JESUS AT THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES.
IT was not likely that Jesus should have been able to live at Capernaum without the fact of His visit being known to some of the inhabitants. But it is clear that His stay in the town was very brief, and that it was of a strictly private character. The discourse and the incident mentioned in the last chapter are the only records of it which are left.
But it was now autumn, and all Galilee was in the stir of preparation which preceded the starting of the annual caravan of pilgrims to one of the three great yearly feaststhe Feast of Tabernacles. That feastthe Feast of Ingatheringwas intended to commemorate the passage of the Israelites through the wilderness, and was celebrated with such universal joy, that both Josephus and Philo call it "the holiest and greatest feast," and it was known among the Jews as "the Feast" pre-eminently. It was kept for seven consecutive days, from the 15th to the 21st of Tisri, and the eighth day was celebrated by a holy convocation. During the seven days the Jews, to recall their desert wanderings, lived in little succôth, or booths made of the thickly-foliaged boughs of olive, and palm, and pine, and myrtle, and each person carried in his hands a lulab, consisting of palm-branches, or willows of the brook, or fruits of peach and citron. During the week of festivities all the courses of priests were employed in turn; seventy bullocks were offered in sacrifice for the seventy nations of the world; the Law was daily read, and on each day the Temple trumpets sounded twenty-one times an inspiring and triumphant blast. The joy of the occasion was doubtless deepened by the fact that the feast followed but four days after the awful and comforting ceremonies of the Great Day of atonement, in which a solemn expiation was made for the sins of all the people.
On the eve of their departure for this feast the family and relations of our Lordthose who in the Gospels are invariably called His "brethren," and some of whose descendants were known to early tradition as the Desposynicame to Him for the last time with a well-meant but painful and presumptuous interference. Theylike the Pharisees, and like the multitude, and like Peterfancied that they knew better than Jesus Himself that line of conduct which would best accomplish His work and hasten the universal recognition of His claims. They came to Him with the language of criticism, of discontent, almost of reproaches and complaints. "Why this unreasonable and incomprehensible secrecy? it contradicts thy claims; it discourages thy followers. Thou hast disciples in Judæa: go thither, and let them too see Thy works which Thou doest? If Thou doest these things, manifest Thyself to the world." If they could use such language to their Lord and Masterif they could, as it were, thus challenge his power to the proofit is but too plain that their knowledge of Him was so narrow and inadequate as to justify the sad parenthesis of the beloved Evangelist"for not even his brethren believed on him." He was a stranger unto His brethren, even an alien unto His mother's children.
Such dictation on their partthe bitter fruit of impatient vanity and unspiritual ignoranceshowed indeed a most blameable presumption; yet our Lord only answered them with calm and gentle dignity. "No; my time to manifest myself to the worldwhich is your world also, and which therefore cannot hate you as it hates meis not yet come. Go ye up to this feast. I choose not to go up to this feast, for not yet has my time been fulfilled." So he answered them, and stayed in Galilee.
"I go not up yet unto this feast" is the rendering of the English version, adopting the reading oúpo, "not yet;" but even if oúk, "not" be the true reading, the meaning is substantially the same. The oúpo, in the next clause, "my time has not yet been fulfilled," distinctly intimated that such a time would come, and that it was not His object to intimate to His brethrenwhose utter want of sympathy and reverence had just been so unhappily displayedwhen that time would be. And there was a reason for this. It was essential for the safety of His life, which was not to end for six months moreit was essential for the carrying out of His Divine purposes, which were closely enwoven with the events of the next few daysthat His brethren should not know about His plans. And therefore He let them depart in the completest uncertainty as to whether or not He intended to follow them. Certain as they were to be asked by multitudes whether He was coming to the feast, it was necessary that they should be able to answer, with perfect truthfulness, that He was at any rate not coming with them, and that whether He would come before the feast was over or not they could not tell. And that this must have occurred, and that this must have been their answer, is evident from the fact that the one question buzzed about from ear to ear in those gay and busy streets was, "Where is he? is He here already? is He coming?" And as He did not appear, His whole character, His whole mission were discussed. The words of approval were vague and timid. "He is a good man;" the words of condemnation were bitter and emphatic, "Nay, but He is a mesîthHe deceiveth the people." But no one dared to speak openly his full thought about Him; each seemed to distrust his neighbour; and all feared to commit themselves too far while the opinion of the "Jews," and of the leading Priests and Pharisees, had not been finally or decisively declared.
And suddenly, in the midst of all these murmurs and discussions, in the middle of the feast, Jesus, unaccompanied apparently by His followers, unheralded by His friends, appeared suddenly in the Temple, and taught. By what route He had reached the Holy Cityhow he had passed through the bright thronged streets unnoticedwhether He joined in the innocent mirth of the festivalwhether He too lived in a little succah of palm-leaves during the remainder of the week, and wandered among the brightly-dressed crowds of an Oriental gala day with the lulab and citron in His handswhether his voice was heard in the Hallel, or the great Hosannawe do not know. All that is told us is that, throwing himself, as it were, in full confidence on the protection of His disciples from Galilee and those in Jerusalem, He was suddenly found seated in one of the large halls which opened out of the Temple courts, and there He taught.
