The Feast of Tabernacles is a celebration of the harvest. At the end of the agricultural year, God instructed the Israelites to bring in their harvests, make offerings to Him and to celebrate His goodness and provision. After the hard work was completed, it was a time for great rejoicing. Thus, the feast was also called the Feast of Ingathering (Ex 23:16, Lev 23:39).
While rejoicing over the abundance of this year’s crop, it was also a time to look forward and pray for rain for the coming year’s crops. The priests performed a ritual during the feast to request rain from God. In Israel, there were two seasons for rain called the early and latter rains. The early rains came in the autumn season, right after the Feast, to prepare the ground for spring planting. The latter rains came in the spring, after the spring harvest of barley and wheat and before the second planting (Deut 11:14, Joel 2:23). Israel was very dry and hot, so without the rains of heaven, crops would fail and there would be famine.
Each day of the feast the Priests would go down to the Pool of Siloam carrying a golden pitcher. A procession would follow them singing praise psalms (Psalms 113-118). The priest would draw water from the Pool and carry it back to the Temple. All the people would wave palm and willow branches before the Lord and carry pieces of citrus fruit, often called the citron, in their hand. The priest would then pour the water into the basin in the inner court which was typically used for drink offerings. Normally, wine would be poured into the basin, but on this day the water was poured into this basin and wine was poured at the same time into another basin. As he did so, the priest and the people would rejoice while reciting Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
This was a most joyous ceremony with much symbolism. The water represented God’s provision in the wilderness, as well as the refreshing, cleansing of Messiah that was to come. The wine represented the outpouring of the Spirit that was to come. Waving the branches was symbolic of the progression through the desert as they encountered different types of vegetation, and the citrus fruit was a symbol of the fruit of the Promised Land.
Just before Jesus’ death, he was celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. In John 7:37-38, we read that during this water-drawing ceremony on the last day of the Feast, Jesus stood up drawing attention to Himself, and cried out in a LOUD voice, “ If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” The Jews who heard this would have been familiar with the many references in the Torah and from the Prophets that spoke about Living Waters, streams of life, river of God, etc. Jesus was declaring fulfillment of these scriptures in Himself. Verse 39 further defines “living water” as being filled with the Spirit of God.
While the Jews were crying out for natural rain to be poured on their land to give them a natural harvest of food, Jesus now gave them access to spiritual rain that would produce a life-giving harvest of souls. Many recognized Jesus as Messiah after this, but many others refused to believe.
The beauty and mystery of God’s Word is seen again in this story. The word “salvation” in Isaiah 12:3 is the Hebrew word ‘yeshua.’ Yes, it is the very name of Jesus! Yeshua means salvation by God, deliverance, welfare, prosperity, victory, health and help. Unknowingly, for seven days the priests and the people had been declaring that they would drink from the well of Jesus’ living water and here He was stating that prophecy was available in Him!
The application for us today is clear. God has stated that He will have a great end-times harvest of souls. In order to accomplish this, He has called His people to cry out for the latter rains of the Holy Spirit to awaken people’s hearts and draw them near to God. This is the imagery proclaimed in Joel 2:18-32. After the people rend their hearts and repent (Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement), then God will restore the people and release a great harvest! This is the day we are living in….God is ready for us, the laborers, to work with Him to gather in the Harvest and make ready for Jesus to return.
Ask rain from the Lord at the time of the latter rain….And He will give them showers of rain… Zech 10:1