What is Sukkot?
Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, is a week-long feast during which the Jewish community builds temporary shelters (sukkot means “booths” in Hebrew) to remind each generation that our forefathers lived as nomads, wandering in the desert for forty years (Leviticus 23:42-43). The Bible also refers to this holiday as the Feast of Ingathering, which celebrates the final reaping of the crops at the end of the harvest (Exodus 23:16). Throughout the holiday, it is customary to wave the lulav (a bundle of a date palm frond, willow and myrtle) and the etrog (a citron, or lemon-like fruit), which is collectively called the four species (date palm, myrtle, willow, and citron). The lulav and etrog represents thankfulness and joy for the present harvest, along with hope for winter rains to bring an abundant harvest the following spring (Lev 23:40). The waving of the lulav and etrog to the north, south, east and west also represents God’s pervasive presence over the whole earth and over our lives.
In the first century, the priests would take a pitcher of water from the pool of Siloam and pour it out on the altar, following an elaborate processional up the hill to the Temple Mount. This ceremony occurred every day of the festival, with the most extravagant procession on the final day. The pouring of the water expressed Israel’s hope for future rains to produce an abundant harvest. According to the Talmud, this tradition is derived from Isaiah 12:3, “Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.”
On the last day of Sukkot, possibly at the time of this final procession, Jesus stood in the midst of the people and declared, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). When He said this, some declared, “This is the Messiah” (John 7:41).
Anticipation for the Messiah
Anticipation for the arrival of the Messiah reaches its height during Sukkot. The prophet Zechariah speaks of a time when God will fight and defend His people when the nations gather against Israel (Zechariah 14:1-9). After God establishes peace, all the nations will then travel to Jerusalem to worship God during Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16). God promises to withhold rain from those countries that do not honor Him in Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:17-19). Sukkot looks forward to the day when God will establish His Kingdom and all nations will join together to worship Him.
Sukkot in the New Testament
Sukkot also looks forward to the day when God will dwell in the midst of His people. When John introduced Yeshua as the Messiah, he said, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The word “dwelt” can also be translated “took up temporary residence.” This same word in Greek is used to translate the Hebrew word, sukkot.
When Jesus revealed His glory to Peter, James, and John on the top of a mountain, Peter asked to build three temporary dwellings (sukkot), one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-13). Peter’s desire to build temporary dwellings is an allusion to Sukkot, and represents a request for Jesus to establish His Messianic Kingdom. Later, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, crowds gathered, placing palm branches along the road, proclaiming, “Lord save us,” and “Blessed is the King of Israel,” a direct Messianic title. The crowds used palm branches as an allusion to Sukkot, expressing their hope for the coming Messianic Kingdom.
Chosen People Ministries offers you some wonderful resources to help you better understand the Sukkot and the other High Holidays.