The Feast of Tabernacles

Have you ever noticed that, apart from Christmas, all other Christian festivals coincide with Jewish festivals?

  1. Jesus died on the eve of Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) (Jn. 19:14, 31), which was Nisan 14 (Ex. 12:6, Lev. 23:5), i.e. in April, just as the lambs were being killed (1 Pet. 1:19).
  2. The Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost (Shavuot in Hebrew) (Acts 2:1), which commemorates the giving of the Law in Leviticus (Vayikrah in Hebrew) (Lev. 23:15-16). Paul contrasts the two (Rom. 8:2) and, while the original Pentecost caused 3000 people to die (Ex. 32:28), the new Pentecost gave life to 3000 people (Acts 2:41) – and to us too! (2 Cor. 3:6). Passover lasted for seven days (Lev. 23:8); Pentecost was 50 days later (on Sivan 6).
  3. So, is it therefore not possible that God arranged the birth of Christ to coincide with that other great Jewish festival, the Feast of Tabernacles? (Succot in Hebrew). This feast commemorates the provision of manna in the desert while the Israelites were living in tents (or "tabernacles"). It took place on Tishri 15 (Lev. 23:34) and it is also the Jewish harvest festival. Thus, if this theory is correct, Jesus was born on Monday September 25th, 6 BC (the Gregorian date corresponding to the Hebrew date of Tishri 15, 3756 AM) – but is there any evidence to back up this claim? Yes – in fact, there's load of it!

Evidence for Jesus being born at the Feast of Tabernacles

The Jews expected the Messiah (Mashiach in Hebrew) to appear at the Feast of Tabernacles – this is why Jesus's sceptical brothers taunted him to go to it (Jn. 7:2-3). What was the basis of this expectation?

Jeremiah 23:5-6 tells us that the Messiah would be a "Branch from David's line". Zechariah prophesies that the Branch will wipe away our guilt (Zech. 3:9), that he will build the temple of the Lord and have royal dignity (Zech. 6:12-13), and that "on that day", the Line of David will be "like the Angel of the Lord going before them" (Zech. 12:8). When will "that day" be? It will be the Feast of Tabernacles! Zech. 14:16 tells us that that is when all nations are commanded to celebrate “that day”.

Acts 15:16, quoting Amos 9:11, explains that God has returned to re-build David's tabernacle, while Ezekial 37:24-28 prophesies that David, the servant shepherd, will become king (melech in Hebrew) and that His people will live "under the shelter of my dwelling".

Isaiah (Yishaiyahu in Hebrew) explains that the Lord will save us in Jerusalem (Yerushali'im in Hebrew) – a "city of feasts" and a "sturdy tent" (Is. 33:20-22) – and that His throne shall be set up in David's tent (Is. 16:5).

In John 1:14, the word “dwelled” is literally “tabernacled” in the Greek – and this comes as the climax to John’s “version” of the story of Christ’s incarnation.

One ceremony associated with the Feast of Tabernacles involved lights. Each afternoon of the seven days, priests and pilgrims gathered at the Temple. Four large oil lamps illuminated the Court of the Women. The illumination from these lamps symbolized two things:

  1. The Shekinah (visible presence) of God which filled the Temple (1 Ki. 8:10–11).
  2. The Ha’or Gadol (the Great Light) who would come and bring light to those who were spiritually dead and dwelling in darkness (Is. 9:2).

John begins his gospel with a description of Christ coming into the world, and his description contains multiple references to light (ch. 1 vv. 4-5, 7-9) – another big clue that Christ came into the world at the Feast of Tabernacles.

According to Lev. 23:42, during Succot, Jewish families construct a flimsy shelter called a "Succah" (a tabernacle). In the Succah, the ceremony of "Ushpizin" takes place, in which they welcome God’s Shekinah (glory or presence) (cf. Lk. 2:9) and the seven "faithful shepherds" (Abraham/Avraham, Isaac/Yitzchak, Jacob/Yaacov, Joseph/Yosef, Moses/Moshe, Aaron/Aharon and David). Could this be why the angel appeared to a group of shepherds (Lk. 2:8)? Moreover, in the Ushpizin, the "faithful shepherds" are there to observe how their descendants are fulfilling God's commandments; this is similar to the shepherds' purpose – "to see this thing that has happened" (Lk. 2:15) – and where did they go to see Jesus but a flimsy shelter which we have traditionally called a "stable" but which was probably a Succah? Indeed, the Greek word for "manger" (Lk. 2:7, 12, 16) was probably the closest translation Luke could find for "Succah".

[By the way, the word translated as "inn" in Luke 2:7 is the Greek word kataluma, which is used elsewhere by Luke and translated as "guest chamber" or "upper room". For example, in Luke 22:11, Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples in an "upper room" (the same word kataluma is used here; cf. Mark 14:14). When Luke wants to speak of a paid establishment (i.e. a proper inn), he uses a different Greek word, pandocheion, as in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34). The result of this mistranslation leads to a different understanding of the story: it's not that Joseph and Mary were late arriving in the town but that they were rejected by their own family! Clearly they had family members in town, as that was the reason they returned to Bethlehem for the census, but the fact that a pregnant woman was rejected from the guest room indicates that the family chose not to make room for this unwedded mother. The birth of Jesus in a "lower" room where the animals lived suggests shame and rejection by the family.]

The Feast of Tabernacles (Succot) is known as “the season of joy”, and it is also known as “the festival of the nations” – notice how many times the words “nation” and “nations” are mentioned in Zech. 14:16-19. The angel’s announcement of Jesus’s birth to the shepherds (Lk. 2:10) is “I bring you tidings of great joy to all mankind” (i.e. to all nations). This is obviously a “Tabernacles” greeting!

