Posted by: Heather | September 30, 2010

Feast of Tabernacles: The Living Water

John 7:37-37  In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.  He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.

(If you are just joining me in this study, you may feel the need to catch up on the previous lessons.  For the introduction, click herePart 2 is about the sukkah, and part 3 contains information about rejoicing with the lulav and etrog.)

There are many components to this annual autumn harvest festival we call the Feast of Tabernacles.  It’s a joyful time of celebration in Israel.  In addition to commemorating God’s provision for the Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness, this feast is also a ‘rehearsal’ for the millennial reign, when Jesus will fulfill it by coming to ‘tabernacle’ with His people in a new heaven and a new earth.  From a practical viewpoint, these 7 days are also set aside to praise the Lord for his provision of rain and an abundant growing season.  Praises are also accompanied by prayers for sufficient rain in the upcoming months to grow future crops. Since Israel was an agricultural society, they were dependent on plentiful rain.  So dependent, in fact, that in biblical days the rabbis would teach every scripture relating to water in the days leading up to the feast.  When the feast days finally came, ceremonies took place every day at the temple.

On the first day of Sukkot, one priest, accompanied by a joyful procession of people, went to the pool of Siloam to draw a pitcher of water to be poured on the altar.  A similar procession, led by a second priest, headed to the Kidron Valley to get willow branches.  The priests would time their groups to meet back at the temple at the same time to begin the ceremony.

Large willow branches were put on either side of the altar, and bent at the top to form a canopy.  The regular, daily sacrifices were offered, as well as special sacrifices designated especially for the feast.  The water from the pitcher was poured on the altar, showing gratitude for rain and prayers were offered for future rain.  As the people shook their lulavs and etrogs toward the altar, they would walk with the priests around the altar one time, singing Isaiah 12:1-3:

And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee:  though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.  Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid:  for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.  Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.

Another passage of scripture was sung (Psalm 113-118), called The Great Hallel (Hosanna).  These are songs of praise to God.  After the ceremony was over, people would return to their sukkot (plural of sukkah) to share time with family and friends, eat meals together, and even discuss the lives of great biblical characters.

The water pouring ceremony, circling the altar one time with shaking of lulavs/etrogs, and singing of songs took place on days 2-6 as well.

Day 7 is the culmination of the feast.  It is called Hosha’na Rabba (the day of the Great Hosanna).   On this day, the same activities are done.  However, this time, the priests and people marched around the altar 7 times while shaking the lulavs/etrogs and rejoicing after the pouring of the water.  (Does this sound even a bit familiar?  You know, a story about marching around a city once per day and 7 times on the 7th day?  🙂 )

The Great Hallel (Ps. 113-118) is sung.  Here is a short passage from that portion of scripture:

Psalm 118:22-26  The stone which the builders refused is become the head of the corner.  This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in itSave now, I beseech thee, O LORD:  O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.  Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD:  we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.

This water pouring ceremony is the context of John 7:37-38 (above).  Jesus was teaching at the temple on the last day, this 7th day of ‘the feast’.  The Feast of Tabernacles was also called simply ‘the feast’ because it was known as the most important.  Jesus is proclaiming Himself as the Messiah, the source of living water, at the very time they are pouring water on the altar asking for God’s provision and singing about Him!  Although most had no idea their Messiah was there, or refused to believe, others realized at that moment He was actually speaking to them.

The pouring of water is also a beautiful symbolism of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on us .  We have continual access to the ‘living water’ in Jesus!

After all of the festivities are complete, everyone returns to their homes, remembering the goodness of God in bringing them out of temporary dwellings back into their permanent homes.  Those that celebrate Sukkot choose to inconvenience themselves for a period of 7 days to remind themselves in a tangible way the goodness of God’s provision every day of the year.  Home is very nice after living in a temporary shelter, even for a week!

As we close this season of Sukkot, may we remember how great a God we serve.  He keeps and shelters us daily, and pours His love upon us.  We should continually rejoice in His presence and remember His great acts.  One day, we will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with Him personally…what a time that will be!!

Thank you for joining me for this series of lessons.  God bless you!


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