John 7:37-46.—March 5.
THE TWO great feasts of the Jews were the Feast of Passover, from the fifteenth to the twenty-second of the first month, and the Feast of Tabernacles (dwelling in booths), from the fifteenth to the twenty-second of Tishri, the seventh month, corresponding closely to October 1, but varying according to the Jewish calendar, which was calculated on lunar time. These two great feasts divided the Jewish year, and were the great occasions on which the people from all over the Kingdom were expected to visit Jerusalem, the capital city, to spend a week in fellowship together, in thanksgiving to the Lord and the making of vows to him. These two festivals represent the beginning of a year—the one the civil year, the other the Church year, yet both might be termed religious in the sense that the entire national government was built upon a religious foundation. Israel was God's nation, and its laws were from him.
Each of these feasts had its peculiar religious sacrifice, pointing to our Lord and his sacrifice and the Gospel Church, his body. The Passover festival in the beginning of the year was the anniversary of the deliverance from Egypt, the Passover lamb representing Christ, our Passover sacrifice, and the feast following representing the liberty and joy and blessing which come to all of the Lord's people passed over through faith in his blood. The fall festival was held in connection with the Day of Atonement and its sacrifices for sins, which typified the better sacrifices of this Gospel age and the ultimate atonement for the sins of the whole world, and the consequent ultimate removal of the curse which still rests [R3509 : page 55] upon the world of mankind. This festival was instituted at the time Israel passed from the wilderness into the Land of Promise. It commemorated the wilderness life and the entrance into Canaan, where they were privileged to enjoy their inheritance and have more substantial dwelling places. It was really the festival of the New Year, and a kind of thanksgiving occasion for the ingathering or harvest of the year.—Exod. 23:16; Lev. 23:33-44.
"In Jerusalem booths were erected everywhere, in court and on housetop, in street and in square. These arbors or booths were made of branches of trees—palms, sycamores, olives, pines, willows, etc. Nobody was living at home, everybody in these booths—all the people from the city and crowds from the country. All distinctions of rank, all separation between rich and poor, were for a while forgotten, as each one dwelt in as good a dwelling as his neighbor.
"At night, four golden candelabra, each with four golden bowls for light, were in the center of the court, and the light emanating from them was visible to the whole city. Around these lights pious men danced before the people with lighted flambeaux in their hands, singing hymns and songs of praise, whilst the Levites, who were stationed on the fifteen steps which led into the woman's court of the Temple and which corresponded to the fifteen psalms of degrees, i.e. steps (Psalms 122-134), accompanied the songs with instrumental music.
"The Temple illumination was symbolical of the light which was to shine from out the Temple into the dark night of heathendom; then, at the first dawn of morn the blasts of the priests' silver trumpets, of the army of God, as it advanced with festive trumpet-sound and call, to awaken the sleepers and to utter solemn protest against heathendom."
"It is supposed that on the last evening of the festival, when the splendid light of this grand illumination was to cease, Christ called attention to himself, 'I am the Light of the world' (John 8:12), which is to shine forever and illuminate not only the Temple and the Holy City, but all the world,"—the Sun of Righteousness.
The last of these seven days of the feast was called the Great Day. It was in it that the entire festival ceremony and rejoicing reached its climax. Again we glean from Edersheim and others, as follows:—
"According to Jewish tradition the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night, symbolical of God's presence and guidance, at first appeared to Israel on the fifteenth of Tishri, the first day of the feast. On that [R3509 : page 56] day Moses was said to have come down from the Mount and announced to the people that the tabernacle of God was to be reared among them. We note that the dedication of Solomon's Temple and the descent of the Shekinah glory upon it took place at this feast.—1 Kings 8; 2 Chron. 7.
"The last great day of the feast was the climax of all this symbolization. Early in the morning the people, with the Paradise apple (an orange) in their left hands and branches in their right, marched to the sound of music in a procession headed by the priest, who bore a golden pitcher to draw water from the Pool of Siloam, south of the Temple. The priest having filled the golden pitcher at this fountain, brought it back into the court of the Temple, amid the shouts of the multitude and the sounds of cymbals and trumpets. The return was so timed that the procession should arrive just as other priests were laying the pieces of the sacrifices on the altar of burnt offering toward the close of the ordinary sacrifice-service.
