The Feast of Tabernacles: layered like an onion … with meaning

… (and pointing to a future climax?)

Every autumn a somewhat obscure 8-day festival, with a 3500 year history, is celebrated around the world by a rather extraordinary people.  The festival I am referring to is the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, also known as Sukkot or Feast of Booths.  Since it follows the Jewish lunar calendar it moves from year to year in our calendar (like Easter does), but it is  always celebrated sometime in September-October.  In 2015 it will be celebrated from Sept 27 – Oct 4.

This festival was instituted by Moses to commemorate the years that the Israelites wandered in the desert after their Exodus departure from Egypt.  Therefore, Jews today celebrate the festival by living outdoors in booths or tents through the festive period.  It is thus a festival of cultural and historical meaning.

But the Jews have had a long history, and for much of the Bible period they had a Temple in Jerusalem.  During this period they celebrated the Festival by going on a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.  Therefore it also has great ritualistic meaning.

The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) was one of several annual festivals established by Moses which were interspersed through the Jewish year.  Though interesting on their own account, the meaning of these festivals becomes positively intriguing when viewed through the person and career of Jesus.  Because he was a Jew, and since he lived in the Temple period, he celebrated these festivals along with his countrymen.  But on top of that, his person and life seemed to fulfill them.  From that perspective the meaning of these Festivals goes deeper still, like another layer in an onion.  For example, Jesus was crucified and died on Passover, one of these festivals.  The very day instituted by Moses to remember how lamb’s blood saved the early Israelites from death was the day his blood was shed.  This is why today Easter and Passover occur together every year.  I explored the significance of this remarkable timing here.  The coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of what would become church occurred 50 days after Easter Sunday – exactly on the same day of another Festival started by Moses – the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost).  I explored the significance of that here, but even without delving into the details, the fact that pivotal historical events landed on multiple festival days that were started over one thousand years beforehand is exclusive to Jewish history.  In fact, all three springtime Jewish Festivals have an exact day-to-day match to a major event in later history.

Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles

Sukkot, being part of the Jewish autumn festivals does not have a day-to-day match with a New Testament event.  Nonetheless the parallels are striking in a different, perhaps deeper, manner still.  The Gospel of John records Jesus participating in this same Feast of Tabernacles.  But the account records Jesus doing something curious.  It says

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)

Jewish Feast of Tabernacles festivities in the Temple period

To appreciate the full significance of what he said we need to know how the Jews in Bible times celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles.  Jewish history and their sacred rituals are well documented in the Old Testament and in other sources like the Talmud and Mishna.  The Jewish website explains from these sources:

At the foothills of Mount Moriah, down below in the City of David, flows a natural spring called Shiloach. This spring is ancient, and as it is located literally in the shadow of the Holy Temple, it has always had spiritual significance for Israel. It is the original source of Jerusalem’s water.

Every day of the festival [i.e. of Taberncales], the priests descended down to the Shiloach, accompanied by all the congregation assembled in the Temple. There, they filled a golden flask … of the pure water. Ascending back up, carrying the flask with song … the gathering entered back into the Temple through the Water Gate, one of the gates on the southern side of the court (it received its name on account of this event (Shekalim 6, 3). As they entered the gate, their steps were greeted by the sound of trumpets and shofar-blasts, …

Once in the Temple, the priest who had the honor of performing this service now carries the golden flask up the altar ramp. … which took place on exculsively on Sukkot.

“With joy you shall draw water out of the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).

Based on this verse, the drawing of water from the Shiloach spring and its libation upon the altar of G-d was accompanied by great rejoicing and celebration in the Holy Temple. In fact, this joy was so immense, and the celebrations so uplifting, that the sages of Israel emphatically stated:

“Whoever has never seen the celebrations of the Festival of the Water Libation-has never experienced true joy in his life” (ibid. 5, 1).

But what was the cause of such great happiness, to the extent that this statement was recorded for all posterity? Indeed, what could be so moving about the simple act of gathering up some water, and pouring it onto the altar? …

museum model of Water Gate for Feast of Tabernacles to carry water to the Temple

museum model of Jerusalem Water Gate used in Feast of Tabernacles to carry water to the Temple

So Jesus used the context of the joyful ceremonial gathering of pure water poured on the altar in the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles to point to himself as likewise giving ‘living water’ to anyone who is ‘thirsty’.  His self-portrait was made vivid in that context to his hearers.

