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Pitching Tents in the Holy City

By Nena Benigno
CBN Correspondent -- Every year, despite bomb threats and the tense political atmosphere, thousands of evangelical Christians from more than100 nations come to Israel to celebrate “Sukkot,” or the Feast of Tabernacles. This biblical holiday, also called the “Feast of Booths” is still observed in Israel thousands of years since God commanded Moses and the Jews to “Live in booths for seven days…so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23: 42, 43). Sukkot is also a harvest festival called the “Feast of the Ingathering,” a time to rejoice before God and give thanks for the freshly gathered Autumn harvest. Traditionally, it is also a time to pray for rain.

During the Sukkot, the Jews build “booths” or “sukkas,” also called “tabernacles” or dwellings, in their private balconies, front lawns, parks, restaurants, and public plazas. These are makeshift tents with roofs made of palm fronds and leafy tree branches, with walls made of bamboo matting, straw, cloth, and other flimsy material. They are meant to look like the collapsible tents the Israelites lived in when they encamped in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. Inside, sukkas are hung with pomegranates, pears, ears of corn, and other fruits of the harvest.

Both secular and religious Jews eat meals and sleep occasionally in the sukkah. Within this tabernacle, there are no distinctions between the rich and the poor, the prominent and the ordinary. Jews, whatever their status in life, remember that their forefathers were once wanderers in the desert, redeemed from slavery, completely dependent on God for food, water, and safe passage into Israel. Here Jews also thank God for blessing their farms and crops and the labors of their hands.

For evangelical Christians, who believe in God’s Kingdom to come, it is a vivid reminder that life on earth is impermanent, a journey to the ultimate Promised Land. There, God will once again “tabernacle,” or dwell, among men as Immanuel, "God with us."

“It’s a reminder not to accumulate too many possessions in this life, to travel light. We don’t really belong here. We’re headed for a better place,” remarks German pilgrim Erika Loeffler, who has come to Israel for the Feast of Tabernacles more than seven times in past years.

Christians also consider their participation in the Sukkot a prophetic gesture, a time to pray and stand with God’s purposes for Israel, the Jews, and the nations at the end of the age.

“I come here not just for the past, but for the future,” explains Lucy Peralta from the Philippines, who has been bringing groups of 15 or more Filipinos to the Feast for the past 18 years.

Lucy was one of the first Filipinos to hold up the Philippine flag in the yearly “Jerusalem March,” where Christians from all over the world don their native costumes and parade around Jerusalem, holding up banners that quote God’s promises for Israel in the Scriptures.

“The Bible says, ‘Comfort, yes, comfort my people!' says your God. 'Speak comfort to Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 40: 1, 2). We’re here to pray and comfort the Jews in the midst of all the problems and conflicts in their land, and to assure them that they, and the nation of Israel, have a glorious future awaiting them,” she adds.

Christians here believe that the Jewish feasts in the Old Testament have all been fulfilled in the New Testament age with the coming of Jesus Christ, except for one: the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of the Passover is fulfilled in Christ, the Passover Lamb, who brought deliverance from the slavery of sin. The sacrifice of His life on Calvary to redeem men fulfills Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Feast of Pentecost, or "Shavuot," was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2).

It was on the “last and greatest day” of the Feast of Tabernacles that Jesus Christ cried out, saying: “ 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive” (John 7: 37-39).

According to the book of Ezekiel, the Feast of Tabernacles will still be celebrated and truly fulfilled at a future time. The prophet Ezekiel describes a last great war, with all the nations fighting against Jerusalem. Then the Messiah, the God of Israel, will return to Jerusalem. He will defend the city, judge the nations, and establish peace. Ezekiel says, “The Lord will be King over the whole earth.” Then “the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14: 9, 16).

Christians here say that is why the Feast of Tabernacles is also the Feast of the Ingathering because it foreshadows the final harvest, the last ingathering of people from every tribe and nation who will come and dwell with God in this ultimate “Promised Land.”

“We’re here as first fruits of this harvest," says Peralta, "and to pray that Jesus Christ will come soon to Jerusalem to tabernacle with us as Immanuel, God with us. Then there will be world peace because He will take world government upon His shoulders as the Prince of Peace. It will happen here in Israel and nowhere else.”

In the face of Intifada, suicide bombings, and wrangling over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the “wall” or “security fence,” in this land of conflict and bloodshed, Christians here pray and hold on to the shining hope of Israel.

It is best understood in the words of Isaiah:

“Now it will come about in the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as chief among the mountains, and it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in his paths. For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation. And never again will they learn war" (Isaiah 2: 2-4).

More Christianity's Jewish Roots

Inside Israel from CBN News

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Nena Benigno is the head writer of the Christian Broadcasting Network Asia and scriptwriter of The 700 Club Asia.

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