Historic Jesus
Feast of Tabernacles

The Feast of Tabernacles was the last of the three great pilgrimage feasts held annually in Jerusalem. Every able-bodied male Jew was obligated to attend them. The other two festivals were Passover (the Feast of Unleavened Bread) and Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks).

The Feast of Tabernacles was held for eight days in August at the close of the barley harvest. Great numbers of animals were sacrificed each day in the temple. Two loaves of bread made from flour refined several times were presented by each worshiper, together with his animals, as a "wave offering." This term meant that the worshiper and the priest " waved" the offering to God in the following manner: Each held on to a part of the offering and swung it up toward the altar, thus symbolizing the gift being made to God. Then the sacrifice or offering was swung back; this symbolized God's gracious return of the bounties of the earth to be enjoyed by his people. This offering then was given to the priests to eat, part of it going to the community of priests and part to the priest who had assisted the worshiper in the presentation of the offering.

The men of Israel lived in shelters or huts made from the branches of trees during the festival. These temporary shelters were sometimes called "booths," sometimes "tabernacles." The name of the festival derives from these shelters, which reminded the people of their years of wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. Because the festival was at its heart a thanksgiving harvest festival, it was the most joyous of the three great annual gatherings that Jews celebrated.

The eighth day of the festival, sometimes called "the great day" John 7.37), was the climax of this joyous season. The tabernacles were taken down; there was a solemn assembly in the temple with an even greater number of sacrifices. During postexilic times, a ceremony of pouring out some water taken from the pool of Siloam was added to the ritual. This ceremony spoke of rain as God's gift to the people, which made the harvest possible. Perhaps it was when the water was poured out on the great day of the feast that Jesus stood in the temple and shouted: "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."