The Feast of Tabernacles (Hebrew: Sukkoth), the most joyful of the Feasts of the Lord, may well be the origin of the American Thanksgiving. Sukkoth was celebrated by Sabbath-worshipping Pilgrims and Puritans both in England and in America. Some scholars believe the God-fearing people brought the tradition with them to the new world. Sukkoth celebrates the fruit harvest of the Holy Land: the grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey from the date palm tree (Deut 8:7-8). Israel was reputed to be the land flowing with milk and honey and the land of olive oil. By the grace of God, the Israelites inherited the labor of many generations when they entered the land (Josh 24:13).
Order of Festal Worship During the Temple Era
Standing 25-30 feet apart in procession, the priests of Israel ceremoniously waved palm and willow branches 25-30 feet in length during the Feast of Sukkoth. The branches stirred up a breeze (Heb. x;Wr ruach = “wind, breath, spirit, any kind of air in motion”), prophetic of the mighty rushing wind of Acts 2:2. The high priest called for wind and water to enter the Temple, symbols of the Holy Spirit and the cleansing power of the Word. A priest known as the “pierced one” played a pierced flute. These prophetic acts were later fulfilled by Yeshua, the anointed High Priest, who was pierced for our transgressions (Is 53:5).
The first day and the last day of the week-long feast were Sabbath observances. The Law of Moses was read publically every sabbatical year, and daily sacrifices were offered: ritually clean animals, flour, oil, and drink offerings of new wine. The flour, oil, and wine share a commonality. They all required intense crushing before being offered to the Lord. The sacrifices were prophetic of Yeshua’s death.
The Role of Water in Sukkoth
Water also played a key role in the Feast of Sukkoth…first the natural, then the spiritual (1 Cor 15:46). Prayer was offered for rain every morning. The term Torah, which means “instruction,” comes from the primitive root yarah, meaning “to teach, point out (by the finger).” Yarah also means “to flow like water” or “to pour like rain.” Torah (and the complete Bible) is like refreshing rain to our spirits.
Water Libation Ceremony
A water libation ceremonyalso featured prominently in the Sukkoth ritual. Not surprisingly, the ritual was also prophetic in nature. Thehigh priest (kohen hagadol) filled a golden pitcher with water from the pool of Siloam. The water libation ceremony was known as mayim chayim, meaning “living water,” a glorious description of Yeshua! Gold is a symbol of divinity in the Scriptures, and water represents the cleansing power of the Word. The high priest carried the water to the Temple through the Water Gate that was so named for the water libation ceremony. The priest’s entrance to the Temple was ceremoniously announced with three mighty blasts from the silver trumpet, as the faithful declared: Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Is 12:3).
Water and wine were poured forth at this time, prophetic of Yeshua’s suffering: But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out(John 19:34). The wine was poured forth from a silver vessel. Silver represents redemption in the Bible. Three more trumpet blasts followed the outpouring of water, while palm branches were waved toward the altar by jubilant worshippers singing: O Lord, do save, we beseech You; O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity! (Ps 118:25). An exuberant mood prevailed during the ritual, and strong Messianic zeal gripped the people. Some scholars maintain that it was at this point in the annual festival that Yeshua proclaimed Himself to be Mayim Chayim, the Fount of Living Water (John 4:14)!
The Role of Light in Sukkoth
Torch dances were performed by members of the Sanhedrin (the supreme ruling council in ancient Israel) in memory of the Shekhinah glory that had long since departed from the Temple. A ceremony of lights took place beside four towering menorot (plural of menorah), 75 feet high with seven lamps in each menorah. The full harvest moon, God’s gift to His people to bring in the harvest, shone in all its glory above the Temple Mount. In addition, hundreds of priests bearing glowing torches danced with joy before the Lord. Some historians suggest the torches were tossed and juggled in the air as part of the dazzling light show. A state of ecstasy described as almost riotous overwhelmed the crowd of worshippers during the feast.
Jerusalem was known as the Light of the World during the Festival of Lights. Some Bible scholars claim that Yeshua stood at that climactic moment and proclaimed to all Israel the glorious words of John: 8:12: “I AM the light of the world.” The Greek phrase used by Yeshua, Ego Eimi, is an emphatic grammatical assertion regarding His divinity. In fact, Yeshua used the same terminology that referred to the God of the burning bush (Ex 3:2). According to the Law of Moses, the penalty for blasphemy, falsely claiming to be God, was death by stoning. It is no wonder that Yeshua’s words stirred up rage among many of the religious leaders, who refused to accept Him as the divine Son of God:
The rabbis claimed that the joy of the drawing of the water and the light show were so spectacular that those who missed them had never experienced joy in their lives. Speaking from personal experience, the joy of the Lord is uncontainable during this season, even without the ancient Temple ritual. I highly recommend visiting Israel during the time of the feasts when the land comes alive with singing, rejoicing, and dancing before the Lord.
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Dr. Noreen Jacks conveys her passion for the Word of God and her visions of hope for those in need of spiritual restoration. She enjoys biblical archaeology, cultural anthropology, linguistics, and history of the Bible lands and its people.