Sukkot is the last of the holidays mentioned in the Torah. It is the 7th holiday that takes place in the 7th month of the Jewish calendar. Sukkot is translated as the “Feast of Tabernacles.” The word, “tabernacle,” comes from the Latin, “tabernaculum,” which means “booth” or “hut.” This holiday is described for us in Leviticus 23 and mentions some specific items of which I would like to focus on the building of these temporary dwellings, called sukkah, or booths, and the foliage for this holiday.
Leviticus 23 commands that we build these booths and live in these booths for 7 days as a reminder that we lived in these booths when God brought us out of Egypt and during our wilderness journey. Not only did we live in these booths when we came out of Egypt, but during our time in the wilderness, God provided for our needs and His glory lived among us during that journey. Later, God’s glory, the Shekinah glory dwelt among us in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Leviticus 23 also tells us that we were to gather the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook and rejoice before the Lord for 7 days. And, finally, we were to celebrate this holiday as a perpetual statute throughout our generations.
We can delve into these commands to find some further truths. Just like the booths at Sukkot, that go up one week and come down the next, our life on this earth is temporary. Even if we live to be 150 years old, it is just a moment of time before we are gone. While we are alive, however, we must remember that God does, indeed, dwell among us, through His Son who makes intercession for us at the right hand of the Father and also with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
When we follow this holiday to the time of Jesus, we can find even deeper meaning. By the time of Messiah, this holiday had picked up some additional ceremonies, specifically the Water Libation Ceremony and the Temple-Lighting Ceremony**.
For the water libation ceremony, each day, the high priest would go to the Pool of Siloam and fill a pitcher of water and take it back to the Temple. He would ascend the ramp to the altar in the Inner Court of the Temple and turn to the left where there were two silver basins which drained to the base of the altar. The high priest would raise his hand with the pitcher and then pour it into the basin reserved only for the pouring of water during Sukkot. The high priest would recite the words from Isaiah 12:3: “Therefore you will joyously draw water From the springs of salvation.”
This ceremony was a prayer for rain. After Sukkot, the rainy season needed to begin to water the crops for the next year so the high priest was praying that this rain would come to provide continued sustenance to the land of Israel.
From the second evening of Sukkot to the final night was the great candle lighting ceremony at the Temple. 4 candles, estimated to each be 75 feet high were lit and a group of Levites chanted the Psalms of Ascent (also called the Psalms of Degrees), Psalms 120 – 134. These psalms were traditionally recited by pilgrims coming up to Jerusalem and, in general, have to do with praising the Lord, describing certain attributes of the Lord, or praying for help and care from the Lord. The candles that illuminated the sky around Jerusalem were so bright that the illumination could be seen for miles around and were another reminder of the Shekinah Glory.
It is not strange, therefore, that Yeshua used both of these ceremonies to declare His divine nature and remind the people that God’s Son, in human form, was now dwelling physically among them.
In John Chapter 7, we read that on the last great day of the Feast of Sukkot, probably right during the water drawing ceremony, in verses 37 and 38, Jesus declared: If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’ And, in John, Chapter 8:12, Yeshua declared, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
Messiah was reminding us that true sustenance, not just in terms of food, but for the soul comes from Him and true light to see clearly in this world and beyond also only comes from Him, and by extension, the Lord, Himself.
So, how does this holiday tie together for us in the modern day. Earlier, I mentioned that our life on this earth is like a temporary booth or hut. We are here for a period of time, but then our earthly bodies will pass away. We can also see that true sustenance and light comes from God. We were initially reminded of this during our deliverance out of Egypt and the Lord leading us through our wilderness journey and then later, when Messiah dwelt on earth and reminded us of the life-giving qualities of His living water and true light.
In John, Chapter 14, Messiah also reminded us of this important fact (John 14:2): In My Father’s house, are many dwelling paces: if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
What a wonderful promise. So, how are we to live our lives in this world that is temporary as we head towards that blessed day of our eternal dwelling place, as Messiah promised us? Well, that is where the foliage mentioned in Leviticus 23 comes in. In this passage of Leviticus 23, 4 types of trees are mentioned, and these have come to be known in as the 4 species. The Etrog is a tree that produces small lemon-like fruit, these are the “beautiful trees.” The date palm is the palm tree. The myrtle tree is the “leafy tree.” And the willow tree is the fulfillment of “willows of the brook.” Interestingly, in traditional Jewish teaching, these trees all have different attributes that provide us with a valuable lesson.
The willow does not have a scent or a taste so they are like a person who has no learning about God and does not look to serve while on earth.
Myrtle branches have no taste, but smell magnificent, so this represents one who tries to do good while on earth, but has no learning or knowledge about God.
The palm tree has a taste, but no smell. This is like a person who has knowledge, or learning about God, but does not put it into practice in serving while on earth.
And finally, the Etrog has both taste and smell. This is a person who has knowledge, or learning, about God and puts it into practice in serving while on earth. It is also interesting to note, that when the Lulav, the collection of the 4 Species is waved, the Etrog, is held in one hand, and the other 3 species are held in together in the other hand. In other words, the Etrog, stands alone.
As James 2:26 reminds us: For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Sukkot is also known as the Feast of Ingathering. Traditionally, this is because the crops had been gathered in for that season and the Lord’s bounty was shown to the people through agricultural abundance. However, the prophetic meaning of this name is that at the end times, Jews and Gentiles who believe in the Lord by accepting his Son, Messiah Yeshua will be gathered to our eternal dwelling place in heaven.
Therefore, let us look to the Lord, for sustenance, guidance and strength during our temporary time here on earth, trusting in his eternal provision and while here, let us serve him and those around us, our “neighbors,” as the reciting of the Shema reminds us, with love, kindness and blessing as we continue on the path to our eternal dwelling place in the New Jerusalem.
** I am indebted to Ken Howard and Marvin Rosenthal’s excellent book, The Feasts of the Lord, especially for information on the Water Libation and Temple-Lighting ceremonies.