There are quite a lot of celebrations and anniversaries and feasts in the Jewish calendar but Sukkot (Su-coat) is the last of the mandatory feasts of the Lord commanded by God in the Bible; it’s the last of the Autumn feasts in the Jewish calendar and it’s also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. Sukkot begins on 19th of Tishri and runs for 7 days.
The word sukkot actually means ‘booths’, and this holiday is both a historical celebration as well as an agricultural celebration; historical because it reminds the Jews of their wilderness wanderings when they lived in temporary dwellings for 40 years after leaving Egypt, and agricultural because it’s a celebration of the ingathering of the harvest.
Sukkot was instituted by God in Leviticus 23:34-44 and is also explained in Deuteronomy 16:13-17; this celebration requires the Jews to build booths or temporary dwellings to live in for 7 days. The dwellings are called sukkah’s and the roofs of the sukkah’s must be made of plants or plant materials such as branches, timber slats or bamboo and the like, which must not be nailed down or affixed, they must remain loose. There must also be small gaps that allow for a smattering of rain to come through (on the odd occasion that it rains) or to see the stars at night. Jewish families to this day build sukkah’s and in general eat all their meals in them, and many of them sleep in them as well. Even hotels in Israel prepare large sukkah’s for their guests to eat in.
Because Sukkot is also a celebration of the harvest, most Jews decorate their sukkah’s with flowers and vines; fruits and vegetables are hung around in much the same way American’s decorate their homes for their annual Thanksgiving holiday with sheaves of corn and pumpkins and squash etc. In fact, the pilgrims who travelled to and settled America were particularly religious and they established the holiday of Thanksgiving because they wanted to demonstrate their thankfulness to God for His protection of them and for His sustaining them through successful harvests as they were establishing their new nation. For inspiration, they turned to the Bible and learned about God’s feasts and how they were celebrated.
Along with the sukkahs they build and live in for a week, they also perform a special ‘wave’ ceremony with the ‘lulav’ – the ‘four species’ that represent the harvests they’re celebrating and this is a Biblical requirement found in Leviticus 23:40. They make a bouquet of the 4 plants which are Etrog – a lemon-like citrus fruit; a ripe date palm frond; 3 myrtle branches; and a leafy branch of a willow tree. All items must be in absolutely perfect condition and there is a special method of making up the bouquet. The ‘lulav’ is used each day during Sukkot so it must be kept in good condition.
During Sukkot, candles are lit, prayers and blessings are recited and the ‘lulav’ is waved in a particular direction to symbolically acknowledge God’s all encompassing and surrounding presence. There is singing and storytelling, and there is particular emphasis placed on reading the book of Ecclesiastes to remind them of the transitory nature of life and the importance of not wasting time on futile things, but remaining faithful to God and pursuing Him rather than the fleeting pleasures of this world. Every day of Sukkot follows a similar format every day and they celebrate God and each other with great joy.
On day 1 they will read from Leviticus 22:26-23, 44; Numbers 29:12-29, 16; Zechariah 14:1-21; (Messianic Jews also read from John 1:10-14, Revelation 7:1-10, 21:1-4). Day 2 they will read fromLeviticus 22:26-23, 44; Numbers 29:12-29, 16; 1 Kings 8:2-21; (Messianic Jews also read from John 1:10-14; Revelation 7:1-10, 21:1-4). Day 3 they will read from Exodus 33:12-34, 26; Ezekiel 38:18-39, 16; Ecclesiastes. Day 4 they will read from Numbers 29:20-25. Day 5 they will read fromNumbers 29:23-28. Day 6 they will read from Numbers 29:26-31. Day 7 they will read fromNumbers 29:26-34.
There is also a water ceremony during Sukkot, it was originally performed in the Temple; the High Priest would lead a procession to the Pool of Siloam where he would fill a golden vessel with water and return to the courtyard of the Temple and when the High Priest poured the water out before the people, they would wave their lulav and sing…
“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 is taken from Psalm 118:25-26 which is a Messianic psalm and it’s the very psalm the crowds were singing when Yeshua made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.(Matt 21:8-9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13) The religious leaders knew the people were declaring Yeshua to be the Messiah and they demanded Yeshua stop them. Yeshua’s response was that if the people remained silent the rocks themselves would cry out!