For a time they listened to Him in awe-struck silence; but soon the old scruples recurred to them. "He is no authorised Rabbi; He belongs to no recognised school; neither the followers of Hillel nor those of Shammai claim Him; He is a Nazarene; He was trained in the shop of the Galilæan carpenter; how knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" As though the few who are taught of Godwhose learning is the learning of a pure heart and an enlightened eye and a blameless lifedid not unspeakably transcend in wisdom, and therefore also in the best and truest knowledge, those whose learning has but come from other men! It is not the voice of erudition, but it is, as the old Greek thinker says, the voice of Inspirationthe voice of the divine Sybilwhich, uttering things simple and unperfumed and unadorned, reacheth through myriads of years.
Jesus understood their looks. He interpreted their murmurs. He told them that His learning came immediately from His Heavenly Father, and they, too, if they did God's will, might learn, and might understand, the same high lessons. In all ages there is a tendency to mistake erudition for learning, knowledge for wisdom; in all ages there has been a slowness to comprehend that true learning of the deepest and noblest character may co-exist with complete and utter ignorance of everything which absorbs and constitutes the learning of the schools. In one senseJesus told His hearersthey knew the law which Moses had given them; in another they were pitiably ignorant of it. They could not understand its principles, because they were not "faithful to its precepts." And then He asked them openly, "Why go ye about to kill me?"
That determination to kill Him was known indeed to Him, and known to some of those who heard Him, but was a guilty secret which had been concealed from the majority of the multitude. These answered the question, while the others kept their guilty silence. "Thou hast a devil," the people answered; "who goeth about to kill Thee?" Why did they speak with such superfluous and brutal bluntness? Do not we repudiate, with far less flaming indignation, a charge which we know to be not only false, but wholly preposterous and foundationless? Was there not in the minds even of this not yet wholly alienated multitude an uneasy sense of their distance from the Speakerof that unutterable superiority to themselves which pained and shamed and irritated them? Were they not conscious, in their carnal and vulgar aspirations, that this Prophet came, not to condescend to such views as theirs, but to raise them to a region where they felt that they could not breathe? Was there not even then in their hearts something of the half-unconscious hatred of vice to virtue, the repulsion of darkness against light? Would they have said, "Thou hast a devil," when they heard Him say that some of them were plotting against His life, if they had not felt that they were themselves capable at almost any moment of joining inaye, with their own hands of executingso base a plot?
Jesus did not notice their coarse insolence. He referred them to that one work of healing on the Sabbath day (John v. 5), at which they were all still marvelling, with an empty wonder, that He who had the power to perform such a deed should, in performing it, have risen above their empty, ceremonial, fetish-worshipping notions of Sabbath sanctity. And Jesus, who ever loved to teach the lesson that love and not literalism is the fulfilling of the Law, showed them, even on their own purely ritual and Levitical principle, that His word of healing had in no respect violated the Sabbath at all. For instance, Moses had established, or rather re-established, the ordinance of circumcision on the eighth day, and if that eighth day happened to be a Sabbath, they without scruple sacrificed the one ordinance to the other, and in spite of the labour which it involved, performed the rite of circumcision on the Sabbath day. If the law of circumcision superseded that of the Sabbath, did not the law of Mercy? If it was right by a series of actions to inflict that wound, was it wrong by a single word to effect a total cure? If that, which was at the best but a sign of deliverance, could not even on account of the Sabbath be postponed for a single day, why was it criminal not to have postponed for the sake of the Sabbath a deliverance actual and entire? And then He summed His self-defence in the one calm word, "Do not be ever judging by the mere appearance, but judge a righteous judgment;" instead of being permanently content with a superficial mode of criticism, come once for all to some principle of righteous decision.
His hearers were perplexed and amazed, "Is this He against whose life some are plotting? Can He be the Messiah? Nay, He cannot be; for we know whence this speaker comes, whereas they say that none shall know whence the Messiah shall have come when he appears."
