When our kids were young, we went on the occasional camping trip. Neither my wife nor I had done that as children ourselves, so we needed to be cajoled and guided by friends.
It was always an adventure, but not one we wanted to continue for too many days. Even our kids were eager to return to the comforts of home. On one trip, when we had packed up the tent and piled into the car for the drive back, my wife asked the kids what they missed most about home. Without missing a beat, my son replied simply, “Modern technology.”
Imagine having to camp out for forty years.
The Jewish Festival of Tabernacles (or “Booths”) was one of the three great yearly festivals (the others were Passover and Pentecost) during which thousands of pilgrims would descend upon Jerusalem. They would, in essence, “camp out” for eight days, Sabbath to Sabbath, in makeshift shelters.
It was a joyous, dual-purpose affair. On the one hand, it served as a commemoration of God’s provision for his people for the years they wandered homeless in the wilderness. On the other, it was a autumnal celebration of the harvest.
John seems fond of aligning his narrative with the festivals. The events of chapter 6 unfolded in the spring, in the days approaching Passover. Chapter 7 opens in the fall with the Festival of Tabernacles. It may well be, in fact, that all the events leading up to 10:22, when John mentions the Festival of Dedication in the winter, occur at or around the time of Tabernacles. And throughout that section, we see the same themes unfold as in chapter 6: Jesus teaches and does miracles; the people differ in their responses and argue with Jesus and with each other; Jesus says and does increasingly provocative things and the opposition increases accordingly.
Here at the beginning of chapter 7, I’m struck by the note of irony, though John doesn’t say it directly. The whole controversy of chapter 6 centered on the matter of what God intended to provide through Jesus. “Bread from heaven,” yes, but what kind? The people thought back to Moses and the miraculous provision of manna from heaven, but Jesus proposed to be the kind of bread leading to eternal life and not merely full stomachs. It’s not what the people were seeking, and some went home disillusioned and disappointed.
Jesus, the one who “tabernacled among us” (John 1:14) then appeared at the Festival of Tabernacles. Opposition to him continued to grow — even as the people sang and danced and celebrated the past provision of God and looked forward to his deliverance.
Sometimes, God’s gracious provision can be right there, under our very noses. But we may not see it, especially if we think in overly worldly ways. More on that in the next post.