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AT THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
FEBRUARY 26.—JOHN 7:14,28-37
“If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink”
AS A RESULT of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, noted in our last lesson, the multitude pronounced our Lord a great prophet, and proposed to take him by force to make him king. He, however, knew that such was not the Father’s program; that, on the contrary, he was to fulfil a mission of contradiction of sinners, which would end in death, and that the Kingdom to which he was heir could only thus be attained—that the Kingdom promised him was not of this world, not of the present order and arrangement, but of a new dispensation. Our Lord therefore sent his disciples away by boat, while he himself withdrew to the mountain, subsequently meeting his disciples, walking on the water.
Six months more of preaching and teaching in Galilee, without any apparent effort to take advantage of the popular interest in his miracles, to forward his cause as a king, began to tell upon his brethren—his kinsfolk—who began to lose confidence, for their interest all along had been rather of pride than of faith. Now the time to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles having come, they noticed that Jesus was making no special preparations to attend. They were anxious that his power should be put to the test—Either do something, and make yourself great in the eyes of the whole world, or give the whole matter up and admit that your claims to Messiahship are fraudulent—was their attitude. Hence they said, Why do you not go up to the feast? Any person who makes such claims as you put forth should not make them in secret, but should seek the largest opportunities for publicity. You tell us that you have eternal life, and that you are able to give it to others, but apparently you are afraid to risk your life: “For neither did his brethren believe on him.”
Our Lord’s answer pointed out that it was very different with them than with him—they might go at any time, but he was under certain restrictions. They
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had not drawn upon them the murderous animosity of the most influential and powerful class of the nation. He had done this, by faithfulness to the truth which he came to the world to serve. While it is true that “Jesus did not walk in Jewry (Judea) because the Jews sought to kill him,” yet this evidently was not for any fear of death, but because he realized that “his hour was not yet come.” He felt it, therefore, to be his duty to cooperate to the extent of his ability with what he knew respecting the Father’s plan, and not to ignore that plan so as to require a special miracle for his deliverance, that the divine plan might not be frustrated.
There are lessons here for all who are seeking to walk in the Master’s footsteps:
(1) If we are finding no opposition in the world it is because we have not been faithful to our Father’s Word, and to our appointed mission in connection with it,—not been about the Father’s business: for our Master declared that it would be with us, his followers, as with himself—not being of the world the world would hate us, would say all manner of evil against us falsely, and think that those who persecuted us did God service. The positive declaration is, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12.) We are still in this time of persecution; the great Adversary is not yet bound, and if we are entirely free from such opposition it is a sure indication that we are not living up to our privileges in godliness—not following closely enough in the footsteps of Jesus to incite the animosity of the Adversary and his blinded servants.
(2) We are to remember that the special opponents of our Master were not the unbelieving world, but were the unbelieving, unfaithful professors of holiness and of complete devotion to the divine law. So with us, our special opponents and defamers and persecutors are to be looked for inside and not outside the pale of the nominal Christian church.
(3) We may profit by our Lord’s example in not needlessly and unwisely placing ourselves in positions of jeopardy, expecting the Lord to miraculously intervene for our preservation. Like our Lord, however, we are not under any consideration to deny the truth, nor to forsake a duty for the preservation of our lives. We see that when the most wise and appropriate time came our Lord went to the Feast, and spoke fearlessly and boldly. So our caution in the protection of life, etc., is not to be the result of fear and lack of confidence in divine providence, nor lack of courage to do our duty, but merely the caution and prudence which desires to cooperate as far as possible with the divine will.
Our Lord knew the disposition of the Pharisees to kill him. He knew also that they would hesitate a great deal more to make any attempt against him on the occasion of these Feasts, when Jerusalem was full of visitors, thousands of whom would be from Galilee and more or less his friends and the friends of his disciples, who were also Galileans. He may have known, too, of some arrangements among the rulers to apprehend him at the beginning of the feast, during the commotion incident to the arrival of pilgrims. At all events, acting upon his own superior knowledge of the situation, he deferred his going until after the multitudes had gone, and then went in a quiet manner, avoiding teaching, miracles, etc.
