Against the shameful background of blatant anti-Semitism at Britain’s annual Labour Party Conference, Jews everywhere are being reminded of where their help comes from.
As tens of thousands descend on Jerusalem’s Western Wall complex to receive the priestly Aaronic blessing during the Feast of Tabernacles, they hear afresh those solemn, soothing words of comfort: “The Lord bless you and keep you…” (Numbers 6.24)
But at Liverpool, home of The Beatles, some Labour delegates were not singing All you need is love, but joining in a chorus of hate-filled messages directed at the state of Israel, calling for an arms embargo and provocatively waving Palestinian flags.
One prominent Member of Parliament stayed away altogether, and said she was glad she had done so when it emerged that Jewish MP Luciana Berger had to be accompanied to a conference rally by two police officers. And a colleague even warned that the anti-Semitism crisis could fuel the rise of Nazism in Britain.
Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy told the rally: “Nazism doesn’t turn up fully formed, wearing shiny black boots and black shirts and goose-stepping. It builds bit by bit, it gains little by little, it paints itself as the victim – it paints its victims as the enemies, as traitors, the ‘other’, with dual loyalty.”
But the seven-day Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (also known as Sukkot) reminds us that God, not politicians, will have the final say on Israel’s future. It recalls how he miraculously provided for them and protected them in the desert over 40 years when they lived in temporary shelters, ate manna from heaven and water from the rock.
He still promises to provide all their needs, especially in the face of fiery opposition. Psalm 27, traditionally recited during the feast and written by King David, notes: _“When the wicked advance against me to devour (or slander) me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall…for in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock…Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations.” _(Psalm 27.2,5,12)
The feast celebrates the time God came down to ‘tabernacle’, or live, amongst his people. And this is also what Jesus did some 1,500 years later when, as the Apostle John put it, “the word became flesh and dwelt (literally tabernacled) with us” (John 1.14). Jesus was also described as ‘Emmanuel’, meaning ‘God with us’ (Isaiah 7.14, Matthew 1.23).
Jewish people believe that when Messiah comes, it will be during this feast. And there is good reason to believe that Jesus was actually born at this time of year, not at Christmas as is generally supposed. For one thing, the shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks by night – the lambs were still kept outdoors during the feast, but would have been kept indoors in winter. For another, Sukkot is a festival of joy – rabbis apparently teach that it is a sin to be miserable this week – and the angel announcing Messiah’s birth said: _“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…” _(Luke 2.10)
The feast also played a crucial role in Jesus’ ministry, for it was on the last day of Tabernacles that he stood up to declare: “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his inmost being shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7.37f)
The background to this is that, traditionally, on each day of the feast, the High Priest took a golden pitcher and filled it with water drawn from the Pool of Siloam, and it was poured out on the altar as a thank-offering for rain.
Jesus now promised a spiritual ‘rain’ that would never stop flowing for those who trusted him. And in the light of dark threats here in Britain, and elsewhere, consolation can surely be taken from the feast’s association with the “last days” when Jesus returns, once again to tabernacle with his people, after which all nations will be required to make an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to celebrate Tabernacles – and those who refuse to do so will be denied rain! (Zech 14.16-19)
One school of thought teaches that when Jesus returns as King of Kings, he will be hailed by the blast of the shofar (ram’s horn) on the Feast of Trumpets (marked earlier this month at the start of the autumn feasts) when all Israel would recognise him as Messiah and enter into national mourning over the One they have pierced (Zech 12.10 – see also 1 Corinthians 15.52, 1 Thessalonians 4.16)
What a glorious prospect!
PHOTO: The site of the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem’s Old City, where water was drawn for the Feast of Tabernacles. (Linda Gardner)