The fact that this Psalm is sung during a water ceremony is significant because Yeshua said He would give us living water to drink, water that would quench our thirst and satisfy us forever and this came to us through God the Holy Spirit. (John 4:14, 7:38-39; Rev 21:6; Isa 55:1)
During Temple times, the priests would light 4 enormous Menorahs and put on a bit of a light show with torch dances while the Levites provided the music and singing. These were wonderful times of enjoyment and celebration. Again, the significance of this is that Yeshua declared Himself to be the Light of the World. (John 8:12) In John 9:5-11, Yeshua used the waters in the Pool of Siloam to heal the man who had been born blind and this resulted in his miraculous healing which enabled him to see the Light of the World face to face – the very One who gave him the living water of Salvation!
Sukkot is a feast of great celebration and joy as God’s people remember how He led them out of bondage in Israel and sustained them throughout their wanderings; He provided for them daily, their clothing never wore out, their shoes never wore out, He provided them with food and water; He was visibly present with them day and night leading and directing them until He finally led them into their Promised Land. As mentioned above, it’s also a celebration of the harvest, a time to thank God for His blessing on the land and His provision through His creation toward His people. (Deut 8:4, 29:5; Neh 9:21; Exo 13:21-22, 14:19, 16:35; 1 Cor 10:4)
Prior to Sukkot the Jews celebrate their new year and new beginnings with Rosh Hashanah and their expectation is high as they await their Messiah and Rosh Hashanah begins the Days of Awe that are 10 days of repentance and preparation for Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement when a ‘scapegoat’ symbolically took their sin away after another goat gave its life as a substitute on behalf of the people. The substitute pays the penalty of sin, the scapegoat bears the burden of sin and carries it away, and the people are delivered and redeemed from the judgement of God.
Sukkot occurs immediately after Yom Kippur and it is a time of absolute joy, great rejoicing because the people have recognised their sin, returned to the Lord, repented with sincere grief and remorse and judgement has been removed. Now the time of celebrating their restored fellowship to God has come, they express their love, devotion and gratitude for His on-going provision, protection and sustaining of His people.
During their wilderness wanderings, God’s house was the Tabernacle and He dwelt in the midst of His people in that Tabernacle. He wanted to be among them. Later, the Temple was built as a permanent structure. When Yeshua was born, we read in John 1:14, that He became flesh and‘dwelt among us’ and the word ‘dwelt’ means to ‘have one’s tabernacle’ or ‘abide or live in a tabernacle’. Yeshua Himself was the tabernacle of God who came to live among us. In fact every element and piece of furniture in the actual Tabernacle and Temple are symbolic of Yeshua and His mission of redemption.
There is a very important future fulfilment of Sukkot that we can’t ignore. Sukkot remembers God’s protection in the wilderness and His dwelling among them in His Tabernacle and it’s also the ingathering of the harvests as He sustains them. Yeshua tabernacled among us when He came to earth to live with us and His Gospel has spread throughout the whole earth. There is a future harvest yet to come and it will fulfil the promise God made to His people Israel.
When the Jews rejected Yeshua the first time around, it opened the door for the Gentile world to come to faith in HIm and be grafted in to the Commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12), but according to His promise to His people, the future in-gathering (harvest) of the Jewish people is absolutely assured. (Rom 11:25-29)
Sukkot is not only a celebration of past events in Israel’s history, it’s also a pre-celebration of the final and complete redemption and ingathering of Israel yet to come.
These days the celebration has been extended to 9 days for the following reasons. The 2 days following Sukkot have been included and the ‘8th day’ is called Shemini Atzeret, because God mentions this 8th day in Numbers 9:35, so it became the day of final assembly to close out the Sukkot celebration.
The 9th day is Simchat Torah. Each week in Synagogues all around the world, a particular portion of the Torah is recited and focused on. The Torah is divided into 54 portions, almost 1 per week through each year and this means that the entire Torah is read by these congregations ensuring that they are learning all of God’s Word year after year. So ‘Simchat Torah’, which means ‘Rejoicing in the Torah’ – is about great joy because they’ve completed the yearly reading cycle of the Torah and great joy because they’re about to start the cycle all over again! In fact, during Simchat Torah, the last Torah portion from Deuteronomy is read and the first Torah portion from Genesis is read as well to indicate that the study of Torah never ends.
A great deal of reverence is given to the Word of God. Torah scrolls are protected by special coverings and are stored in purpose built cupboards; they are never touched by bare human hands (gloves must be worn if the scroll has to be handled for some reason) and a ‘yad’ (Torah pointer) is used when reading so the reader doesn’t lose his place.