Sukkot for Believers in Yeshua

(Updated for 2023)

Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, is celebrated during the seventh Biblical month, Tishrei. The observance is actually two moedim (Appointed Times) back-to-back: the festival of Sukkot for seven days followed by Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day Assembly. Sukkot begins on the fifteenth day of Tishrei, or Saturday, September 30, 2023, and goes through Friday, October 6. Shemini Atzeret is on Saturday, October 7, 2023. More accurately, these dates like all other Hebrew dates begin at sundown the evening prior.

The first day of Sukkot (Saturday, September 30) and Shemini Atzeret (Saturday, October 7) are annual Sabbaths.

Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths [Sukkot, plural of Sukkah, Strong’s number H5521 meaning a booth, a rude or temporary shelter] for seven days to the LORD. On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the LORD; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work.

These are the appointed times of the LORD which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, to present offerings by fire to the LORD–burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each day’s matter on its own day– besides those of the sabbaths of the LORD, and besides your gifts and besides all your votive and freewill offerings, which you give to the LORD.

On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

So Moses declared to the sons of Israel the appointed times of the LORD.
(Leviticus 23:33-44)

This year (2023), they are also the Weekly Sabbaths. No work at all is to be done on these days, and Biblically the observance of the Weekly Sabbath takes precedence. For more on this concept, see my post Sabbath – First of the Feasts?

Sukkot in the Bible

As you can see by the two descriptions above in Leviticus 23, Sukkot is both a harvest festival and a remembrance of the time in the wilderness. Sukkot is one what are called the “Three Pilgrimage Festivals” of the Torah, all agriculturally based with harvest offerings from various crops. At these feasts, Israelite men are commanded to assemble in Jerusalem.

Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.
(Exodus 23:14-17)

Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.
(Exodus 34:23)

Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.
(Deuteronomy 16:16)

(Note: “Shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed” refers to the harvest offering and sacrifices, not a collection of money in a fund-raising campaign.)

After entering the Land, there is no specific mention of anyone celebrating this Feast until after the return from captivity in Babylon. At the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, both the 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles accounts mention that they were assembled in the seventh month for a feast, so this is an indication that there was some sort of regular observance taking place. However, the book of Nehemiah suggests that prior to the return from captivity Sukkot had not been fully celebrated.

They found written in the law how the LORD had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing.
(Nehemiah 8:14-17)

The Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, is likely patterned after Sukkot. According to 2 Maccabees 10:6-7, Hanukkah was celebrated for eight days “in the manner of the Feast of Booths” because during the proper time of Sukkot they had been unable to observe it. They even celebrated by carrying “ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm” similar to what is done during Sukkot.

Sukkot is mentioned only once in the New Testament, in John chapter 7. There during what is probably a traditional ceremony, Yeshua declares,

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”
(John 7:37-38)

Traditional Jewish Celebrations

Because there is no standing Temple, the offerings and sacrifices described in Torah are not performed. Instead, observant Jews offer prayers from the Siddur in place of the sacrifices. The Synagogue service becomes a central focus of Sukkot.

Torah instructs native-born Israelites to dwell in a temporary structure known as a sukkah for seven days (Leviticus 23:42). Scripture does not describe a sukkah. Jewish tradition and rabbinic literature have gone to great lengths to define exactly what constitutes a proper sukkah and what a person is to do inside one.

Many families in Israel build their sukkah on a porch, patio or roof. The sukkah is usually constructed so that its roof, which is made from cut branches, allows for the stars to be seen on a clear night. Likely this is derived from the celebration described in Nehemiah 8. At least one meal is eaten daily in the sukkah in order to honor the command to “dwell” in the sukkah.

Another part of the command is to joyously celebrate with “the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook.” Traditionally this is done with the lulav, which has become a collective term for a bouquet consisting of lulav (a palm branch), hadas (a myrtle branch), arava (a willow branch) and etrog (a citron fruit).

According to Barny Kasdan in God’s Appointed Times,

It is that each of the species represents a different kind of person. The etrog, which tastes sweet and has a delightful aroma, represents a person with knowledge of the Torah and good deeds. The lulav, which comes from a date palm, has a fruit that tastes sweet yet has not fragrance. Hence, some people have knowledge, but no good deeds. The hadas is just the opposite, having a nice fragrance yet no taste (good deeds without true knowledge). Arava, since it possesses neither taste nor smell, represents the person who lacks both knowledge and deeds. Perhaps this can serve as a reminder that faith without works is dead (James 2:17).

Modern Observance

About the middle of the twentieth century groups of Christian believers began to meet together to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in the United States. The largest of these gatherings were organized among Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God. They weren’t exactly in temporary “booths” – most of these meetings were in hotels or convention centers.

Since then, many Messianic and Hebrew roots groups have gathered at campgrounds and retreats to celebrate Sukkot. This is quite different from the traditional Jewish practice of building a sukkah on one’s own property.

Messianic Application

Believers in Yeshua as well as many non-believing Jews view Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret as prophetic of the Messianic age and the world to come. “Sukkot was always known as the holy day that commemorates God dwelling with his people. How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it fully comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this holy day” (Kasdan).

The Hebrew word sukkah is translated into the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) as skene (Strong’s #G4633), the same word used here in Revelation 21:3:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…”
(Revelation 21:1-3)

The verb form of this word, skenoo (Strong’s #G4637) is used to describe the first advent of Messiah Yeshua.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:14)

We cannot be certain of the date of Yeshua’s birth. The New Testament never gives any calendar date for anything, we can only estimate certain dates by their proximity to Festivals that are mentioned. And though no Festival is mentioned at the birth of Messiah, many scholars believe that certain events surrounding his birth and the birth of John the Baptist point to Yeshua being born around the time of Sukkot. It most certainly was not December 25. And while the birth date of Messiah is not mentioned in Scripture, many choose to recognize it at this time.


Shehecheyanu – Traditional Festival Blessing:

Taken from the Prayer Book and Life Cycle Guide for Messianic Believers in Yeshua.

בּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה
אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֺלָם
שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ
לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Baruch atah Adonai
Eloheinu melech ha’olam
Shehecheyanu v’kiy’mau v’higiyanu
Laz’man hazeh

Blessed are you, O Lord
Our God, King of the universe
Who has granted us life, and sustained us, and brought us
To this season

Blessing upon Entering the Sukkah

בּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה
אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֺלָם
אֲשֶּׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֺתָיו
וֽצִוָּנוּ לָשֶׁבֶת בּסכּוֺת

Baruch atah Adonai
Eloheinu melech ha’olam
Asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav
v’tzivanu la’shevet ba’sukkot

Blessed are you, O Lord
Our God, King of the universe
Who has sanctified us by His commandments
And commanded us to sit in booths

Blessing for Waving the Lulav

בּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה
אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֺלָם
אֲשֶּׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֺתָיו
וֽצִוָּנוּ עַל נְתִלַת לוּלָב

Baruch atah Adonai
Eloheinu melech ha’olam
Asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav
v’tzivanu al netilat lulav

Blessed are you, O Lord
Our God, King of the universe
Who has sanctified us by His commandments
And commanded us concerning the lulav

Additional Posts About Sukkot

Season of our Joy
How to Build a Sukkah with PVC

Recommended Resources

God’s Appointed Times – Barney Kasdan
Aligning with God’s Appointed Times – Jason Sobel
Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles – David Brickner

Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation

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