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Yeshua the Hidden Guest...

Seven Ushpizin

Yeshua as the Hidden Guest...

by John J. Parsons

The Aramaic word "ushpizin" (אוּשְׁפִּיזִין) refers to the seven "guests" whom we remember and honor during the weeklong festival of Sukkot, namely: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and King David, respectively. According to tradition, on each night a different guest (i.e., ushpiz: אוּשְׁפִּיז) enters the sukkah, and we are to symbolically welcome them by offering them a place at our table (this is similar to the tradition of Elijah's Cup during Passover). On the first night comes Abraham; on the second night, Isaac, and so on. Though the origins and date of this tradition are disputed, the Zohar claims that the custom of welcoming each ushpiz was practiced during the Second Temple period.

In the Gospel of John we read that just before the Festival of Sukkot was to begin, Yeshua's brothers taunted him to go up to Judah to impress his followers there by performing additional miracles and to gain greater fame among the Jewish people (John 7:1-5). Yeshua told his cynical brothers, "My time has not yet come" (John 7:6), which may allude to the idea that he would visit the people "in secret" (ἐν κρυπτῷ), like an ushpiz, later during the holiday. It is interesting that the "Jews were looking for him" at the festival, and there was much "muttering about him" among the people as they talked in their sukkahs.


During the "middle of the festival," perhaps on the fourth day (the "Day of Joseph" as ushpiz), Yeshua went to the Temple and began teaching the people, saying: "Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?" (John 7:19). When the people said he was crazy for thinking this way, Yeshua alluded to the murderous intolerance of the religious leaders who wanted to kill him for healing a man on the Sabbath day (John 5:9). He then turned the tables on his accusers: "If something is done on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses would not be broken, then for all the more reason should something be done to fulfill the intent of the law, namely, the giving of life and healing (John 7:23). He then admonished the people to "judge righteous judgment" (ם־מִשְׁפַּט־צֶדֶק שְׁפטוּ), that is, to look beyond appearances to find the heart of the matter.  If the people would do that, they would understand the truth of who was "tabernacling" with them (John 1:1,14).

On the last great day of Sukkot, called Hoshana Rabbah, the High Priest led a final procession to the pool of Shiloach (Siloam) where he would fill a golden pitcher with water and then return to the courtyard of the Temple. When the High priest poured out the water, shofarim would be sounded and the crowd of people would wave their lulavot while loudly singing out: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!" This joyous ritual was known as Simchat Bet Ha'shoeivah, "the Celebration of the Water-Drawing," an eagerly anticipated party celebrated with music, dancing and singing throughout the night. The Mishnah describes how the Priests kindled fires on a four great menorahs, lighting up Jerusalem as if it were the middle of the day (Sukkah 5:2). The entire ceremony was in keeping with the Torah's commandment, "You shall rejoice on your holiday" (Deut. 16:14).

אָנָּא יְהוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא
אָנָּא יְהוָה הַצְלִיחָה נָּא
בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה
בֵּרַכְנוּכֶם מִבֵּית יְהוָה

an·na  Adonai  ho·shi·ah  na,
an·na  Adonai  hatz·li·chah  na
ba·rukh  hab·bah  be·shem  Adonai
be·rakh·nu·khem  mi·beit  Adonai

"Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, let us thrive!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
(Psalm 118:25-26)

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It was likely during this climactic day of Sukkot that Yeshua cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:2, 37-38). He further explained that this water would spring forth within the heart as a result of trusting in Him (John 7:38). Likewise today Yeshua cries out, "To all who are thirsty I will give the springs of the water of life freely" (see Rev. 21:6 and Isa. 55:1).


Finally, on the morning following the festival, called Shemini Atzeret, Yeshua returned to the Temple and announced to the crowds assembled before the towering Menorah, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12), recalling the words of the prophets: "On that day there shall be no light... and living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem; and the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one" (Zech. 14:6,9; Isa. 13:10; 30:26). In this connection we remember that Yeshua later used the very water from the pool of Siloam (used during the water libation ceremony) to heal the man born blind, thereby miraculously enabling him to see the Light of the World (John 9:5-11).

Note: The apocryphal "Book of Jubilees" says that the first sukkah, on which the holiday of Sukkot is based, was built by Abraham when he greeted the three angels who came to tell him his wife Sarah would at last bear a child (Gen. 18:1-10). This is significant, because it links Sukkot with the Akedah (i.e., the sacrifice of Isaac). Indeed, the very first time the word "love" appears in the Scriptures refers to Abraham's passion for his son Isaac, whom he was commanded to offer as a sacrifice on an altar on Mount Moriah. The message of a father's love for his "only" son who was offered as a sacrifice clearly prefigures the greater "Akedah message" of the Gospel (John 3:16).

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