My Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret Message
When we consider the festivals of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret and how it affects our lives today in the way we honor/keep and rehearse these Appointed Times we need to go back to the first century and determine how and why the Jews observed them at that time, long after the original wilderness journey had ended. It is not just about having a sukkah built and hanging out in it for seven days to remember the temporary dwellings in the wilderness. A very significant event happened in the 1st century that
should shape our present understanding and remembrance rehearsal.
Go back with me for a moment to the 1st century during a Festival of Sukkot.
The Scene In Jerusalem
Festival of Lights
It truly was a festival of lights for four 75 feet candelabra's were erected in the Court of the Women high upon the Temple. Each candelabra had four branches and at the top of every branch was a huge bowl. Four young men bearing pitchers of oil would climb ladders to fill the golden bowls and set them alight each evening of Sukkot (Mishnah). Imagine 16 blazing torches lighting up the night sky. The Temple sat on a hill so the entire city could see the lights and they would be lighting up the night sky all over the city.
The Temple was central to Sukkot. In fact, King Solomon dedicated the first Temple during Sukkot and the glory (Shikinah) of YHVH filled the Temple on Sukkot.
Water Drawing Ceremony
Each day of Sukkot the priests would conduct the “water drawing” ceremony. The priests would take a golden pitcher and lead a musical procession to the Pool of Siloam (Shiloah) where a priest would dip up water into the golden pitcher as he recited, “Therefore with joy you shall draw water from the wells of salvation (yeh-shoo-AH).” This was a reference to Isaiah 12:3:
“And you shall draw water with joy from the waters of salvation”
The priest would then take this golden pitcher of water back to the Temple and pour it upon the altar while reciting, “Hoshiana, I pray O LORD, send now prosperity”. This came from
This symbolized the reference from Psalms about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit during the days of the coming Messianic Kingdom, and they saw this from Isaiah 44:3:
For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring
This was followed by a great silence by the crowds of people as they reflected upon their thirst for the coming of Messiah and the promised pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon them. Each day the people
would rejoice over God's provision of water for their crops in the prior year and reflect on the coming refreshment which would be upon them when the Holy Spirit was poured out during the Messianic
The priests performed this water drawing ceremony once on each day of Sukkot until the 7th day when the process was repeated 7 times. The anticipation and excitement was so great on this day that it was recorded that “no one had experienced joy until they had experienced this day”. The 7th day was called Hoshanna Rabbah meaning great shouts of save us now.
The whole land would be dotted with sukkot. The sukkot would be decorated with the four species. The people would rejoice in the streets: dancing, singing; the priests would also perform: some juggling
fire torches etc. The people would also wave willow, palm, and myrtle branches as they rejoiced and enjoyed the produce of their harvest. They would invite friends and relatives to join them in their
Sukkah. It was a great time of joy.
The Eighth Day Celebration (Shemini Atzeret)
Dwelling in Sukkot was no longer commanded. There was no water drawing ceremony. The seventy bulls that had been sacrificed on each day of Sukkot would end and now only one bull would be sacrificed. It was a High Sabbath. The eighth day was called “The Last Great Day of the Feast.”
The people and the priests would sing the Halliel Psalms of praise which included Psalms 118:21,22, and 26:
I will praise thee: for You have heard me, and have become my salvation (yeh-shoo-AH). The stone which the builders rejected has now become the chief cornerstone.....Blessed is he that comes in The Name of YHVH.
Now that we have seen what a first century celebration would have looked like, let us now consider how the people viewed their celebration of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. They were not just thanking Elohim and remembering their wilderness journey but instead they were rehearsing for the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Please consider:
While they represented dwelling in temporary dwellings in the wilderness after being delivered from Egypt, they also meant much more than that. It represented a remembering that for 40 years God had lived and “dwelt” among
them as a fire by night and a cloud by day. It signified His presence with them. At Sukkot they remembered this but more so they celebrated and rehearsed for the day when Elohim would “re-appear”,
when His Shikinah would once again “tabernacle” among them. They saw this happening when the Messiah came and His kingdom was established in Jerusalem. They wanted His glory to return that had left the Temple before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. His glory was never in the 2nd Temple
and will not return until Messiah comes.
The water drawing ceremony reminded them of their provision of water in the wilderness but again of greater provision and refreshing that would come with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the time of the Messiah. The water reminded them of the salvation (Yeh-shoo-AH) that was to come and of the
spiritual rock that followed them in the wilderness.
It reminded them of the fire by night that led them in the wilderness and the shikinah that filled Solomon's Temple. Also, they rejoiced to see the “great light” that was prophecied to come in Isaiah
9:1-3 and for the time when all the nations would come to worship Elohim at Sukkot (the Festival of Lights) as prophecied by the prophet Zechariah (14:17), and to the keeping of the promise to Abraham
that all nations of the earth would be blessed through him and their Messiah.
Sukkot was “the feast” for Messiah's reign on earth bringing forth all of these things and the restoration and return of the shikinah (glory) of God in their midst.
Light had always been associated with God and His annointed one. It always indicated God's presence.
Symbolically lights had two purposes: symbolizing God's presence and that of the great light that would come to the spiritually dead dwelling in darkness. (Isaiah 9:2) which Yeshua quotes referring to Himself.