"On each of the seven days the priest made a circuit of the altar, saying, 'O, then, now work salvation, Jah! O, Jah, give prosperity!' But on the seventh day they made the circuit seven times remembering how the walls of Jericho had fallen in similar circumstances, and anticipating that by the direct interposition of God, the walls of heathendom would fall before Jehovah and the world lie open before his people to go in and possess it.
"The golden pitcher full of water was then poured upon the altar. This ceremony was considered of vital importance and apparently symbolized the out-pouring of the holy Spirit. Immediately following the pouring of this water the Hallel was sung. This consists of Psalms 113-118. These were chanted, with responses, to the accompaniment of the flute. As the Levites intoned the first line of the Psalm, the people repeated it; while to each of the other lines they responded, Hallelu Yah (Praise ye the Lord). Then the priests blew a three-fold blast on their silver trumpets."
Our lesson relates to the last feast of Tabernacles attended by our Lord—the one which occurred just six months before the crucifixion. In a previous lesson we saw that the feeding of the five thousand was at a time when many of them were on their way to Jerusalem to the feast of the Passover, so that the present lesson is at least six months later—quite possibly a year and six months later, as evidently there was a considerable time during which our Lord "could not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him."
On the occasion of this feast, many wondered whether or not Jesus would attend it, for it seems to have been well understood by a considerable number that the chief priests were so envious against the Lord, so enmitous, so bitter, that threats had been made against his life. While our Lord realized that his life was under divine protection until his "hour" should come, nevertheless it would appear that he did not tempt providence by going unnecessarily in the way of danger, but rather shaped his course according to the conditions he found. Thus, too, he admonished his disciples, "When they persecute you in one city, flee ye to another."
The context shows that at this time some of our Lord's brethren (probably his cousins, for cousins at that time were called "brethren") seemed to doubt his Messiahship, and urged him to go up to Jerusalem and perform his mighty works there, where the most learned men of the nation would have an opportunity for seeing and criticising and fault-finding, and if possible refuting his claims and miracles. Our Lord's answer was, "Go ye up to the feast; I go not up to the feast; mine hour is not yet fully come." For our Lord to have gone up early to the feast might have provoked the animosity of the religious teachers the more. His delay in going was no injury to the publicity of his teachings either, because the people naturally inquired for him, expressed wonder, discussed his claims, told one another what they had seen and heard in their own cities, villages, etc. It was toward the latter part of the feast week that our Lord arrived on the scene and went straightway to the Temple, and when the religious sentiments of the people were at their highest pitch he called their attention to the deep spiritual things symbolized by them year by year continually.
It is presumed that it was just at the close of the pouring of the golden pitcher full of water on the altar, a libation to the Lord, and while the multitudes in the warm climate were probably thirsty and had their thirst rather aggravated by the sight of the water, that Jesus made the announcements which constitute the essence of our lesson, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow a stream of living water."
No wonder the people said, as the Prophet had foretold, that our Lord spake in parables and dark sayings. How many, how few of the multitude who heard could gain any reasonable understanding of this message! Even under the blessed influences that are ours under the Spirit dispensation, how few have any adequate conception of what these words signify.
All have some conception of what natural thirst is, and of the refreshment that comes through partaking of literal water, and to understand our Lord's words respecting the water of life which he has to give, we must carry the figure forward and realize that there are other thirsts and cravings of the human nature which need satisfaction, which without satisfaction cause unrest, distress. These cravings of the heart we briefly refer to again as thirst for rest, peace, joy and fellowship. Only those who have such thirsts are called upon—"Blessed are they that hunger and thirst." Many of our race at the present time are so depraved mentally and physically that they have no hunger and thirst for better things than they now enjoy—they already are full and satisfied with the imperfect things possessed. The Lord's appeal at the present time is not to these, but to those who hunger and thirst, "If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink."
This is the appeal of this Gospel age: the Lord is seeking for the thirsting ones and finding them, and if they will drink at his fountain of grace and truth, they will find the satisfaction, the comfort, the joy, the peace, the rest, the blessing, which the world can neither give nor take away. Blessed, therefore, are the thirsty, and favored are they who are now drinking of the waters given forth by the smitten Rock—our Lord.—1 Cor. 10:4.
