Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 44 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact of the coming of Messiah.
Isa. 44:6 – This is what the Lord, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, says: I am the first and I am the last. There is no God but Me.
God assures Israel that He has chosen the nation and will continue to bless it. He makes plans for His servants while they are yet in their mothers’ wombs. Isaiah declares God’s majesty and uniqueness, then contrasts it with an almost comical description of the man-made gods who depend completely on the people who worship them. He calls on Israel to return to the one true and living God, who will remain faithful to His promises. The chapter ends with an amazing prophecy in which the pagan king who will free the Jews from Babylonian captivity two centuries later is called by name.
The Lord often refers to Himself as “The first and … the last” or in similar ways in Scripture, reminding us of His eternal nature, creative and sustaining powers, and sovereignty. Isaiah and the apostle John, in the Book of Revelation, record these words, used interchangeably by God the Father and His Son:
- “I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last – I am He” (Isa. 41:4)
- “… I am He. No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me” (Isa. 43:10).
- “Listen to Me, Jacob, and Israel, the one called by Me: I am He; I am the first, I am also the last” (Isa. 48:12).
- “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).
- “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look – I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18).
- “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13).
Spiritual Blessing (Isa. 44:1-5)
Because God has chosen Israel – a fact mentioned twice in verses 1-2 – the people are not to fear. The Lord will deliver the nation physically and spiritually. Twice He calls Jacob “My servant” and promises to pour out “My Spirit” and “My blessings” on coming generations. Continuing a theme from the previous chapter, He reminds the people that He has formed them. Like all of God’s creative acts, it is for a divine purpose. Although judgment is imminent, the nation’s restoration and spiritual revival are guaranteed. In verse 2 Israel is called “Jeshurun,” a poetic synonym meaning “the upright one” and used elsewhere only in Deuteronomy (see Deut. 32:15; 33:5, 26).
In the days to come, the Lord will “pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground,” making it fruitful (v. 3). Even more important, He will pour out the Holy Spirit, resulting in an unprecedented return to the Lord of Israel. But when will this occur? Nationally, the Jews return to their homeland after the Babylonian captivity, and again in 1948 after nearly 2,000 years without a state following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The spiritual revival, however, is yet to come. “This outpouring of the Spirit will occur when the people have returned in belief to the land (cf. Ezek. 36:24, 27; Joel 2:25-29) just after the Messiah’s second coming to establish the Millennium. Redeemed Israel will prosper numerically like grass and poplar trees, and they will want to be known as righteous individuals (Isa. 44:5), unashamed of Him and their nation” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1098).
No God but Me (Isa. 44:6-23)
The Lord reminds the Jews of several of His titles, thus punctuating His unique claim of sovereignty. He is “the Lord, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts … the first and … the last … Rock” (vv. 6, 8). He makes a simple and profound declaration: “There is no God but Me” (v. 6), and He argues for His uniqueness by challenging anyone to predict the future (v. 7). Since His knowledge of things to come may be traced to His existence in eternity past, His chosen people have no reason to fear. In fact, they are witnesses of His mighty deeds (v. 8).
The God of Israel then exposes the futility of idol makers, whom he describes as “nothing” (v. 9) and whom He says have brought spiritual blindness upon themselves. Idolatry dominates the world in Isaiah’s day. Some idol makers are superstitious, viewing their creations of wood, metal and stone as deities, while others fashion these magnificent statues as physical representations of unseen gods. In any case, their efforts are futile and their proud professions will only result in shame. Idolatry in any form is a denial of the Creator and invites His wrath. The apostle Paul makes this point in Romans 1, arguing that idolatry is the natural consequence of rejecting the one true and living God, who has revealed Himself to all people (Rom. 1:18ff). As a result, Paul writes, they are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
In Isaiah, however, “the Lord’s scathing contempt for idolatry is expressed in mockery of the ‘wisdom’ of human beings who cut down a tree, burn some of it as fuel, make a few utensils for the home, fashion an idol from the leftovers, and then pray to that idol to deliver them. Only a God who lives, who is capable of action, and who cares, could possibly help anyone – then, or now” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 433). The people who craft these images for profit are mere humans, whom God will cause to “assemble and stand … be startled and put to shame” (v. 11). They labor feverishly over their iron and wood, denying themselves food and water for the sake of their craft until they grow weak. But their work is in vain and their muscled arms cannot overcome their dulled minds. They take cedar, cypress or oak, cut it down and use some of it to warm themselves, some of it to bake their bread and some of it to fashion idols. While they are in complete control of the wood in every stage of its use, they blindly choose to worship what their own hands have made. “Save me, for you are my god,” they cry (v. 17).
