Gospel of John 7 – Jesus Fulfills the Feast of Tabernacles

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[Repost from Nov 11, 2007]

When the woman at the well ran to town to tell about the man who told her “everything [she] ever did,” she brought back a crowd of people Jesus referred to as a field ripe for harvest (John 4:35-39). The harvest was an important component of ancient life. The need for harvest was the reason the people of Ugarit developed their Baal and Asherah mythology, which vividly depicted annual cosmic warfare that resulted in the seasons and the fall harvest. The Israelites had their own fall festival of the harvest. It was called in the Feast of Tabernacles. In Leviticus 23 they are given the reason for their celebration – “So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days…Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.‘ “” (Lev 23:39,42-43). They recognized that the harvest did not come from Baal or Asherah. It came from the Lord. He was the one who brought them out of Egypt. He was the one who led them through the wilderness. He was the one who gave them the promised land. He is also the one who brings the harvest. As God provided food for them in the wilderness he also provided the harvest after they were in the promised land.

You have to remember the Israelites were not farmers. They survived by raising animals. Remember the reports from the spies who reported on what they saw in Canaan? They saw a huge amount of produce. Who better to ask how to farm the land than someone who was able to grow HUGE clusters of grapes and other crops? What instructions would a Canaanite have given on how to grow crops? You sacrifice to Baal because he is god of the storm and the rain. You plant your seed and pray and do more sacrifice and low and behold, a huge crop sprouts from the earth. God did not want his people falling into idolatry. Instead he wanted them to remember that he is the source of blessing. He provided a festival for them to remember where the crops really come from, the Feast of Tabernacles. This festival also pointed toward a time God would again dwell with his people through his Messiah.

In John 7 we find Jesus faced with a decision of whether or not to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus in Jerusalem at the Feast for some would have been like singing, “Here Comes Santa Claus” in the living room when all of a sudden Santa himself comes down the chimney for all to see. They talked about it, thought about it, wished it…but how do you respond when it actually happens (of course you know I am not putting Jesus on level with Santa Claus!). Jesus presumably spends a day or more addressing their concerns about why Jesus could not be the messiah (healing on the Sabbath, apparent blasphemy, and their knowledge of where he had come from). We are not exactly sure of the time line but we do know he was there multiple days because on the last and greatest day of the Festival Jesus made an earth-shattering proclamation, “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38). Presumably Jesus had been sitting as he taught. Here he stands and in a loud voice declares that he is the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles.

When the messiah came the Jews believed that streams of water would flow from the temple and fill the valleys. It would run into the Jordan and fill the Dead Sea, which would become vibrant and fresh. New life would come. And so for generations at the Feast a priest would leave the temple at dawn with a procession of people. They would go through the Water gate to the Pool of Siloam. There he would take a golden pitcher and fill it from the pool while the people sang Isaiah 12. They would return to the temple where trumpets would sound three times. The priest would walk around the altar while the people sang the Hallel Psalms (113-118). He would then go up a ramp at the side of the altar, raise the pitcher and pour out the water into a funnel next to the altar. As the water fell to the ground another priest would pour out wine on the opposite side of the altar. The people held a lulab (branch) in their right hand and held a piece of its fruit in their left. At the last word of the psalm they would shake the branch and once the water and wine were poured they would shout, “Lift your hands!” It was a very exciting time as the people looked back on a good harvest from God and looked ahead to a better harvest of new life and the messiah which was to come.

This time he was there among them. He watched the ceremonies. On the final day he declared that it was fulfilled. No longer would the streams of water need to flow from the altar and down from the temple. Jesus was the sacrifice and as he said in John 2, he was the temple. He was the one who would be on the altar of the cross and have blood and water flow from his side and run down the hill to bring new life. Jesus brings a whole new meaning to their understanding of the Feast. Those who believe in Jesus will be sustained by the power of God and his Holy Spirit. It was not really about the Dead Sea or physical streams of water or the valleys growing crops. This harvest would come from the inside out. As with the Samaritans in John 4 this harvest would be a harvest of people for God’s kingdom.

We can ask the application question, “What harvest have you seen God bring in your life?” but that really doesn’t capture what Jesus is saying. Realize, Christian, that there is a harvest growing in your life that comes only from God. It does not result in new cars or fancy clothes. It results in something far greater – new life. When we reduce the Gospel to a dollar amount we miss what God is really trying to offer and we sell it out for something far cheaper and short sighted. Our pockets may at times be empty but it doesn’t matter if the Holy Spirit dwells in you and brings new life.

In the next post we will discuss how Jesus fulfilled another aspect of the Feast of Tabernacles – Jesus, the light of the world.

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