The Eighth Day – Shemini Atzeret
The eighth day symbolized a time when God had fulfilled His promise to their forefathers that He would bring them into the promised land; a land flowing with milk and honey; a well watered land. It
denoted a personal time between Israel and her God. It symbolized the endless cycles of eternity where God Almighty was the life giver.
Importance of The Pool of Siloam (Shiloah)
The Pool of Shiloah was at the southern approach to the Temple mount, inside the city walls. It was fed by the Gihon springs. According to Jerome the spring did not send forth water continually, but on
certain times and days. It was a small current of water that moved softly and slowly instead of rapidly like a rapid river. Because of its ebb and tide it is regarded as an arm of the sea. Because of this
easy and gentle movement and because of its proximity to the City of David it came to be associated with the House of David, and thus the Kingdom of God. So, Jerusalem, the Temple, and the worship of
the true God were symbolized in the waters of Shiloah which means “sent” in Hebrew.
In Isaiah 8:6 it states “the people refused, the waters of Shiloah that goes so softly....” this speaks to the
rejection of the House of David and the connected rejection of the Kingdom of God through His Messiah that was to come through David.
It is stated in the Talmud that after the temple service on the 8th day that King Solomon and the people descended to the pool of Siloam from which the waters were drawn, and poured it upon the altar
(Sukkot v 1). It had at some point been called Solomon's pool.
It is believed that the waters of Siloam were used to anoint the Kings of Judah and it became associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was also used in the ordinance of the red heifer because it was the only water source inside the city.
Accessing the pool went through many changes throughout Israel's history but the greatest was during the reign of King Hezekiah who enlarged the conduit bringing water into the city. It is believed that the Pool of Siloam was re-configured during the Herodian period to serve as a large mikveh.
Now, according to the gospel of John what is recorded as happening during Sukkot? Why is this important? As all of these celebrations have been taking place and as they are clearly rehearsing for the coming of their Messiah...
The Messiah Proclaims Himself
The presence of God had returned and they did not recognize Him even after all that He said. Yeshua of Nazareth stood before them and claimed to be the Messiah and the fulfillment of their rehearsals and they did not grasp it in their understanding.
He Was The Water
In John chapters 7-9, John deals with Yeshua's declaring Himself during Sukkot and the 8th day.
In John 7:37-38 Yeshua declares Himself to be the water of life. He was the fulfillment of the Isaiah
prophecy about the wells of salvation. We have the Hebrew word play Yeh-shoo-AH and Yeh-SHOO- ah. He was the one
who would pour out the Holy Spirit upon them.
He Was The Light
In John 8:12 He had already declared Himself to be the light. It was declared to them that He was the great light (Matthew 4:16).
He Was The Tabernacle
He was the shikinah made flesh (John 1:14).
The one that they had longed for, the one who’s coming they were rehearsing was standing before them. As they remembered the former glory and longed for the future return of that glory-He was standing before them declaring Himself.
He even announced Himself to be the “I Am” in chapter 8:58 which was also during Sukkot.
Then He sealed the deal of His Messiahship on The Last Great Day of the Feast (Shemini Atzeret) by healing the man born blind. A feat ascribed by Jewish leaders as one that could only be done by the Messiah of Israel. Not only that but He also used His saliva to make mud to anoint the blind man eyes. In Hebraic understanding the saliva of a firstborn son has healing powers (now you know).
This was all done on the High Sabbath of the 8th day (John 9:14).
To prove He was the “sent one” from the Father He tells His disciples regarding the blind man:
John 9:4 “the works of Him who sent me“,
then He sends Him to the pool called “sent” (Shiloah - for a Hebrew play on words) that just happened to be associated with the Davidic dynasty and it’s rejection, of which He was the rightful heir, but He had been rejected just as the priests and people declared on the 8th day from their lips from Psalms 118 during their ceremony (see above).
Even the blind man when being ostrized by the Pharisees declared in Yeshua's defense in John 9:30-33.
With this miracle He affirmed/sealed He was in fact the one that was to come. He was the light, the water, and the shikinah. He did the impossible and proved He was God in the flesh, the I Am who was
before Abraham, the Annointed One.
At the following Passover the people imitated Sukkot festivities such as the palm leaves and hosanna's to show that they believed He was the one and asking Him to finish what He had started 6 months before.
At His first visit He came to tabernacle in the flesh. At His 2nd coming He will come and tabernacle in the flesh with us again. He will establish His kingdom at Sukkot and all will come up to worship Him. He took on flesh as the book of Hebrews says.
He gave a warning on Sukkot in John 9:39-41. We need to heed it!
This is Sukkot. This is our celebration. This is our rehearsal for His second coming! The Shikinah has returned with God in the flesh. Our hope at Sukkot now should take on a deeper meaning than putting up a sukkah and thinking on the wilderness
journey, for the presence of Elohim has returned, and He is soon to come again as the ruling King of David and all nations
will come up to worship Him.
So, I celebrate Sukkot in anticipation of the greater fulfillment of the soon coming Kingdom of Yeshua Messiah when He will “tabernacle” with us again in the flesh.
On the final Shemini Atzeret we will live forever with Him in the renewed heaven and earth where we will no longer need a temple for He will be in our midst and we will be a living tabernacle for Him to dwell in. In that day there will be no need for a sun for He will be the light and the water of life will flow freely from the throne and the tree of life will be once again growing in our midst.