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The Feast of Tabernacles #1

How it was observed in Jesus' day

                          Part One

                 From the book "The Temple"
                 Albert Edersheim D.D. Ph.D.


'In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and
cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and
drink.' John 7:37.

THE most joyous of all festive seasons in Israel was that of the
'Feast of Tabernacles.' It fell on a time of year when the hearts
of the people would naturally be full of thankfulness, gladness,
and expectancy. All the crops had been long stored; and now all
fruits were also gathered, the vintage past, and the land only
awaited the softening and refreshment of the 'latter rain,' to
prepare it for a new crop. It was appropriate that, when the
commencement of the harvest had been consecrated by offering the
first ripe sheaf of barley, and the full ingathering of the corn
by the two wave-loaves, there should now be a harvest feast of
thankfulness and of gladness unto the Lord. But that was not all.
As they looked around on the goodly land, the fruits of which had
just enriched them, they must have remembered that by miraculous
interposition the Lord their God had brought them to this land
and given it them, and that He ever claimed it as peculiarly His
own. For the land was strictly connected with the history of the
people; and both the land and the history were linked with the
mission of Israel. If the beginning of the harvest had pointed
back to the birth of Israel in their Exodus from Egypt, and
forward to the true Passover-sacrifice in the future; if the
corn-harvest was connected with the giving of the law on Mount
Sinai in the past, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the
Day of Pentecost; the harvest-thanksgiving of the Feast of
Tabernacles reminded Israel, on the one hand, of their dwelling
in booths in the wilderness, while, on the other hand, it pointed
to the final harvest when Israel's mission should be completed,
and all nations gathered unto the Lord. Thus the first of the
three great annual feasts spoke, in the presentation of the first
sheaf, of the founding of the Church; the second of its
harvesting, when the Church in its present state should be
presented as two leavened wave-loaves; while the third pointed
forward to the full harvest in the end, when in this mountain
shall the Lord of Hosts make unto all people a feast of fat
things.... And He will destroy in this mountain the face of the
covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over
all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord
God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of
His people (Israel) shall He take away from all the earth (Isa.
25:6-8; comp. Rev.21:4, etc.).

That these are not ideal comparisons, but the very design of the
Feast of Tabernacles, appears not only from the language of the
prophets and the peculiar services of the feast, but also from
its position in the Calendar, and even from the names by which it
is designated in Scripture. Thus in its reference to the harvest
it is called 'the feast of ingathering (Ex.23:16; 34:22), in that
to the history of Israel in the past, 'the Feast of Tabernacles;'
(Lev.23:34; and especially ver.43; Deut.16:13,16; 31:10;; 2
chron.8:13; Ezra 3:4), while its symbolical bearing on the future
is brought out in its designation as emphatically the 'feast;' (1
Kings 8:2; 2 Chron.5:3; 7:8,9) and 'the Feast of Jehovah.' (So
literally, in Lev.23:39). In this sense also Josephus, Philo, and
the Rabbis (in many passages of the Mishnah) single it out from
all the other feasts. And quite decisive on the point in the
description of the 'latter-day' glory at the close of the
prophecies of Zechariah, where the conversion of all nations is
distinctly connected with the 'Feast of Tabernacles.'
(Zech.14:16-21). That this reference is by no means isolated will
appear in the sequel.

The Feast of Tabernacles was the third of the great annual
festivals, at which every male in Israel was to appear before the
Lord in the place which He should choose. It fell on the 15th of
the seventh month, or Tishri, (corresponding to September or the
beginning of October), as the Passover had fallen on the 15th of
the first month. The significance of these numbers in themselves
and relatively will not escape attention, the more so that this
feast closed the original festive calendar; for Purim and 'the
feast of the dedication of the Temple,' which both occurred later
in the season, were of post-Mosaic origin. The Feast of
Tabernacles, or, rather (as it should be called), of 'booths,'
lasted for seven days -- from the 15th to the 21st Tishri - and
was followed by an Octave on the 22nd Tishri. But this EIGHTH
day, though closely connected with the Feast of Tabernacles,
formed NO PART of that feast, as clearly shown by the difference
in the sacrifices and the ritual, and by the circumstance that
the people no longer lived in 'booths.' The FIRST day of the
feast, and also its OCTAVE, or Azereth (clausura, conclusio),
were to be days of 'holy convocation,' (Lev.23:35,36) and each 'a
Sabbath,' not in the sense of the weekly Sabbath, but of festive
rest in the Lord, when no servile work of any kind might be done.