Their failure to see the futility of their deeds is due first of all to their rejection of God and second to God’s response, which is to grant them what they desire – spiritual blindness. The word “detestable” in verse 19 is a strong Hebrew word (siqqus) that links idolatry to immoral practices. Isaiah makes the point that religious sins, which involve direct rebellion against God, are especially grievous and invite the wrath of the Almighty. In the end, the idolater “feeds on ashes” (v. 20), or delights in what is vain. This verse also might refer to the wood being used. The idol maker has reduced much of it to ashes to warm himself and prepare his food; it would have been better if the rest of the tree had been reduced to ashes as well.
Finally in this section, the Lord calls Judah to “remember these things” (v. 21). Jacob is God’s “servant,” whom he has formed, and He will not forget His people. He has swept away their sins, called them to return, and redeemed them. Now at last, He calls upon heaven and earth – even the elements that idol makers have reduced to graven images – to rejoice because the Lord “glorifies Himself through Israel” (v. 23).
Cyrus, the Lord’s Shepherd (Isa. 44:24-28)
The Lord’s repeated claim to control the course of human history, with special regard to Israel, is renewed in the closing verses of this chapter as He makes specific promises about the people, the temple and Jerusalem. After the Babylonian captivity, Jerusalem will be repopulated. The cities of Judah will be rebuilt. The temple will be restored. And, in dramatic fashion, the Lord names the Persian king whose edict makes it all possible – Cyrus, “My shepherd,” who would not even be born for another 150 years (see Ezra 1:1-4). If the Jews have any doubts about God’s command of time and events, He clears them up in this passage. Lawrence Richards notes: “Some commentators, who deny the possibility of such detailed predictive prophecy, have insisted the mention of Cyrus is evidence of postexilic authorship of the second part of Isa. But in the context the naming of Cyrus is evidence of something far different. It is proof of the power of Israel’s living God and a guarantee that history itself moves toward His intended end” (The Bible Readers Companion, S. 433).
But why is a pagan king called the Lord’s “shepherd,” a name normally reserved for the Messiah or the nation of Israel? It appears this title is given to show the citizens of Judah that God uses even unbelievers like Cyrus to accomplish His purposes and that no one, no matter how powerful, operates independently of the One who created all things. “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps…. Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s decree will prevail” (Prov. 16:9, 19:21).
John Walvoord and Roy Zuck describe the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “In 586 b.c. Nebuchadnezzar and his forces broke through Jerusalem’s walls, burned the houses and the temple, and carried many captives into exile. Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, first came to the throne of Anshan in Eastern Elam in 559. In 549 he conquered the Medes and became the ruler of the combined Persian and Median Empire. In 539 he conquered Babylon (Dan. 5:30) and the very next year issued a decree that the Jews could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4). In doing this Cyrus was serving God’s purposes as if he were God’s shepherd. Those returnees built the temple, completing it in 515 b.c., and years later (in 444 b.c.) Nehemiah went to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures), S. 1:1099).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapter 6 recounts an event in “the year that King Uzziah died” (v. 1).
Isa. 6:3: And one [seraphim] called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.
Isaiah has a stunning vision of the Lord, who sends the prophet to keep preaching to the unrepentant Jews “until the land is ruined and desolate” (v. 11).
This is the only place in Scripture where seraphim are mentioned by name. Apparently these creatures are among the highest order of angels and serve at the throne of God. Their name, which means “burning ones,” describes their role as proclaimers of God’s holiness. They also declare that man must be purged of sin’s moral defilement before he may stand before God and serve Him. Seraphim appear to have some human features since they are depicted as standing, having faces, and having feet. Yet they also have six wings each and are capable of flight. Their acts of worship are so intense that they cause the thresholds of the divine Temple to shake. They stand ready to serve God at a moment’s notice.
