Light from the Sidra


Leviticus 22:26 - 23:44; Numbers 29:12-16; Zechariah 14

When I was young I used to wonder if our world was just an atom in an even bigger cosmos and whether the atoms that made up our universe were themselves infinitesimally small worlds. And what if those worlds were made up of even smaller worlds? And were there people in those tiny universes thinking the same as me? All mind blowing stuff. Thinking about it used to sometimes keep me awake for hours.

I had a vivid imagination and perhaps I should have been a writer of science fiction or something. But the point of this little revelation about the psychodynamics of my fertile childish imagination is that in the Jewish year there exists something similar to what I imagined about the creation. Within itself the Jewish calendar encompasses a little eternity. The yearly cycle of festivals and appointed seasons of Israel contains the entire history of the world from the Exodus to the end of days.

Leviticus 23 lists the appointed seasons Israel was to observe through the year and the manner in which those events were to be observed, from Passover to the Feast of Tabernacles. All those festivals contain within themselves the past, the present and the future.

Sukkot was a celebration of God’s yearly provision of bread from the earth. The farmers sowed the seed, but unless God opened the heavens to provide abundant rain the nation would face ruin and starvation. In the sophisticated 21st century we have access to bountiful supplies of food within minutes of our homes and the importance of harvest does not occur to us. But in a relatively primitive agricultural community each harvest was an act of divine salvation and a cause for joy. No doubt this was why the Hoshana Rabbah became a traditional song of this season:

We beseech Thee, O LORD, save now! We beseech Thee, O LORD, make us now to prosper!

Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD; we bless you out of the house of the LORD.

The LORD is God, and hath given us light; order the festival procession with boughs, even unto the horns of the altar. (Psalm 118:25-27, JPS translation)

Sukkot stands as a commemoration of God’s mighty deliverance of the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt and the forty years they lived in tents in the wilderness of Sinai. To this day Jewish people in all nations from Israel to India, from the Ukraine to the UK build and decorate booths to commemorate the festival of Tabernacles. It is a festival of national deliverance, associated with great rejoicing.

It was said in the days of the second temple that, “He who has not seen Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles does not know what rejoicing means.” Jewish pilgrims approached the temple bearing torches, adding to the brilliance provided by several huge menorot. A priest with a golden pitcher was sent to the Pool of Siloam from which he brought water that was poured out at the base of the altar as a symbolic prayer for the abundant rain the land needed to ensure a good harvest for the next year. But the ceremony also looked forward to a day when God would fulfil a beautiful promise, “I will pour water upon the thirsty land, and streams upon the dry ground; I will pour My spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring” (Isaiah 44:3, JPS translation)

The prophet Zechariah enlarges on that spiritual perspective. He foresees a day when “all the nations … shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16) and water will be poured on the nations (vv17,18). Instead of a harvest of wheat or barley, there will be a harvest of the nations. God will visit the Gentiles with salvation and the nations will share Israel’s blessings and commemorate the festivals of the Lord. The Rabbis saw a hint of this in the number of sacrifices offered throughout the festival of Sukkot. On the first day of the feast thirteen bullocks were offered, twelve the second day, eleven the third and so on until seven bullocks were offered on the seventh day, making a total of seventy. These seventy sacrifices, said some of the Rabbis, were for the seventy nations of the world and they looked forward to the time when the nations would be converted to the God of Israel.

Today there is no temple, no priesthood and no sacrifice. Israel cannot keep the feast in the manner prescribed by God. How, then, is the promise about the nations going to Jerusalem to keep the festival to be fulfilled?

What if the promise has already been fulfilled? What if the nations are keeping the Feast of Tabernacles and Israel does not know it?

A little over 1900 years ago, a Jewish man called Yochanan was exiled to the island of Patmos, a piece of rock in the Aegean Sea because of his faith in the Messiah. While there, the Messiah appeared to him and showed him visions of heaven and the future. In one of his visions he was shown an innumerable multitude of Gentiles dressed in white, holding lulavim and singing praise to the God of Israel. In other words they were keeping Sukkot (Revelation ch.7).

Yochanan was told that these Gentiles had been cleansed by the sacrificial blood of “the Lamb” in fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; yea, he opened not his mouth … he bared his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:7, 12, JPS translation).

The Lamb who “bore the sin of many” is the Messiah. Passover, Tabernacles and all the appointed seasons between find their ultimate reality in him. Contained in the festivals of Israel is God’s whole story of redemption. Over the last 2,000 years innumerable Gentiles as well as Jews have found salvation in God’s Messiah and keep Sukkot in spirit and truth. We have found refuge and rest for our souls under the wings of Messiah Jesus. What a tragedy it would be if you should keep the feast this year without experiencing the reality behind it.

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