Jesus was circumcised eight days after His birth (Lk. 2:21) in accordance with scripture (Gen. 17:12). This would correspond to the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Tishri 21), which was originally called "Shemini Atzeret" (or the "Eighth day of Solemn Assembly"), and later called "Simchat Torah" (or "Rejoicing in the Torah"), when the annual cycle of Torah readings begins again at Genesis (Bereshit in Hebrew). This is considered to be a time of "fulfilment" of the Torah. This would seem to be a fitting time, since Jesus came "not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it" (Mt. 5:17).

Jesus Himself gives hints that His incarnation is connected to the Feast of Tabernacles. He compared the manna of the Feast with Himself as the "real bread that comes down from Heaven" (Jn. 6:31-58), and He said all of this "as the Feast of Tabernacles was close at hand" (Jn. 7:2). The last day of the Feast was when Jesus chose to speak of Himself as "living water"; this was appropriate because the Feast celebrates the harvest and the end of the Summer drought.

Was Isaiah hinting at a “Tabernacles Christmas” when he spoke of a virgin bearing a son called Emmanuel who would eat honey (Is. 7:13-15)? When the Israelites first saw manna, at the time when they were living in the desert in tents, they said “Man-hu?” (“What is that?”) (Ex. 16:15) and it tasted like honey (Ex. 16:31). Could “Emmanuel” (“God with us”) be a pun on “God is our manna”? (cf. Jn. 6:48).

At the transfiguration, is it coincidence that Peter wants to make tents (rather than, say, houses) for Moses (who instigated the Feast of Tabernacles), Elijah (Eliyahu in Hebrew) (who was to be the forerunner of Christ’s coming, see Mal. 4:5) and Jesus (who is the One who has come)? Is it also a coincidence that John the Baptist, who is identified with Elijah (Mt. 11:14), ate wild honey (Mk. 1:6)?

The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates how the Israelites were completely dependent on God as they wandered for 40 years in the desert and were led by “a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night” (Ex. 13:21-22). Because of this experience, Jews recall that “God is with us”. Again, there was a fiery (“bright”) cloud at Christ’s transfiguration (Mt. 17:5).

Finally, Rev. 21:2-3 talks of a wedding feast where God has his "tabernacle among men" and (literally) "God-with-us shall Himself be their God" – i.e. Emmanuel. And where do all the best wedding feasts take place (even today)? Why, in a marquee, of course – which is a big tent!

Incidentally, on the 8th day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:36), i.e. Tishri 22, Jews hold a wedding ceremony and get "married" to the Law (a scroll held by a rabbi under the canopy) (Deut. 31:10-11). One day, it will be the "Wedding of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:7-8), when we will all be given clean clothes (see also Mt. 22:1-14). Does this suggest that the Second Coming will also take place at the Feast of Tabernacles? The fact that it is immediately preceded by the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25), on Tishri 1, should settle the matter, for the Second Coming will be preceded by a fanfare of trumpets (Mt. 24:31, 1 Cor. 15:52, 1 Thes. 4:16, Rev. 11:15).

Astronomical evidence

Rev. 12:1-2 also appears to tell us that Jesus was born around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles:

“A great sign appeared in heaven”. This is an indication to us that in order to comprehend these verses, we need to look up at the night sky.

“A woman clothed with the Sun” refers to the constellation Virgo. When Abraham looked up at the heavens in Gen. 15 v.5 (in about 2000 BC), the Sun would have been in the sign of Virgo during the Hebrew month of Elul, which is why the Hebrews associated the constellation of Virgo with that month. However, due to the precession of the Earth’s axis, by the time of Christ’s birth the Sun was in Virgo during the Hebrew month of Tishri (and, 2000 years on again, the Sun is in presently in Virgo during the month of Keshvan). The following table shows how these dates have gradually changed over the millennia:

YearDates when the Sun was (is)
in Virgo*
Approximate
Hebrew month
2000 BC25nd July to 4th SeptemberElul
6 BC22nd August to 2nd OctoberTishri
AD 200016th September to 30th OctoberKeshvan

*The dates given are those when the Sun crosses the constellation boundaries as defined by the IAU (International Astronomical Union).

“With the Moon under her feet” – the Moon can only be in the same constellation as the Sun at the time of the New Moon. In the Hebrew calendar, this occurs on the 1st day of the month. Tishri 1 in the year 6 BC (AM 3756) was Monday September 11th (Gregorian). However, it would have taken a few days for the New Moon to become visible, so it would have appeared “under the feet of Virgo” a little later than this.

“A crown of twelve stars on her head” – the 12 stars represent the 12 tribes of Israel (cf. Gen. 37:9). These 12 stars are in the constellations of Coma Berenices (3 stars) and Leo (9 stars) directly over Virgo’s head. “Coma” means “hair” or “crown” (and therefore signifies royalty), while Leo (the lion) represents the Lion of Judah (Gen. 49:9, Rev. 5:5). Together, these constellations are symbolic of “the King of the Jews”.

“She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth”. This confirms that the actual birth was to take place a few days later – at the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles! Symbolically, the “woman” in Rev. 12 is Israel (cf. Is. 54:1, 5) rather than Jesus’s mother Mary; hence it is a sign that “a new King of the Jews is to be born” (cf. Mt. 2:2). However, the fact that the woman is represented in the sky by the constellation Virgo symbolizes a virgin birth, so the new King was to be born of a virgin at the Feast of Tabernacles.

Does it matter?

If it was important enough to God that Jesus's birth should be at this time, and if it was important enough to put so much evidence in the Bible, then it should be important to us too!

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