Chapter 13 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 15
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE DESCENT: FROM THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
INTO THE VALLEY OF HUMILIATION AND DEATH.
AT THE FEAST OF THE DEDICATION OF THE TEMPLE.
(St. Luke 13:22; St. John 10:22-42.)
ABOUT two months had passed since Jesus had left Jerusalem
after the Feast of Tabernacles. Although we must not commit ourselves to such
calculations, we may here mention the computation which identifies the first
day of the Feast of Tabernacles of that year1
with Thursday the 23rd September; the last, 'the Great Day of the Feast,' with
Wednesday the 29th; the Octave of the Feast with the 30th September; and the
Sabbath when the man born blind was healed with the 2nd of October.2
In that case, 'the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple,' which commenced on
the 25th day of Chislev, and lasted eight days, would have begun on Wednesday
the 1st, and closed on Wednesday the 8th December. But, possibly, it may have
been a week or two later. At that Feast, or about two months after He had
quitted the City, we find Christ once more in Jerusalem and in the Temple. His
journey thither seems indicated in the Third Gospel (St. Luke xiii. 22), and is
at least implied in the opening words with which St. John prefaces his narrative
of what happened on that occasion.34
1. 28 a.d.
2. Wieseler, Chronolog. Synopse, pp. 482, 483.
3. St. John x. 22.
4. It must, however, be admitted that some commentators draw an opposite inference from these words.
As we think of it, there seems special fitness - presently to
be pointed out - in Christ's spending what we regard as the last anniversary
season of His Birth5
in the Temple at that Feast. It was not of Biblical origin, but had been
instituted by Judas Maccabaeus in 164 b.c.,
when the Temple, which had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes, was once
more purified, and re-dedicated to the Service of Jehovah.6
Accordingly, it was designated as 'the Dedication of the Altar.'7Josephus8
calls it 'The Lights,' from one of the principal observances at the Feast,
though he speaks in hesitating language of the origin of the festival as
connected with this observance, probably because, while he knew, he was ashamed
to avow, and yet afraid to deny his belief in the Jewish legend connected with
it. The Jews called it Chanukkah, 'dedication' or 'consecration,' and,
in much the same sense, Enkainia in the Greek of the LXX.,910
and in the New Testament. During the eight days of the Feast the series of
Psalms known as at the Hallel11
was chanted in the Temple, the people responding as at the Feast of
Other rites resembled those of the latter Feast. Thus, originally, the people
appeared with palm-branches.13
This, however, does not seem to have been after-wards observed, while another
rite, not mentioned in the Book of Maccabees - that of illuminating the Temple
and private houses - became characteristic of the Feast. Thus, the two
festivals, which indeed are put in juxtaposition in 2 Macc. x. 6, seem to have
been both externally and internally connected. The Feast of the 'Dedication,'
or of 'Lights,' derived from that of Tabernacles its duration of eight days,
the chanting of the Hallel, and the practice of carrying palm-branches.
On the other hand, the rite of the Temple-illumination may have passed from the
Feast of the 'Dedication' into the observances of that of 'Tabernacles.'
Tradition had it, that, when the Temple-Services were restored by Judas
Maccabaeus, the oil found to have been desecrated. Only one flagon was
discovered of that which was pure, sealed with the very signet of the
High-Priest. The supply proved just sufficient to feed for one day the Sacred
Candlestick, but by a miracle the flagon was continually replenished during
eight days, till a fresh supply could be brought from Thekoah. In memory of
this, it was ordered the following year, that the Temple be illuminated for
eight days on the anniversary of its 'Dedication.'14
The Schools of Hillel and Shammai differed in regard to this, as on most other
observances. The former would have begun the first night with the smallest
number of lights, and increased it every night till on the eighth it was eight
times as large as on the first. The School of Shammai, on the other hand, would
have begun with the largest number, and diminished, till on the last night it
amounted to an eighth of the first. Each party had its own - not very
satisfactory - reasons for its distinctive practice, and its own adherents.15
But the 'Lights' in honour of the Feast were lit not only in the Temple, but in
every home. One would have sufficed for the whole household on the first
evening, but pious householders lit a light for every inmate of the home, so
that, if ten burned on the first, there would be eighty on the last night of
the Festival. According to the Talmud, the light might be placed at the
entrance to the house or room, or, according to circumstances, in the window,
or even on the table. According to modern practice the light is placed at the
left on entering a room (the Mezuzah is on the right). Certain benedictions are
spoken on lighting these lights, all work is stayed, and the festive time spent
in merriment. The first night is specially kept in memory of Judith, who is supposed
then to have slain Holofernes, and cheese is freely partaken of as the food of
which, according to legend,16
she gave him so largely, to incite him to thirst and drunkenness.17
Lastly, during this Festival, all fasting and public mourning were prohibited,
though some minor acts of private mourning were allowed.18
5. The subject has been more fully treated in an article in the 'Leisure Hour' for Dec. 1873: 'Christmas, a Festival of Jewish Origin.'
