Wednesday (Oct. 15) at sunset this year’s Sukkot or Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles in the KJV) will end.
It was during the last day of Sukkot that Yeshua (the Hebrew Name for Jesus) cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:2, 37-38). What would this signify to those present and what significance does this feast have to Christians? Plenty. There are some who believe that Jesus was born during this feast. Let’s examine the Jewish tradition and writings, and Scripture as we know it.
The Water Ceremony
During the time of Yeshua, the high point of the Succot celebration was the "drawing of water" ceremony when the people called upon the Lord to provide heavenly waters for their next harvest season. This was a very grand event that was full of much pomp and drama. It reached its peak on the last day of Succot called "Hoshannah Rabbah". Accompanied by throngs of chanting worshippers and flutists, the Levitical priests went to the pool of Siloam near the temple mount. There he filled a golden pitcher with water and returned to the temple. The crowd entered through the Water Gate that was named for this ceremony. The choir and the worshippers began chanting the words of Psalm 118 called the "Hallel", or praise psalm (as in "Beth Hallel", house of praise)
אָנָּא יהְוהָ הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא
אָנָּא יהְוהָ הַצְלִיחָה נָּא
הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יהְוהָ _ בָּרוּ
בֵַּרכְנוּכֶם מִבֵּית יהְוהָ
an·na Adonai ho·shi·ah na,
an·na Adonai hatz·li·chah na
ba·rukh hab·bah be·shem Adonai
be·rakh·nu·khem m i·beit Adonai
"Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, let us thrive!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
This expressed the messianic hope of the people at that time, oppressed by their Roman overseers. It was very appropriate that Yeshua appeared on the scene, with the multitudes chanting "Please deliver us, Son of David!" as they laid the palm branches associated with Sukkot in His path:
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
"Hosanna to the Son of David!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Hosanna in the highest!"
This ceremony also held a deep spiritual significance. Water is a symbol of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. The people were aware of this as they gathered to pray for the fall rains. The prophet Joel spoke of the Lord pouring down the latter rains:
Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness.
He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.
In Joel the connection is made between these rains and the Spirit:
"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
The Talmud, referring to this water ceremony at Sukkot asks: "Why is the name of it called the drawing out of water? It is because of the pouring out of the Ruach HaKodesh according to what is said... (referring to Isaiah:)
“Then you will joyfully draw from the springs of salvation.”
This is the name given to our Messiah, for "salvation" in Hebrew is Yeshua!
The Illumination of the Temple
Besides the water ceremony, there was the ceremony of the “illumination of the temple.” This is where four enormous golden candelabras were lit. This was a terrific spectacle that has been noted in Rabbinical commentaries. The Mishna says that pious worshippers would rejoice and dance well into the night holding torches and singing songs of praise. It is said that the light from these candelabras on the Temple Mount could be seen for miles!
It is no coincidence that on this last day of Sukkot, Hoshana Rabba, with the themes of light and water on the minds of the multitudes, that Yeshua came to the Temple to proclaim a message that offered better water and light that would totally satisfy the needs of the people:
“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!"
Yeshua struck a chord with the people who knew the scripture He was referring to:
“For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will out my Spirit on your descendants, my blessing on your offspring.”
As bright as the lights were during this joyous occasion, Yeshua proclaimed an even brighter light for all:
“Yeshua spoke to them again: ‘I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light which gives life.”
Yeshua offered life and redemption to all the pilgrims at Sukkot. He was announcing the coming of the messianic age.
Zechariah describes the return of the Lord when He will stand on the Mount of Olives. God will personally deliver his people:
"On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem..."
Later he describes the unique light also present in those days and the Living Waters flowing out of Jerusalem:
It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime--a day known to the LORD. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter.
These are not just natural waters, but spiritual waters of salvation. The multitude could continue to rejoice because of what followed in Zechariah:
“Finally, everyone remaining from all the nations that came to attack Yerushalayim will go up every year to worship the King, the Lord, and to keep the festival of Sukkot.”
What a great messianic prophecy! Yeshua came to the masses on the last day of Sukkot and proclaimed that there was a way for them to be cleansed of their sin so that they no longer needed to atone for them year after year as they had just done on Yom Kippur. He was pointing to a time that Ezekiel had prophesied about:
"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."
This feast is the most joyous of Israel’s feast. It came at a time when the crops had been reaped and the people’s heats had been naturally gladdened by the bounty. As they presented themselves in Jerusalem, they recalled when they were gathered there six months earlier, when they had dedicated their entire feast to the Lord during First Fruits. At that time they remembered the Exodus from Egypt and the Passover with its fulfillment of the true Passover sacrifice, the perfect Lamb of God - Yeshua. Then they would recall that seven weeks after that they gathered again for the grain harvest, or Shavuot. This was remembered as the time when the Law was given on Mount Sinai. It also points to the time when the Holy Spirit fulfilled this feast by writing the Law on their hearts at Pentecost. Now, gathering for Sukkot, the people remembered G-d’s provision in the wilderness when they had dwelled in booths. The fulfillment of this feast will be the harvest of the nations when they will all be gathered to worship the Lord when He returns to reign in Jerusalem:
“I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “See! G-d’s Sh’Khinah (G-d's presence) is with mankind, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples and he himself, G-d-with-them, will be their G-d.”
There is a very good reason for rejoicing at Sukkot - especially for believers. Rosh Hashanah’s theme is to turn the nation of Israel to repentance with the sound of the shofar. Prophetically this will signal Messiah’s return. Yom Kippur’s theme is the redemption and forgiveness through the atonement of Yeshua. One day all of Israel will recognize Him as Lord. On Sukkot, we rejoice in the Lord’s gathering of His people to tabernacle with Him. Then they will truly "sealed in the book of life.”
This points to a future Sukkot:
“After this, I looked; and there before me was a huge crowd, too large for anyone to count, from every nation, tribe and language. They were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands; and they shouted, ‘Salvation belongs to our G-d, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”