AT THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
FIRST DISCOURSE IN THE TEMPLE
IT was Chol ha Moed – as the non-sacred part of the festive week, the half-holy days were called. 1 Jerusalem, the City of Solemnities, the City of Palaces, the City of beauty and glory, wore quite another than its usual aspect; other, even, than when its streets were thronged by festive pilgrims during the Passover-week, or at Pentecost. For this was pre-eminently the Feast for foreign pilgrims, coming from the farthest distance, whose Temple-contributions were then received and counted. 2 Despite the strange costumes of Media, Arabia, Persia, or India, and even further; or the Western speech and bearing of the pilgrims from Italy, Spain, the modern Crimea, and the banks of the Danube, if not from yet more strange and barbarous lands, it would not be difficult to recognise the lineaments of the Jew, nor to perceive that to change one’s clime was not to change one’s mind. As the Jerusalemite would look with proud self-consciousness, not unmingled with kindly patronage, on the swarthy strangers, yet fellow-countrymen, or the eager-eyed Galilean curiously stare after them, the pilgrims would, in turn, gaze with mingled awe and wonderment on the novel scene. Here was the realisation of their fondest dreams ever since childhood, the home and spring of their holiest thoughts and best hopes – that which gave inward victory to the vanquished, and converted persecution into anticipated triumph.
They could come at this season of the year – not during the winter for the Passover, nor yet quite so readily in summer’s heat for Pentecost. But now, in the delicious cool of early autumn, when all harvest-operations, the gathering in of luscious fruit and the vintage were past, and the first streaks of gold were tinting the foliage, strangers from afar off, and countrymen from Judæa, Peræa, and Galilee, would mingle in the streets of Jerusalem, under the ever-present shadow of that glorious Sanctuary of marble, cedarwood, and gold, up there on high Moriah, symbol of the infinitely more glorious overshadowing Presence of Him, Who was the Holy One in the midst of Israel. How all day long, even till the stars lit up the deep blue canopy over head, the smoke of the burning, smouldering sacrifices rose in slowly-widening column, and hung between the Mount of Olives and Zion; how the chant of Levites, and the solemn responses of the Hallel were borne on the breeze, or the clear blast of the Priests silver trumpets seemed to waken the echoes far away! And then, at night, how all these vast Temple-buildings stood out, illuminated by the great Candelabras that burned in the Court of the Women, and by the glare of torches, when strange sound of mystic hymns and dances came floating over the intervening darkness! Truly, well might Israel designate the Feast of Tabernacles as ‘the Feast’ and the Jewish historian describe it as ‘the holiest and greatest.’
Early on the 14th Tishri (corresponding to our September or early October), all the festive pilgrims had arrived. Then it was, indeed, a scene of bustle and activity. Hospitality had to be sought and found; guests to be welcomed and entertained; all things required for the feast to be got ready. Above all, booths must be erected everywhere – in court and on housetop, in street and square, for the lodgement and entertainment of that vast multitude; leafy dwellings everywhere, to remind of the wilderness-journey, and now of the goodly land. Only that fierce castle, Antonia, which frowned above the Temple, was undecked by the festive spring into which the land had burst. To the Jew it must have been a hateful sight, that castle, which guarded and dominated his own City and Temple – hateful sight and sounds, that Roman garrison, with its foreign, heathen, ribald speech and manners. Yet, for all this, Israel could not read on the lowering sky the signs of the times, nor yet knew the day of their merciful visitation. And this, although of all festivals, that of Tabernacles should have most clearly pointed them to the future.
Indeed, the whole symbolism of the Feast, beginning with the completed harvest, for which it was a thanksgiving, pointed to the future. The Rabbis themselves admitted this. The strange number of sacrificial bullocks – seventy in all – they regarded as referring to ‘the seventy nations’ of heathendom. 5 The ceremony of the outpouring of water, which was considered of such vital importance as to give to the whole festival the name of ‘House of Outpouring,’ 6 was symbolical of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 7 As the brief night of the great Temple-illumination closed, there was solemn testimony made before Jehovah against heathenism. It must have been a stirring scene, when from out of the mass of Levites, with their musical instruments, who crowded the fifteen steps that led from the Court of Israel to that of the Women, stepped two priests with their silver trumpets. As the first cock-crowing intimated the dawn of morn, they blew a threefold blast; another on the tenth step, and yet another threefold blast as they entered the Court of the Women. And still sounding their trumpets, they marched through the Court of the Women to the Beautiful Gate. Here, turning round and facing westwards to the Holy Place, they repeated: ‘Our fathers, who were in this place, they turned their backs on the Sanctuary of Jehovah, and their faces eastward, for they worshipped eastward, the sun; but we, our eyes are towards Jehovah.’ ‘We are Jehovah’s – our eyes are towards Jehovah.’ 8 9 Nay, the whole of this night- and morning-scene was symbolical: the Temple-illumination, 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 blast of the priests’ silver trumpets, of the army of God, as it advanced, with festive trumpet-sound and call, to awaken the sleepers, marching on to quite the utmost bounds of the Sanctuary, to the Beautiful Gate, which opened upon the Court of the Gentiles – and, then again, facing round to utter solemn protest against heathenism, and make solemn confession of Jehovah!