The curious response of Jesus’ hearers

steps leading to Water Gate for Festival of Tabernacles

Photo of the steps leading to Jerusalem Water Gate for Festival of Tabernacles. Jesus would have walked them along with other pilgrims in his day

But still, the response of his hearers seems perhaps a bit excessive.  When they heard his declaration their response was:

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”


How did Jesus’ hearers go from Jesus’ statement of ‘living water’ to think ‘Messiah’?  At first glance there seems to be no natural connection.

Ancient Jerusalem Water Gate outline can be seen, but it is now sealed

Ancient Jerusalem Water Gate outline can be seen, but it is now sealed

However, there is one key Old Testament passage describing the Feast of Tabernacles and ‘living water’.  But I have to warn you now – it is so apocalyptic that it may not be pleasant to unpack.

Zechariah, Living Water & the Feast of Tabernacles

Zechariah in timeline

Zechariah in Historical timeline

Zechariah wrote of a coming day when:

A day of the Lord is coming, Jerusalem, when … I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it … Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south…

On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. It will be a unique day—a day known only to the Lord—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light.

On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

16 Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. 17 If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain.19 This will be … the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. (Zechariah 14: 1 – 19)

Here we have a convergence of ‘living water’, the ‘Feast of Tabernacles’ and ‘all the nations’ along with Someone who is ‘King’ and ‘Lord’.  If we understand where the term ‘Messiah’ (= Christ) comes from we will see that this Someone was the Messiah.  This is an Old Testament messianic prophecy.  Hearing Jesus talking about ‘Living Water’ at the Feast of Tabernacles would have reminded his Jewish audience of this very passage and so they would have thought ‘Messiah’.  Hence their response to his Feast of Tabernacles cry.  It is just that Zechariah does not seem to describe Jesus to our modern-day minds.

Zechariah and the ‘one they have pierced’

But that is because I started the quote of Zechariah partway through his prophecy.  It actually begins two chapters earlier.  If we start at that beginning the meaning goes deeper still;

A prophecy: The word of the Lord concerning Israel.

The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, declares: “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem…. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem.

Mourning for the One They Pierced

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son… 

On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.  (Zechariah 12:1 – 13:1)

Whether one believes in the Biblical prophets or not, it is clear that in this passage the speaker (the ‘I’) is God, since he “stretches out the heavens … who forms the human spirit within a person” (v. 1).  He is warning of a future day, a terrible day when nations will be destroyed.  But paradoxically the mourning and grief will not center in those nations facing destruction, but rather in Jerusalem, being rescued from destruction by a ‘one they have pierced’.  Who would that be?  Let the descriptions by Isaiah and the Psalmist of one being ‘pierced’ help you answer that question.  Zechariah himself predicted his name.  Yet the pierced one is still, by using the pronoun ‘me’, the same ‘I’ who stretched the heavens and forms the human spirit in a person.  Pretty heady stuff.

Feast of Tabernacles, Hallel prayer & Jesus

This takes us full circle back to the Feast of Tabernacles.  The website describing the Sukkot celebration in Bible times details the prayers that were sung by the pilgrims back then.  It explains

The hallel prayer, a collection of songs of thanksgiving and praise to the Almighty, is one of the oldest and most original examples of traditional Jewish liturgy. It consists of the following chapters from the book of Psalms: 113-118

Therefore, the ending of the hallel prayer which pilgrims (including Jesus) sang on that Feast of Tabernacles when Jesus cried out about ‘Living Water’ was the following from Psalm 118

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; (Psalm 118: 22)

The Feast of Tabernacles hallel prayer uncannily predicted the career and legacy of Jesus.  Jesus used this very phrase to describe himself when challenged by the Jewish leaders just before his ‘piercing’.  He saw himself as the stone rejected that would become the cornerstone.  And it was sung every Feast of Tabernacles by devout Jewish pilgrims.  Zechariah predicted that complete recognition of this would be accompanied by cataclysmic, even apocalyptic, events.

The ancient 3500 year old Feast of Tabernacles opens many layers of meaning, spanning history and theology, when considered through the person of Jesus Christ.


Ancient Rg Veda Account … but Parallel Promise

The Rg Vedas are the oldest of the sacred writings in Hinduism.  Being composed around 1700-1100 BC, they are roughly contemporaneous with Moses’ recording of the Pentateuch (Torah) in the Old Testament.

