The Feast Of Tabernacles
We can now in some measure realize the event that is recorded in John 7: 37. The festivities of the Week of Tabernacles were starting to draw to a close. It was the last day of this great event, and was called ‘that great day of the feast’. The writings of the Rabbis also had a special name for it – ‘Day of the Great Hosannah’.
All the leaves were shaken off the willow boughs, and the palm branches were beaten in pieces by the side of the altar at the end of the feast activities. The following is what happened before that took place, however:
The priest had returned from the Pool of Siloam with his golden pitcher, and for the last time had poured its contents around the base of the altar. The ‘Hallel’ had been sung with the flute as accompaniment.
The people responded and worshipped as the priests sounded three-fold blasts from their trumpets at three different times. The people had started to respond with their voices raised to a high pitch, and were also waving their palm branches towards the altar. For one observing, it would have looked almost like a forest with the branches waving in the breeze. They people were doing this as they chanted the words to Psalms 118.
At this very moment, a voice was raised that resounded through the Temple. It startled the multitude and raised fear and hatred into the hearts of their leaders. The voice that cried out was Jesus who ‘stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.’ Then He went on to tell them that each one of them could truly have ‘rivers of living water’ flowing from their innermost beings.
The effect was instantaneous. The whole assembly was roused at being brought face to face with The One in whom every type and prophecy is fulfilled. Even the temple-guard was totally taken in by what Jesus had to say. Under normal circumstances, he would have arrested Him for interrupting the services of the Temple, but he would not lay hands on Jesus.
The only thing that the people could say was “Never man spake like this man’. Jesus spoke with such authority that many of the people believed on Him right then and there.
Nicodemus was the only man who spoke up for Jesus of the Pharisees who were in the high leadership positions. He asked them how could they really make a judgment on Jesus without really meeting Him face to face and hearing what He had to say.
The Man Born Blind
It wasn’t long before the Pharisees were to start seeing who Jesus really was through His healing of the blind man. In John 9:5, Jesus saw a ‘man born blind from his birth’. He anointed the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man was healed, and it was the start of much controversy over who Jesus really was.
Jesus had just spoken the words ‘I am the light of the world’ in the Temple when he had interrupted the services. These words had probably been intended to point to another peculiar ceremony which took place at the Feast of Tabernacles.
In the words of the Mishnah, the order of the services for that feast went as follows:
‘They went first to offer the daily sacrifice in the morning, then the additional sacrifices; after that the votive and free will-offerings; from thence to the festive meal; from thence to the study of the law; and after that to offer the evening sacrifice; and from thence they went to the joy of the pouring out of the water.’
It is this ‘joy of the pouring out of the water’ which will be described below.
The Ceremonies In The Court of Women
At the close of the first day of the feast, the worshippers went to the Court of the Women. Previous preparations had been made for this great ceremony. Four golden candelabras stood there. Each of them had four golden bowls; and against them rested four ladders. Four youths of priestly descent each carried a pitcher of oil that was capable of holding 120 logs. From this pitcher they filled each bowl of the candelabras.
The old, worn breeches and girdles of the priests served for wicks to light these lamps. There was not a court in Jerusalem that was not lit up by the light of ‘the house of water-pouring.’
The ‘Chassidim’ and ‘the men of Deed’ danced before the people with flaming torches in their hands, and sang before them hymns and songs of praise. The Levites stood upon the fifteen steps which led down from the Court of Israel down to the Court of Women, according to the number of the fifteen Songs of Degrees in the Book of Psalms. They carried harps, lutes, cymbals, trumpets, and instruments of music without number. There they stood on the steps with their many instruments and sang hymns.
Two priests with trumpets in their hands were at the Nicanor Gate. This was the upper gate, and it led from the Court of Israel to that of the Court of Women. At the time the cock crowed, they drew three blasts from the trumpets. As they reached the tenth step, they drew three more blasts, and as they entered the court itself, three more. So they blew as they advanced until they reached the Beautiful Gate which opened out unto the east.
As they came to the gate, they then turned round to face the Holy Place and said: ‘Our fathers who were in this place, they turned their back upon the Sanctuary of Jehovah, and their faces towards the east, and they worshipped towards the rising sun; but as for us, our eyes are towards the Lord.’
A fragment of one of the hymns sung that night has been preserved. It was sung by the ‘Chassidim’ and men of Deed’, and by those who did penance in their old age for the sins of their youth:
The Chassidim and Men of Deed:
‘Oh joy, that our youth, devoted, sage, doth bring no shame upon our old age!’
‘Oh joy, we can in our old age repair the sins of youth not sage!’
Both in Unison:
‘Yes, happy he on whom no early guilt doth rest, and he who, having sinned, is now with pardon blest.
Significance of the Illumination
It seems clear that this illumination of the Temple was regarded as forming part of, and having the same symbolical meaning as ‘the pouring out of water’.
The light that shone out of the Temple into the darkness around, lighted up every court in Jerusalem. It must have been intended as a symbol of the Shechinah which once filled the Temple, and also of that ‘great light’ that was prophesied to come so that the people who were in darkness could see what Isaiah had spoken of.
Jesus had spoken words such as this when He had spoken in the Temple at the Feast of Tabernacles: ‘I am the light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’ (John 8: 12).
The Six Minor Days
Though the first day of the feast was considered as holy, the other six days were minor festivals. On each day, in addition to the ordinary morning and evening sacrifices, the festive offerings talked about in Numbers 29: 12-38 were brought.
As the people left the altar at the close of each day’s service, they said: ‘How beautiful art thou, O Altar!’
Every one of the 24 orders of priesthood were engaged in the festive offerings. Each of the duties were divided among them according to definite rules. These rules also fixed how the priestly dues were to be divided. Everything was set up so that everything could run as smoothly as possible during the feast times.
As the last thing, on every sabbatical year the Law was to be publicly read on the first day of the Feast according to Deuteronomy 31: 10-13.
On the afternoon of the seventh day of the feast, the people began to move out of the ‘booths’ and take them down.
The Pouring and Lighting were Instigated after Moses
The pouring out of water and the illumination of the Temple were ceremonies that got their start after the time of Moses. According to Jewish tradition, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night had first appeared to Israel on the 15th of Tishri, which was the first day of the feast.
Tradition also has it that Moses came down from Mount Sinai and announced to the people that the Tabernacle of God was to be built on that same day.
Also, the dedication of Solomon’s Temple took place at this feast.