6. 1 Macc. vi. 52-59.
7. u. s. vv. 56-59.
8. Ant. xii. 7. 7.
9. Ezra vi. 16, 17; Neh. xii. 27; Dan. iii. 2.
10. Similarly, the cognate words egkainisiV and
egkainismoV as well as the verb
(egkainizw), are frequently used
both in the LXX. and the Apocrypha. The verb also occurs Heb. ix. 18; x. 20.
11. Ps. cxiii. - cxviii.
12. See ch. vii. This was always the case when the Hallel was chanted.
13. 2 Macc. x. 7.
14. Shabb. 21 b, lines 11 to 8 from bottom.
15. Shabb. 21 b, about the middle.
16. In regard to the latter Jewish legend, the learned reader will find full quotations (as, in general, much interesting information on the 'Feast of the Dedications') in Selden, de Synedriis (ed. Frcf. 1696) p. 1213, and in
general from p. 1207 to 1214.
17. The reader will find much that is curious in these four Midrashim (apud Jellinek,
Beth haMidr. i. pp. 130-146): the Maaseh Jehudith, 2 Midr. for Chanukkah, and he Megillath Antiochos. See also the Megillath Taanith (ed. Warsh. 1874), pp.
14 a to 15 b.
18. Moed K. iii. 9; Shabb. 21 b.
More interesting, perhaps, than this description of the outward
observances is the meaning of this Festival and its connection with the Feast
of Tabernacles, to both of which reference has already been made. Like the
Feast of Tabernacles, it commemorated a Divine Victory, which again gave to
Israel their good land, after they had once more undergone sorrows like those
of the wilderness; it was another harvest-feast, and pointed forward to yet another
ingathering. As the once extinguished light was relit in the Temple, and,
according to Scriptural imagery, might that not mean the Light of Israel, the
Lamp of David? - it grew day by day in brightness, till it shone quite out into
the heathen darkness, that once had threatened to quench it. That He Who
purified the Temple, was its True Light, and brought the Great Deliverance,
should (as hinted) have spent the last anniversary season of His Birth at that
Feast in the Sanctuary, shining into their darkness, seems most fitting,
especially as we remember the Jewish legend, according to which the making of
the Tabernacle had been completed on the 25th Chislev, although it was not set
up till the 1st of Nisan (the Paschal month).19
19. Bemidb. R. 13, ed. Warsh., p. 49 a, line 15 from top.
Thoughts of the meaning of this Feast, and of what was
associated with it, will be helpful as we listen to the words which Jesus spake
to the people in 'Solomon's Porch.' There is a pictorialness in the description
of the circumstances, which marks the eyewitness. It is winter, and Christ is
walking in the covered Porch,20
in front of the 'Beautiful Gate,' which formed the principal entrance into the
'Court of the Women.' As he walks up and down, the people are literally barring
His Way - 'came round about' Him. From the whole circumstances we cannot doubt,
that the question which they put: 'How long holdest Thou us in suspense?' had
not in it an element of truthfulness or genuine inquiry. Their desire, that He
should tell them 'plainly' if He were the Christ, had no other motive than that
of grounding on it an accusation.21
The more clearly we perceive this, the more wonderful appears the forbearance
of Christ and the wisdom of His answer. Briefly he puts aside their hypocrisy.