In comparison, cherubim have an extraordinary appearance with four faces – those of a man, lion, ox and eagle – four wings and the feet of calves. They guard the gate to the Garden of Eden, preventing sinful man from reentering (Gen. 3:24). They also are depicted as golden figures covering the mercy seat above the ark in the Holy of Holies (Ex. 25:17-22), and they attend the glory of God in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 1).
However seraphim and cherubim are different, they appear to be some of God’s most powerful, intelligent, and beautiful creatures. Satan may have been an “anointed guardian cherub” (Ezek. 28:14) if Ezekiel 28 is a reference to him before his rebellion.
Isaiah’s vision (Isa. 6:1-7)
There is some debate as to whether this passage should be at the beginning of Isaiah rather than inserted here. But because much of what we’ve read so far – especially Isa. 2-5 – deals with events during Uzziah’s life, it seems clear that Isaiah’s vision in “the year of Uzziah’s death” (v. 1) is his inauguration into a new level of ministry. However, some argue that Uzziah’s “death” could mean the end of his civil service as king due to his leprosy. If that’s the case, Isaiah’s vision would have come many years before the king’s death. An interesting thought: Isaiah’s claim to have seen God may have been the pretext for his being sawed asunder under Manassah’s reign, according to tradition (see Heb. 11:37).
Isaiah’s vision of the Lord (Adonai in v. 1; Yahweh in v. 5) implies the Trinity in unity. Jesus is interpreted to be the one speaking in Isa. 6:10 according to John 12:41, while Paul attributes the words to the Holy Spirit (Acts 28:25-7). Also, the seraphims’ declaration of the Lord as “Holy, holy, holy” provides additional support to the notion that what Isaiah saw was a representation of the Triune Godhead if not God’s divine essence (see John 1:18). The Trinity is further implied later in verse 8, where God says, “… who will go for Us?” In any case, what Isaiah sees is different from the Shekinah glory that resides above the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, for the Lord is seated here on a throne, attended by heavenly creatures, and His robe fills the Temple.
The seraphim have been discussed above, but Jamieson, Fausset and Brown provide some added insight. They say that while the term is used nowhere else in Scripture of God’s attending angels, it is used to describe the rapidly moving serpents the Lord sent to torment the Israelites (Num. 21:6). The commentators add, “Perhaps Satan’s form as a serpent (nachash) in his appearance to man has some connection with his original form as a seraph of flight” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Logos Research Systems, S. Is. 6:2).
Isaiah’s response to this vision of the Lord is consistent with the reaction of others in Scripture who encounter God after the Fall: fear and a realization of one’s complete
inadequacy in the presence of Almighty God. Isaiah’s words in verse 5 are instructive:
- “Woe is me, for I am ruined.” Some translations say “undone” or “lost.” Isaiah is in good company when he gasps at being in the presence of the Lord. Gideon has a similar response (Judges 6:22). So do Manoah (Judges 13:22), Job (Job 42:5), Peter (Luke 5:8) and John (Rev. 1:17). Isaiah has pronounced woes on the inhabitants of Judah; now he declares that he, too, is subject to judgment.
- “… because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips.” John Walvoord and Roy Zuck comment: “When seen next to the purity of God’s holiness, the impurity of human sin is all the more evident. The prophet’s unclean lips probably symbolized his attitudes and actions as well as his words, for a person’s words reflect his thinking and relate to his actions. Interestingly Isaiah identified with his people who also were sinful (a people of unclean lips)” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1045).
- “… and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” Isaiah sees, not necessarily God in his full glory (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16), but a representation of His presence. The writer of Hebrews, for example, says Christ is “the exact expression of His nature” (Heb. 1:3), and John tells us the Word, who is God, “became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14).
In verses 6-7 one of the seraphim flies to Isaiah and touches his mouth with a glowing coal he has snatched with a tong from the altar. The heavenly creature declares that Isaiah’s wickedness is removed and his sin is atoned for. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown have an interesting perspective on this: “The mouth was touched because it was the part to be used by the prophet when inaugurated. So ‘tongues of fire’ rested on the disciples (Acts 2:3, 4) when they were being set apart to speak in various languages of Jesus” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, of the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 6:7).
