Scriptures

The Feast Of Tabernacles

Introduction

Most of us don’t pay much attention to the agricultural cycles of nature but Israel was deeply aware of its own food cycles. The festivals of Judaism followed the agricultural cycle, Deuteronomy 8:8.

The firstfruits of harvest were collected in baskets and taken to Jerusalem, Deuteronomy 26:1-11. At sundown the Jewish festival of Sukkot will begin, The Feast of Tabernacles.

Judaism And Tabernacles

By October, the harvest season came to an end when grapes, olives, pomegranates, figs, and dates were gathered in. The feast was officially scheduled for the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, five days after the Day of Atonement, and it lasted for seven days. One more festival day was added, Leviticus 23:33-36.

According to the law, all Jews were to live in booths or huts during the celebration. These were outdoor shelters made from wild branches of olive, myrtle, palm, and other leaf trees, Nehemiah 8:15.

A booth or tabernacle was a temporary dwelling

Since this was the formal end of the harvest year, it was a time of celebration. The people joined parades of pilgrims at the Temple, and as they marched holding the lulav they sang the Hallel Psalms, Psalms 113-118. Ceremonies around the Temple were extensive, and celebrations were full. Sacrifice was another way they praised God during this feast.

But agriculture was not the only interest at Sukkoth or any of the other festivals. Passover tells the story tells of Israel fleeing Egypt. Pentecost reminds them of their coming to Mount Sinai to receive the covenant. Tabernacles reminded them of the forty years in the wilderness, when they lived in the desert, they worshiped God at His Tabernacle and built shelters for themselves as well, Leviticus 23:42-43.

Water And Light At Tabernacles

We can easily imagine Jesus as a young man travelling to Jerusalem every autumn with countless families from Galilee making a long caravan. And there in Jerusalem, He joined in the festivities, waving His lulav, and dancing and singing in the courtyards of the Temple. He had the Hallel Psalms memorised and could sing them with ease.

To have a fully Jewish life, Jesus certainly must have experienced these Jewish festivals as we have described.

The Water Ceremony

Each day of the Feast of Tabernacles witnessed a water ceremony in which a procession of priests descended to the south border of the city to the Gihon Spring, which flowed into the Pool of Siloam. There a priest filled a golden pitcher as a choir chanted Isaiah 12:3.

When the procession arrived at the Temple, the priest climbed the altar steps and poured the water onto the altar while the crowd circled him and continued singing.

The Light Ceremony

People in the ancient world observed the length of days carefully, charting the solstices as well as the fall and spring equinox. The Mishnah tractate Sukkah provides lavish descriptions of the light ceremonies and explains that whoever has not seen these things has never seen a wonder in his or her life!

Jesus And Tabernacles

We possess only one record of Jesus visiting Jerusalem at Tabernacles, John 7-9. On His previous visit to Jerusalem, the leaders there threatened His life after He healed a paraplegic man on the Sabbath, John 5:18.

Now the coming festival made those same leaders look for Him when they saw the other members of Jesus’ ‘family, John 7:11-13 / John 7:25.

Sometime during the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, as Jesus was teaching in the Temple, He was interrogated by these same religious leaders. How could Jesus teach with authority when He did not have the appropriate schooling? John 7:15.

The authorities wanted to know where He came from, John 7:40-41. Jesus was clear that He would eventually depart Jerusalem and that where He was going, none of them would be able to follow, John 7:33-34 / John 7:37 / John 7:40.

Then on that same day or maybe was it at night, He said something else. Jesus stood up and said, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.’ John 8:12

Here in the great light ceremony of the year, Jesus makes the astounding claim to be the light of the world.

The Final Day Of Tabernacles

On the Jewish calendar, the seventh and final day of the Feast of tabernacles, and this last day of tabernacles is known as Hoshana Rabbah. One of the most memorable events in the life of our Lord took place on the morning of Hoshana Rabbah, it is the story of the woman caught in adultery, John 8:2-11.

I want to make a case for why I believe this story ended up here in John 8.

