The Feast Of Tabernacles
The third characteristic of the Feast of Tabernacles was its offerings. They were done in a very peculiar way.
The sin-offering for each of the seven days was ‘one kid of the goats.’ The burnt-offerings consisted of bullocks, rams, and lambs. These were to be accompanied by their appropriate meat- and drink-offerings. The number of the rams and lambs remained the same on each day of the festival, but the number of the bullocks decreased every day by one. They went from 13 on the first day to 7 on the last, which was the ‘great day of the feast’.
Since no special instructions were given about the drink-offering, it must have been 1/4 of a hin of wine for each lamb, 1/3 for each ram, and 1/2 for each bullock (The hin = 1 gallon 2 pints).
The meat-offering was expressly fixed at:
1/10 of an ephah of flour mixed with 1/4 of a hin of oil for each lamb
2/10 of an ephah of flour mixed with 1/3 hin of oil for each ram
3/10 of an ephah of flour mixed with 1/2 hin of oil for each bullock
There are three things that are remarkable about these burnt offerings:
They seem to be the characteristic sacrifice of the Feast of Tabernacles. Compared with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the number of the rams and lambs is doubled, with the number of bullocks being five times as many (14 during the Passover week, 5 x 14 during that of Tabernacles).
The number of the burnt-sacrifices, whether taking each kind by themselves or putting them all together, is always divisible by the number 7. The Feast of Tabernacles lasted 7 days, took place in the 7th month, and had the number 7 deeply impressed on its characteristic sacrifices.
It is not as easy to account for the meaning of the decreasing number of bullocks on each day. The common explanation is that it was intended to indicate the decreasing days in the feast, while the sacred number 7 was still to be reserved for the last day. The Talmud, though, says that these sacrifices were offered, not for Israel, but for the nations of the world: ‘There were 70 bullocks to correspond to the number of the 70 nations of the world.’
On the day before the Feast of Tabernacles – the 14th of Tishri – the festive pilgrims had already arrived in Jerusalem. There were ‘booths’ on the roofs, in the courtyards, in streets and squares, as well as all the roads and gardens that were within a Sabbath day’s journey of the city. These must have been something to see for a stranger who might just be coming into Jerusalem at that time.
The people had spent much time preparing for all that was needed for the festival: purification of themselves, the care of the offerings that each would bring, and communications between those who were to be invited to the sacrificial meal at each house. No doubt all this occupied an immense amount of time.
When the evening had set in, the priests blasted on the trumpets as they were standing on the Temple Mount. This announced to Israel that the Feast had begun.
Special Service At The Temple
The altar of burnt-offering was cleansed during the first night-watch, just as it was at the Passover and at Pentecost. The gates of the Temple were then thrown open immediately after midnight.
The time until the beginning of the ordinary morning sacrifice was occupied in examining the various sacrifices and offerings that were to be brought during the day to make sure they didn’t have imperfections.
While the morning sacrifice was being prepared, a priest went down to the Pool of Siloam to draw water into a golden pitcher that held two pints of water. He was accompanied by a joyous procession of people and also many musicians. If this happened to be a Sabbath, though, the water was fetched from a golden vessel inside the Temple itself, where the water from the Pool of Siloam had been taken on the previous day.
At the same time the procession started for the Pool, another one went to the Kedron valley at a place called Motza, and cut willow branches. Then as the priests blew the trumpets, they stuck the branches on either side of the altar of burnt-offering and bent them over towards it. This was to form a kind of leaf-canopy.
Then the ordinary sacrifice was to proceed. The priest who had to the Pool of Siloam timed it so that he would return just as his fellow priests carried up the pieces of the sacrifice to lay them on the altar. As he entered by the ‘Watergate’ (it obtained its name from this ceremony), he was given three blasts from the trumpets.
The priests then walked up the rise of the altar and turned to the left, where there were two silver basins with narrow holes. The eastern one was a little wider for holding the wine, and the western one was more narrow for the water.
The wine of the drink-offering and the water from Siloam were both poured at the same time into the silver basins. The people shouted to the priest and told him to ‘raise thy hand’, to show that he had really poured the water into the basin which led to the base of the altar.
The Music Of The Feast
As soon as the wine and water started being poured out, the Temple music began. The ‘Hallel’ was sung to the accompaniment of flutes. This was always the case except on the Sabbath and on the first day of the feast, when flute-playing was not allowed because of the sanctity of these days. (To find out more about the ‘Hallel’, look in the Temple Archives under The Passover – Part 2).
When the choir came to the words ‘O give thanks unto the Lord’, ‘O work then now salvation, Jehovah’, and ‘O work then now salvation, Jehovah’, at each of these, all the worshippers shook their lulavs towards the altar.
The ceremony was considered by the Rabbis at the time as a direct reference to the dispensation of the rain. They imagined that the annual rainfall was determined by God at that very feast. Its real application, though, was referring to the future outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was predicted by Isaiah, the prophet.
The Talmud spoke of it correctly, then when it said distinctly: ‘Why is the name of it called, The drawing out of water? Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, according to what is said: “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” ‘
The Daily Circuit Of The Altar
A similar symbolism was expressed by another ceremony which took place at the close of all the festive sacrifices. Each one of the seven days of the festival, the priests formed a procession and walked around the altar singing: ‘O then, now work salvation, Jehovah! O Jehovah, give prosperity!’
But on the seventh day, they walked around the altar seven times, signifying how the walls of Jericho had fallen. They did this because they felt that God would directly intervene for them, and the walls of heathenism would fall. Then they would be able to go in and possess the land as they once had when Joshua led them into it the first time.