The Greatest Day of the Feast

This past week has been a week of great celebration among the Jewish people. On the biblical calendar the past seven days were the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot. In Lev 23:  God tells his people in the fall to bring the fruits of the harvest to the temple and commands them to rejoice and give thanks. He also tells them to build a sukkah, a tabernacle or booth, and live in it for seven days. This is so that in the midst of their harvest that they remember that it isn’t their own strength that sustains them, but by God’s loving hand.

Western Seminary Sukkah

This past week I celebrated this with the Hebrew class at Western Seminary here in Holland. They built a sukkah last Friday in class!  This is the first sukkah ever built at this seminary of the Reformed Church of America, so it was a historic occasion. As is traditional, it is made out of temporary materials and the roof is made only of branches, and one side is left open, to emphasize the fragileness of the human condition. You are supposed to be able to see at least one star through the roof. It blew over on the seventh day, which seems completely appropriate!

Today the Hebrew class celebrated the Hoshana Rabbah, what John 7:38 calls last and greatest day of the feast. This is a day that is filled with fervent prayers for rain. In Jesus’ day, there was a great water libation ceremony in the temple, and hundreds of thousands of people would crowd into the temple, beating their willow branches and shouting “Hosha-na” meaning, “Save us, we plead!” You have to remember that in Israel, there has not been one drop of rain since April, and the very lives of the people depend on the early rains of fall to come. Our class read the words of Joel 1: 10-12 to picture the emotions of the Hebrews there:

10 The fields are ruined,
       the ground is dried up ;
       the grain is destroyed,
       the new wine is dried up,
       the oil fails.

 11 Despair, you farmers,
       wail, you vine growers;
       grieve for the wheat and the barley,
       because the harvest of the field is destroyed.

 12 The vine is dried up
       and the fig tree is withered;
       the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree—
       all the trees of the field—are dried up.
       Surely the joy of mankind
       is withered away.

And then we read the promise in Joel 2 that if the people would repent, God would send rain and save their lives and give them food. And then, God promised that he would pour out his Spirit on his people too!

12 “Even now,” declares the LORD,
       “return to me with all your heart,
       with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

 13 Rend your heart
       and not your garments.
       Return to the LORD your God,
       for he is gracious and compassionate,
       slow to anger and abounding in love,
       and he relents from sending calamity.

 23 Be glad, O people of Zion,
       rejoice in the LORD your God,
       for he has given you
       the autumn rains in righteousness.
       He sends you abundant showers,
       both autumn and spring rains, as before.

 24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
       the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

 28 “And afterward,
       I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
       Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
       your old men will dream dreams,
       your young men will see visions.

 29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
       I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

 Then we took the branches from our blown down sukkah and we beat them as we shouted a liturgy from a modern Jewish prayer book, with “Hoshana” at the end of each line. You can see an example of the kind of prayers they pray here. They go on for 30 pages!

Then, the professor, Tom Boogaart stood and read what Jesus shouted in John 7:38-39:

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

Wow! You can see how Jesus is pulling in the prophecy to point toward the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. He brings all these ancient prayers together and then shows how he is the fulfillment of them.

Finally, our class celebrated by dancing to the song U’shavtem Mayim. The Hebrew of the song means “We draw water with joy from the wells of salvation!” (Isaiah 12:2) We formed two circles and kicked up our heels to dance with joy at how God poured out his Living Water on the earth through Jesus. I didn’t get a picture of us, but if you want to see this dance performed go to this link.

What an amazing celebration! The Talmud says, “He who has not see the joy of the Hoshana Rabbah has not seen joy at all in his life.” How very true!

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Published in: on October 5, 2007 at 1:31 pm  Comments Off on The Greatest Day of the Feast  
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