From the 15th through the 22nd of the seventh month, the Israelites were to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (Lev. 23:34). Throughout this feast, the Israelites were to live in tent-like structures called tabernacles or booths. This served as a reminder that the Lord had His people dwell in booths after He brought them out of Egypt (Lev. 23:42, 43). In the midst of Israel’s desert camp was the Tent of Meeting, where the Lord dwelled. In a very real sense, this was the goal of the exodus: God dwelling with His people. Tabernacles celebrated the fact that Israel no longer lived separate from God in Egypt. They were now one with Him.
Finally, Tabernacles also celebrated the completion of the harvest. Whereas Firstfruits and Weeks/Pentecost commemorated the harvesting of crops which ripened early, Tabernacles highlighted the maturing and gathering of the whole crop.
The Tabernacle of God with Men
While the New Testament talks about Tabernacles being celebrated, it gives no explicit interpretation about this feast (John 7:2). Nevertheless, Revelation 21:3 paints a picture reminiscent of the Lord dwelling in tabernacles with His people after bringing them out of Egypt: “Look! the tabernacle of God is with men. He will tabernacle with them, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” Our study of Passover showed that Egypt represented the world of slavery to sin, whose god is satan. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits) was our exodus, our liberation from “Egypt.” We have been brought out of a life “without hope and without God in the world;” we are now one people dwelling or tabernacling with God (Eph. 2:12). As we saw with the Day of Atonement, Christ removed the sin-barrier that kept God from dwelling with us. Sin having been removed, God is free to live in us and we in Him (John 14:21). This has been God’s end-game from the beginning: union with His people. Tabernacles was a celebration, in type, of the fact that Christ would establish God’s dwelling place in His people and be eternally one with them. Fittingly, the context of Revelation 21 is marriage.
Many agree that Tabernacles pictures God indwelling and being one with His people. Some, however, place this indwelling/union in the future, after Christ’s return. Certainly, there is a fullness of God indwelling us that we won’t experience until after Christ’s return. But the fact of our union with God is true now. For this reason, Tabernacles represents a time that is coming and has now come (John 4:23; 5:25).
The words “tabernacles” and “booths” are two ways to translate the Hebrew word “sukkot.” “Sukkot” denotes temporary shelters made by weaving branches together. Coupling this with Jesus’s teaching in John 15 again gives us an image of the Lord and His people dwelling in union: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). We can almost re-imagine the camp of Israel as a vineyard where the branches weave in and out of each other to form a whole field of living tabernacles; the vines of these living tabernacles all twine out from the Lord’s Tabernacle—the True Vine—in the center. This is a picture of our living union with Christ. Only within this vineyard—where life flows from the True Vine to and through and among the branches—can we bear fruit. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).