There is yet another important point to be noticed. The 'Feast of
Tabernacles' followed closely on the Day of Atonement. Both took
place in the seventh month; the one on the 10th, the other on the
15th of Tishri. What the seventh day, or Sabbath, was in
reference to the Day of week, the seventh month seems to have
been in reference to the year. It closed not only the sacred
cycle, but also the agricultural or working year. It also marked
the change of seasons, the approach of rain and of the winter
equinox, and determined alike the commencement and the close of a
sabbatical year. Coming on the 15th of this seventh month - that
is, at full moon, when the, 'sacred' month had, so to speak,
attained its full strength - the Feast of Tabernacles -
appropriately followed five days after the Day of Atonement, in
which the sin of Israel had been removed; and its covenant
relation to God restored. Thus a sanctified nation could keep a
holy,feast of harvest joy unto the Lord, just as in the truest
sense it will be 'in that day' when the meaning of the Feast of
Tabernacles shall be really fulfilled.
(Between the 10th and 15th day of this 7th month is 5 days. The
number 5 in God's usage in the Bible stands for GRACE -
FORGIVENESS. Truly when the world is at one with God and Satan
chained and sent into the wilderness, represented by the feast of
Atonement, the world can fine GRACE with God and enter its 1,000
year Sabbath like rest - Revelation 20 - Keith Hunt).

THREE things specially marked the Feast of Tabernacles: its
joyous festivities, the dwelling in 'booths,' and the peculiar
sacrifices and rites of the week.

The FIRST of these was simply characteristic of a 'feast of
ingathering:' 'Because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all
thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore
thou shalt surely rejoice - thou, and thy son, and thy daughter,
and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the
stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy

(The ideal was for all, not JUST the males to rejoice before God
- yet it was not near possible, and was never ever done to its
full scale, hence we have the verse in the laws of Moses about
the "males" appearing before God on the three pilgrim festival
seasons. Even then it was not always possible to have that
happen, for a number of reasons, which the reader can meditate on
in the light of Israel being an agricultural nation in the main,
and for other "family" reasons, or "health" reasons that would
prohibit some males from making their way to THE place where God
had placed His name, and that place was ever ONLY ONE city -
first Shilo and then later Jerusalem, which for some would be a
considerable distance to travel, on foot or by donkey and cart -
Keith Hunt).

Nor were any in Israel to appear before the Lord 'empty:' 'every
man shall give as he is able, according to the bless; of the Lord
thy God which He hath given thee.'  Votive, freewill, and peace
offerings would mark their gratitude to God, and at the meal
which ensued the poor, the stranger, the Levite, and the homeless
would be welcome guests, for the Lord's sake. Moreover, when the
people saw the treasury chests opened and emptied at this feast
for the last time in the year, they would remember their brethren
at a distance, (Yes, some would be at a distance and would not
make it to the place where God's name was - Keith Hunt) in whose
name, as well as their own, the daily and festive sacrifices were
offered. Thus their liberality would not only be stimulated, but
all Israel, however widely dispersed, would feel itself anew one
before the Lord their God and in the courts of His House. 

There was, besides, something about this feast which would
peculiarly remind them, if not of their dispersion yet of their
being 'strangers and pilgrims in the earth.'  For its SECOND
characteristic was, that during the seven days of its continuance
'all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths; that your
generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell
in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt'
As usual, we are met at the outset by a controversy between the
Pharisees and the Sadducees. The law had it: (so correctly in the
margin) 'Ye shall take you on the first day the fruit (Lev.23:40)
of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick
trees, and willows of the brook,' which the Sadducees understood
(as do the modern Karaite Jews) to refer to the materials whence
the booths were to be constructed, while the Pharisees applied it
to what the worshippers were to carry in their hands. The latter
interpretation is, in all likelihood, the correct one; it seems
borne out by the account of the festival at the time of Nehemiah,
when the booths were constructed of branches of other trees than
those mentioned in Leviticus 23; and it was universally adopted
in practice at the time of Christ. The Mishnah gives most minute
details as to the height and construction of these 'booths,' the
main object being to prevent any invasion of the law. Thus it
must be a real booth, and constructed of boughs of living trees,
and solely for the purposes of this festival. Hence it must be
high enough, yet not too high - at least ten handbreadths, but
not more than thirty feet; three of its walls must be of boughs;
it must be fairly covered with boughs, yet not so shaded as not
to admit sunshine, nor yet so open as to have not sufficient
shade, the object in each case being neither sunshine nor shade,
but that it should be a real booth of boughs of trees. It is
needless to enter into further details, except to say that these
booths, and not their houses, were to be the regular dwelling of
all in Israel during the week, and that, except in very heavy
rain, they were to eat, sleep, pray, study - in short, entirely
to live in them. The only exceptions were in favour of those
absent on some pious duty, the sick, and their attendants, women,
slaves, and infants who were still depending on their mothers.
Finally, the rule was that, 'whatever might contract Levitical
defilement (such as boards, cloth, etc.), or whatever did not
grow out of the earth, might not be used' in constructing the
'booths.' (Succ.1.4).

