Sukkot: The Water of Life

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Isaiah 12:3

“On that day living water will flow from Jerusalem… Then the survivors from all the nations… will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.” Zechariah 14:8,16

By Rev. Philip Bottomley

The Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot is the seventh and final celebration of the annual “Feasts of the LORD” that he instructed his people to observe through Moses (Lev 23). Sukkot is a weeklong festival, and as in the other two pilgrim festivals (Passover and Pentecost), every adult male in Israel was commanded to come up to Jerusalem to celebrate it. Sukkot is a harvest festival (like Passover and Pentecost) that celebrates the ingathering of the fruit. Yet, it has much more meaning than just that. Indeed, it is sometimes referred to simply as “the Feast”! 

Sukkot is primarily observed by building a flimsy booth or sukkah and by living in it – or at least eating one’s meals in it – for eight days in remembrance of the 40 years of wandering in the desert, when the LORD provided everything the Israelites needed. The holiday includes the theme of God’s dwelling in glory and light with his people – his “tabernacling with them.” Most of all, Sukkot is full of messianic expectation. It is traditionally believed that Elijah will come to an ordinary Jewish family’s sukkah and announce that Messiah is coming. It is instructive, therefore, that when Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain as Jesus was transfigured, Peter wanted to build “booths” (Luke 9:28-36)! This has led scholars to believe that the Transfiguration happened at about the time of Sukkot.

Photo: Sukkah at Egyptian border crossing by Anita Gould via Flickr (cc)

Sukkah at Egyptiona border crossing - Anita Gould - Flickr - cc

The eighth and final day of the feast is called the "Great Day” or the “Great Hosannah.” It is a day to seal up the books of life and death that were opened on Rosh Hashanah, to pray for rain to produce the harvests in the next year, and developing from all that, it is a time of intense prayer for the coming of Messiah.

A ceremony called the “Water Drawing,” based on the scriptures quoted above, had come into existence by Jesus’ time. On the Great Day, while prayers for rain and

for the Messiah were being intoned, a young priest would go to the pool of Siloam, draw a pitcher of water, and carry it in joyful procession to the altar of burnt offering in the Temple, where, after processing around the altar seven times, he would pour out the water as a libation to the LORD. A great shout of “Hosannah to the Son of David!” would go forth from the throng of worshippers.

On this day, Jesus makes an amazing announcement. We read in John 7:37-38, “On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus 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.’” Jesus, on the day of the Water Drawing, on the day that the nation was shouting for the Son of David to save them, says he is Living Water come from God. It is not surprising that some who heard Jesus said that he was “the Prophet” and others said, “He is the Messiah” (vv. 40-41)! 

water flowing into a container

My brothers and sisters, if you have found Yeshua HaMashiach to be the source of inexhaustible “living water,” are you sharing this “Good News” with those around you?

Rev. Philip Bottomley is the director of Ministry Partnerships. Contact him to schedule a Jewish roots teaching for your church or small group: Philip.Bottomley@cmj-usa.org.

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