Sunday, October 12, 2014

Beyond the Bare Text: Understanding John Chapters 7 and 8 in Light of the Ancient Historical Context of Sukkot VII (Hoshana Rabba) and Shemini Atzeret

Recently I watched a little of a video lecture given by Shaye Cohen at Harvard in which he said something to the effect of:

"If you're just reading the bare text then I would respectfully submit to you that you aren't going to understand what you're reading."

He of course meant that the average lay person needs annotations in order to grasp the meaning of a passage in light of its ancient historical context. 

This is definitely true of John chapters 7 and 8.

How could anyone even begin to understand these chapters without knowing such things as (1) the timeline of the Jewish Festivals; (2) the rituals being performed in the 2nd Temple during Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret; (3) the rationales for said rituals, many of which come from the Book of Isaiah.

So, with that in mind, here's a nice little excerpt from a book by Jacob Keegstra entitled "God's Prophetic Feasts":

"We have seen that on the Feast of Tabernacles the Hallel is recited, specifically its final words from Psalm 118.  Now, on the eighth day, the circle around it is read, namely Psalm 117 and Psalm 119," (pg. 78).

[Peter's One-Law Note:  the Bible compares Torah to light and water.  Light because it says "Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet, a Light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105).  Water because it says "Let my teaching fall like rain"(etc).  In John 7:37-39, Yeshua, referencing Isaiah, said "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink."  The quoted passage (Isaiah 55) says that G-d will also summon foreign nations to these waters of Torah.  And Zechariah says that the nations who fail to observe Sukkot will have no rain!  The deeper meaning of course is that they can't have the rain (i.e. teachings of Torah) if they're not present at Jerusalem to hear the teachings of Torah being taught by the King]

"Jesus spent the Feast of Tabernacles in a special manner.  He did not openly go the feast, but secretly, incognito.  Only halfway through the feast did He go to the Temple to teach the people, arriving in the middle of the feast.  So He accentuated the fact that He is the centre and focal point of the feast.

As we have seen already, each day of the feast a priest would go to the Pool of Siloam, the sent one, to fill a golden jar with water; this water had to be poured out before the altar in the courtyard.  During the water ceremony, the people would pray, 'I will pour water on the thirsty land', and sing the Hallel.

On the last day, the Great Day of the Feast, Hosha'ana Raba, Jesus returned to the Temple and when the water was poured out He called out 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.  Whoever believes in Me, streams of living water will flow from within him'.  Here, water symbolizes being refreshed by the Holy Spirit, who was to be poured out after Jesus' transfiguration.  It is significant that Jesus spoke these words about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Feast of Tabernacles.  He came to the feast in secret, but He spoke these words in public, before the entire nation, as a prophecy that the Holy Spirit was to come.  The OT has always connected water with the Spirit of God.  Jesus confirmed the OT promises that the Holy Spirit was to come.

On Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of the feast, Jesus said He is the light of the world.  The passage starts with, 'When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said', which ties in with His previous observation on the living water.  The context of this observation is clearly that the Feast of Tabernacles.  John 8:12 indicates what happened following the ceremony of the drawing of water.  Lamps were lit at the Temple Square, as a sign that God caused his face to shine upon his people for deliverance and hope for future redemption.

The Talmud too describes a sustained process of drawing water until the lamps are lit on the Temple Square.  The ceremonies of the water drawing and the lamp lighting are associated with the Exodus and the hope for a second Exodus.  Just as God's Shekinah illuminated the people on their way to the Promised Land, light is a sign of divine activity.


We find the symbolism of the Temple lights in Isaiah, Chapters 2 and 9.  It is remarkable that Jesus referred to them and declared, 'I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life'.

On Simchat Torah, Jesus healed a man blind from birth, as a visible sign that He really is the light of the world.  Jesus sent the blind man to the Pool of Siloam, meaning Sent.  In due time, Jesus himself would be revealed as the Siloam, the Sent One, the Anointed, the Messiah.

What Jesus did during this Feast is a foretaste of what, from a prophetic point of view, He will do in the last days, when the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened with the knowledge of God.  The feast is the sign of the Enlightenment that will enable our eyes to see the light of the world.


During the water-drawing ceremony the priest pours both water and wine before the altar of the Lord.  Compare this with what happened at Calvary, when at Jesus' death both water and blood (wine) appeared.

Can this be compared with living water?" (pgs 82-86).


  1. A thought I had while reading your One Law comment is that if Torah is water or light, how can someone say only parts apply to the Gentile? I.e., light can't be divided. Either it is or isn't. The alternative is the idea that it is dimmer for the Gentile, but water quenches that... water is water, no matter how you divide or decrease it.

    Hope I am making sense. The metaphors themselves support 'One Law.' Never thought of that before.

  2. It's also compared to Bread. Yeshua (who is the Torah made flesh) said "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

    The metaphors for Torah show that the Torah is something good (e.g. water, bread, light) that we need. And since G-d is our Father, He wants to give us everything that we need.