It has already been noticed that, according to the view
universally prevalent at the time of Christ, the direction on the
first day of the feast to 'take the fruit of goodly trees,
branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and
willows of the brook,' was  applied to what the worshippers were
to carry in their hands. The Rabbis ruled, that the 'fruit of the
goodly trees' meant the AETHROG, or citron, and 'the boughs of
thick trees' the myrtle, provided it had 'not more berries than
leaves.' The aethrogs must be without blemish or deficiency of
any kind; the palm branches at least three handbreadths high, and
fit to be shaken; each branch fresh, entire, unpolluted, and not
taken from any idolatrous grove. Every worshipper carried the
aethrog in his left hand, and in his right the LULAV, or palm,
with myrtle and willow branch on either side of it tied together
on the outside with its own kind, though in the inside it might
be fastened even with gold thread. There can be no doubt that the
lulav was intended to remind Israel of the different stages of
their wilderness journey, as represented by the different
vegetation - the palm branches recalling the valleys and plains,
the 'boughs of thick trees,' the bushes on the mountain heights,
and the willows those brooks from which God had given His people
drink; while the AETHROG was to remind them of the fruits of the
good land which the Lord had given them. The lulav was used in
the Temple on each of the seven festive days, even children, if
they were able to shake it, being bound to carry one. If the
first day of the feast fell on a Sabbath, the people brought
their lulavs on the previous day into the synagogue on the Temple
Mount, and fetched them in the morning, so as not needlessly to
break the Sabbath rest.

The THIRD characteristic of the Feast of Tabernacles
was its offerings. These altogether peculiar. The sin-offering
for each of the seven days was 'one kid of the goats.' The
burnt-offerings  consisted of bullocks, rams, and lambs, 
with their appropriate meat - and drink-offerings. But, whereas
the number of the rams and lambs remained the same on each day of
the festival, that of the bullocks decreased every day by one -
from thirteen on the first to seven bullocks on the last day,
'that great day of the feast.' As no special injunctions are
given about the drink-offering, we infer that it was, as usually,
1/4 of a hin of wine for each lamb, 1/3 for each ram, and 1/2 for
each bullock (the hin = 1 gallon 2 pints). The 'meat-offering' is
expressly fixed at 1/10 of an ephah of flour, mixed with 1/4 of a
hin of oil, for each lamb; 2/10 of an ephah, with 1/3 hin of oil,
for each ram; and 3/10 of an ephah, with 1/2 hin of oil, for each

THREE things are remarkable about these burnt-offerings. FIRST,
they are evidently the characteristic sacrifice of the Feast of
Tabernacles as compared with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the
number of the rams and lambs is double, while that of the
bullocks is fivefold (14 during the Passover week, 5 x 14 during
that of Tabernacles). SECONDLY, number of the burnt sacrifices,
whether taking each kind by itself or all of them together, is
always divisible by the sacred number SEVEN. We have for the week
70 bullocks, 14 rams, and 98 lambs, or altogether 182 sacrifices
(26 x 7), to which must be added 336 (48 x 7) tenths of ephahs of
flour for the meat-offering.  

We will not pursue the tempting subject of this symbolism of
numbers further than to point out that, whereas the sacred number
7 appeared at the Feast of Unleavened Bread only in the number of
its days, and at Pentecost in the period of its observance (7 x 7
days after Passover), the Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days,
took place when the seventh month was at its full height, and had
the number 7 impressed on its characteristic sacrifices. It is
not so easy to account for the THIRD Peculiarity of these
sacrifices - that of the daily diminution in the number of
bullocks offered. The common explanation, that it was intended to
indicate the decreasing sanctity of each successive day of the
feast, while the sacred number 7 was still to be reserved for the
last day, is not more satisfactory than the view propounded in
the Talmud, that these sacrifices were offered, not for Israel,
but for the nations of the world: 'There were seventy bullocks,
to correspond to the number of the seventy nations in the world.'
But did the Rabbis understand the prophetic character of this
feast? An attentive consideration of its peculiar ceremonial will
convince that it must have been exceedingly difficult to ignore
it entirely.


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