Why would understanding the ancient Jewish feasts be significant when reading the Gospel John? How could this shed light on Christ’s actions? Why would we care? One of my documentary links refers to sukkah or sukkot (plural). Today I’ll cover how Jesus used this feast to add significance to his expression “living water.” Also, we’ll see Christ’s timing and actions add still more significance.
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
This…is described in Leviticus 23:42-43. This is a very involved feast. At no time are there more animals brought to the altar in Jerusalem than during this week. There are 70 bulls, 14 rams, 98 lambs, and 336 meal offerings offered…that week….
This is the last ingathering of the produce of the trees of the land…summer harvest will have…field produce and vegetables. Now in September-October, we have some…leafy branches…. The olive harvest is the time of Feast of Tabernacles…you could start picking green olives before they are fully ripe…as late as November in high elevations, you could be picking the ripened black olives…. You still have figs giving fruit. (They give fruit 5 times from March to November.) So our last fig harvest is being brought in….
The spirit of this feast is one of recalling that God provided for you in the place that was not hospitable…in the wilderness, when…you lived in tents….
How did the ancient Israelites have a meaningful learning activity for their entire family for this feast? Just like for Passover, it is not just lessons; it is a meal. Everything you eat is symbolic…. In a similar way, for this feast: you actually don’t sleep or eat in your house for a week. You make a sukkah, a booth, and your children will have one week a year to camp out…. We are now ingathering because we are in the land of fruit and trees. In the desert, they had to look for bushes, firewood. It was a very meager existence, yet God provided for them. Now we are getting ready for a meager time, winter, when we need to trust the Lord…remember God’s blessing in a difficult place.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRIST’S TIMING
The “Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand,” and Christ’s brothers tried to pressure him into going to Jerusalem with the rest of the pilgrims (John 7:2-3). Jesus hung back and went when he could be unnoticed. Then in “the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching” (John 7:14). And
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and 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.'”
Here Jesus is referring to imagery from the middle of the feast.
This feast is noted for a particular ceremony that begins in the middle of the feast. The first 2 days and the last 2 days are special holy days…. In the middle of the feast…the priest, followed by a procession of people, marches from the Temple following the Tyropoeon Valley down to a pool called the Pool of Siloam…. The procession would go down there and draw some water. Then the procession follows the priest back up toward the Temple. This is one of the few ceremonies where the high priest is involved.
The procession would come through the Huldah Gate and go up the inner courts of the Jewish Temple…through the Water Gate, which is right near a basin with a ramp going up 45 feet to the top of the altar…. We know that this ceremony is being observed in Jesus’ day….
Only men can go through this Water Gate into the priestly part of the temple at all other times of the year. But at this feast, women and children come in the Water Gate and march around the altar. They can look right in the front door to the Holy Place. The priest pours out water at the base of the altar into a basin. In the middle of this feast, with women and children also there, Jesus starts teaching. And at the end of this feast, Jesus claims to offer “living water” if we believe in him.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRIST’S ACTIONS AND SILOAM
In one of my documentary links, we come to understand the significance of Christ’s actions as he healed the man born blind. His actions aided the blind man’s faith. Jesus directed the poor man to wash in the Pool of Siloam partly because it was fed from an under-water spring originating from under the temple. “This is the only water source in Jerusalem with living water…the Gihon Spring.” See Ezekiel 47:1-2 and Jeremiah 2:13. It was living water from the holiest source possible.
Getting back to this feast. Next week I’ll cover the significance of the last day in more depth. But since Jesus offered living water if we believe in him, see also Isaiah 12:3 and Joel 2:28. This would’ve also brought to mind a promise of salvation and revelation for the Jews hungry for an honest, uncorrupted Messiah.
THE FEAST, WATER AND LIVING WATER
This feast was about starting
…your prayers for rain…which will determine the economy of the next year. They had 2 stories of water from the rock in their tradition.
Remember how the ancient Jews valued things for their usefulness. Water was life-giving. Living water was the best, purest water that existed. Even symbolically, “living water from within” would seem impossible, like water from a rock. But as we grow in the Lord we get to witness this in our own lives: deliverance from sin and life-giving sanctification.