The Feast of Tabernacles
After this Jesus traveled throughout Galilee. He stayed out of Judea because the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him. Now the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near.
John 7:1-2 (NET Bible)
The Feast of Tabernacles looked back to Israel’s journey through the wilderness, and looked forward to the promised kingdom of Messiah. The Jews lived in booths made of branches to remind them of God’s providential care of the nation for nearly forty years (Lev. 23:33-44). Following the Feast of Trumpets and the solemn Day of Atonement, Tabernacles was a festive time for the people. The temple area was illumined by large candlesticks that reminded the people of the guiding pillar of fire; and each day the priests would carry water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out from a golden vessel, reminding the Jews of the miraculous provision of water from the rock.
The feast may have been a jubilant time for the people, but it was a difficult time for Jesus, for it marked the beginning of open and militant opposition to Him and His ministry. Ever since He had healed the paralytic on the Sabbath Day, Jesus had been targeted by the Jewish leaders who wanted to kill Him. He remained in Galilee, where He would be safer, but He could not remain in Galilee and also observe the feast.
John 7 has three time divisions:
- Before the feast (vv. 1-10),
- In the midst of the feast (vv. 11-36), and
- On the last day of the feast (vv. 37-52).
The responses during each of those periods can be characterized by three words:
- Debate, and
The Feast of Tabernacles is first mentioned in Exodus 23:16 as the “feast of ingathering” and coincided with the end of Israel’s agricultural season when grains, olives, grapes, etc., were being gathered in. It is also spoken of in Leviticus 23:33-43 as a feast ordained by God to remind the Israelites that God made them to “dwell in booths” (tents – Exodus 16:16; Numbers 1:52, 9:17-23; and Deuteronomy 1:32-33) when He brought them out of the land of Egypt, and dwelling “in booths seven days” (Leviticus 23:42) was a required observance of this feast. God also made it a statute to observe “for ever in your generations” (Leviticus 23:41).
The feast began on the fifteenth day of the seventh Jewish month and lasted for eight days, although the eighth day was not originally considered a part of the feast but as a culmination of the annual cycle of feasts. The first day consisted of a “holy convocation” (or large meeting). It was also considered as a Sabbath day during which no “servile” work was to be done. Burnt offerings and sacrifices were made daily, and the eighth day, also considered a Sabbath day, concluded with a solemn assembly.
Included as part of this feast was a celebration of the harvest where, after gathering the fruit of the land, the Israelites were also to gather tree branches and “rejoice before the LORD your God seven days” (Leviticus 23:39-40 and Deuteronomy 16:13-15). According to Nehemiah 8:13-18, the tree branches were used in later years to make the actual booths. Also, with the temple firmly established in Jerusalem, the booths were constructed on rooftops, in courtyards and streets, and even in the court of the temple. The people lived in these booths for the duration of the feast that, as stated above, was originally seven days but later included the eighth day.
The Feast of Tabernacles was the last of three feasts where all the males were required to appear before the Lord “in the place which he shall choose” (Deuteronomy 16:16). The other feasts were the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) and the Feast of Weeks (Feast of Harvest, or Pentecost). In Jesus’ day, the feast had been embellished with additional ceremonies and traditions. It is likely that Jesus, in fulfilling the Law, attended all three feasts yearly.
In Zechariah 14, which deals with the Second Coming of Jesus, the Feast of Tabernacles is mentioned in Zechariah 14:16, 18, and 19 as something that people of all nations shall be required to observe. Those not going to Jerusalem “from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16) will be punished with “no rain” (Zechariah 14:17) and with “the plague” (Zechariah 14:18) if they continue to refuse to go to Jerusalem. Thus, the statute that God proclaimed to be observed “for ever” in Leviticus 23:41 is still being observed after Christ’s Second Coming.