(St. Luke xiii.22; St. John x.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 year 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. 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.
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 Birth 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. Accordingly, it was designated as the Dedication of the Altar.' Josephus 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., and in the New Testament. During the eight days of the Feast the series of Psalms known as at the Hallel was chanted in the Temple, the people responding as at the Feast of Tabernacles. Other rites resembled those of the latter Feast. Thus, originally, the people appeared with palm-branches. 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.' 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. 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, she gave him so largely, to incite him to thirst and drunkenness. Lastly, during this Festival, all fasting and public mourning were prohibited, though some minor acts of private mourning were allowed.
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).
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, 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. 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 believe 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, 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, as follows: -
My 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 noticed in Christ's former Discourse in the Temple (St. John x.13-15) -
Is an hireling, Am the good Shepherd,
Careth not for the sheep. Know the sheep,
Lay 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. 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' (kal rga) 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 Psalms as written in the Law,' we gather that we have here a literal transcript of the very words of our Lord. But what we specially wish, is, emphatically, to disclaim any interpretation of them, which would seem to imply that Christ had wished to evade their inference: that He claimed to be One with the Father - and to convey to them, that nothing more had been meant than what might lawfully be applied to an ordinary man. Such certainly is not the case. He had claimed to be One with the Father in work and working: from which, of course, the necessary inference was, that He was also One with Him in Nature and Power. Let us see whether the claim was strange. In Ps. lxxxii.6 the titles God' (Elohim) and Sons of the Highest' (Beney Elyon) had been given to Judges as the Representatives and Vicegerents of God, wielding His delegated authority, since to them had come His Word of authorisation. But here was authority not transmitted by the word,' but personal and direct consecration, and personal and direct Mission on the part of God. The comparison made was not with prophets, because they only told the word and message from God, but with Judges, who, as such, did the very act of God. If those who, in so acting, had received an indirect commission, were gods,' the very representatives of God, could it be blasphemy when He claimed to be the Son of God, Who had received, not authority through a word transmitted through long centuries, but direct personal command to do the Father's Work; had been directly and personally consecrated to it by the Father, and directly and personally sent by Him, not to say, but to do, the work of the Father? Was it not rather the true and necessary inference from these premisses?
All would, of course, depend on this, whether Christ really did the works of the Father. That was the test; and, as we instinctively perceive, both rationally and truly. But if He did the works of His Father, then let them believe, if not the words yet the works, and thus would they arrive at the knowledge, and understand' - distinguishing here the act from the state - that in Me is the Father, and I in the Father.' In other words, recognizing the Work as that of the Father, they would come to understand that the father worked in Him, and that the root of His Work was in the Father.
The stones, that had been taken up, were not thrown, for the words of Christ rendered impossible the charge of explicit blasphemy which alone would, according to Rabbinic law, have warranted such summary vengeance. But they sought again to seize Him,' so as to drag Him before their tribunal. His time, however, had not yet come, and He went forth out of their hand' - how, we know not.
Once more the Jordan rolled between Him and His bitter persecutors. Far north, over against Galilee, in the place of John's early labours, probably close to where Jesus Himself had been baptized, was the scene of His last labours. And those, who so well remembered both the Baptist and the testimony which he had there borne to the Christ, recalled it all as they listened to His Words and saw His Works. As they crowded around Him, both the difference and the accord between John and Jesus carried conviction to their minds. The Baptist had done no sign,' such as those which Jesus wrought: but all things which John had spoken of Him, they felt it, were true. And, undisturbed by the cavils of Pharisees and Scribes, many of these simple-minded, true-hearted men, far away from Jerusalem, believed on Him. To adapt a saying of Bengel: they were the posthumous children of the Baptist. Thus did he, being dead, yet speak. And so will all that is sown for Christ, though it lie buried and forgotten of men, spring up and ripen, as in one day, to the deep, grateful, and external joy of them who had laboured in faith and gone to rest in hope.