The Feast of Tabernacles, Living Water, and the Light of the World
The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) is the climax of the Jewish festivals. In the ancient world many civilizations celebrated festivals in connection with agriculture. Building a shelter to reside in and the specific use of the etrog and waving of the willow, palm and myrtle was not just another variation in the midst of other rituals common to Israel’s neighbours. These feasts of the Lord that God appointed were in stark contrast from surrounding peoples who worshipped the creation rather than the Creator.[i]
Like Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, this feast remembered Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery and that they continued to reside in tents through to when Moses received the law at Sinai and the wilderness years until arrival at Canaan.[ii] This was a joyful festival. The Lord had provided for them in the past; would He not know provide for them in the Promised Land?[iii]
Yeshua at the Feast of Tabernacles
Like the other feasts, Sukkot (Tabernacles) points towards Messiah. Yeshua (Jesus) made clear statements concerning His identity at the Feast of Tabernacles. Noticeably, He arrived in the middle of the feast, not at the beginning. Why was that? Everyone else would have a mikvah, a ritual bath identifying that person as being cleansed. But exactly what sin had Jesus ever committed? Since He was sinless, He could go to this Feast without any requirement to be cleansed.
A central part of the celebration was bringing water from the Pool of Siloam through the Water Gate to the Temple where it was poured out as a supplication to God.[iv] This was brought in a golden flask and poured into a basin near the altar.[v] This was based on the the writing of the prophet – Isaiah 12:3 “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” and they sang the psalms of ascent (Psalms 120-134) as they returned and arrived at the close of the morning service.[vi] This was a hope that symbolised the day of Messiah, when living water would proceed from the temple.[vii]
‘On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39).’
This was an unmistakeable Messianic claim. The apostle John had carefully selected the phrase ‘tabernacled among us’ in John 1:14 describing how Jesus was fully God yet fully human. Some attending the feast concluded that He was ‘the Prophet’ and others believed He was the Messiah. Similarly, in John 4:1-26, Yeshua met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and claimed that whoever drinks of the water that He would give, would never thirst again (John 4:14). The Samaritan woman mentioned that Messiah was coming and when He did, He would tell of such things. Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you, am He (John 4:24).”
Light of the world
The Talmud pictures a vivid scene of the evening celebrations.
At the conclusion of the first festival day of Sukkot they descended to the Women’s Court (Ezrat Nashim) and they would make there a great enactment. And golden candlesticks were there, and four golden bowls on the top of each of them and four ladders to each, and four youths drawn from the young priests, and in their hands there were jars of oil containing one hundred and twenty logs which they poured into the bowls…Men of piety and good deeds used to dance before them with lighted torches in their hands, and they would sing songs and praises.”[viii]
At the Feast of Tabernacles, a woman was caught in adultery and when Yeshua was tested how He would respond in connection with the law of Moses, He said “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first (John 8:7).” Then, one by one, from the oldest to the last, they were convicted by their conscience and went out. Yeshua told her that He did not condemn her either but to go and sin no more.
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12).”
Later in John 9, a man was born blind, and Jesus healed Him, giving him sight. His disciples asked Him whether it was that man or his parents that had sinned resulting in blindness.
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world (John 9:3-5).”
And so we end where we began. Whilst carrying the branches at the Feast of Tabernacles, the words of Psalm 118:25 were sung “Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity. Their prayers were answered when Yeshua appeared at Tabernacles. He revealed Himself as the Messiah, the only One who could save them as He is the provider of living water and is the light of the world.
Discover more here: Feast of Trumpets
[i] David Brickner Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles (Moody, 2006; Chicago), p24
[ii] Bryan W Sheldon The Messiah and the Feasts of Israel (Gospel Folio Press, 2007; Port Colborne), p158
[iii] Derek Tidball The Message of Leviticus (IVP, 2005; Leicester), p280
[iv] Ibid, 280
[v] Peter Sammons Israel’s Holy Moedim (Glory to Glory Publications, 2017; Cambridge), p122
[vi] Sheldon p161
[vii] Tidball, p280