Isaiah’s commission (Isa. 6:8-13)
The Lord’s self-reference to both “I” and “Us” strongly suggests the triune nature of the Godhead (see also Gen. 1:26; 11:7). The Lord’s questions – “Who should I send?” and “Who will go for Us?” – indicate that few are both willing and qualified to deliver the unwelcome message to the Jews, enduring hardship, rejection, and unbelief. Isaiah responds promptly to the call: “Here I am. Send me.” Eagerness for service is a sign of God’s purifying and enabling work in a believer’s life (see also 1 Sam. 3:10; Acts 9:6-8).
The Lord immediately lays out His challenging mission. Isaiah is to declare God’s truth, but it will only result in hardening of the people’s hearts. Judah’s rejection of Isaiah’s message, and the sovereign Lord who initiated it, are as certain is if they already have occurred. This passage, like many others throughout Scripture, illustrates the mystery of the parallel truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. This particular decree of hardening is repeated in full or in part six times in the New Testament (for example, Matt. 13:14-15; Acts 28:26-27), but it should be read in its entirety to see that God’s pending judgment will clear the ground for new national and spiritual growth.
D.A. Carson puts it well:
Isaiah fulfilled this mission to blind and deafen by proclaiming (not withholding) the truth. God here shares with the prophet the critical significance of his ministry. Sinful Israel has come to the point where one more rejection of the truth will finally confirm them for inevitable judgment. The dilemma of the prophet is that there is no way of saving the sinner but by the very truth whose rejection will condemn him utterly (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 6:1).
The Lord does not leave Isaiah or his beloved nation without hope, however. He assures the prophet that there will be a remnant, a “holy stump,” that will sprout again one day. Although Judah’s population would be almost totally wiped out, like a fallen and burned tree, God would preserve a remnant in the land. The Tyndale Bible Commentary says “there would be life in the roots of the stump from which the Messiah (‘the holy seed’) would grow again” (S 260).
Larry Richards and Lawrence O. Richards comment:
Uzziah’s death was symbolic. He who had begun so well and had found prosperity in obedience had been struck by the dread disease of leprosy. An appearance of health and strength remained for a time, but the disease was at work within the body of the king; its marks became more and more visible as the ravages of that dread sickness took their toll. Finally, destroyed within and without, Uzziah died; his pride and his disobedience brought judgment on him. Isaiah pointed out that Judah was also diseased, just like her king, because she too had deserted the Lord (The Teacher’s Commentary, S 367).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
1. Which of the following is not a Jewish feast:
- a) Pentecost
- b) Day of Atonement
- c) Unleavened Bread
- d) Bonnaroo
2. True or false:
Jesus was crucified on Passover and rose from the dead on First Fruits.
3. True or false:
All Jewish males were required to appear in Jerusalem for all seven Jewish feasts.
4. Which horn was sounded during the Feast of Trumpets:
- a) Shoe horn
- b) Ram’s horn
- c) Cream horn
- d) Schermerhorn
5. What are other biblical names for the major feasts (choose all that apply):
- a) Appointed times
- b) Holy convocations
- c) Pot-luck suppers
- d) Floating holidays
6. Which feast pictures Christ’s sending of the Holy Ghost to inaugurate the church:
- a) Halloween
- b) Pentecost
- c) Festivus
- d) Hanukkah
7. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (choose all that apply):
a) Lasted seven days
b) Required the Jewish people to remove all leaven (yeast) from their homes
c) Pictured the burial of Messiah
d) Was observed in the fall
8. Jesus invited all who thirst to come unto Him during the Feast of:
- a) Passover
- b) Dasani
- c) Aquafina
- d) Tabernacles
9. What is significant about the Feast of Trumpets: (circle all that apply):
- a) It features a shofar, or ram’s horn
- b) Doc Severinsen appears in Jerusalem
- c) It is the only feast that falls during a new moon
- d) No trumpets are actually used during the feast
10. Why is the high priest so important on the Day of Atonement (circle all that apply):
- a) He does all of the priestly work, including all the sacrifices
- b) He alone enters the Holy of Holies
- c) He dies for the sins of the people
- d) He foreshadows the work of the Messiah, our great high priest
11. True or false:
Many of the Jewish feasts are no longer observed as they once were because there is no Temple in Jerusalem.