The Apostle commented upon our Lord's words, explaining the first part, but not the second. He says, "This spake he of the Spirit which they who believed on him should receive." The receiving of the Spirit is the satisfying of our thirst. All through life we are drinking at this fountain. We will not be satisfied until we awake in the Lord's likeness; then, as the Apostle declares, "I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness"—when this mortal shall be swallowed up in immortality, we shall be like our dear Redeemer, see him as he is, and share his glory as members of his body.
The holy Spirit was exercised upon the prophets, and under its influence they spake and wrote. But the holy Spirit granted to the Gospel Church at and since Pentecost is different; it is the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of understanding, not the Spirit of prophecy. It was not possible for any to be begotten of the Spirit as sons of God until the ransom-sacrifice of Jesus as on our behalf had been accomplished, not until he had ascended up on high and presented the merit of that sacrifice on our behalf to the Father, not until it had been accepted by the Father. Then this blessing of the Spirit of adoption was shed forth upon the apostles. All accepted to membership in the body of Christ since, by association with the fellow-members, are made partakers of this one Spirit, by which all are sealed until the day of deliverance. Eph. 4:30.
"Out of his body shall flow a stream of living waters." This verse was not fulfilled at Pentecost, where the Lord's followers merely began to drink of the spiritual truths, and by them to be united into one body of many members, of which Jesus is the head. It is from this one body that ultimately the stream of the water of life shall flow during the Millennial age for the blessing of the whole world. Our Lord referred to this saying, "My word shall judge you in the last day"—in the great day, the Millennial day; the world shall be judged by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. The water of life represents the Truth, and the amount of this water of life or Truth that shall proceed from the mouth of the Lord, from the mouth of the glorified Church, shall be such a stream, such a flow, as will reach to every part of the earth. "The knowledge of the glory of God shall fill the whole earth."
In the present time, those who drink at the fountain of the water of life, are merely the sanctified in Christ Jesus, and our Lord declares of these that his grace and truth in them shall be as a well of water springing up into life everlasting. In Revelation, Chapter 21, we are given the picture of the aggregation of the various members of the body of Christ in glory. The whole is pictured as the New Jerusalem, and from it issues the stream of the water of life which our Lord referred to in his discourses. It will be a great river of the water of life, and on either bank of it will be the trees of life, nourished and supplied by it, bearing good fruit, and the leaves of those trees will be for the healing of the nations.
Thus seen the Lord's discourse briefly pictured the blessings coming to his followers during this Gospel age, and the blessings that shall in the next age proceed from them for the comfort, blessing and uplifting, restitution, of all the families of the earth—of whosoever wills to take of that river of the water of life, which then will flow freely, and to which all will be clearly and distinctly invited by the Spirit and the Bride.
Peace and unity are greatly to be desired; yet these are not always possible, not always advantageous. If all were perfect, peace and unity would certainly be the only proper condition, but so long as there are imperfections, errors, etc., there must be differences. In harmony with this our Lord declared that his message would not bring peace but a sword under present conditions. He will be the Prince of Peace by and by, but not until peace shall be established upon a righteous basis. Before that time he will be the King who will reign in righteousness, and dash evil systems and things to pieces as potters' vessels, with a rod of iron.
There are those who say peace, peace, when there is no peace and when peace is not possible, and the Lord's people are not to be of these. This does not mean that the Lord's people are to be breeders of strife. On the contrary they are exhorted everywhere in the Scriptures to be peaceable and peacemakers; but with all efforts for peace, and their love of peace and their peacemaking qualities continually increasing, the message that our Lord gave them will breed disturbances. Why? We answer in the words of our Lord, because there is no fellowship between light and darkness, there can be no peace nor truce between the two; in proportion as the one obtains control, the other is excluded.
In harmony with this we find in this lesson that there was a division among the people because of him—some approving and some opposing. Thus it must be with us as we lift up the standard of righteousness: if we will let the light of truth shine out, those who love the truth will be more or less attracted by it in proportion as their hearts are sincere, truth loving. Those who love the error will become antagonistic in proportion to their lack of sincerity. If this was the case with our Lord, can we think that it would be possible for his disciples to find it otherwise? Surely not. We must have our feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. Ours is the Gospel of peace, yet we will find that as we bear it to others our path of progress will be a difficult one and we will need all the protection the Lord has provided in his fore-statement of what we must expect, and his promises of blessing and glory to the overcomers.
