Holiday Blessings in Messiah,
Sukkot: Feast of Clouds
The Feast of Sukkot or Tabernacles (Oct. 2-10, 2020) was regarded in ancient Israel as the most important festival of the year. It is called Z’man Simchateinu (Zeh-MAHN SIMkhaTEY-new), the Season of our Rejoicing, since there is a triple command to rejoice on Sukkot in the Torah (Deut. 16:14-15; Lev. 23:40).
During this moed (mow-ED, appointed time), God’s people Israel were commanded to dwell in booths, sukkot (sue-COAT), for seven days. This was to help them recall their wandering in the wilderness, following their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Concerning Sukkot, the Torah says, “You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days…that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:41-43).
The ancient rabbis considered the flimsy, temporary booths of God’s People to be symbols of something eternal and glorious—His Cloud of Glory, His Divine Sheltering Presence that covered the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud (ah-NAHN) to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night” (Ex. 13:21).
Sukkot is a feast that focuses on God’s Presence with us. Psalm 91:1 can be seen as a picture of a child of God dwelling in His sukkah: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow [think “cloud”] of the Almighty.” Psalm 27:5 includes a similar protective theme: “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion [b’sukkah]; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set high upon a rock.”
Israel was covered with the Cloud of God’s Glory. This cloud protected the Israelites when they were being pursued by Pharaoh’s army. “And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud (amud anan, ah-MOOD ah-NAHN) went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other…” (Ex. 14:19-20).
The Glory Cloud (Anan HaKavod, Ah-NAHN Ha-Kah-VODE) hovered over God’s People. We need that Cloud today! We need God dwelling with us as never before. His covering. His protection. His Presence. His voice from the Cloud. We need to follow the Cloud, not the crowd.
Direction. Abba, please increase our sensitivity to Your leading. Give us wisdom to move when the Cloud moves, to be as portable as a sukkah, not clinging to things of this earth that will all pass away. May we follow the example of the Israelites, “Wherever the cloud (anan) was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents” (Num. 9:17).
The following poem, composed by Jehiel ben Isaac in the 13th century, is recited on the second evening of Sukkot in traditional services.
“Thy Cloud Enfolded Them”
Thy cloud enfolded them, as if that they were shelter’d in a booth; redeem’d and free,
They saw Thy glory as a canopy
Spread o’er them as they marched upon their way.
And when dryshod they through the sea had gone,
They praised Thee and proclaimed Thy unity;
And all the angels sang the antiphon,
And lifted up their voices unto Thee.
“Our Rock, our Savior He”—thus did they sing—”World without end the Lord shall reign as King!”
Pray with me that my neighbors experience the Glory of God, and the Cloud of His Presence this Sukkot. There are over 8,000 people where I live in Kings Point. Many are elderly and Jewish. There is only 1 sukkah: mine. By the grace and favor of God, it will be up for at least eight days on the second floor patio right outside my condominium. The condo board graciously allows me to put up the sukkah each year even though it is on public property. Sadly, we cannot have our yearly building potluck due to Covid-19 restrictions, but I plan to stagger guests, since the sukkah is outside, and celebration is still possible—just different.
A Messianic Age is coming, as prophesied by Isaiah, when the Anan HaKavod will be like a sukkah over Jerusalem: “Then the LORD will create above every dwelling place on Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering (huppa). And there will be a tabernacle (sukkah) for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storms and rain” (Is. 4:5-6).
Sukkot: Feast of Outpouring
The outpouring of both rain (geshem, GEH-shem) and the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh, RU-achHa-KO-desh) are connected with Sukkot. Sukkot occurs at the beginning of the rainy season in Israel (late Oct./Nov.-March). Rain has always been crucial to Israel and the Middle East. Rain is life. No rain. No harvest. No life. Rain in the Bible is a symbol of God’s blessing and a reward for obedience. Drought was always regarded as a punishment for sin (Deut. 11:13-17; 1 Kings 8:35-36).
I am writing about rain as fires have erupted all over the state of California and the Pacific Northwest. My son Jesse and his wife, Christine, were camping last month not far from the area where helicopters had to airlift 200 people from burning forests. Firefighters are desperately trying to control the blazes. There is also fire in the streets of our country. We need WATER from heaven. Now!
God’s people were desperate for life-giving water at Sukkot. They fervently prayed to the God of Israel for both the former (mo-REH) and the latter (mal-KOSH) rains. They blessed God for sending them rain, and joined with King David in praises: “You visit the earth and water it, You greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; You provide their grain, for so You have prepared it. You water its ridges abundantly. You settle its furrows; You make it soft with showers. You bless its growth” (Ps. 65:9-10).
A special Water Drawing Ceremony was conducted every day of the Feast during Bible times. The ceremony called Simchat Beit HaShoeivah included not only a prayer of gratitude for the rain that God had sent, but prayer for rain in the coming year. Each morning of Sukkot the High Priest (Cohen Gadol) and a joyous procession of worshippers went down to the Pool of Siloam at the southern tip of the City of David. The High Priest filled a golden pitcher with “living water” from the pool, led the procession back to the Temple through the Water Gate, and, amidst three blasts on silver trumpets, a shout went up: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3). (There was an understanding that this included the idea of God pouring out His Ruach HaKodesh on His People.)
At the same time, another procession went down to a place called Motza where willows (ah-rahVAH) grew in abundance. The willows were gathered and brought back to the Temple where they were placed as a cover over the altar. Willows, in the Hebrew mind, symbolize dependence on water, and thus became closely associated with a prayer from Psalm 118:25, “Save now I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.” (Save now: Hoshia na.) A nickname was given to the willow branches and is still used today: hoshanot (ho-sha-NOTE).
