We have reached the last Old Testament feast. Sukkot, also called the Feast of Tabernacles, is an eight-day holiday that begins five days after Yom Kippur. After the solemnity of the High Holy days, Sukkot is a light-hearted feast of Thanksgiving for the bounty of the harvest. In fact, it is widely believed that Sukkot was the template for the Pilgrim’s celebration.
But Sukkot has a second, more important theme. In Leviticus 23:33-44, God outlines the instructions for observing the Feast of Tabernacles, including the command to live in booths for seven days. This is done to commemorate the forty years Israel spent wandering in the desert, the years in which God dwelt among them.
Herein is the key to Sukkot’s prophetic fulfillment. As you recall, only the spring festivals have been completed with some important event in scripture. God has yet to bring about the rest of his plan. As the very last festival, Sukkot’s fulfillment will be the most distant, when all others have come to pass. Just as God dwelt with His people in the wilderness, so He has promised to dwell with them for all eternity. The second to the last chapter in the Bible, Rev. 21, begins, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them (italics mine). They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’” What an awesome picture Sukkot is!
As with all the other feasts, Sukkot also points straight to Messiah. In fact, the apostle John paints Jesus’ birth in terms of Sukkot. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This, along with other evidence, has led many to believe Christ may even have been born during Sukkot. (See my post “When was Jesus really born?” under the Christmas category.) Clearly, Sukkot points to the incarnation of Messiah.
While researching this holiday, I came to understand one other very interesting fact. Sukkot, in Bible times, included a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the last night of the festival, a priest would take a pitcher to the Pool of Siloam and carry water back to the temple. Jubilant crowds would form a parade behind him and snake through town, singing and praising. You can imagine the celebration! The priest would then dramatically pour the water out at the Temple alter and the crowds would go wild! Why? The symbolism was two-fold. First, it was a supplication to God for the winter rains on which their crops depended, an act of trust in his physical provision. But second, water was a symbol of salvation. Isaiah 12:3 reads, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The pouring out of water was an acknowledgement of God’s promised spiritual provision of salvation.
This background information puts into context another event recorded in John’s gospel. “On the last and greatest day of the Feast (of Tabernacles), Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38).
Imagine! Just as the priest is pouring out the water before a jubilant crowd, Jesus stood up and made a very bold claim. You better believe those in attendance knew exactly what he was telling them. “I am the Messiah! I am the way of salvation!” God has provided for His people. Knowing this, what Christian wouldn’t want to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles?
Traditional Jewish observance begins with the building of a sukkah, a booth. It’s a temporary structure built out of whatever materials are handy and decorated with a harvest theme. Families eat at least one meal inside. Some live in it for the week. I hope to sleep at least one night in ours with my kids, depending on the weather.
Of course, the holiday kicks off at dusk with a special meal which features many harvest foods. Before eating, the candles are lit, the wine and the challah are blessed, then special blessings are said over a palm branch and a citron, a fruit from Israel. This comes from Leviticus 23:40 “On the first day (of the festival) you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.” And, of course, participants remember the forty years in the desert when God dwelt among His people. My kids and I, as believers in Yeshua, on the eve of our first Sukkot, will also be looking ahead to the time we will dwell with Him forever.