Sukkot, which translates as booths or huts in Hebrew, is one of the biblical pilgrim festivals, when the Jewish people would traditionally make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. It is both a time to celebrate the harvest as well as a time to remember the experiences of the Jewish people as they were brought up out of Egypt by the Lord.
Leviticus 23:39-43 records the commands regarding Sukkot:
‘Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. 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. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 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.’”
In modern times, observant individuals build a sukkah, or a simple temporary shelter, but many do not use it as a full-time dwelling for the entire week, instead only eating meals in it. The agrarian background of the holiday can be seen in that those who observe Sukkot also bundle together samples of the four species mentioned in Leviticus (lulav, hadas, aravah, and etrog, which are palm fronds, myrtle boughs, willows branches, and citron fruit, respectively) and recite a special blessing.
Thematically, Sukkot serves a reminder for a number of principles. First, it reminds us that God provides. For the Israelites who lived in temporary shelters on the way from Egypt up to the Promised Land, the Lord was their constant caretaker and provider, who saw to all of their needs.
Secondly, Sukkot reminds us that God dwelt among us. With all of the focus on the meaning of the sukkah for the individual, it’s easy to forget that God had a sukkah of his own—the Tabernacle. For believers, this aspect of Sukkot is of special significance, as we know that God again dwelt among us through His Son Yeshua, who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
Thirdly, Sukkot is a reminder that God has a plan for the future. The prophet Zechariah tells us that, at some point in the future, during the Messianic Kingdom, all nations will celebrate Sukkot and worship the Lord (Zech 14:16).
And lastly, Sukkot is a reminder that God has made provision for our salvation. In biblical times, a special ceremony took place at the Temple during Sukkot that was called Celebration of the Water Drawing. Water was drawn in an atmosphere of joy and praise and was then taken to the Temple, where thousands of worshippers gathered to dance, sing, play instruments, and praise God while the water was poured out in front of the altar. According to the Mishnah, Tractate Sukkah, “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life.” In the New Covenant, John tells us that, during the last day of Sukkot, Jesus stood up and cried out “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” (John 7:37-38). The joy of the Celebration of Water Drawing, great as it was, could not compare to the joy of salvation we have when we believe in Jesus.