At the altar the High Priest poured water into a silver basin. Wine was poured into a second silver basin at the same time. Trumpet blasts signaled the start of Temple music, a flute player called “the pierced one” played his flute, and a Levitical choir sang the Hallel, Psalms 113 118. Psalm 118 was considered to be Messianic in nature, and foreshadowed the Messiah who we know entered Jerusalem amidst shouts of “Hoshia na, Save now.” And the willows wept as He suffered and died a cruel death at Passover.
But death did not prevail, and God’s Ruach would one day be poured out on all flesh. On the seventh and final day of Sukkot, Hoshana Rabba, the day on which Jewish tradition held that God determined the coming year’s rainfall, Yeshua made an astounding proclamation: “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Yeshua stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, who those believing in Him would receive, for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Yeshua was not yet glorified” (Jn. 7:37-39).
Living water (Mayim Chayim: MAI-eem KHAI-eem): the same water that Yeshua offered the Samaritan woman in John 4:10. This Living Water comes from the One who embodies the wells of salvation (yeshuah) of Isaiah 12:3. Yeshua’s water is life-giving to the spirit. It is water that satisfies our spiritual thirst. In Messiah, the promise of Isaiah 58:11 is fulfilled: “The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”
Yeshua proclaimed at that historic Sukkot ceremony that He was the answer to Israel’s prayers, the One who saves, and the One who gives living water—an eternal, not just yearly, blessing. This correlated with ancient Jewish theology that connected the Water Drawing Ceremony with the Holy Spirit. “Why do they call it ‘the house of drawing’? Because there they draw the Holy Spirit” (Genesis Rabba 70:1).
Abba, please increase our thirst for You, and help us to drink deeply from the wells of Yeshua.
The Water Pouring Ceremony has been reinstated in Jerusalem today, even though there is no Temple. There is also prayer for rain as part of the daily Amidah (ah-mee-DAH). God’s power to bring rain is acknowledged, as worshippers pray, mashiv ha-ru’ah u-morid ha-geshem, “Thou causest the wind to blow and the rain to fall.” This prayer is said at the conclusion of Sukkot during the Musaf service of Shemini Azeret (the eighth day mentioned in Lev. 23:39).
For over forty years, I have had my own private water pouring ceremony with Yeshua on the seventh day of the Feast. I make a special lunch for us (same menu every year!), worship Him with my lulav (palm), and pour a pitcher of water on the earth as I pray for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on my family and friends. (Neil was curious about my Hoshana Rabba ceremony, but he always respected my alone time with the Lord.)
Sukkot: Feast of Mankind
Sukkot is unique among the feasts of the Lord since it specifically includes all the nations of the world. A huge number of sacrifices were offered during Temple days at Sukkot. Among them were 70 sacrifices for the 70 nations of the world. Jewish sources see this as God’s concern for the Gentiles, and Israel’s call to be a light to the nations. A rabbinic midrash on Psalm 109:4 is mentioned in The Fall Feasts of Israel by Mitch and Zhava Glaser: “At the festival of Tabernacles we offer up seventy bullocks (as an atonement) for the seventy nations, and we pray that rain will come down for them.” The Glasers continue, saying, “Israel is considered a nation of intercessors for the sins of the Gentiles.” (The true believers among the Gentiles are now intercessors for the sins of Israel!)
Many traditional Jews see the sukkah as a symbol of universal peace. Never before have we been so aware of the need for PEACE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Covid-19 has stolen peace from every nation on earth. Traditional Jews read Zechariah 14:16 and pray for all the world to come under the shadow of the sukkah, namely, within the protection of God’s lovingkindness (chesed, KHE-said).
The traditional Bible reading on the first day of Sukkot speaks about Jews and Gentiles both celebrating Sukkot in the Millennium, a time in which living waters shall flow from Jerusalem (Zech. 14:8). God will judge rebellious nations by withholding life-giving rains. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles [Sukkot]. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain” (Zech. 14:16-17).
If you don’t have a sukkah, and you can’t go up to Jerusalem this year, you can still have your own water pouring ceremony in anticipation of that glorious time. You can also join in the evening prayers of Israel as they pray, “And spread over us Thy tabernacle of peace.”
We can all look forward to the day spoken of in Zechariah 14:9, “And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—’The LORD is one; and His name one.‘” Peter, James, and John got a glimpse of this time on the Mt. of Transfiguration. “…He (Yeshua) was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Yeshua, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles (sukkot): one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him‘” (Matt. 17:2-5).
Shema (Hear), O Israel. Yeshua is the Messiah, God’s Son, the Redeemer of all mankind. He is calling all people everywhere to repent, to turn back to God. As believers, we must not be “clouds that carry no water and a wind that brings no refreshing rain” (Prov. 25:14, Jude 12). Instead, we must be, according to Dr. Brian Simmons of the Passion Bible, “God’s anointed people, clouds carried by the wind of the Holy Spirit that bring refreshing truths to His people.”
Abba, Shebashamayim, (Our Father in heaven, in the “waters above”), please strengthen us to be true, to cling to Your truth in a world saturated with lies. Help us to obey You and to follow Your Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, and not be carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men (Eph. 4:14). Forgive our sin and send the rain of Your Ruach (1 Kin. 8:35-36). Fill us with Your love, Your power, and the life-giving water of Your Word.
In Yeshua’s Name, AMEN.
P.S. “Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD…He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth” (Hos. 6:3).