But Jesus did not appear in the Temple during the first two festive days. The pilgrims from all parts of the country – perhaps, they from abroad also – had expected Him there, for everyone would now speak of Him – ‘not openly,’ in Jerusalem, for they were afraid of their rulers. It was hardly safe to speak of Him without reserve. But they sought Him, and inquired after Him – and they did speak of Him, though there was only a murmuring – a low, confused discussion of the pro and con, in this great controversy among the ‘multitudes,’ or festive bands from various parts. Some said: He is a good man, while others declared that He only led astray the common, ignorant populace. And now, all at once, in Chol ha Moed, Jesus Himself appeared in the Temple, and taught. We know that, on a later occasion, 12 He walked and taught in ‘Solomon’s Porch,’ and, from the circumstance that the early disciples made this their common meeting-place, we may draw the inference that it was here the people now found Him. Although neither Josephus nor the Mishnah mention this ‘Porch’ by name, we have every reason for believing that it was the eastern colonnade, which abutted against the Mount of Olives and faced ‘the Beautiful Gate,’ that formed the principal entrance into the ‘Court of the Women,’ and so into the Sanctuary. For, all along the inside of the great wall which formed the Temple-enclosure ran a double colonnade – each column a monolith of white marble, 25 cubits high, covered with cedar-beams. That on the south side (leading from the western entrance to Solomon’s Porch), known as the ‘Royal Porch,’ was a threefold colonnade, consisting of four rows of columns, each 27 cubits high, and surmounted by Corinthian capitals. We infer that the eastern was ‘Solomon’s Porch,’ from the circumstance that it was the only relic left of Solomon’s Temple. These colonnades, which, from their ample space, formed alike places for quiet walk and for larger gatherings, had benches in them – and, from the liberty of speaking and teaching in Israel, Jesus might here address the people in the very face of His enemies.
We know not what was the subject of Christ’s teaching on this occasion. But the effect on the people was one of general astonishment. They knew what common unlettered Galilean tradesmen were – but this, whence came it? 16 ‘How does this one know literature (letters, learning), never having learned?’ To the Jews there was only one kind of learning – that of Theology; and only one road to it – the Schools of the Rabbis. Their major was true, but their minor false – and Jesus hastened to correct it. He had, indeed, ‘learned,’ but in a School quite other than those which alone they recognised. Yet, on their own showing, it claimed the most absolute submission. Among the Jews a Rabbi’s teaching derived authority from the fact of its accordance with tradition – that it accurately represented what had been received from a previous great teacher, and so on upwards to Moses, and to God Himself. On this ground Christ claimed the highest authority. His doctrine was not His own invention – it was the teaching of Him that sent Him. The doctrine was God-received, and Christ was sent direct from God to bring it. He was God’s messenger of it to them. Of this twofold claim there was also twofold evidence. Did He assert that what He taught was God-received? Let trial be made of it. Everyone who in his soul felt drawn towards God; each one who really ‘willeth to do His Will,’ would know ‘concerning this teaching, whether it is of God,’ or whether it was of man. 19 It was this felt, though unrealised influence which had drawn all men after Him, so that they hung on His lips. It was this which, in the hour of greatest temptation and mental difficulty, had led Peter, in name of the others, to end the sore inner contest by laying hold on this fact: ‘To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life – and we have believed and know, that Thou art the Holy One of God.’ 20 Marking, as we pass, that this inward connection between that teaching and learning and the present occasion, may be the deeper reason why, in the Gospel by St. John, the one narrative is immediately followed by the other, we pause to say, how real it hath proved in all ages and to all stages of Christian learning – that the heart makes the truly God-taught (‘pectus facit Theologum’), and that inward, true aspiration after the Divine prepares the eye to behold the Divine Reality in the Christ. But, if it be so is there not evidence here, that He is the God-sent – that He is a real, true Ambassador of God? If Jesus’ teaching meets and satisfies our moral nature, if it leads up to God, is He not the Christ?
And this brings us to the second claim which Christ made, that of being sent by God. There is yet another logical link in His reasoning. He had said: ‘He shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from Myself.’ From Myself? Why, there is this other test of it: ‘Who speaketh from himself, seeketh his own glory’ – there can be no doubt or question of this, but do I seek My own glory? – ‘But He Who seeketh the glory of Him Who sent Him, He is true (a faithful messenger), and unrighteousness is not in Him.’ 21 Thus did Christ appeal and prove it: My doctrine is of God, and I am sent of God!
