Leviticus 23.33-44 gives us the details for this holiday. In English it is known as the “Festival of Booths” or “Festival of Ingathering”. This holiday is an eight-day celebration. The children of Israel were commanded to live in booths for seven days. The word sukkah (booth) originally meant woven. And these booths were woven together from branches and leaves. This feast coincides with the fall harvest and thus we have the name Feast of Ingathering as well. It is also known as the “Season of Our Joy.” This is because ancient Israel was an agricultural society. Everything revolved around the crops, the provision of rain, etc. So, this represented the end of the year. All the crops were brought in and the storehouse would be filled. Thus, it was a time for great rejoicing. So, for seven days Israel put aside everything and focused on G-d and His provision and enjoyed a time of great celebration.

This holiday is a reminder of the temporary shelters the Israelites lived in when G-d brought them out of Egypt. It was celebrated after the harvest time. It is also one of the three pilgrimage festivals. On the first and last day of the festival a sacred assembly is called. No work is to be done on these days.

The Mishnah describes a ceremony associated with Sukkot called Nissuch HaMayim. It is a ceremony of water drawing. It had to do with the need for rain. Sukkot represents a change of seasons. Rain would soon be coming. So, this became a prominent part of the Sukkot celebration. Even to this day many of the prayers at this time are for rain. This water drawing ceremony was a very joyful occasion. An appointed priest would descend to the Pool of Siloam. With him would be thankful worshippers and musicians. At the pool he filled a special golden pitcher with water. Then the procession returned to the Temple through the Water Gate, which obtained its name from this ceremony. As they arrived, the rams’ horns would be sounded. There were two silver basins on the altar. Into one of them the priest would pour the water. This tradition dates back to at least 95 BCE because we have the story of a high priest who poured the water out on the ground. As the water was poured into the silver basin, the flutists would play. Afterwards, the people would join them by singing Psalm 118.25. There was more significance to this holiday than just the agricultural side. The water also represented the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Talmud says, “Why is the name of it called the drawing out of water? Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, according to what is said, ‘With joy shall ye draw out of the wells of salvation'” (Isaiah 12.3) The rabbis also consider joy to signify the presence of G-d’s Spirit. Joy is the main theme of this holiday. The Mishnah says, “Anyone who has not witnessed the rejoicing of the libation water-well has never seen rejoicing in his life.” (Sukkah 5.1)

Of course, Yeshua’s statements in John 7.37-39 take place during the Feast of Sukkot. Here he speaks of the living water that can only come through the infilling of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. “Now on the last day of the festival, Hoshana Rabbah, Yeshua stood and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me and drinking! Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!” (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who trusted in him were to receive later — the Spirit had not yet been given, because Yeshua had not yet been glorified.)” Yeshua is the source of the mayim chayim (living water).

The last items central to this celebration are the lulav and etrog (Leviticus 23.40). The lulav, which technically means the palm branch, has come to represent the myrtle, palm and willow branches together. The etrog is a citron from Israel. It is an Aramaic word which means “That which shines.” These four items are known as arba minim, “four species.” We are commanded by G-d to wave these items before Him during the seven days of celebration. The etrog is held in the left hand and the lulav in the right hand. A blessing is recited while holding these four and then one waves them in all six directions: north, south, east, west, up and down. This symbolizes that G-d is everywhere.

The Messianic Significance:

  • Sukkot reminds us of our dependence on G-d for shelter, food, water, and life itself.
  • It points to G-d’s concern for the salvation not only of Israel but of the Gentile peoples as well. Zechariah prophesies of a day when not only Jews will celebrate Sukkot but also by the nations. Israel’s call was to be a light unto the nations.
  • Rejoicing in the Lord.
  • The outpouring of the Holy Spirit as promised in Joel 2.28.
  • G-d becoming flesh and making his dwelling among us or “tabernacling” among us. (John 1.14)

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