Category: Appointed Times
Tags: celebration, salvation, Sukkot, Tabernacles, water libation, waters
"...the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which Adonai your God cares; the eyes of Adonai your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year..." -- Deuteronomy 11:11-12
At last, the Great Feast is upon us! Chag Simchat Beit Hasho'evaheinu--the season of our rejoicing--for which we have patiently waited all year. "You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress. And you shall rejoice in your feast..." In fulfillment of this injunction, Sukkot is a time of worship, praise and celebration. (Deuteronomy 16:13-14)
The festival reminds us of how the One True God of Israel dwelt with His people in their wilderness wanderings. Would it be a stretch of the imagination to say that He does the same for us during our times of wandering? I do not think so. In fact, His Presence is so constantly with us that it can be easily forgotten, taken for granted, and overlooked. Thanks to the Lord for instituting a way for all of us who are His children to remember the reality of His constant Presence with us. As we tabernacle in our booths this year, let us remember His faithful provision in our lives throughout this last year, and how He extends His arm of salvation to us from day to day.
The Well of Salvation
While Yeshua "tabernacled" with mankind on the earth, salvation was a regular theme in His teachings. His purpose on this earth, established before the foundations of the earth, was to "save" mankind from his evil nature, and to provide a means of justification for all peoples. As we read the Brit Chadasha (New Testament), we are reminded constantly of the Lord's salvation in nearly every word uttered by Yeshua. His very name alone carries this definition. But how much do we read that is not easily, or obviously, understood as Yeshua's proclamation of salvation? There are many scriptural insights that are missed purely through lack of historical and cultural knowledge. This article addresses one such area in reference to something Yeshua declared about Himself during the Feast of Tabernacles.
At its conclusion, we will have learned that Yeshua spoke clearly to His people--not only with the spoken word, but through visual imagery as well. In addition, we will study how Yeshua's statements, when referring to Himself, caused His listeners to understand that He was openly proclaiming His Divinity. Lastly, we will find blessing, joy and life as we look at the symbolism and depth of meaning found within Yeshua's own statement, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'"
Sukkot Celebration Traditions
We are told in Leviticus 23 to celebrate and observe God's appointed days. The instructions for the Feasts are found in other texts as well. Let us look at how the Feast of Sukkot is to be observed from selected verses of an alternate text, Numbers 29:12-40: (12) "'Then on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work, and you shall observe a feast to the Lord for seven days (13) And you shall present a burnt offering, an offering by fire as a soothing aroma to the Lord... (16)
... besides the continual burnt offering, its grain offering and its libation... (40) And Moses spoke to the sons of Israel in accordance with all that the Lord had commanded Moses."
Verses 12-40 prescribe the Feast's daily sacrificial ritual of animals, grain and libations. What are libations? According to the JPS Commentary on the book of Bamidbar, "Rabbi Akiva interprets the plural as including a water libation, which he explains as follows: 'An omer [measure of barley] is brought on the Pesach (Passover), that the grain of the fields be blessed; first fruits are brought on Atseret (Shavuot), that fruits of the trees will be blessed; so there is a water libation on The Festival (Sukkot), that the year's rains will be blessed.'"1
"With Joy shall we draw Water"
Many rabbis agree with Rabbi Akiva's position and state that the water-pouring ceremony was an integral part of the Feast of Booths in order that the land might be blessed for that coming year in its water supply, although the words of the Tanach make no mention of this specifically. It does, however, make a connection to water during the time of Ezra after Nehemiah had rebuilt the walls of the city.2 This passage speaks of the day the people returned to the ordinances of the Lord and heard the command in Torah to observe Sukkot--it was on this occasion that the people were gathered at the "Water gate" in celebration of the Feast of Sukkot.3
The last verse of Bamidbar chapter 29, states that Moshe told the Israelites what to do in accordance with what the Lord had commanded him. Many sages and rabbis assert that since the full Torah was given to Moshe at Har Sinai, [i.e., both what was written and the oral explanation thereof], this "law" was given to Moshe by the Lord as part of the oral Torah. What does the oral Torah teach regarding the water libation ceremony?
It is recorded that: "The Torah's only allusion to the water offering appears in its description of the wine offering."4 Both wine and water were required as offerings to the Lord on Sukkot to be combined and poured onto the altar. A golden flagon was filled from the pool of Siloam, also known as 'Shiloah' and 'Shelah'5, a pool of water located south of the Temple within the Old City walls. The priests would fill this golden vessel and take the water, enough to last all eight days of the ceremony, up to Beit HaMikdash (the Temple). Each day, the priest would draw from the waters with a silver bowl and sprinkle the water on the altar of the temple, in the same manner as rain falling from the sky. This activity commenced with the playing of many musical instruments, the sounding of the shofar, and with dancing and worship of the Lord. "At the conclusion of each day, golden candlesticks with four golden bowls on the top of each were lit... and there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not illumined by the light of the place of the water drawing."6
The celebration was so great that our sages have said, "He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah, has never seen rejoicing in his life." In fact, this ceremony may be the basis by which the prophet Isaiah writes, "Therefore with joy shall you draw water [from the wells of salvation]."7 The last day of the Feast, however, was the greatest of all. It was the time of the most celebration, music, and worship, a time of holy convocation unto the Lord. In modern Jewish terminology, this day is called Hoshana Raba, which means "O Great Salvation."
