Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths)

H/E Tractate Sukkah/Moed Katan

What does Tractate Sukkah have to do with John 7? Quite a bit!  In John 7, we find Jesus preaching (lit. “crying out”) in the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles.  He says on the last and greatest day of the feast, “If anyone is thirsty, let him/her come to me and let the one who believes in me drink, as it is written, rivers of the waters of life will flow from his womb/belly” (v 38).

Tractate Sukkah 4 has Jewish prescriptions for the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth).  In it, we read, “The dwelling in the Succah and the pouring out of water lasted seven days…”  We also read, “How was the pouring out of the water? A golden pitcher that held three lugs was filled with water from the brook Siloah. When they came with it to the water-gate, they blew a blast, a long note, and again a blast. The priest then ascended the stair of the altar…”  The priest would pour the water out near the altar each day of the feast.

The imagery here is huge.  Jesus calls the people away from that temple-water and calls himself the water of life.  At the end of the feast, when all the people had seen the water-procession each day, Jesus stands up and says, “I am the water of life!”  Tie this in with water from the rock (Ex 17), the water in Ezekiel’s temple (Ezek 47.1ff), and the flowing water in the New Creation (Rev 22.1ff), and it is clear to see how Jesus is the center of it all, the true temple (Jn 2) who gives living water (Jn 4) and calms the chaotic sea-waters (Jn 6), etc. 

Side note: Jon Levenson (see previous posts) argues well for the cosmic centrality of the temple, which also has huge implications for this “water.”  This, I submit, is what “womb” (Greek: koilias) is getting at in John 7.38 (cf. previous post on water from Jesus’ womb/belly).

See also Andreas Kostenberger, “John” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentaryed. Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 78.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

6 thoughts on “Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths)”

  1. That is an intriguing post. Thanks for that very helfpul comment.

    Do you think the prominence of the feast of booths in the post-exilic canonical literature ties into this at all? I’ve been preaching on Haggai 2, and the sermon in 2:1-9 took place in the context of the feast of booths, which is also mentioned in Nehemiah, Ezra, and Zechariah?

    Notice also that the next verse (7:39) speaks of giving of the Spirit upon Jesus’ glorification. One of the central themes of the feast was the ingathering of the nations (see Zech. 14). Do you think there’s a connection here?

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  2. Very interesting post, Shane.

    Thanks also, Wes, for tying in the other references in the post-exilic literature.

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  3. Wes:
    Certainly the post-exilic canonical examples of the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles tie in with John 7 (and surrounding context) and Jesus at the Feast.

    The Zech. reference is most interesting, since the prophet gives the feast an eschatological emphasis. I would not hesitate to tie Zech 14 in with Jesus at the Feast in John 7. Also, it would be a good study to see how John uses Zech., since in Zech 14 we also read of “living waters” flowing out of Jerusalem and no more “traders” (if you don’t go with the LXX) in the house of the Lord — both appear in John’s gospel, as Jesus is the living water and as he threw the money traders out of the house of the Lord. Also compare Zech. (14 in this case) to Revelation, another book of John’s; the apocalyptic symbols are quite similar in places.

    Concerning the ingathering, I think it is hinted at here in John 7.37-9, but not the main point. A hint also comes in v35, where the Jewish leaders ask if Jesus is going to the Greeks. Of course, he does, but not like they think. Elsewhere in John the theme does come through clearly, esp. in 12.32 (“when I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself”). I would tie in Zech 14 to John 12, as far as the themes go.

    Beale would be most helpful here.

    shane lems

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  4. Shane, did the Carson/Beale commentary point you toward any of this stuff or did it come from other secondary lit? (I’m mostly referring to the Rabinnic stuff.)

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  5. A little came from Carson/Beale; almost every commentary I read on John 7 at least hinted at the above. A.T. Lincoln, Kostenberger (in the Zondervan Background series and the Carson/Beale commentary), Keener, and Carson on John all had something about it, even if only hints.

    shane

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  6. Shane,

    Do you know what the relevance of pouring out water was for the Jews? Was this an aspect of worship and if so, how do you reconcile it with the RPW (which I hold BTW)? It has been puzzling me for a while.

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