In the midst of the feast-week he appeared in the Temple, teaching the people. His enemies had sought him previously, and were rather surprised that he had not come as usual, but now they beheld him teaching publicly and boldly; but they refrained from laying hands on him, because they feared the people—they feared that too large a proportion would have at least a sympathy for his teachings, recognizing that he “taught them as one having authority,” with positiveness, and not with uncertainty, as themselves. The fact that many of the multitude were favorably impressed, and inquired amongst themselves whether or not they could expect any greater miracles from Messiah at his coming than those which Jesus had already performed, and the fact also that he was teaching publicly, and the rulers did not interfere with him, led some to inquire, “Do the rulers really acknowledge that this is the Messiah?”
Thus the rulers saw that their timidity was really advancing the cause which they hated, and they sent officers to take him; but apparently these felt that they must hear some rebellious, anarchistic or blasphemous utterances from his lips or they would not be justified in the eyes of the people in making the arrest, and so they waited, to watch him. They were charmed with “the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth,” and returned without him, saying, “Never man spake like this man.” Then Nicodemus, in his heart believing Jesus to be a teacher, sent from God, tho doubtful of his being the Messiah, raised his voice, being a member of the Sanhedrin, and expostulated, defending the officers, and exclaiming, “Doth our law judge any man before it hear him and know what he doeth?” Even this plea for justice was met with the sarcastic remark, “Art thou also of Galilee?” And the meeting disbanded, angry because they were foiled in their murderous attempt.
This should be true as far as possible with all of the Lord’s footstep followers: their speech should be with grace, with moderation, the overflow of hearts full of loving sympathy for the truth and all who love
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and seek it. Their words should always be well within the limits of reason and righteousness, and strictly in conformity to the Word of the Lord. And their manner, their conduct, as living epistles, should harmonize with this, so that even their enemies would marvel, and take knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus and learned of him.
Having in mind the murderous designs of his enemies, and that thus it behooveth the Son of Man to suffer and to rise from the dead, and knowing that the end of his pilgrimage was only about six months distant, our Lord said, I will be with you but a little while, “and then I go unto him that sent me.” Then, taking into account the predicted troubles to come upon Israel, expounded to his Apostles subsequently (Matt. 24) and that they would endure much before he would offer himself to them again as the Messiah at the second advent, he added, “Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me.” The Jews have been seeking the Messiah during the eighteen centuries of trouble experienced since that time, for, as the Apostle declares, “the rest were blinded,” except the remnant which received the Lord at his first advent—”the day of their visitation.” So our Lord declared to them subsequently, “Ye shall see me no more until that day when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The prophet tells us that they shall then look upon him whom they have pierced, and mourn for him as an only beloved son, and that then the Lord will pour upon them the spirit of prayer and supplication, their blindness being then turned away.—Rom. 11:27-32.
When our Lord declared that they could not follow him to the place to which he was going, the people speculated whether or not he meant that as he had shown himself willing to preach to the lowest classes of Israel (publicans and sinners), he might now purpose to leave Palestine entirely, and go to the “dispersed amongst the Gentiles,” the scattered Jews amongst the Greeks,—speaking the Greek language and not the Syrian, the language of the Jews in Palestine. Here we see afresh the error of the so-called “Anglo-Israelites,” who have a theory about “lost” (?) tribes of Israel. The scattered Jews were not considered lost in our Lord’s time, evidently, and this statement of the multitude is in full accord with the statement of the Apostle, when he speaks of “the twelve tribes scattered abroad.” The only sense in which these tribes are lost is that they have become so thoroughly combined and amalgamated that all tribal distinctions are lost, and very few Jews in the world to-day have the slightest idea of which tribe their ancestors belonged to.
Our Lord’s remark, “Thither ye cannot come,” is worthy of consideration from another standpoint. He did not mean that he was about to establish a kingdom, and that they could not get into the kingdom, but he did mean that he was going to heaven, and that they could not come to heaven. This is evident from his further statement, “Ye are from beneath, I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I have said, therefore, unto you that ye shall die in your sins.”—John 8:21-29.