Yeshua at the Feast of Sukkot
Yeshua, a Torah-observant Jew, would have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year in honor of the Feasts of the Lord. We read in John 7:2 that the "Feast of Booths was at hand" and in verse 10 we find a record of Yeshua also going up to Jerusalem as was His custom. (This time He went secretly as He knew there were some waiting and watching out for Him in order to persecute Him. They were expecting Him to be there as they were fully aware of His faultless Torah observance.) An interesting thing happened, however, at the Feast of Sukkot that year. Scripture tells us that Yeshua cried out at the Temple during the celebrations on the last great day, and He declared something earth-shaking to all those around Him, when He called out, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me as the Scripture says, from his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37-38). The literal translation of "Come to Me and drink" is, "Let him keep coming to Me and let him keep drinking."8
If You are Thirsty, Drink!
What did Yeshua mean by this statement? He said that from one who believes in Him would flow forth rivers of living water. What are the "rivers of living water," or the "fountain of living water" as some translations state? Psalm 36:9 says that with the Lord is the fountain of life. However, the verse Jeremiah 2:13 conclusively states, "...They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters." It is Adonai who is the fountain of living waters.
Thus, as Yeshua stood and taught in the Temple, He used a visual image with which the people of His day were accustomed. Just imagine seeing the High Priest drawing water from the gold vessel and then lightly sprinkling the water onto the altar after having heard Yeshua's teaching. The people saw the water falling in drops, which could form a mental picture in their minds of the "fountain of living waters" which is the Lord. They would have understood that it was only the Lord Almighty who had the ability to quench their spiritual thirst. It is awesome how the King of the universe uses the common, physical things of this world to convey truth to His children. We see and we understand, and as our Teacher, He knows that.
Moreover, in addition to His actions, spiritual life flowed to the people through Yeshua's own words, as they understood that it was through Him that one could receive these waters. "For if any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink." Notice in the text that the people immediately proclaimed that Yeshua was the Messiah after this statement. How could they have possibly drawn that conclusion simply through those words alone?
Hear O Israel, Adonai our God, Adonai is One!
If there is one proclamation to which all Jewish people hold steadfast, it is the Shema. For Yeshua, the Messiah, to proclaim that He was the provider of 'living water' which people could come and drink, He was directly linking Himself to the Source and existing "fountain of living waters"--the Father.
Can we assume then that these people already had a knowledge that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was the "fountain of living waters" that is spoken of? Yes! Let us take a moment to think about the education and history of these people. How many times had the tribes of their people been scattered and re-gathered again? How many times had their nation been in rebellion against the Lord? How many times had they turned to idolatrous ways? They would have been well aware of the past mistakes made by their forefathers. Furthermore, their education was based on the Tanach. They diligently studied the Torah every week from early childhood.
It is likely, therefore, that they would have been familiar with the passage from Yirmeyahu [Jeremiah] describing the Lord's displeasure with His people for following after other gods. "For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The Fountain of Living Waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."9 They were also undoubtedly familiar with other words of the prophets before them likening "man's ways" to that of "an empty cistern unable to yield water." It is therefore highly probable that, during this assembly and Sukkot celebration, they had already considered that the Lord is the One True God who is the "fountain of living waters."
With an understanding of the history, culture and tradition of the people, we can recognize how they were able to immediately discern that Yeshua was declaring His deity. Although many proclaimed Him as Messiah on this occasion, the authorities could not bring Him before the chief priests and Pharisees, for His time had not yet come.
Salvation--the Living Waters
As a triumphant end to this study, let us consider what the "living waters" represent. We know that the Fountain represents the Lord, but He says that He is a fountain of something. Let us examine some additional texts that refer to this concept. Yeshua alludes in another instance to similar vocabulary in John 7, "Everyone who drinks of this water [the water from the well] shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but that water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:13-14).
What then, are the "living waters"? The waters are those that spring into eternal life. What is it that flows from the throne of God,10 from His very fountain? It is salvation. We are told that the Lamb shall guide those who come out of the great tribulation to the springs of the "waters of life."11 We read Ezekiel's vision of the vast size of the rivers of living waters of the future.12 Surely, the "living waters" picture a gift of salvation from the Lord, which is always flowing forth from Him. This is His very essence--salvation. To obtain this salvation from the Lord, we must only ask and receive. Revelation 21:6 states, "It is done. I am the Aleph and the Tav, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life [living waters] without cost."13
"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (Isaiah 55:1).
The children of the Lord truly "inherit" the salvation that comes from the Lord as His grace gift to us. The rabbis say that both water and wine are poured out in the water libation ceremony. Why? It is to symbolize that the Lord accepts our (personal) wine, which takes much work, time and effort, as well as our water--which requires nothing from us. Beloved, we are accepted by the Lord as water--we need nothing more to receive spiritual life, only to rejoice in the water that is poured out from the throne of the Most High God unto His children.
Let us remember the "salvations" of the Lord as we observe the Feast of Sukkot. Let us worship and rejoice before Him in true celebration and happiness. Let us stand in awe of the words of our Messiah--the Fountain of Living Waters.
1. JPS Torah Commentary, Numbers. The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia and New York, 1989, p. 248.
2. See the diagram of the Gates in Nehemiah's Time in the International Inductive Study Bible, New American Standard Version, Harvest House Publishers, 1993, p. 784.
3. See Nehemiah 8:1,3,12-18
4. Rashi's commentary on Bamidbar 29:18, Taanit 2b
5. See Nehemiah 3:15 and Isaiah 8:6
6. Sukkah 51 a-b
7. Isaiah 12:3
8. The International Inductive Study Bible. New American Standard Bible, Harvest House Publishers, 1993, p. 1728, referencing John 7:37.
9. Jeremiah 2:13
10. Joel 3:18, Revelation 22:1
11. Revelation 7:17 12 Ezekiel 47:1-12
13. See also Revelation 22:17
Adapted from Bikurei Tziyon #66. Â© 2012 First Fruits of Zion. All rights reserved. We encourage you to share this material with your friends for further personal study. However, this material may not be republished, in print, electronically, or any other form without our prior permission.
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