Yeshua and the Feast of Tabernacles: Part Four
by Sue Towne
Last week we looked at the daily water ritual which was performed in the Temple during Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). After water and wine were poured into silver funnels on the altar of sacrifice, the people would sing these words from Isaiah 12:2-3:
Behold, God is my salvation I will trust and will not be afraid. For the LORD my God is my strength and my song He also has become my salvation. Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And we noted that the word “salvation” in this passage is the word “yeshuah” in Hebrew, from which comes our Lord’s name, “Yeshua.” So today let’s begin to connect all this to the life of Yeshua in the gospel of John.
This passage, beginning in chapter seven, describes a particular Feast of Tabernacles (or as is says in the text, Feast of Booths) where Yeshua did something special. It begins with verse 1:
And after these things Jesus was walking in Galilee; for He was unwilling to walk in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may behold Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret, when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For not even His brothers were believing in Him.
Jesus therefore said to them, “My time is not yet at hand, but your time is always opportune. The world cannot hate you; but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” And having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee.
I used to puzzle over this last sentence, because, as I mentioned in the first week of this series, all able-bodied Jewish men were commanded in the Torah to attend the Feast of Tabernacles. Yeshua surely was not thinking of disobeying the command of God.
We need to put that command in the context of the real danger He faced in going to Jerusalem in a public way, as He did on Palm Sunday later on. It would not do to be arrested and crucified at Sukkot and not fulfill scripture!
Apparently the Holy Spirit gave Him instruction about how to proceed. We pick up the story again in verse 10:
But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as it were, in secret. The Jews therefore were seeking Him at the feast, and were saying “Where is He?” And there was much grumbling among the multitudes concerning Him; some were saying, “He is a good man”; others were saying, “No, on the contrary, He leads the multitude astray.” Yet no one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Jews.
I’m going to stop here and comment again. You notice that throughout this passage it seems as though “the Jews” are opposing Yeshua and challenging His ministry, indeed His very life.
Yet we know that Yeshua and all His disciples at that time were Jews. The key to understanding how this word “Jews” is being used by John (who was a Galileean Jew himself) is in the first verse. “Jews” here really means “Judean Jews” or “Judeans.” Judea is the southern part of Israel near Jerusalem.
So for Yeshua to go into Jerusalem would be to enter Judea, where certain religious enemies were waiting for Him, in order to kill Him.
He did not go “publicly”–that is, with much fanfare, surrounded by His disciples. Instead He went “secretly.” The text does not say whether the Twelve were with Him, but I suspect they were. After all, John is writing about this in much detail. He was probably an eyewitness.
Let’s continue with verse 14:
But when it was now the midst of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple, and began to teach. The Jews therefore were marveling, saying, “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?”
It was common for famous rabbis of that day to come up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles and teach in the Temple. Groups of disciples and listeners would gather around these men in the outer courts of the Temple as they exchanged questions and answers which revealed their wisdom and teachings.
Now in chapter 7 of John follows an interesting debate about the origin of Yeshua’s teachings, which I urge you to read on your own. But let’s go down to verse 37.
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him some to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Yeshua spoke these words about water while the water was being poured out by the priest from the golden vessel. (If you did not read last week’s column, please read it now in the archives so that you can follow this.)
Picture this. He hangs back in the shadows, not making Himself known at this special meeting on the last day of the feast. The choirs and the multitudes sing Psalm 118.
Then as the crowd watches in silence and the water is being poured out by the priest over the sacrifice, Yeshua breaks the silence and with a loud voice cries out, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to ME and drink!” Then He refers to several scriptures in Isaiah that speak of “living water” flowing out of the belly of those who believe in–Yeshua!
What a statement! What “holy chutzpah!” Do you understand that Yeshua interrupted this Temple service? Do you understand that He stood up as a prophet of God and revealed Himself? It’s as though for years and years God had been giving the people a riddle about the Messiah through the elements of the water ritual done at Sukkot. And on that particular day He stood up in the Temple and shouted out the answer to the riddle.
Do you recall what comes right after the water and wine (signifying blood) is poured in the water ritual? The multitude sings Isaiah 12:2-3–
Behold, God is my YESHUAH…. The Lord my God is my strength and my song. He also has become my YESHUAH! Therefore with JOY you will draw WATER from the WELLS OF YESHUAH.”
As John writes about this scene for us, he tells us in verse 39 that Yeshua’s reference to living water was a reference to the Holy Spirit, who would come to dwell in believers. But understand this, many of the people who stood there that day would not have needed this explained to them. Some rabbis were already saying that the use of Isaiah 12 in the water ritual was a picture of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
So some people in the crowd that day felt the power of Yeshua’s dramatic words and were really drawn to Him. Others became angry, because of what He was saying about Himself.
We’re going to continue in John next week to see what else happened to Yeshua at that Feast of Tabernacles. There’s so much more to share here.