IT was ‘the last, the great day of the Feast,’ and Jesus was once more in the Temple. We can scarcely doubt that it was the concluding day of the Feast, and not, as most modern writers suppose, its Octave, which, in Rabbinic language, was regarded as ‘a festival by itself.’ 1 2 But such solemn interest attaches to the Feast, and this occurrence on its last day, that we must try to realise the scene. We have here the only Old Testament type yet unfulfilled; the only Jewish festival which has no counterpart in the cycle of the Christian year, just because it points forward to that great, yet unfulfilled hope of the Church: the ingathering of Earth’s nations to the Christ.
The celebration of the Feast corresponded to its great meaning. Not only did all the priestly families minister during that week, but it has been calculated that not fewer than 446 Priests, with, of course, a corresponding number of Levites, were required for its sacrificial worship. In general, the services were the same every day, except that the number of bullocks offered decreased daily from thirteen on the first, to seven on the seventh day. Only during the first two, and on the last festive day (as also on the Octave of the Feast), was strict Sabbatic rest enjoined. On the intervening half-holidays (Chol haMoed), although no new labour was to be undertaken, unless in the public service, the ordinary and necessary avocations of the home and of life were carried on, and especially all done that was required for the festive season. But ‘the last, the Great Day of the Feast,’ was marked by special observances.
Let us suppose ourselves in the number of worshippers, who on ‘the last, the Great Day of the Feast,’ are leaving their ‘booths’ at daybreak to take part in the service. The pilgrims are all in festive array. In his right hand each carries what is called the Lulabh, 4 which, although properly meaning ‘a branch,’ or ‘palm-branch,’ consisted of a myrtle and willow-branch tied together with a palm-branch between them. This was supposed to be in fulfilment of the command, Lev. 23 v 40. ‘The fruit (A.V. ‘boughs’) of the goodly trees,’ mentioned in the same verse of Scripture, was supposed to be the Ethrog, the so-called Paradise-apple (according to Ber. R. 15, the fruit of the forbidden tree), a species of citron. This Ethrog each worshipper carries in his left hand. It is scarcely necessary to add, that this interpretation of Lev. 23 v 40 was given by the Rabbis; perhaps more interesting to know, that this was one of the points in controversy between the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Thus armed with Lulabh in their right, and Ethrog in their left hands, the festive multitude would divide into three bands. Some would remain in the Temple to attend the preparation of the Morning Sacrifice. Another band would go in procession ‘below Jerusalem’ to a place called Moza, the ‘Kolonia’ of the Jerusalem Talmud, which some have sought to identify with the Emmaus of the Resurrection-Evening. At Moza they cut down willow-branches, with which, amidst the blasts of the Priests’ trumpets, they adorned the altar, forming a leafy canopy about it. Yet a third company were taking part in a still more interesting service. To the sound of music a procession started from the Temple. It followed a Priest who bore a golden pitcher, capable of holding three log. Onwards it passed, probably, through Ophel, which recent investigations have shown to have been covered with buildings to the very verge of Siloam, down the edge of the Tyropœon Valley, where it merges into that of the Kedron. To this day terraces mark where the gardens, watered by the living spring, extended from the King’s Gardens by the spring Rogel down to the entrance into the Tyropœon. Here was the so-called ‘Fountain-Gate,’ and still within the City-wall ‘the Pool of Siloam,’ the overflow of which fed a lower pool. As already stated it was at the merging of the Tyropœon into the Kedron Valley, in the south-eastern angle of Jerusalem. The Pool of Siloam was fed by the living spring farther up in the narrowest part of the Kedron Valley, which presently bears the name of ‘the Virgin’s Fountain,’ but represents the ancient En-Rogel and Gihon. Indeed, the very canal which led from the one to the other, with the inscription of the workmen upon it, has lately been excavated. 11 Though chiefly of historical interest, a sentence may be added. The Pool of Siloam is the same as ‘the King’s Pool’ of Neh. 2 v 14. It was made by King Hezekiah, in order both to divert from a besieging army the spring of Gihon, which could not be brought within the City-wall, and yet to bring its waters within the City. This explains the origin of the name Siloam, ‘sent’ – a conduit – or ‘Siloah,’ as Josephus calls it. Lastly, we remember that it was down in the valley at Gihon (or En-Rogel), that Solomon was proclaimed, 15 while the opposite faction held revel, and would have made Adonijah king, on the cliff Zoheleth (the modern Zahweileh) right over against it, not a hundred yards distant, 16 where they must, of course, have distinctly heard the sound of the trumpets and the shouts of the people as Solomon was proclaimed king.
