[This post is based on a message at Wascana Fellowship on Saturday, September 28, 2013. Though this was two days after the Feast of Tabernacles my mind was still on that subject.]
I was perusing the book of John recently and noticed that John 7:1-10:21 seems to relate to the Feast of Tabernacles
“Hoshanah Rabbah, or the “Great Hoshanah,” is the seventh day of the Festival of Tabernacles [Sukkot].
According to the Mishnah (Sukkah 4: 5), in Temple times, on the Festival of Tabernacles, huge willow branches were placed around the altar and a circuit was made around the altar while the worshippers recited: “Hoshanah” (“O Lord, deliver us”) (Psalms 118: 25).
On the basis of this Temple practice, it became the custom on Sukkot for the worshippers to hold the four species (the palm branch, the etrog [citron], the willows, and the myrtles), and make a circuit around the bimah [pulpit] while reciting Hoshanah hymns in which God is entreated to deliver His people, especially from famine and drought, since Sukkot is the festival on which the divine judgment for rain is made. …
… On the seventh day of the festival, there are seven circuits, at each of which a special lulav and etrog. The Hoshanah hymn is recited; hence the name, Hoshanah Rabbah.”
Source: My Jewish Learning
The circling around the altar on this day reminded one of our members of the story of Jericho’s wall falling down. Perhaps the ancient Jewish community looked ahead to prophetic fulfilment of a return to the Promised Land in a new Messianic era.
It appears to be the only day during the Feast of Tabernacles that had the adjective “great” associated with it even back in the day of Jesus. Therefore the “great” day of the feast was most likely the seventh day.
What those of us who saw the Last Great Day as the eighth day of the feast missed in our thinking is the fact that the water drawing ceremony took place each morning only during the seven days of the feast proper, but not on the eighth day.
The ceremony of light each night, which is actually the “celebration of the water drawing” took place each night, starting from the second night of the festival. That is because the Jewish day starts as darkness settles over the land. The first night available to celebrate the water drawing is at the beginning of the second day. The seventh ceremony of light therefore takes place on the evening portion of the eighth day of the festival.
John 8:1-10:21 seems to occur on the 8th day. Jesus uses the symbolism of the previous night’s light ceremony to illuminate the claim that Jesus is “the light of the world.“
In Jewish thinking there are two names now given to the eighth day when observed in Jerusalem. The first of the two, mentioned below, seems to have had a longer history. (In the rest of the world, the second one, simchat torah, is celebrated on the ninth day.)
“Shemini Atzeret is the holiday that follows immediately after the seventh day of Sukkot, known as Hoshana Rabbah. Shemini Atzeret is a time when prayers or celebrations for rain and a good harvest are made for the coming year in the Jewish calendar.
Simchat Torah is a joyous event. The annual cycle of weekly Torah readings is completed at this time, which marks a period of great celebration. Activities include performing the hakafot (dancing with the Torah) around the synagogue bimah (elevated area or platform in a Jewish synagogue).”
Notice that in John 7:45-46 the Temple guards had been sent to arrest Jesus, but were unable to as they became enraptured by his teaching. (This reminds me of Saul at the school of the prophets.) But where are they on the following morning (8:2-11), when the Pharisees confront Jesus with the woman taken in adultery?
The eighth day was considered a Sabbath, not unlike the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. At that feast the following spring it was necessary for them to ensure that the crucified Jesus was buried before that particular annual Sabbath.
Coming back to Tabernacles, it would make sense that they could make no open move to arrest Jesus on a Sabbath. This is why they could attempt to do so on the “great” day of the feast, but not on the following day.
Note also that there was already a gathering at the Temple the morning Jesus returns to teach again. Many people would have had a journey of more than one day to return home, so it seems unlikely that they would gather at the Temple on the morning of their return home. It would make sense for the gathering to occur on the eighth day, a Sabbath.
The Pharisees already have a plan in place to catch Jesus in a contradiction, suggesting that they were aware that there would be both Jesus and a gathering on that particular morning. Why would they expect that if the festival was completely over
Instead of catching Jesus in a contradiction, Jesus catches them in their own net, exposing their hypocrisy in the light of his redeeming mercy. It is as this moment that Jesus proclaims that he is the light of the world. This was, of course, the morning after the final light ceremony of that festival season, which was considered part of the same day.
Twice during the following debate about his authority Jesus makes the statement “I am,” which his audience clearly understood as his claim to the divine name. That is why they attempt to stone him in 8:59. Chapter 9 continues the story later same day with the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. After the man is driven out of the assembly for standing up for his healer, Jesus approaches him. The formerly blind man accepts Jesus as Lord and worships him when Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man.
Jesus’ light shines on the world, but it would seem that only the blind can see it. The Bible experts of his day, on the other hand, didn’t see the light. (We can only hope that our present Bible experts have a different Spirit.)
The eighth day of this seven-day feast also seems to be the context of Jesus’ “I am the good shepherd” sermon (10:1-21). I will try to find out what ancient connections there may be between the Good Shepherd analogy and the Feast by the time it comes around again next year.
So here we have two of Jesus’ most famous statements about himself and his ministry in the space of two days during the Feast of Tabernacles and Eighth Day. He is the source of living water: the Holy Spirit. He is also the light of the world: life itself (John 1:1-4).
It would be difficult not to notice the description of both of those things in Revelation 21 and 22 in a new heavens and new earth that last forever. With Jesus providing endless, abounding life in a world filled with people redeemed in his image, just imagine the possibilities!