While our Lord was in the Temple teaching, the Jewish rulers, aware of his presence, were conspiring for his life. A meeting of the Sanhedrin was called, and officers representing the body were present in the Temple amongst the people, charged with the responsibility of finding some fault with the teaching and making it the pretext for a measure of insurrection, and further, the arrest of our Lord—under a charge either of teaching contrary to the Law of Moses or contrary to the Roman laws. On every occasion they sought to entrap him in his words, but being unable to do so, they returned to the Sanhedrin to report.
What a sad commentary it is upon the deceitfulness of the human heart, that these men, who were thus [R3510 : page 58] seeking for the apprehension and death of Jesus, were the most influential men in this, the holiest nation of earth. Not only so, they were Doctors of the Law—men supposedly the best versed in the Mosaic Law, its letter and spirit—men whose position in Judaism corresponded to that of Doctors of Divinity in Christendom to-day. We may well ask, as Pilate subsequently did, "Why, what evil hath he done?" The answer must be that there was no evil except in the hearts of these most talented, educated and nominally most religious men in the world.
We can imagine that if one were to have inquired as to their motive, the answer would have been, We are so loyal to God, to his Law through Moses and to the interests of this mighty people, over which God has made us rulers and teachers, that we are zealous to put down this man who, though he seems to be God-fearing, sympathetic with the poor, etc., is, we believe, a most pernicious man. He is pernicious in that he is representing himself to be the Messiah, and because he is really a man of ability, he has hoodwinked the people. If we let him alone, the power of controlling this nation, which now rests with us as the moral and intellectual leaders of the nation, will pass out of our grasp; this man will establish himself, and the whole people of Israel will look upon us as being foolish, and conclude that they were able to know the Messiah and that we, their intellectual superiors, were stupid or out of divine favor so we could not recognize the time of our visitation.
This would be their way of reasoning on the subject, but the Lord's view of the situation would be the very reverse, that they were hypocritical, that they were pretending to be what they were not in reality, that much of their praise and service toward the Lord were formalistic lip services, and that pride lay at the bottom of their endeavors and professions, and that this pride was touched by the success of our Lord and his wisdom, and the fact that the multitudes heeded his message: they were envious, malice burned in their hearts, they hated him without a cause—simply because he was better, holier, wiser than they, and because the people were recognizing this fact.
How dangerous a thing is envy—selfishness! How many of the Lord's people to-day are afflicted by it so that they refuse to recognize the Spirit of the Lord, so that instead of seeking to encourage one another and to add to the influence of one another and to realize that the whole work of the Lord is one, alas, how often is the spirit of strife and vain glory found! How displeasing everything of this kind must be in the sight of the Lord!
When the officers returned to the Sanhedrin, the question was asked, Where is your prisoner? Why did you not bring him? Were you not able to entrap him in his words? Is it possible that any man could speak in public and that keen-minded men such as you are would be unable to entrap him in anything he might say that would enable you to form a charge against him as a teacher of that which would be injurious to the people, that he said nothing that you could construe to be a violation of the Law of Moses or the law of the Romans? The answer was a volume in itself,—"Never man spake like this man."
The Lord's people, seeking to walk in his footsteps, continually find that the world is still full of envy and malice and hatred. They still find it true that "The world knoweth us not, even as it knew him not;" they still find that amongst their opponents, amongst those who seek to do them injury, amongst those who seek to entrap them in their words and who would apprehend them and injure them in reputation, if not in person, they find some of the worldly noble, the worldly wise, the worldly religious. The Lord's message to these is, "In your patience possess ye your souls." Their proper course is to set a guard upon their lips that they sin not with their mouths, that they should not only pray but strive that the meditations of their hearts and words of their mouths be acceptable to the Lord, and in proportion as this is true of them it will also be true of them that they will be wiser and more discreet in their language than others—approximately like unto him who spake as never man spake.
But what a matter this is to guard the tongue! Truly the Apostle said that he who is able to conquer his tongue is able to conquer his whole body. It is so easy to say something that ought not to be said, it is so easy for the majority to repeat an evil rumor, to cast a reflection upon the character of another, to assassinate in this manner, or at least to wound or injure, the interests or feelings or good name of another. Let us more and more in this particular also seek to be like our Lord, seek to speak as other men do not speak, and thus show forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.