Sent of God, no unrighteousness in Him! And yet at that very moment there hung over Him the charge of defiance of the Law of Moses, nay, of that of God, in an open breach of the Sabbath-commandment – there, in that very City, the last time He had been in Jerusalem; for which, as well as for His Divine claims, the Jews were even then seeking ‘to kill Him.’ 22 And this forms the transition to what may be called the second part of Christ’s address. If, in the first part, the Jewish form of ratiocination was already apparent, it seems almost impossible for any one acquainted with those forms to understand how it can be overlooked in what follows. 23 It is exactly the mode in which a Jew would argue with Jews, only the substance of the reasoning is to all times and people. Christ is defending Himself against a charge which naturally came up, when He claimed that His Teaching was of God and Himself God’s real and faithful Messenger. In His reply the two threads of the former argument are taken up. Doing is the condition of knowledge – and a messenger had been sent from God! Admittedly, Moses was such, and yet every one of them was breaking the Law which he had given them; for, were they not seeking to kill Him without right or justice? This, put in the form of a double question, 24 represents a peculiarly Jewish mode of argumentation, behind which lay the terrible truth, that those, whose hearts were so little longing to do the Will of God, not only must remain ignorant of His Teaching as that of God, but had also rejected that of Moses.
A general disclaimer, a cry ‘Thou hast a demon’ (art possessed), ‘who seeks to kill Thee?’ here broke in upon the Speaker. But He would not be interrupted, and continued: ‘One work I did, and all you wonder on account of it’ 25 – referring to His healing on the Sabbath, and their utter inability to understand His conduct. Well, then, Moses was a messenger of God, and I am sent of God. Moses gave the law of circumcision – not, indeed, that it was of his authority, but had long before been God-given – and, to observe this law, no one hesitated to break the Sabbath, 26 since, according to Rabbinic principle, a positive ordinance superseded a negative. And yet, when Christ, as sent from God, made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath (‘made a whole man sound’) they were angry with Him! 27 Every argument which might have been urged in favour of the postponement of Christ’s healing to a week-day, would equally apply to that of circumcision; while every reason that could be urged in favour of Sabbath-circumcision, would tell an hundredfold in favour of the act of Christ. Oh, then, let them not judge after the mere outward appearance, but ‘judge the right judgment.’ And, indeed, had it not been to convince them of the externalism of their views, that Jesus had on that Sabbath opened the great controversy between the letter that killeth and the spirit that maketh alive, when He directed the impotent man to carry home the bed on which he had lain?
If any doubt could obtain, how truly Jesus had gauged the existing state of things, when He contrasted heart-willingness to do the Will of God, as the necessary preparation for the reception of His God-sent Teaching, with their murderous designs, springing from blind literalism and ignorance of the spirit of their Law, the reported remarks of some Jerusalemites in the crowd would suffice to convince us. 28 The fact that He, Whom they sought to kill, was suffered to speak openly, seemed to them incomprehensible. Could it be that the authorities were shaken in their former idea about Him, and now regarded Him as the Messiah? But it could not be. 29 It was a settled popular belief, and, in a sense, not quite unfounded, that the appearance of the Messiah would be sudden and unexpected. He might be there, and not be known; or He might come, and be again hidden for a time. 30 31 As they put it, when Messiah came, no one would know whence He was; but they all knew ‘whence this One’ was. And with this rough and ready argument of a coarse realism, they, like so many among us, settled off-hand and once for all the great question. But Jesus could not, even for the sake of His poor weak disciples, let it rest there. ‘Therefore’ He lifted up His voice, that it reached the dispersing, receding multitude. Yes, they thought they knew both Him and whence He came. It would have been so had He come from Himself. But He had been sent, and He that sent Him ‘was real;’ it was a real Mission, and Him, who had thus sent the Christ, they knew not. And so, with a reaffirmation of His twofold claim, His Discourse closed. But they had understood His allusions, and in their anger would fain have laid hands on Him, but His hour had not come. Yet others were deeply stirred to faith. As they parted they spoke of it among themselves, and the sum of it all was: ‘The Christ, when He cometh, will He do more miracles (signs) than this One did?’
So ended the first teaching of that day in the Temple. And as the people dispersed, the leaders of the Pharisees – who, no doubt aware of the presence of Christ in the Temple, yet unwilling to be in the number of His hearers, had watched the effect of His Teaching – overheard the low, furtive, half-outspoken remarks (‘the murmuring’) of the people about Him. Presently they conferred with the heads of the priesthood and the chief Temple-officials. Although there was neither meeting, nor decree of the Sanhedrin about it, nor, indeed, could be, orders were given to the Temple-guard on the first possible occasion to seize Him. Jesus was aware of it, and as, either on this or another day, He was moving in the Temple, watched by the spies of the rulers and followed by a mingled crowd of disciples and enemies, deep sadness in view of the end filled His heart. ‘Jesus therefore said’ – no doubt to His disciples, though in the hearing of all – ‘yet a little while am I with you, then I go away to Him that sent Me. Ye shall seek Me, and not find Me; and where I am, thither ye cannot come.’ Mournful words, these, which were only too soon to become true. But those who heard them naturally failed to comprehend their meaning. Was He about to leave Palestine, and go to the Diaspora of the Greeks, among the dispersed who lived in heathen lands, to teach the Greeks? Or what could be His meaning? But we, who hear it across these centuries, feel as if their question, like the suggestion of the High-Priest at a later period, nay like so many suggestions of men, had been, all unconsciously, prophetic of the future.