But to return. When the Temple-procession had reached the Pool of Siloam, the Priest filled his golden pitcher from its waters. 18 Then they went back to the Temple, so timing it, that they should arrive just as they were laying the pieces of the sacrifice on the great Altar of Burnt-offering, 19 towards the close of the ordinary Morning-Sacrifice service. A threefold blast of the Priests’ trumpets welcomed the arrival of the Priest, as he entered through the ‘Water-gate,’ 20 which obtained its name from this ceremony, and passed straight into the Court of the Priests. Here he was joined by another Priest, who carried the wine for the drink-offering. The two Priests ascended ‘the rise’ of the altar, and turned to the left. There were two silver funnels here, with narrow openings, leading down to the base of the altar. Into that at the east, which was somewhat wider, the wine was poured, and, at the same time, the water into the western and narrower opening, the people shouting to the Priest to raise his hand, so as to make sure that he poured the water into the funnel. For, although it was held, that the water-pouring was an ordinance instituted by Moses, ‘a Halakhah of Moses from Sinai,’ 21 this was another of the points disputed by the Sadducees. 22 And, indeed, to give practical effect to their views, the High-Priest Alexander Jannæus had on one occasion poured the water on the ground, when he was nearly murdered, and in the riot, that ensued, six thousand persons were killed in the Temple.
Immediately after ‘the pouring of water,’ the great ‘Hallel,’ consisting of Psalms 113, 114, 115, 116, 117 and 118 (inclusive), was chanted antiphonally, or rather, with responses, to the accompaniment of the flute. As the Levites intoned the first line of each Psalm, the people repeated it; while to each of the other lines they responded by Hallelu Yah (‘Praise ye the Lord’). But in Psalm 118 the people not only repeated the first line, ‘O give thanks to the Lord,’ but also these, ‘O then, work now salvation, Jehovah,’ 24 ‘O Lord, send now prosperity;’ 25 and again, at the close of the Psalm, ‘O give thanks to the Lord.’ As they repeated these lines, they shook towards the altar the Lulabh which they held in their hands – as if with this token of the past to express the reality and cause of their praise, and to remind God of His promises. It is this moment which should be chiefly kept in view.
The festive morning-service was followed by the offering of the special sacrifices for the day, with their drink-offerings, and by the Psalm for the day, which, on ‘the last, the Great Day of the Feast,’ was Psalm 82 from verse 5. The Psalm was, of course, chanted, as always, to instrumental accompaniment, and at the end of each of its three sections the Priests blew a threefold blast, while the people bowed down in worship. In further symbolism of this Feast, as pointing to the ingathering of the heathen nations, the public services closed with a procession round the Altar by the Priests, who chanted ‘O then, work now salvation, Jehovah! O Jehovah, send now prosperity.’ 28 But on ‘the last, the Great Day of the Feast,’ this procession of Priests made the circuit of the altar, not only once, but seven times, as if they were again compassing, but now with prayer, the Gentile Jericho which barred their possession of the promised land. Hence the seventh or last day of the Feast was also called that of ‘the Great Hosannah.’ As the people left the Temple, they saluted the altar with words of thanks, 29 and on the last day of the Feast they shook off the leaves on the willow-branches round the altar, and beat their palm-branches to pieces. On the same afternoon the ‘booths’ were dismantled, and the Feast ended.
We can have little difficulty in determining at what part of the services of ‘the last, the Great Day of the Feast,’ Jesus stood and cried, ‘If any one thirst, let Him come unto Me and drink!’ It must have been with special reference to the ceremony of the outpouring of the water, which, as we have seen, was considered the central part of the service. 32 Moreover, all would understand that His words must refer to the Holy Spirit, since the rite was universally regarded as symbolical of His outpouring. The forth-pouring of the water was immediately followed by the chanting of the Hallel. But after that there must have been a short pause to prepare for the festive sacrifices (the Musaph). It was then, immediately after the symbolic rite of water-pouring, immediately after the people had responded by repeating those lines from Psalm 118 – given thanks, and prayed that Jehovah would send salvation and prosperity, and had shaken their Lulabh towards the altar, thus praising ‘with heart, and mouth, and hands,’ and then silence had fallen upon them – that there rose, so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the Voice of Jesus. He interrupted not the services, for they had for the moment ceased: He interpreted, and He fulfilled them.
Whether we realise it in connection with the deeply-stirring rites just concluded, and the song of praise that had scarcely died out of the air; or think of it as a vast step in advance in the history of Christ’s Manifestation, the scene is equally wondrous. But yesterday they had been divided about Him, and the authorities had given directions to take Him; to-day He is not only in the Temple, but, at the close of the most solemn rites of the Feast, asserting, within the hearing of all, His claim to be regarded as the fulfilment of all, and the true Messiah! And yet there is neither harshness of command nor violence of threat in His proclamation. It is the King, meek, gentle, and loving; the Messiah, Who will not break the bruised reed, Who will not lift up His Voice in tone of anger, but speak in accents of loving, condescending compassion, Who now bids, whosoever thirsteth, come unto Him and drink. And so the words have to all time remained the call of Christ to all that thirst, whence- or what-soever their need and longing of soul may be. But, as we listen to these words as originally spoken, we feel how they mark that Christ’s hour was indeed coming: the preparation past; the manifestation in the present, unmistakable, urgent, and loving; and the final conflict at hand.