There was a certain irony in the answer of Jesus. They knew whence He came and all about Him, and yet, in very truth, He came not of Himself, but from One of Whom they knew nothing. This word maddened still more some of His hearers. They longed but did not dare to seize Him, and all the more because there were some whom these words convinced, and who appealed to His many miracles as irresistible proof of His sacred claims. The Sanhedrin, seated in frequent session in their stone hall of meeting within the immediate precincts of the Temple, were, by means of their emissaries, kept informed of all that He did and said, and, without seeming to do so, watched His every movement with malignant and jealous eyes. These whispered arguments in His favour, this deepened awe of Him and belief in Him, which, despite their authority, was growing up under their very eyes, seemed to them at once humiliating and dangerous. They determined on a bolder course of action. They sent out emissaries to seize Him suddenly and stealthily, at the first opportunity which should occur. But Jesus showed no fear. He was to be with them a little longer, then, and not till then, should He return to Him that sent Him. Then, indeed, they would seek Himseek Him, not as now with hostile intentions, but in all the crushing agony of remorse and shame; but their search would be in vain. His enemies wholly failed to understand the allusion. In the troubled and terrible days which were to come they would understand it only too bitterly and well. Now they could only jeeringly conjecture that possibly He had some wild intention of going to teach among the Gentiles.
So passed this memorable day; and again, on the last day of the feast, Jesus was standing in the Temple. On each day of the seven, and, possibly, even on the eighth, there was a significant and joyous ceremony. At early morning the people repaired to the Temple, and when the morning sacrifice had been laid on the altar, one of the priests went down with a golden ewer to the Pool of Siloam, not far from the foot of Mount Sion. There, with great solemnity, he drew three logs of water, which were then carried in triumphant procession through the water-gate into the Temple. As he entered the Temple courts the sacred trumpets breathed out a joyous blast, which continued till he reached the top of the altar slope, and there poured the water into a silver bason on the western side, while wine was poured into another silver bason on the eastern side. Then the great Hallel was sung, and when they came to the verse "Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: for his mercy endureth for ever," each of the gaily-clad worshippers, as he stood beside the altars, shook his lulab in triumph. In the evening they abandoned themselves to such rejoicing, that the Rabbis say that the man who has not seen this "joy of the drawing water" does not know what joy means.
In evident allusion to this glad customperhaps in sympathy with that sense of something missing which succeeded the disuse of it on the eighth day of the feastJesus pointed the yearnings of the festal crowd in the Temple, as He had done those of the Samaritan woman by the lonely well, to a new truth, and to one which more than fulfilled alike the spiritual (Isa. xii. 3) and the historical meaning (1 Cor. x. 4) of the scenes which they had witnessed. He "stood and cried, 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." And the best of them felt in their inmost souland this is the strongest of all the evidences of Christianity for those who believe heart and soul in a God of love who cares for His children in the family of manthat they had deep need of a comfort and salvation of the outpouring of a Holy Spirit, which He who spake to them could alone bestow. But the very fact that some were beginning openly to speak of Him as the Prophet and the Christ, only exasperated the others. They had a small difficulty of their own creating, founded on pure ignorance of fact, but which yet to their own narrow dogmatic fancy was irresistible"Shall Christ come out of Galilee? must He not come from Bethlehem? of David's seed? "
It was during this division of opinion that the officers whom the Pharisees had dispatched to seize Jesus, returned to them without having even attempted to carry out their design. As they hovered among the Temple courts, as they stood half sheltered behind the Temple pillars, not unobserved, it may be, by Him for whom they were lying in wait, they too could not fail to hear some of the divine words which flowed out of His mouth. And, hearing them, they could not fulfil their mission. A sacred spell was upon them, which they were unable to resist a force infinitely more powerful than their own, unnerved their strength and paralysed their will. To listen to Him was not only to be disarmed in every attempt against Him, it was even to be half-converted from bitter enemies to awe-struck disciples. "Never man spake like this man," was all that they could say. That bold disobedience to positive orders must have made them afraid of the possible consequences to themselves, but obedience would have required a courage even greater, to say nothing of that rankling wound wherewith an awakened conscience ever pierces the breast of crime.
The Pharisees could only meet them with angry taunts. "What, ye too intend to accept this Prophet of the ignorant, this favourite of the accursed and miserable mob!" Then Nicodemus ventured on a timid word, "Ought you not to try, before you condemn Him?" They had no reply to the justice of that principle: they could only fall back again on taunts"Are you then a Galilæan?" and then the old Ignorant dogmatism, "Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet."
Where then, as we have asked already, was Gathhepher, whence Jonah came? where Thisbe, whence Elijah came? where Elkosh, whence Nahum came? where the northern town whence Hosea came? The more recent Jews, with better knowledge of Scripture, declare that the Messiah is to come from Galilee; and they settle at Tiberias, because they believe that He will rise from the waters of the Lake; and at Safed, "the city set on a hill," because they believe that He will there first fix His throne. But there is no Ignorance so deep as the ignorance that will not know; no blindness so incurable as the blindness which will not see. And the dogmatism of a narrow and stolid prejudice which believes itself to be theological learning is, of all others, the most ignorant and the most blind. Such was the spirit in which, ignoring the mild justice of Nicodemus, and the marvellous impression made by Jesus even on their own hostile apparitors, the majority of the Sanhedrin broke up, and went each to his own home.