John 7 – Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles

Jesus returns to Jerusalem for the third time in the Gospel of John, this time for the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2) and the Feast of Dedication (10:22).  He spends a significant time in Jerusalem and there is increased opposition to Jesus from the Jews in the city. This will culminate in John 11:57 when the Pharisees decide that they must arrest and execute Jesus.

Feast of TabernaclesThe Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) is a week long celebration of the Wilderness period (usually in late September or October, 15-21 Tishri, see Lev 23:34).  In A. D. 32, the feast was celebrated Sept 10-17, the Feast of Dedication is two months later.  Tabernacles is an 8 day pilgrimage in Sept / Oct at the end of the grape harvest, marked by prayers for rain.  By the first century, there were daily processions from the pool of Siloam to the temple to pour out libations on the altar.  The courts of the temple were lit by huge torches, thus we have a combination of the themes of water and light that Jesus uses for the teaching sections.

The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the time Israel spent in the wilderness but also their entry into the land of Canaan. Just as Passover celebrated the birth of the nation in the Exodus, Tabernacles celebrated the nation’s pristine years in the wilderness, where they learned the name of God, received his Law, where they rebelled against him but also experienced his grace and forgiveness.  The wilderness period culminated in the Conquest, Joshua’s entry into the Land of Canaan and the expulsion of the Canaanites from the Land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

In the prophets, the Exile was described as a long time in the wilderness. Israel was once again facing the punishment of God because of their covenant unfaithfulness.  The Feast of Tabernacles naturally stirred the nation’s hope for a new Joshua who would begin another Conquest of the Land promised to Abraham.  That Jesus is the same name as Joshua ought not be ignored, since Jesus will draw attention to himself as a messianic figure during a Feast dedicated to a remembrance of that first Joshua and the end of the exile in the wilderness.  Perhaps Jesus is the one that will end the long Exile of Israel, now under Roman rule.

Just as he did in the feeding of the 5000, Jesus plays on the imagery of Israel in the wilderness in the feast of Tabernacles in order to draw attention to himself as the one who leads Israel out of the wilderness at the end of her long Exile.