Of those who had heard Him, none but must have understood that, if the invitation were indeed real, and Christ the fulfilment of all, then the promise also had its deepest meaning, that he who believed on Him would not only receive the promised fullness of the Spirit, but give it forth to the fertilising of the barren waste around. It was, truly, the fulfilment of the Scripture-promise, not of one but of all: that in Messianic times the Nabhi, ‘prophet,’ literally the weller forth, viz., of the Divine, should not be one or another select individual, but that He would pour out on all His handmaidens and servants of His Holy Spirit, and thus the moral wilderness of this world be changed into a fruitful garden. Indeed, this is expressly stated in the Targum which thus paraphrases Is. xliv. 3: ‘Behold, as the waters are poured on arid ground and spread over the dry soil, so will I give the Spirit of My Holiness on they sons, and My blessing on thy children’s children.’ What was new to them was, that all this was treasured up in the Christ, that out of His fullness men might receive, and grace for grace. And yet even this was not quite new. For, was it not the fulfilment of that old prophetic cry: ‘The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon Me: therefore has He Messiahed (anointed) Me to preach good tidings unto the poor’? So then, it was nothing new, only the happy fulfilment of the old, when He thus ‘spake of the Holy Spirit, which they who believed on Him should receive,’ not then, but upon His Messianic exaltation.
And so we scarcely wonder that many, on hearing Him, said, though not with that heart-conviction which would have led to self-surrender, that He was the Prophet promised of old, even the Christ, while others, by their side, regarding Him as a Galilean, the Son of Joseph, raised the ignorant objection that He could not be the Messiah, since the latter must be of the seed of David and come from Bethlehem. Nay, such was the anger of some against what they regarded a dangerous seducer of the poor people, that they would fain have laid violent hands on Him. But amidst all this, the strongest testimony to His Person and Mission remains to be told. It came, as so often, from a quarter whence it could least have been expected. Those Temple-officers, whom the authorities had commissioned to watch an opportunity for seizing Jesus, came back without having done their behest, and that, when, manifestly, the scene in the Temple might have offered the desired ground for His imprisonment. To the question of the Pharisees, they could only give this reply, which has ever since remained unquestionable fact of history, admitted alike by friend and foe: ‘Never man so spake as this man.’ For, as all spiritual longing and all upward tending, not only of men but even of systems, consciously or unconsciously tends towards Christ, 34 so can we measure and judge all systems by this, which no sober student of history will gainsay, that no man or system ever so spake.
It was not this which the Pharisees now gainsaid, but rather the obvious, and, we may add, logical, inference from it. The scene which followed is so thoroughly Jewish, that it alone would suffice to prove the Jewish, and hence Johannine, authorship of the Fourth Gospel. The harsh sneer: ‘Are ye also led astray?’ is succeeded by pointing to the authority of the learned and great, who with one accord were rejecting Jesus. ‘But this people’ – the country-people (Am ha-arez), the ignorant, unlettered rabble – ‘are cursed.’ Sufficient has been shown in previous parts of this book to explain alike the Pharisaic claim of authority and their almost unutterable contempt of the unlettered. So far did the latter go, that it would refuse, not only all family connection and friendly intercourse, Psalm 49, but even the bread of charity, to the unlettered; nay, that, in theory at least, it would have regarded their murder as no sin, and even cut them off from the hope of the Resurrection. But is it not true, that, even in our days, this double sneer, rather than argument, of the Pharisees is the main reason of the disbelief of so many: Which of the learned believe on Him? but the ignorant multitude are led by superstition to ruin.
There was one standing among the Temple-authorities, whom an uneasy conscience would not allow to remain quite silent. It was the Sanhedrist Nicodemus, still a night-disciple, even in brightest noon-tide. He could not hold his peace, and yet he dared not speak for Christ. So he made compromise of both by taking the part of, and speaking as, a righteous, rigid Sanhedrist. ‘Does our Law judge (pronounce sentence upon) a man, except it first hear from himself and know what he doeth?’ From the Rabbinic point of view, no sounder judicial saying could have been uttered. Yet such common-places impose not on any one, nor even serve any good purpose. It helped not the cause of Jesus, and it disguised not the advocacy of Nicodemus. We know what was thought of Galilee in the Rabbinic world. ‘Art thou also of Galilee? Search and see, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.’
And so ended this incident, which, to all concerned, might have been so fruitful of good. Once more Nicodemus was left alone, as every one who had dared and yet not dared for Christ is after all such bootless compromises; alone – with sore heart, stricken conscience, and a great longing.