In Pagan Holidays – or God’s Holy Days – Which? Herbert Armstrong wrote about the symbolism of the Feast of Tabernacles: “This festival is the picture of the Millennium!” Unfortunately, when Armstrong decided that Christians were obligated to observe the festivals outlined in the Pentateuch for the Israelites, he was not careful to follow scriptural hints regarding the deeper spiritual implications/meanings of the days. Since his death, a great many folks have challenged his understandings about the symbolism involved in some of the other holy days. Even so, Armstrong’s teachings about the meaning of the FOT still enjoy widespread acceptance within the Armstrong Churches of God culture.
The problem with Mr. Armstrong’s understanding of this feast was his slavish devotion to the notion that they pictured a progression of events within God’s plans for humankind. Hence, although he recognized the significance of the spring and fall harvests relative to these festivals, he failed to integrate that understanding with other scriptures related to both the symbolic meanings of certain rituals and the events themselves. “How can that be?” his devoted followers will demand.
In the booklet referenced at the beginning of this post, Armstrong wrote: “To portray His plan, God took the yearly material harvest seasons in ancient Israel as the picture of the spiritual harvest of souls. In the Holy Land there are two annual harvests. The first is the spring grain harvest. Second comes the main harvest. Notice that the Festival of Tabernacles is to be held ‘at the year's end’ (Ex. 34:22). In this verse the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths is specifically called the ‘feast of ingathering.’ The harvest year ended at the beginning of autumn. Just as Pentecost pictures the early harvest — this church age, so the Festival of Ingatherings or Tabernacles pictures the fall harvest — the great harvest of souls in the Millennium!”
The problem with this teaching is that it doesn’t agree with what is revealed about the timing of this great harvest of souls which is elaborated on in the book of Revelation! In the twentieth chapter of that book, we read: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” – Revelation 20:4-5 Notice here that the first resurrection is clearly associated with the millennium. Continuing, we read: “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison…And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” – Revelation 20:7-13 Hence, we can clearly see that this great harvest of souls takes place AFTER the millennium, and AFTER Satan and his minions have been dealt with once and for all!
Moreover, Herbert Armstrong completely ignored the profound symbolism surrounding this festival which is recorded in the oft quoted twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, and which is further elaborated on quite extensively in the New Testament! I know that these arguments will have zero impact on the folks who have willingly swallowed the Armstrong Kool-Aid, but it is my hope that serious students of the Bible who are willing to take a second look might be persuaded by what is clearly revealed in Scripture regarding the symbolism of this festival.
In the book of Leviticus, we read: “Remember that this seven-day festival to the Lord – the Festival of Shelters – begins on the fifteenth day of the month, after you have harvested all the produce of the land…On the first day gather branches from magnificent trees – palm fronds, boughs from leafy trees, and willows that grow by the streams…For seven days you must live outside in little shelters. All native-born Israelites must live in shelters. This will remind each new generation of Israelites that I made their ancestors live in shelters when I rescued them from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’” (Leviticus 23:39-43, New Living Translation –here and throughout the rest of this article, unless otherwise noted)
Scripture indicates that the Israelites were told to live in temporary shelters each year for eight days so that they would not forget that they had lived in tents after leaving Egypt and before reaching the Promised Land. In the book of Hebrews, we read: “It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to LEAVE HOME (emphasis mine here and throughout) and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, HE LIVED THERE BY FAITH – for he was like a foreigner living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10) In short, Abraham and his descendants were looking forward to a better and more permanent home.
A little further, we read: “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. THEY AGREED THAT THEY WERE FOREIGNERS AND NOMADS HERE ON EARTH. Obviously, people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16) Do we begin to see the connection to our own circumstances as Christians?
Like the Israelites of old, God has called us out of Egypt (this sinful society) and has led us out into the wilderness. (John 6:44) We are different and peculiar compared to the people around us. (I Peter 2:9) Like the Israelites, we are heirs of the promises made to Abraham. (Galatians 3:29) Finally, we are also like the Israelites in the sense that we too are looking for a Promised Land (the Kingdom of God). Like the patriarchs of old, we are truly strangers and pilgrims on the earth as it now exists – the one deceived and influenced by Satan the devil.
There is, however, another meaning to this symbolism that is less general and more personal. Although it is unpleasant to contemplate, each one of us has an appointment with death. (Hebrews 9:27) Somewhere in the back of our minds, all of us understand that this life that we are currently enjoying is temporary – it will not last forever (we are subject to time and chance). Paul once told the saints at Corinth, “that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.” (I Corinthians 15:50) He went on to tell them that “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.” (I Corinthians 15:53)
Sometime later, Paul wrote another letter to the Corinthians. He told them that the light of Christ was shining in their hearts, but he described that treasure as residing in fragile clay jars. (II Corinthians 4:7) He talked about how Christians must face many trials and perils because of their association with Jesus Christ, but that this had resulted in them having the hope of eternal life. (II Corinthians 4:8-15) He continued: “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small AND WON’T LAST VERY LONG. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (II Corinthians 4:16-18)
In other words, Paul understood that Christians are currently living in temporary shelters (human bodies), and that they are looking forward to the time when they will be living in a permanent home (spiritual bodies). In his second letter to the saints at Corinth, we read: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” (II Corinthians 5:1-4, KJV)
Peter also understood this concept. In addressing the saints toward the close of his ministry, he wanted to remind them about the truths which he had previously conveyed to them. He wrote: “Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.” (II Peter 1:13-14, KJV) Peter understood that this life is not permanent, and that he was going to die. He also knew that his present body could not inherit the Kingdom of God, and that he would have to shed that body and receive a new one in the resurrection.
As strangers and pilgrims in this world, Christians are looking to exchange a temporary home for a more permanent one (one that God has provided for us). Hence, for us, this is an important component of the symbolism of this Old Testament Festival.
And, finally, perhaps the most important component of this symbolism has to do with our relationship with Christ and Almighty God – the fact that Christ tabernacled with us in the past and will do so again someday with the Father! We read in the Gospel According to John that the “Word was made flesh and dwelt <tabernacled> among us.” – John 1:14, KJV Then, at the conclusion of all things, we are told in the book of Revelation: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” - Revelation 21:1-3 I don’t know about you, but I think that this symbolism beats Armstrong’s teachings on the subject by a mile!
By Lonnie Hendrix