safely to the land; so these Israelites were in exile and a wilderness (Babylon, see the book of Daniel) before returning to the land. Although the Babylonian exile certainly parallels the Egyptian exile as a place of bondage, the idea of wilderness is also significant. The wilderness for the Israelites was a place of great suffering, but also a place of God’s provision (e.g., idolatry and rebellion, but God provided food, water, and he dwelt with them). Although the Israelites exiled under the Babylonian empire did not live in the wilderness per se, their experience was very much like their forefathers. They lived in a strange land (other than the promised land) and experienced great suffering, but also great blessing by God (e.g., persecution, but also promises of God’s final King and Kingdom). When the exiles return from Babylon, the Law of Moses is read by Ezra (a second Moses) and the people celebrate God’s provision for deliverance and a season of newness (Ezra 3:4; Neh 8:13-18). We can clearly see that the Feast of Booths is celebrated in conjunction with God’s provision for his people in times of great suffering and God’s deliverance of his people, which introduces a new time or season in their life (agricultural season) or history (return from exile). Two distinguishing features of the Feast of Booths in both the Egyptian and Babylonian episodes are that the people are to live in booths or tents and are to celebrate with leafy branches, which will become significant when we understand the festival in light of the New Testament.

The final mention of the Feast of Booths we find in the Old Testament is in Zechariah 14:15-19. In this passage God is victorious over his enemies and his people are protected and blessed (Zech 14:1-14). In that day living water will flow out of Jerusalem, God will be king over the whole earth, and the Lord’s presence will permeate all things to the point that even the cooking pots will be holy (Zech 14:8-9, 20-21). In celebration of God’s provision and deliverance people from every nation will celebrate the Feast of Booths annually (Zech 14:16-19). Those who do not celebrate the Feast of Booths will be considered accursed and will be punished accordingly, most significantly Egypt. This final picture of the Feast of Booths has lead many to understand these things to be fulfilled during a literal thousand-year millennium; however, upon further inspection we will see that this end-time picture, along with our previous discussions of the Feast of Booths actually find their fulfillment in Jesus, his church, and the new heavens and new earth.

Before I begin to make substantial connections between the Feast of Booths and the New Testament, let me make two points that will help us understand the Feast of Booths and our overall perspective of redemptive-history.

1.) Israel was a picture of the true believing people of God. Paul makes this point very clear in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. What happened in the life of Israel is recapitulated first in the life of Christ as the true Israel and then played out in the life of his true covenant people, the church. This is why we find much of the same language and themes picked up in the New Testament to describe God’s new covenant people (e.g., temple, nation, priesthood, etc.).

2.) Jesus, as the final lawgiver and final Moses, provides for his people three things in regard to our present discussion (cf., Deut 18:15-18). He accomplishes a final and better Exodus (Luke 9:31; Rev 15:3; cf., Exo 15:1), he gives us a new Law (Matt 5-7; 22:37-39; 1 Cor 9:20-21), and he nourishes his people with true manna—himself (John 6:33ff).

Just as Israel experienced bondage (Egypt), then deliverance (Exodus), then wandered in the wilderness (a place of suffering and blessing), and eventually entered the promised land; so Christ recapitulates this pattern in his life. As the true Israel, Jesus is called out Egypt (Matt 2:15, cf., Hos 11:1), he is then taken through a water event (baptism, Matt 3:13-17), he then is driven into the wilderness where he faces great temptation, but also great protection from God (Matt 4:1-11), and finally he gives a new law as he enters the land to be a great light to the nations (Matt 4:12-25; 5:1ff). Likewise, the church recapitulates this pattern found in the Old Testament. The church is delivered by the final Moses in a final exodus (Luke 9:31; cf., Rev 15:3), then is baptized as one body together (Eph 4:16; cf., 1 Cor 10:1-4); and are now going though a wilderness experience, and eventually will enter the promised land. You will notice that I did not provide Scripture references with the final two points (i.e., wilderness and promised land) because I want to develop these two points more fully to help show the significance of the Feast of Booths in the New Testament.

Most everyone reading would agree that the church has experienced a new Exodus by the work of Christ from spiritual bondage and that we have all been baptized into one body. However, how is it that the church is in a wilderness experience and what is our promised land? The wilderness idea must first be understood in relation to my previous paragraph where the church recapitulates the life of Israel. If the church is the anti-typical realization of the type (Israel) from the Old Testament by virtue of Christ then it would follow that the wilderness and promised land are the logical progression of this relationship. However, merely stating these things to be so is not enough, we must demonstrate it from Scripture.

1.) Wilderness. If Jesus has accomplished a greater or final exodus then it is safe to assume that his people must face a time of wilderness experience. If you recall the Old Testament understanding of the end of the age was one return of the Lord in which he would deliver his people and judge their enemies. However, the New Testament has introduced the already-not-yet dynamic in which we have already been blessed (e.g., Spirit, adoption, etc.), but await the consummation of this present age (e.g., resurrected bodies, permanent presence with God, etc.). Thus, it is safe to assume that since all the blessings associated with the end of the age have not come, God’s new covenant people are progressing between two ages, the future age (i.e., last days) and the present evil age. While the church progresses through this present evil age, God is caring for his church and providing for her despite suffering, temptation, and tribulation. John makes this point very clear that God is protecting and nourishing the church in the wilderness from the attacks of the dragon for a specific amount of time (Rev 12:6, 14). Obviously, an individuals understanding of Revelation (see Revelation Outline for additional information) will influence how they view this woman in Revelation twelve, but I believe the woman is the church living in this already-not-yet dynamic after the binding of Satan (Matt 12:22-29; John 12:30-31; Heb 2:14; 1 John 3:8; Rev 20:2). John then goes on to talk about the assaults on the church during their wilderness journey where the beast and false prophet assault the church with idolatry and immorality. However, the church is triumphant overcoming the unholy trinity by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (Rev 12:11).