Purusa – The Sacrificial Man in Rg Veda

A prominent character in the Rg Veda is one called Purusa.  He is a Perfect Man.  In a well-known poem known as the Purusasukta (within the Rg Veda) God decided to offer him in sacrifice at the beginning of time.  The concept of sacrifice is very prominent in Hinduism (as we saw regarding the Kumbh Mela Festival).  What is fascinating to me is that this earliest poem, Purusasukta, is not about people making a sacrifice to God, but about God presenting the Perfect Man to be sacrificed so that humans can gain eternal life.

Conspiracy Explanation for Bible parallels

This sounds very similar to the Genesis Promise recorded in the Bible at the dawn of human history.  Why this parallel?  Two possible explanations come to mind.  The first is that there was one ancient myth from which other mythologies borrowed.  In this vein of thinking perhaps the ancient Hebrews heard these mythological promises of a future sacrifice and simply incorporated them into their early scriptures as the Genesis Promise.  This viewpoint continues the argument that the Biblical record ‘borrowed’ other accounts.  Thus, for example, the account of Noah and the Flood in Genesis is simply a re-hashing of the old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh.

This thinking is then extrapolated to the New Testament Gospel.  The sacrificial death of Jesus on mankind’s behalf is thus seen simply as a borrowing from Greek and Egyptian mythologies of Isis and others.  This kind of explanation of the parallels between ancient accounts is advanced by skeptics of the Biblical accounts, and by those drawn to conspiratorial explanations of the Gospel (e.g. The Da Vinci Code and Zeitgeist etc. draw heavily on the idea that the meaning of the death of Jesus was simply borrowed from pagan mythology).  In fact, many people I talk to believe in some pagan-mythology explanation for the New Testament view of Jesus.  They only go back to New Testament and classical Greek times to look for parallels, many not knowing that these parallels go further back to ancient history into the earliest chapters of Genesis.

Historical Explanation for Bible parallels

Alternatively, parallels between ancient accounts exist because these events really did happen.  The Bible records these events and we can read about them in its pages.  However, other non-Hebrew cultures and civilizations also remembered and recorded aspects of these events and recorded them for us in different ways.  They did so because their origins are from Babel (like the Hebrews) and thus they remember pre-Babel events in perhaps some dim way as part of their history and mythology.  My previous posts (Part 1 & Part 2) about Chinese calligraphy having an ‘echo’ to early Genesis can thus be understood in this way.   Similarly, the most ancient of the Vedic texts show a remarkable parallel to the ancient Genesis Promise because that Promise was really given and kept in the social memory of the pre-Babel society.   The Promise was recorded and transmitted to us in the Bible through Moses.  It was also remembered and recorded in slightly different form in the Purusasukta of the Vedas.

Web of Parallels

So we have two broad explanations for these parallels.  What is intriguing to me are the parallels between the non-biblical ancient traditions.  So take the ancient Chinese association of ‘righteousness’ with sacrifice of substitution.  I have reproduced the ideogram from that post here so you can see it.

Chinese: 'dagger' + 'hand' + 'sheep' = 'righteousness'

Chinese: ‘dagger’ + ‘hand’ + ‘sheep’ = ‘righteousness’

When I compare that with the ancient mythology of Purusa (Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3-4, Conclusion) I see parallels between them in that righteousness is conveyed by sacrificial death for both the ancient Chinese and Vedas and detail them here.  It is not just that there are parallels between the Bible and some other myth – that would be an overly simplistic two-dimensional view.  There is more like a web of inter-parallel themes that can be discerned across many cultures.  To me this argues for the view that these events really did happen.  The Bible recorded these events and Promises in one way, while other cultures retaining some memory of them, recorded them in other ways.

One cannot definitively prove or refute either view.  I believe the second, but I find it interesting to hold both views explicitly in front of me and as I come across new data I see how it fits (or not) in each view.  This can be done with genetic anthropological data such as the BBC genetic results showing that all Europeans trace their origins to a very recent dispersal (from Babel?) as well as historical parallels.  I hope to look at a few more in the future.

2012 in review … anticipating 2013

ConsidertheGospel went public a year ago – Jan 2, 2012.  All in all it has been a rather good year.  There were over 19 000 pageviews through 2012.  The trend has been one of general growth as can be shown by the figure which shows pageviews of 2012 by month.  The month of December had almost 3000 pageviews.

PageViews by month


The Top 5 Posts of 2012 were

1) What about Human evolution?

2) Assessing the Book: Considering the Textual Reliability of the Bible

3) News Pregnant with Hope: Considering the Death & Resurrection of Jesus

4) The Passover Sign of Moses

5) The Sign of Abraham’s Sacrifice

Plan for 2013

I hope to continue writing 3-4 articles per month in the various topics that deal with the Gospel.  If you want to know when an article is published you can subscribe by email (on the right-side of the screen) or you can follow me on twitter (@ragnaroborn) where I tweet when a post is published.

