Last week I addressed imagery from the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). This week I’ll address more imagery at the end of this feast. What significance will this have for us? “The Light of the World” means more when we know what living in darkness is like. When we remember the darkness we used to experience. Like the beauty of our fireworks, large crowds also enjoyed ancient Jewish light from this festival. But for them, it was also meaningful.
ANCIENT “FIREWORKS” EQUIVALENT
“On the last day of the feast.” This is called the great hosannah…. We are told that they remember on the last day of the feast that God led the Israelites with a bright cloud by day through the desert. How do you know which way to go in the desert? Remember…the pillar of fire…to help them in the dark night. So what do you do on the last day? Set up special lamp stands 75 feet, 50 cubits, tall. Now the word “menorah” is poorly translated “candelabra” but they didn’t have candles until the Middle Ages. You have lampstands to elevate oil lamps.
When priestly robes became worn out, because they were sanctified garments they were not thrown out. Just like in Judaism you would give a proper burial to old scrolls or scriptures at a place called Ganeza, and not just throw them out. So priestly robes, when they got old, were used to make wicks in large oil lamps. These used 20-gallon jars to fill special lamps that were used during this feast.
So look how precise John is: It is the place of the treasury, on the last day of the feast. All the First Century readers would have all sorts of things come to their mind…75-foot high lampstands being constructed, like a 7-story building, ladders going up to the top which brace them so they wouldn’t fall over. They would picture the…students of the Pharisees climbing up with these 20-gallon containers to pour the oil into the bowl, and on top probably more than 20 gallons if they filled them up. 4 of them. Wicks which were huge torches…. The purpose…when you don’t know which way to turn…lost…in darkness, “I am the Light of the world.”
Briefly comparing another feast, Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights,
Jews…light a menorah to commemorate a miracle that occurred at the height of the Maccabean revolution against their Greek oppressors in the 2nd century BCE…. When exactly Jews started lighting menorahs…is unknown.
But getting back to their time in the wilderness coming to the Promised Land:
Now the menorah probably is taking its design from a desert plant called the menorah plant. Remember most of the decorations in the tabernacle…are things from everyday life…in the desert…. They tend to make them with 3 flames on either side pointing toward the center flame.
BACK TO THE LAST GREAT DAY OF THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
You dance all night long under the special lamps. The ceremony goes until someone hears a rooster crow in the early dawn…. This is an especially joyous occasion when Jesus is saying, “I am the Light of the world….” Jesus is standing in the treasury and it is there that the 4 large lamp stands are set up…the memory…in John’s Gospel for presumed Jewish hearers…. This is the last day of the feast, the great hosannah, the great…deliverance. Taller than these walls around the Temple would be those lampstands. Jewish sources say there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that could not have light from the lampstands…probably an exaggeration…depended on what neighbor [‘s house] was taller….
WHAT IT TAKES TO SHINE THE LIGHT
Jesus told this large crowd, “I am the light of the world.” Have you ever spoken to a large, hostile crowd? Many in this crowd wouldn’t be hostile; they were curious, undecided and perhaps easily influenced. But the hostile ones were very much in control. So much so that they could intimidate the crowds not to speak openly of what they thought of Jesus (John 7:11-13). It takes a great deal of love to drive a person to speak like this in that setting.
How much love do you have for sharing your faith? Ask God for help with this and he’ll answer.