By Hannah Nesher, Voice for Israel—
As we celebrate the Festival of Sukkot סֻּכּוֹת (Feast of Tabernacles or Booths), we complete the annual Biblical cycle of the feasts (called mo’adim in Hebrew) that occur in the fall.
As an agricultural festival, Sukkot marks the end of the harvest time and is therefore called the “Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end” (Exodus 34:22) Sukkot is the original ‘Thanksgiving’ festival (minus the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie). It is celebrated for an entire week!
“Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest.” (Leviticus 23:39)
Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals (Shloshah Regalim) where the people of Israel were commanded to appear before God at the Holy Temple.
Sukkot is also a joyful remembrance of the goodness of God in providing for our Israelite ancestors as they wandered around the Sinai wilderness for forty years before entering the Promised Land.
“Shouts of joy and victory are in the tents of the righteous; Adonai’s right hand is mighty!” (Psalm 118:15)
After the somber, introspective time of Yom Tru’ah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot is a joyous celebration. The time of judgment has passed and we enter into the season of joy. In fact, Sukkot is the only feast in which God commanded His People to rejoice.
“And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.” (Leviticus 23:40)
During this festive season, we recall how God’s faithfulness provided for our people in the wilderness with daily manna. We also remember God’s kindness and mercy in leading and guiding the children of Israel in a pillar of cloud by day and protecting them with a pillar of fire by night. Therefore another name for Sukkot is “The Season of our Joy”.
“You are my God, and I praise You – I exalt You! Praise Adonai, for He is good, for His lovingkindness endures forever.” (Psalm 118:28-29)
Simchat Beit Hasho’evah
On the last night of the feast, a water drawing ceremony takes place in remembrance of that which used to take place in the Holy Temple. This ceremony, called ‘Simchat Beit Hasho’evah’, not only celebrates the hope of winter rains in Israel, but also symbolizes the future Messianic Redemption when the Spirit of God (symbolized by the water) will be poured out upon the nation of Israel. This will bring great joy!
“Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
The Sages noted that: “Whoever has never witnessed the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen true joy.”
Even today, many Jewish people gather near the Western Wall to dance, sing and rejoice before the Lord. People fill the synagogues and streets with singing and dancing with tremendous joy until the wee hours of the morning.
The Prophets tell us that a day will come when the exiles of Israel return to Zion, her streets will be filled with the sounds of joyful melodies; sorrow will disappear.
“The ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 51:11)
Yeshua stood up on this final day of the Feast of Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles), probably during the ceremony of the drawing of the water (Simchat Beit Ha’shoeva) and proclaimed Himself to be the source of Living Water. He invited all who were thirsty to come and drink – the water representing the Holy Spirit (Ruach Hakodesh).
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Yeshua stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (John 7:37-39)
‘Living water’, as a symbol of the Spirit of the living God is used throughout both Old and New Testament Scriptures. One of the most common Scriptures we sing (and dance) on Sukkot is from the prophet Isaiah: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Yeshuah).” (Isaiah 12:3)
We may go through many trials and tribulations before the coming of Yeshua; but one day He (the Lamb) will lead us to living fountains of waters and we will be comforted:
“…for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)
Livin’ in a Booth
The Children of Israel were required to leave the comfort of their homes and to live in little shelters, tabernacles or booths (called ‘sukkot’), during the Feast Sukkot and to remember God’s salvation, goodness, and provision. Just as the Israelites dwelt in temporary dwellings (called Sukkot סֻּכּוֹת in Hebrew), so are we commanded to sit in a sukkah (booth) for this entire week.
Right after Yom Kippur ends, most Jewish people in Israel and all over the world begin building a temporary huts or shelters with a covering of palm branches. A sukkah comes in many different styles and sizes and forms. The common denominator is that it must be temporary and fragile.
The sukkah itself symbolizes God’s covering of protection over us even in times of trouble. This is especially comforting at this time when even terrorism and natural disasters are causing devastation & distress all over the world.
“For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His sukkah בְּסֻכֹּה; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.” (Psalms 27:5)
“ And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.” (Leviticus 23:40)
These fruit and branches used to be waved before the Lord in the Holy Temple on Sukkot. Today, they are waved in the sukkot and synagogues with a lulav (palm frond together with myrtle & willow branches) and etrog (citroen). Traditionally they are held together and waved in all six directions: right, left, forward, up, down and backward while reciting a traditional blessing for unity among all people from every nation.
Festival of the Nations
Another name for Sukkot is the ‘Festival of the Nations’. God’s people gather in Jerusalem from many nations of the earth to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles and to worship the God of Israel together in unity. This is a partial fulfillment of the end time prophecy:
“Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) – Sukkot.” (Zechariah 14:16)
The Nations Gather Against Jerusalem
The Haftorah (Prophetic Portion of Scripture) for Sukkot describes with graphic violence God’s punishment of the nations who come against His holy city of Jerusalem. The book of Zechariah contains an apocalyptic vision of the destruction of all the nations which attacked her. “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle…” (Zechariah 14:2)
The judgment on the nations is characterized by earthquakes, plagues, heavy darkness, and signs of nuclear destruction, all manifesting God’s personal intervention on behalf of Israel. Finally the nations will see that Israel is the apple of God’s eye and woe to the one who dares to touch her. The Lord declares through the Prophet Zechariah,
“On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.” (Zechariah 12:3)
Finally all the nations will be converted to the God of Israel and will worship Him in Spirit and Truth. “In that day, YHVH יהוה will be King over all the earth; in that day, YHVH יהוה shall be One אחד(echad) and His name One אחד .” (Zechariah 14:9)
As their first act of worship, all nations will be required to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. All those who survived the judgment but refuse to come and celebrate Sukkot will be cursed with drought. (Zechariah 14:16-19)