Encourage others to Consider the Gospel

The Gospel is a message that deserves our full attention and consideration.  If you want to encourage your friends to also consider the gospel, ‘like’ it on Facebook and your FB friends can become aware of this site.  Then they too can also enter into the rich tapestry of engaging with the Gospel.

Happy New Year and may 2013 be one where the gospel can grow in your heart and mine.

ConsidertheGospel System upgrade shows hopelessness of Darwinian evolution (Part 1)

Two days ago I finally was able to complete a ‘system upgrade’ for considerthegospel – this website which is powered by WordPress. You can loosely think of using WordPress to write website content similar to how MS Word is used to write content on your computer. However, because it is hosted on a website, WordPress is supported ‘behind the scenes’ by a database (MySQL) that stores all the information and an HTML scripting language (PHP) that handles all pageview requests. In other words, WordPress works in conjunction with MySQL and PHP and all the server hardware in an integrated system to dynamically produce the webpages of considerthegospel.

Soon after launching considerthegospel I found that my web-hosting provider was limited to older versions of MySQL and PHP – meaning that I also could not use the newer releases of WordPress. I had tried to just upgrade WordPress and with the problem with PHP and MySQL compatibility was unable to edit content. I needed to call in an expert to go back to the old version of WordPress. With his help I got it going but I was stuck in a version of WordPress that was rapidly becoming obsolete.

So I had been looking to move considerthegospel to another web hosting provider and obtained an account, and copied the considerthegospel content there. But there can only be one unique URL ( at a time so I applied to transfer the ‘considerthegospel’ address but it took time to go through. Unfortunately the transfer happened the day we left on a long trip and I could not set it up on the new account. So while we were travelling the content was stored in a temporary subdirectory. This was the reason I was unable to upload new posts for the last month, because I had lost my domain with my old provider, but had not setup with my new provider. Two days ago, I took the website down and configured the address with the new hosting provider and uploaded the content. Considerthegospel is now on another server, with a new web-hosting provider, and it is running the latest versions of MySQL, PHP and WordPress which brings with it several functional increases (like the ability to run multiple versions).

This rather tortuous upgrading process of a system made up of interdependent components (web-hosting provider, address, PHP, MySQL, WordPress, etc.) each of which is required for the whole system to function, and each of which must be compatible with all the other components for the system to function at all, reveals the shear wishful thinking behind the Darwinian evolution story. This story purports to explain the origin of a myriad of biological systems, each with numerous inter-connected components – all of which are necessary for the system to function – as a result of random and successive changes of the various component parts. And on each step along the way in the process the transitional creature must function since it must survive. Note the great faith taken by this textbook in ascribing almost godlike powers to evolution.

“Evolution is like modifying a machine while it is running” Campbell and Reece. Biology 6th Ed.  2002 p. 477

But can we humans really modify our cars, computers and other interconnected systems while they are running?  I had to take my web system down to configure it. My computer is off when I replace the motherboard. And my car is in the shop now – with everything shut down – while repairs are made to it. If you view that statement not as an article of faith, but recognize that is exactly what the Darwinian evolution story must explain for every biological system – and you then try to do that with a few examples you will realize the extent of the problem.

Take birds for example. In the Darwinian story they evolved step-by-step from reptiles. Now reptiles have a lung system, like mammals, where the air is brought in-and-out of the lung to alveoli though bronchi tubes. Birds however have a totally different lung structure. Air passes through the parabronchi of the lung in one direction only (kind of like how air passes through a vacuum cleaner – straight through). This difference is illustrated in the following figures.

Structure of reptile lung

Reptile Lungs: Air passes in and out bi-directionally


Structure of Bird Lung

Bird Lungs. Air passes straight through uni-directionally

How is the hypothetical half-reptile and half-bird going to breathe while its lung structure is step-by-step being rearranged? Is it possible for a lung to work at all if it is part-way between the bi-directional structure of reptiles and the uni-directional structure of birds? Not only is being half-way between these two lung designs NOT better for survival, but the intermediate animal would not be able to breathe – it would die in minutes. I have read countless evolutionary texts and articles and have not come across even one attempt to explain how this would work.  This is just one example out of the myriad that exist.  We continue in the next post with a couple more and insight from the well-known late paleontologist Stephen J Gould.