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 seven 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 seven 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 use during this holiday.
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 sukkah’s 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 23:39-40. They make a bouquet of sorts, of the 4 plants which are an 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. The waving itself requires the lulav to be held with the Etrog, waved three times to the east, the south, the west and then the north. Then waved three times up and then three times down. It’s waved like this in all directions to symbolically acknowledge God’s all-encompassing and all-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 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 from Leviticus 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 from Numbers 29:23-28. Day 6 they will read from Numbers 29:26-31. Day 7 they will read from Numbers 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 which is at the bottom of the City of David, there 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.”
Those words are taken from Psalm 118:25-26 which is a Messianic Psalm and it’s the very psalm the crowds were singing when Jesus 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 Jesus to be the Messiah and they demanded Jesus stop them. Jesus’ response was that if the people remained silent the very rocks themselves would cry out!
The fact that this Psalm is sung during a water ceremony is significant because Jesus 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)
We’ll continue to unpack this very important and significant mandatory feast of the Lord next time.