Even the writer of Hebrews makes it clear that the church is in a wilderness experience as Israel was because the promise of rest remains possible (Heb 3:12-4:13). Although Israel did enter the land and possess it, that was not the end of the promise for there remains a Sabbath rest, which is available to all who trust in Jesus. The church is moving on during this wilderness experience until they reach that promised rest. During this wilderness experience God nourishes his people not with actual bread and water, but with his Son. Jesus is the bread from heaven and the living water, which sustains and nourishes his people to persevere in the midst of great temptation and suffering (John 4:10ff; 6:33ff).

Finally, Paul’s language found in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2 where he speaks about our transient life here as a tent helps us better understand how the church is in a present wilderness experience. The Israelites dwelt in a tent, just as God did with his people (tabernacle). However, God eventually dwelt with his people in a more permanent structure called the temple upon entering the promised land. Likewise God dwells with his people now in this temporal structure (our bodies, 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16), but will one day will dwell with his people (the true temple, Rev 21-22) in a new heavens and new earth.

2.) The Promised Land. The idea of promised land is transformed in Christ to refer to the whole world. Paul makes very clear that Abraham and his descendants are heirs of the whole world, not simply a piece of land in the Middle East (Rom 4:13). This idea of promised land is fully described for us in Revelation 21-22 where we see the new heavens and new earth adorned with God’s presence and God’s redeemed people. There are several key themes we find picked up in this new heavens and new earth idea that coincide with the Feast of Booths. First, the presence of palm branches symbolizes a time of deliverance and newness that was represented by the Feast of Booths. In Revelation 7:9-17 we find the great multitude that had come out of the great tribulation (i.e., the wilderness) praising God with palm branches. The language in Revelation 7:9-17 parallels both Revelation 14:1-5 and 21:22-22:5. All three passages are at the conclusion of visions that John sees which speak of the end of the age and God’s blessing and deliverance for his people (see progressive-parallelism outline). The people of God have come out of their wilderness experience and are celebrating the final or greater Feast of Booths with palm branches commemorating God’s provision during difficulty and deliverance into a new season or time. The new season is the new heavens and new earth in which God’s people will forever be with their God. In addition, the Feast of Booths in Zechariah 14:15-19 is fulfilled in Revelation 21:22-22:5, where we find the nations coming to the New Jerusalem bearing gifts. Moreover, we find in Revelation 21:22-22:5 the Lord is over his new creation (on the throne) and that living water is coming from the throne (Rev 22:1, 5), which is a direct fulfillment of Zechariah 14:8-9. Finally, we find that everything is holy in this new temple-city just like Zechariah prophesied (Zech 14:20-21). The presence of the Lord is so great that everyone is “holy unto the Lord” and that not one unclean thing is allowed in this city (Rev 21:27; 22:3-5). The reference in Zechariah of how those who do not come up to Jerusalem and celebrate the Feast of Booths (most notably Egypt) will be punished was framed in a nationalistic and physical way so that the people of that day could relate to the promise. John expands and develops this idea by showing that all who do evil will not share in the Feast of Booths and that Egypt as the principle type of those who stand against God’s people and will have no share in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 11:7-10; 21:24-27).

In the new heavens and new earth we will celebrate the final Feast of Booths, praising God for his provision during our wilderness journey and his deliverance, which was made possible by Jesus’ work at the cross and now fully realized as we are delivered into a time of restoration and newness. If you notice in all the passages we have examined from the New Testament there is no mention of dwelling in tents in the new heavens and new earth to celebrate the Feast of Booths. The work of God that has begun now by him dwelling with us will be fully consummated in the new heavens and new earth when God’s people will dwell safely with their Lord and never again face a wilderness experience. The fulfillment of the Feast of Booths will be on that glorious day when Christ comes for his people. It will not be a perpetual festival that will happen every year like it did in Israel’s history, but it will be a spectacular and consummative act when God’s people will forever be with him, commemorating his provision and deliverance, not with literal palm branches or tents, but with our hearts and minds united as one praising our Savior Jesus Christ who is Lord over all the earth. He will nourish us forever with his presence and we will all say in one accord:

Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed. (Rev 15:3-4)

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  1. Jason
    July 20, 2007 at 10:17 am

    Chad,
    Thanks for working to help us see Christ for all His glory in the Scripture. It’s so disappointing to see how the “church” today simply bypasses our Lord Christ so often when dealing with the OT. When are we as a people going to give God His full Glory by praising Him for the (complete) accomplishment of His purposes in and through Christ? How can we as the church, the Body of Christ, get away with cherry-picking which ideas in the OT are fulfilled in Christ and which aren’t? We should be ashamed when we (rightly) give God glory for Christ our Passover, but then turn around and “pass-over” Christ when considering so many other great typological threads woven throughout the OT. If Christ is the fulfillment of the whole Scripture (and He says that He is!), then He is the fulfillment of all the strands of content that make up God’s Word. If Christ says that He is the fulfillment of the Scripture, then who are we to deny Him the glory of His Person and Work in the “summing up of all things in Christ”? The OT teaches us Christ. The NT (commentary on the OT) teaches us Christ. God help us to give Him all the glory!

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