The Bible (Leviticus 23:33-43) pictures Sukkot, (Festival of Booths or Tabernacles), as an eight day period of rejoicing. Although it occurs at harvest time, the festival virtually ignores the harvest theme as it commemorates God’s faithfulness to Israel through the wilderness wanderings after they left Egypt.
Traditional observance has maintained the spirit of great rejoicing during Sukkot. As in biblical times meals are to be eaten in booths as a picture of man’s sojourn under God’s wings and also as a reminder of freedom from Egypt. Participants carry the lulav branches and the etrog in a procession through the synagogue and wave the branches in four directions.
The seventh day of the celebration, Hoshana Rabba, gets its name from the prayers said on that day. Those prayers begin with the Hebrew “Hoshana” (save now) and include some special Messianic prayers. In tune with the spirit of joy the participants recite Hallel Psalms (113-118) during the week’s celebration.
During Second Temple times, two events which no longer take place highlighted the celebration. Water, drawn from a nearby source, was brought to the Temple and poured out by the altar as Isaiah 12:3 was repeated, “Therefore with joy shall you draw out of the wells of salvation.” The torchlight parade, brilliantly illuminating the Temple at night stood out as the other great event, possibly reflecting on of the other verses of the Hallel Psalms (118:27): “God is the Lord who has shown us light.”
Yeshua chose these two events to highlight his mission as Messiah. As the water was being poured by the altar he announced: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Scripture says that rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being.” (John 7:37-39) As torches lit up the Temple he shouted: ‘I am the world, light will flood the path of the one following me.” (John 8:12).
We look forward to the coming of the Messianic kingdom. When Yeshua returns people will rejoice in the presence of the living Torah, Yeshua, the one called the Word of God, (John 1:11). Zechariah 14:16 describes this as a time when all nations, not just Israel, will keep the festival of Sukkot and live in booths.
As we celebrate Sukkot each year, we can anticipate the time when the booths will no longer picture our present sojourn under God’s wings. Then they will remind us of the past, before the reign of Yeshua HaMashiach the King. In the meantime the booths remind us to depend on God and not on material goods.
These notes came from Dr. John Fischer’s Messianic Services for the Festivals and Holy Days.