But the poor, disbelieving Jews are not the only ones who cannot go to heaven. The Scriptures clearly indicate that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the holy prophets, have not gone there. (See Acts 2:34; Heb. 11:39,40.) Moreover, this same declaration was repeated by the Lord to his believing followers, saying “Yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and I said unto the Jews, Whither I go you cannot come; so now I say to you.” (John 13:33.) It is because the believers of the past as well as the believers of the present age could not go to our Lord, that all of them who were rightly instructed from his Word looked earnestly for his return, his second advent, his coming in glory and kingdom power, according to his promise, “I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am ye may be also.”—John 14:3.
Many have lost sight of the hope set before us in the Gospel, and have accepted instead a hope that has no foundation, except like the errors of fleshly Israel, in “the traditions of the elders”—the hope that when they die they will not be dead, but more alive than ever: a hope that is as contrary to reason as to the Word of God, in which it finds not one solitary word of support. “But he that hath this hope in him [the hope of the second coming of the Lord to make up his jewels, to receive his faithful ones to himself] purifieth himself even as he is pure.” There is no greater incentive to faithfulness than this, the true Gospel hope.
The last day of the Feast of Tabernacles was the eighth day, for it lasted in all for that period. The seven days of the feast were devoted to sacrificing, seventy bullocks being burned upon the altar, and understood to be sacrificed on behalf of the whole world, but the eighth day was specially a Jewish day, and was the most joyous day of this joyful thanksgiving feast. Describing it, Geikie says:—
“The whole week was full of excitement, the great altar smoking with whole burnt offerings of oxen, lambs and rams, besides the solemnity of the morning and evening sacrifice, the Sabbath sacrifice, and countless private voluntary sacrifices and offerings of all kinds. Every available spot inside Jerusalem, and in the hollows, and on the slopes around it (which, by legal fiction, were counted holy ground) was covered with huts or tabernacles of wattled or interplaited twigs, set off by
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branches of trees, fronds of palms, and all kinds of ornamental greenery.”
But the last day of the feast, called the great day, the day of special rejoicing, had one peculiar feature—its Water-offering, and it was on this day, and probably in connection with the pouring out of this libation, that, taking it for a text, our Lord lifted up his voice, saying, “If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink.” He is here presenting himself as the giver of the water of life, as in the more private discourse to the woman of Samaria. He is the fountain of life, the fountain of truth, the fountain of refreshment, to all who accept him. In every human heart there are thirstings, longing desires, and all who have sought to satisfy these desires from earthly fountains of fame or pleasure or wealth have found that they do not satisfy; but those who have received the water of life, the truth, the grace of God in Christ, have received the only satisfying portion. Lord, ever more give us of this water.
An able writer, Edersheim, gives us a very interesting account of the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the great day, as follows:—
“Let us suppose ourselves in the number of worshipers who, on ‘the last, the great day of the feast,’ are leaving their ‘booths’ at daybreak to take part in the service. The pilgrims are all in festive array. In his right hand each carries a branch consisting of a myrtle or willow branch tied together with a palm branch (Lev. 23:40). In his left hand he carries a bough of the so-called Paradise apple, a species of citron. Thus armed, the festive multitude would divide into three bands. One of these, to the sound of music, started in a procession from the temple. It followed a priest who bore a golden pitcher, capable of holding three log (rather more than two pints). They proceeded to the fountain of Siloam, in the valley south of the temple. Here the priest filled from this fountain the golden pitcher, and brought it back into the court of the temple, amid the shouts of the multitude, and the sound of cymbals and trumpets. The rejoicing was so great that the rabbis used to say that he who had never been present at this ceremony, and at the other similar ceremonies by which this feast was distinguished, did not know what rejoicing meant. The return was so timed that they should arrive just as they were laying the pieces of the sacrifice on the great altar of burnt offering, toward the close of the ordinary morning sacrifice service. The water from the golden pitcher was poured upon the altar. Immediately the great ‘Hallel,’ consisting of Psa. 113-118, was chanted antiphonally, or rather with responses, to the accompaniment of the flute. At the close of this festive morning service there was a pause in the services while the priests prepared to offer the special sacrifices for the day. At this moment there arose, so loud as to be heard throughout the temple, the voice of Jesus. He interrupted not the services, for they had for the moment ceased; he interpreted, and he fulfilled them.”
— February 15, 1899 —