In their most recent album, Songs of Innocence, U2 has included a song that evokes a number of biblical images. The song is titled “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight,” and the particular lines that I find interesting are as follows:
You dress in the colors of forgiveness
Your eyes as red as Christmas
Purple robes are folded on the kitchen chair.
I love this imagery. Forgiveness is presented as a kind of “coat of many colors,” and the recipient is like a starry-eyed child on Christmas morning who can hardly believe what he sees with his own eyes. But the most interesting line mentions “purple robes folded on the kitchen chair,” which hints at a great royal feast yet to come. Not only have we been invited to this feast, but we’ve already been given the proper wardrobe in anticipation of it.
It’s interesting isn’t it that at both ends of the Scriptures we find the theme of feasting with God. Right at the gate, at the very beginning of the story, God invited man to eat from every tree in the garden but one. Man was designed to delight in his Father’s creation; he was a son, not a slave, and he was granted all the rights and privileges thereof. But there was one particular tree that God kept to himself saying, “You shall not eat of this tree.” It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But the temptation was too great. Our first parents, thinking God was keeping something good from them, left the great garden banquet in the pursuit of their own happiness, thinking that it’s fruit would give them their best life now. Instead, of life, their rebellious choice brought death. Though they were clearly purpose-driven, they ended up entangled in a web of sin.
But, theme of feasting with God returns once again in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Those who have slept in the dust of the earth come alive and stand before the judgment throne of God. Those who have sinned, yet trust in their own righteousness are condemned to eternal punishment, and those who are found in the book of life, are invited to the great marriage supper of the lamb. In other words, there is something about feasting that gets to the heart of who we are as human beings. And though we have all been estranged from God and lost the right to feast with him as fallen children of Adam, yet in Christ, though we are as strangers and aliens to the covenant of grace, have once again been invited to participate in the great feast that is being prepared for those who trust in God’s mercy and gift of righteousness.
Early in John chapter 7, Jesus begins to head toward Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles), and in verse 14 we read, “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.” This is something that the Apostle John does frequently throughout his gospel. He informs his readers about important events during the ministry of Jesus, particularly those that occur during important feast days. The first of John’s great feast’s occurs at a wedding celebration during which Jesus turns water into wine (John 2), which was foreshadowing the great wedding banquet to come. The context of John 6 is the feast of Unleavened Bread, and it’s in this chapter that Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life.” In John chapter 9 Jesus heals a man born blind and tells him, “I am the light of the world.” Yet, just a little later in the narrative we are told that this took place at the time of the feast of Dedication. Regarding this feast, Josephus writes that after the time of Temple desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes around 164 BC,
Judah Maccabee celebrated the festival of rededication…for eight days, feasting upon very rich and splendid sacrifices as they honored God by hymns and psalms. They were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when after a long time of intermission, that they made it a law for their posterity that they should keep a festival on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate the festival called Lights.
Today we know of this eight day celebration by the name Hanukkah. Isn’t it interesting that just as Jesus declared that he was the bread of life during Passover, here Jesus declares that he is the light of the world at the time of the festival of lights. This unique correlation between the things Jesus says and does and the particular feast that was in progress is also found in John chapter 7. In verse 2 of this chapter, John indicates that the Feast of Booths was at hand. So what exactly is this feast? This is not an academic question for practicing Jews, for even up to the present day, many Jews throughout the world celebrate this week long festival, which they refer to as Sukkoth. In Lev 23 (vs 39-43) we read:
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. …42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
In it’s essence, this is a year-end harvest festival, which is why the Feast of Booths is also referred to as the festival of ingathering. The creation of this annual festival ensured that each successive generation throughout the history of Israel, was able to reenact the exodus from Egypt and wilderness wandering experience. In fact, it was not merely a reenactment of, but more of a participation in that wilderness experience, as they were being called to trust in God’s provision.
This was one of the fundamental mistakes that the Pharisees had made. Rather than seeing themselves as wandering pilgrims on their way to Zion, they thought of themselves as those who had already arrived. They had put their trust in their own obedience to the law of Moses, yet this very law had been given to the people during their years of wandering through the desert. The law of Moses was not the ultimate destination, but was a list of regulations for the people as they were making their way toward the heavenly Jerusalem. This is essentially the argument that Paul makes in Galatians chapter 4, when he says that those who are actually in slavery are the ones who have placed their hope in the law which was given from Mt. Sinai in Arabia. This now corresponds, he says, to the present city of Jerusalem (vs. 24-25). Those who are free are children of the Jerusalem that is above, “she is our mother” (v. 26).
But as the children of Israel wandered through the desert, God provided for their needs, and this time of relying on God’s provision, is what the Feast of Booths was commemorating. In this way, each generation would know, accord to Lev 23:43 that “I (YHWH) made the people of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” In Ps. 27:5 we read, “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent.” Similarly, we read in Is 4:6 “There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” Now, as you begin to think about the meaning of texts such as these, you begin to see that the Feast of Booths not only looked backwards, but it also pointed forward, to the time of God’s ultimate provision, to his ultimate feast day. There will be a booth for shade, that shelters us from the heat and storm of God’s wrath on the last day, and we will be invited to rest from our labors and to feast with God, as his expense, forever and ever.
This post is continued here: The Messianic Feast, Part 2