Welcome to Sukkot…the third festival that follows Roth Hashanah and Yom Kippur. If you have been following my own personal pilgrimage through these festivals via “The old goat” and “Hands”, you may be interested in this celebration as well.
“So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of rest, and the eighth day also is a day of rest.On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
Everywhere in Israel, people build little constructions with openings in the roofs – to see the stars of heaven, in order to remember that they were a “pilgrim people” in the desert, depending on the Lord’s provision and protection.
As I reflect on my own thirty years of walking with the Lord in his service, I can also rejoice in His faithful meeting of all our needs and His careful shepherding of our family throughout our journey so far. In the dry times he has made the water flow and always led us with the cloud and fire of the Holy Spirit in our midst. My years pass and my “roof” has since become many layered with life’s experiences – but keep reminding me Lord to come back to the palm leaf vulnerability that allows heaven’s light to still shine through!
Everybody knows that Jesus was never really born on that cold winter pagan day of the 25th December. Compelling reasons are found to suggest that he was probably born on the first day of Sukkot – and perhaps circumcised on the last day?
The beginning of John 1:14, is perhaps the most persuasive argument to suggest that Jesus “tabernacled” amongst us in taking up the temporary residence of our humanity.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (skenoo) among us.”
The Greek word skenoo could be translated, “to pitch one’s tent”, and comes from skenos which means “hut.”
It is quite difficult from the NIV scriptures to understand what is meant by the various branches, leaves and fruits that the people needed to gather. However, Jewish scholars have translated the original Hebrew as follows:
“On the first day, you must take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree (etrog), an unopened palm frond (lulav), myrtle branches (hadass) and willows (aravah) (that grow near) the brook. You shall rejoice before God for seven days.”
This gives us the famous four species that are seen being waved around during the festival. Most commentators think that this symbolizes the “unity in diversity” of all the Jewish people together before their God. This is a clear call to keeping the unity in our families and communities. An allusion is also made as to whether or not the species (or their fruits) have taste and/or smell, which corresponds to the Jewish tradition of knowing the Torah (Word and prayer) and good deeds. The symbolism is as follows:
The lulav has taste but no smell, symbolizing those who study Torah but do not possess good deeds.
The hadass has a good smell but no taste, symbolizing those who possess good deeds but do not study Torah.
The aravah has neither taste nor smell, symbolizing those who lack both Torah and good deeds.
The etrog has both a good taste and a good smell, symbolizing those who have both Torah and good deeds.
This throws some light on the book of James – who clung dearly to the Jewish tradition, when he talks about faith and works in chapter 2 verses 14-26. He may have been thinking of the etrog when he spoke about Abraham’s faith; “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”
Make me a lemon Lord!
As I reflect on my life and ministry I can also see times of dryness and inactivity (aravah) linked to all the other varying degrees of commitment. I’ve had good days and bad days, joys and suffering – the bitter sweet symphony of life to quote the famous song by the Verve. I can take all of this history and wave it before the Lord in a glorious celebration of His gift of life and grace.
The feast of Tabernacles is also mentioned in chapter 7 of the Gospel of John. When the Temple in Jerusalem stood, a unique service was performed every morning throughout the Sukkot holiday: the Nisuch ha-Mayim (“Pouring of the water”) or Water Libation Ceremony. According to the Talmud, Sukkot is the time of year in which God judges the world for rainfall; therefore this ceremony, like the taking of the Four Species, invokes God’s blessing for rain in its proper time. The prophet Jeremiah had earlier used the image of a spring of water to illustrate the people’s need to stay close to their God. “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:12)
The water for the libation ceremony was drawn from the Pool of Siloam (Breikhat HaShiloah) in the City of David and carried up the Jerusalem pilgrim road to the Temple. The joy that accompanied this procedure was palpable. (This is the source for the verse in Isaiah 12:3) “And you shall draw waters with joy from the wells of salvation (Yeshua)” According to tradition, “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life.”
All this powerfully underlines the dramatic statement of Jesus, who, on the last day of the feast,
“stood and said in a loud voice, If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”
May we know the true joy of continuing to come to Jesus who alone can satisfy our deepest longings.
Finally, the triumphant welcoming of Jesus into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19), with the joyous waving of the palm branches and the cries of “Hosanna”, links to the seventh day of Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah, referring to the tradition that worshippers in the synagogue walk around the perimeter of the sanctuary during morning services.
In the Gospel of John, this passage introduces us to the “Greeks” who wanted to “see Jesus”. The final chapter of Zechariah also speaks of “all the nations” coming up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. (Zechariah 14:16). Surely this festival also points us to the tremendous vocation of Israel to be a “light to the nations”, and grafts us all into the wonderful promise given to Abraham to be a blessing for “all peoples on earth.” (Genesis 12:3)
Jesus is still longing to enlarge the place of his tent, like his outstretched arms on the cross, looking to embrace the peoples of the earth.
I’m praying to find the joy of joining Him once again in a new season of celebration for the nations…Join me on the journey…