One of the themes in the Book of John connects the Savior with key Jewish holidays. A clear example of this is Jesus Christ as the Passover Lamb. A lesser-known example is how the Savior connects himself to the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Feast of Tabernacles, also known as the Ingathering or Feast of Booths (Sukkot in Hebrew) was instituted by the Lord: “The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord…Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein” (Leviticus 23:34–36, emphasis added, see also Exodus 34:22).
The Feast of Tabernacles was (and for Jews today still is) a big deal. It was one of three special pilgrimage feasts that male Jews were supposed to travel to Jerusalem to attend (see Deuteronomy 16:16).
During the Feast of Tabernacles, the Israelites were to make temporary shelters made out of palm branches and other plant-based materials and live in these “booths” for the week. This was so that “generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:43). In other words, just as the Israelites in the exodus dwelt in temporary structures, during the Feast of Tabernacles, the Israelites would do the same to remember the protection God gave them during the Exodus.
In John 7:2, we learn that “The Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand” (John 7:2). The Savior went to Jerusalem and began to teach the people. At the time of Christ, extra-scriptural elements of the Feast of Tabernacles had been institutionalized. These elements are crucial for understanding how the Savior connects himself to the Feast of Tabernacles.
Water was an important part of the Feast of Tabernacles. For the first seven days of the Feast priests would walk from the temple to the Pool of Siloam to fill a golden flask with water. The congregation would sing – this was a very special time. The Bible Dictionary states that it had been said that “he who has not seen the joy of the drawing of water at the Feast of Tabernacles does not know what joy is.” On the eighth day of the feast, no water was drawn – this lack would be very conspicuous.
Thus it is interesting to note that on the last day of the feast (the important “eighth” day) Jesus said to the people, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37–38, emphasis added). This would be like saying “I am the Joy to the World” on Christmas day. The words are powerful in and of themselves but have even more power given the importance and context of water in the Feast of Tabernacles.
Another important element of the Feast of Tabernacles was light. The area around the temple was lit up with four gigantic lampstands (each approximately 70 feet tall). Think of going to see the Christmas lights on Temple Square, or some other special occasion with lights. It is in this context that the Savior taught, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
As the Bible Dictionary notes, “The sacrifices prescribed by the law [during the Feast of Tabernacles] were more numerous than for any other feast.” The death of animals was in the air. Accompanying these sacrifices would be the reciting of Psalms, such as, “The sorrows of death compassed me” (Psalm 116:3). In this context, the Savior taught, “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death,” (John 8:51).
“If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” “I am the light of the world.” “If a many keep my saying, he shall never see death.” These strong statements they take on additional meaning in the context of Feast of Tabernacles. Just as the Passover points to Jesus Christ, so does the Feast of Tabernacles. All things testify of Christ.
For a more in-depth analysis of the Savior and the Feast of Tabernacles, along with specific suggestions for teachers, see this GREAT article by Ryan S. Gardner(I used it in preparing this post).
Also, not directly related to this blog post, but just for fun, when I lived in Jerusalem, I loved participating in the Feast of Tabernacles. It’s a special celebration ; for a visual look, see these pictures, or to learn more about Feast of Tabernacles in modern Jewish life, see this website.