Sukkot, Part 5: King Over All Nations

Children decorating Sukkot in Seoul, Korea
Image by Center for Jewish History, NYC via Flickr

Sukkot is not only an Israeli Feast, but also has a very special meaning for the nations outside of Israel.  During the seven main days of the feast, there were a series of specially prescribed sacrifices aside from the normal daily sacrifices of the cohenim:

The Sacrifices of Sukkot (Num. 29:12-35)

Day Bulls Rams Lambs Goats Grain
1 13 2 14 1 57
2 12 2 14 1 54
3 11 2 14 1 51
4 10 2 14 1 48
5 9 2 14 1 45
6 8 2 14 1 42
7 7 2 14 1 39
Total 70 14 98 7 336

The sacrifices of the bulls are of particular interest to us.  Note that the total number of bulls sacrificed is seventy.  Seventy is the number of nations listed in Genesis 10.  It is also the number of those who came with Jacob to Egypt and the number of elders appointed by Moshe in the wilderness who also received the Spirit and prophesied (Gen. 46:27; Num. 11:16, 24-25); however, Scripture equates the number of Israel with the number of the nations in Deu. 32:8:  “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of men, He set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.”  Just as the Messiah is fully identified with Israel (Mat. 2:15 and Hos. 11:1), Israel is fully identified with the nations; therefore, through Israel, the Messiah Yeshua is fully identified with all humanity.

Moreover, bulls in the ancient Near East were frequently associated with kings, being the largest, most valuable, and most dangerous of herd animals.  In the Levitical sacrifices, it took a young bull to atone for a sin by the whole community of Israel (Lev. 4:13ff), thus showing that Israel’s sin could only be atoned for by the blood of Israel’s king.  Here, the seventy bulls represent an atonement made for the “seventy kingdoms” of the Gentiles.

Said R. Eleazar, “What do these seventy bullocks stand for?  They stand for the seventy nations. . .  Said R. Yohanan, “It’s too bad for the idolators who suffer loss and don’t know what they have lost.  When the house of the sanctuary [i.e., the Temple] was standing, the altar would make atonement for them.  And now who makes atonement for them?” (b. Sukkah 55b)

Of course, we find in the Messiah Yeshua the answer to Rabbi Yochanan’s question, but his point nevertheless beautifully illustrates the full meaning of this Feast:  It is in Sukkot that Israel’s role as the kingdom of priests was fulfilled:  Just as the Cohen HaGadol, the High Priest, had to first atone for himself so that he could be blameless before God when he sacrificed for Israel (Lev. 16:11), only after being purified by her true Cohen HaGadol on Yom Kippur could Israel then in turn sacrifice on behalf of the nations.  This happened in part when the firstfruits of the Ekklesia, all Israelites, were forgiven, sanctified, and empowered by the Spirit to take the Gospel not only to Israel, but to the Gentile world beyond.  It will be completely fulfilled when the Messiah King returns to rule from David’s throne as promised in Scripture (Luke 1:32f).

Is it any wonder, then, that in the Millennium, all the nations of the world will be compelled to come to Jerusalem every Sukkot to present themselves before their King (Zec. 14:17ff)?  Not only will Sukkot serve to remind them that Adonai-Tzva’ot, the Lord of Hosts, gave Israel His Divine protection when they were dispersed in the midst of the Gentiles, but also that it is only through Israel that they could be saved—and moreover, that it is through Israel that the true King of the world rules.  Therefore, it will be in the eschatological Feast of Tabernacles that “The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Messiah. He will reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15).

Shalom.

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