What need is there of fresh speech? He told them before, and they 'believe22
not.' From words He appeals to the mute but indisputable witness of deeds: the
works which He wrought in His Father's Name. Their non-belief in presence of
these facts was due to their not being of His Sheep. As he had said unto them
before,23 it was
characteristic of His Sheep (as generally of every flock in regard to its own
shepherd) to hear - recognise, listen to - His Voice and follow Him. We mark in
the words of Christ, a triplet of double parallelisms concerning the Sheep and
the Shepherd, in ascending climax,24
as follows: - 25
20. The location of this 'Porch' in the passage under the present mosque El Aksa (proposed by Caspari, Chronol. Geogr. Einleit. p. 256, and adopted by
Archdeacon Watkins) is contrary to all the well-known facts.
21. Commentators mostly take quite a different view, and regard their as more or less honest inquiry.
22. According to the better reading, in the present tense.
23. This clause in ver. 26 of the A.V. must, if retained, be joined to ver. 27.
24. St. John x. 27, 28.
25. So, after the precedent of Bengel, especially Luthardt and Godet,
and after them others.
sheep hear My Voice, And
I know them,
And they follow me: And
I give unto them eternal life:
And they shall never perish. And
no one shall snatch them out of My Hand.
A similar fourfold parallelism with
descending and ascending climax, but of an antithetic character, has been
Christ's former Discourse in the Temple (St. John x. 13-15) -
26. By Bengel.
Is an hireling, Am
the good Shepherd,
Careth not for
the sheep. Know
down My Life.
Richer or more comforting assurance than that recorded above
could not have been given. But something special has here to be marked. The two
first parallelisms always link the promise of Christ to the attitude of the
sheep; not, perhaps, conditionally, for the relation is such as not to admit
conditionalness, either in the form of 'because - therefore,' or even of 'if -
then,' but as a matter of sequence and of fact. But in the third parallelism
there is no reference to anything on the part of the sheep; it is all promise,
and the second clause only explains and intensifies what is expressed in the
first. If it indicates attack of the fiercest kind and by the strongest and
most cunning of enemies, be they men or devils, it also marks the watchfulness
and absolute superiority of Him Who hath them, as it were, in His Hand -
perhaps a Hebraism for 'power' - and hence their absolute safety. And, as if to
carry twofold assurance of it, He reminds His hearers that His Work
being 'the Father's Commandment,' it is really the Father's Work, given to
Christ to do, and no one could snatch them out of the Father's Hand. It is a
poor cavil, to try to limit these assurances by seeking to grasp and to
comprehend them in the hollow of our human logic. Do they convey what is
commonly called 'the doctrine of perseverance'? Nay! but they teach us, not
about our faith but about His faithfulness, and convey to us
assurance concerning Him rather than ourselves; and this is the only aspect in
which 'the doctrine of perseverance' is either safe, true, or Scriptural.
But one logical sequence is unavoidable. Rightly understood, it
is not only the last and highest announcement, but it contains and implies
everything else. If the Work of Christ is really that of the Father, and His
Working also that of the Father, then it follows that He 'and the Father are
One' ('one' is in the neuter). This identity of work (and purpose) implies the
identity of Nature (Essence); that of working, the identity of power.27
And so, evidently, the Jews understood it, when they again took up stones with
the intention of stoning Him - no doubt, because He expressed, in yet more
plain terms, what they regarded as His blasphemy. Once more the Lord appealed
from His Words, which were doubted, to His Works, which were indubitable. And
so He does to all time. His Divine Mission is evidence of His Divinity. And if
His Divine Mission be doubted, He appeals to the 'many excellent works' (kala erga) which He hath 'showed from
the Father,' any one of which might, and, in the case of not a few, had, served
as evidence of His Mission. And when the Jews ignored, as so many in our days,
this line of evidence, and insisted that He had been guilty of blasphemy,
since, being a man, He had made Himself God, the Lord replied in a manner that
calls for our special attention. From the peculiarly Hebraistic mode of
designating a quotation from the Psalms28
as 'written in the Law,'29
we gather that we have here a literal transcript of the very words of our Lord.