The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, was officially scheduled for the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, and it lasted for seven days, Leviticus 23:39-43.

The purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles was to:
1. Remember the past by recalling God’s provision for His people.

2. Keep an eye on the present by giving thanksgiving for the ingathering of crops.

3. Look to the future with a plea for upcoming rains.

The Feast of tabernacles took place at the end of the dry season in Israel. In Israel, the rainy season begins in mid-October and ends in mid-April. In mid-April, the dry season begins and sometimes there is absolutely no rain for six months straight! The Feast of Tabernacles began at the end of the dry season, and this festival lasted for seven days, plus the added eighth day of rest.

Hoshana Rabbah

Hoshana Rabbah was the final and most important day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Every day during the feast there was a water ceremony, Isaiah 12:3.

The crowd would shake their lulavs and sing the Hallel Psalms, Psalms 113-118. Rabbah means ‘great’ and Hoshana, Hosanna, means ‘God save us please!’ This was also a prayer for salvation from sin, for Hoshana Rabbah was understood by the Jews to be the absolutely final chance to have one’s sins for the year forgiven. Though Hoshana Rabbah was not mentioned by name in the Old Testament, it is mentioned in the New Testament, John 7:37-38.

On Hoshana Rabbah, in the midst of this water pouring, trumpet blasting, palm waving, psalm chanting, and joy on the part of people seeking forgiveness-and in the presence of all 24 divisions of the priesthood, that Jesus cried out in the Temple courts and spoke, John 7:37-38. See also Jeremiah 2:13.

The Woman Caught In Adultery

Numerous problems accompany the charge made at the Temple by the scribes and Pharisees on Hoshana Rabbah. We must ask if the woman is married or betrothed to another man. A woman who is sexually unfaithful to her fiancé was to be stoned to death along with her lover, John 8:5 / Deuteronomy 22:23-24.

Unfaithful wives were likewise killed, Leviticus 20:10 / Deuteronomy 22:22. But the Law did not indicate the method of death. The Mishnah, which was oral law in Jesus’ day specified that unfaithful fiancés should be stoned, but wives strangled, Sanhedrin 7:2.

The Festivals Of The 7th Month

The first day of Tishrei is Rosh Hashanah, New Year’s Day, when Jews asked to be ‘inscribed in the Book of Life’ and on Yom Kippur, one hopes to have that inscription sealed. The tenth day of Tishrei is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On the fifteenth day of Tishrei Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, begins. On the 22nd day of Tishrei was Hoshana Rabbah, the last and great day of the Feast of Tabernacles. The 23rd day of Tishrei was Sh’mini Atzeret, Leviticus 23:36.

So, here we are in John 8, it is the last day for these scribes and Pharisees to have their sins forgiven, and Jesus says, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ John 8:7

What Did Jesus Write On The Ground?

It is impossible to know what Jesus wrote in the dust, John 8:6 / John 8:8. Most believe that He began to write in Hebrew some verse from the Law that would shape His response to the dilemma. Two passages talk about God being the source of ‘living water.’ The first in the passage we have already read, Jeremiah 2:13.

Please note the context of the second time Jeremiah uses the phrase ‘living waters’. Jeremiah 17:9-10 / Jeremiah 17:13.

Because Jesus must have been sitting and the woman standing, He now raises Himself up and speaks to her for the first time, John 8:10. His questions do not imply that the woman is innocent since in John 8:11, He warns her to cease a sinful life that has been her habit. Jesus’ final words do not imply her innocence but reflect His power to forgive sin.

The portrait of the woman in this story is powerful. Our Lord’s implied judgment on her accusers and His mercy mixed with exhortation sets her free in a manner she never expected. And what Jesus did for this sinful woman, He can do for you as well.

Conclusion

The Feast of Tabernacles is a helpful reminder that thanksgiving is an important part of our daily lives. A thoughtful person knows that the capacities and opportunities we enjoy often should be credited less to ourselves and more to God. Tabernacles says, bring samples of what God has given you to the Temple and with them in hand, wrapped in your personal lulav thank Him.

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."

Romans 10:17

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