12. Who had responsibility for the tabernacle and its services:
a) The Jonas Brothers
b) The sons of Sceva
c) The Nephilim
d) The Levites
- The correct answer is (d). Bonnaro is an annual music festival in Tennessee.
- False. Jewish males were required to appear in Jerusalem for three of the seven feasts: Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
- The correct answer is (b). The ram’s horn also is known as the shofar. If you guessed (c – cream horn), go directly to Dunkin’ Donuts. If you guessed (d – Schermerhorn), you chose the name of the symphony hall in Nashville.
- (a) and (b).
- The correct answer is (b). If you picked (c – Festivus) you watch too much Seinfeld, or maybe not enough. If you picked (d – Hanukkah) you’re thinking of the eight-day Jewish holiday that normally falls in December and is not one of the seven major feasts.
- (a), (b), and (c). The Feast of Unleavened Bread is observed in the spring.
- The right answer is (d). Dasani and Aquafina (b) and (c) are brands of bottled water; Passover (a) is the spring feast during which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.
- (a) and (c). If you chose (b – Doc Severinsen) you stayed up too late as a kid watching Johnny Carson’s band leader on TV. If you chose (d – no trumpets are actually used during the feast), well, duh, the name of the feast should have been a clue.
- (a), (b), and (d). The high priest did not die for the sins of the people, but he pictured the Messiah, who would do so.
- True. The Temple was destroyed by the Roman army in 70 A.D.
- The correct answer is (d). The Jonas Brothers (a) are an American boy band. The sons of Sceva (b) were seven sons of a Jewish high priest; they took a beating from demons they were trying to cast out because they invoked the name of Jesus when in fact they were not followers of Him (see Acts 19:13-20). The Nephilim (c) were a race of giants who lived before the flood (see Gen. 6:4).
Your text on Yom Kippur says the Ark of the Covenant was never recovered after the captivity. Is there any record that it was taken into captivity or destroyed?
According to the Jewish Virtual Library (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org), what happened to the ark after the captivity is unknown and has been debated for centuries. It is unlikely the Babylonians took it because the detailed lists of what they took make no mention of the Ark. “According to some sources, Josiah, one of the final kings to reign in the First Temple period, learned of the impending invasion of the Babylonians and hid the Ark. Where he hid it is also questionable – according to one midrash, he dug a hole under the wood storehouse on the Temple Mount and buried it there (Yoma 53b). Another account says that Solomon foresaw the eventual destruction of the Temple, and set aside a cave near the Dead Sea, in which Josiah eventually hid the Ark (Maimonides, Laws of the Temple, 4:1).”
Some Ethiopian Christians claim they have the Ark today. In Axum, Ethiopia, it is widely believed that the Ark is being held in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, guarded by a monk known as the “Keeper of the Ark.” According to the Axum Christian community, they acquired the Ark during the reign of Solomon, when his son Menelik, whose mother was the Queen of Sheba, stole the Ark after a visit to Jerusalem. The claim has been impossible to verify, for no one but the monk is allowed into his tent.
A more plausible claim is that of archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer, who has conducted research on the Temple Mount and inside the Dome of the Rock. He claims to have found the spot on the Mount where the Holy of Holies was located during the First Temple period. In the center of that spot is a section of bedrock cut out in dimensions that may match those of the Ark as reported in Exodus. Based on his findings, Ritmeyer has postulated that the Ark may be buried deep inside the Temple Mount. However, it is unlikely that excavation will be allowed on the Mount any time soon by the Muslim or Israeli authorities.
All the feasts are mandated in the Pentateuch, supposedly written by Moses. What is your view concerning the historicity of Moses and the Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), and more generally the first part of the Old Testament?
While there are some who believe the Bible should be read as literature rather than Scripture, and some scholars who deny the historical truth of Gen. 1-11, it may be best for us to look at how Jesus felt about the Fathers and the Old Testament. For example:
- Jesus referred to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:46; 7:19 and others). Also, Moses appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Elijah and Jesus (Matt. 17:3).
- Throughout the Gospels, Jesus quoted richly from the Old Testament, especially in regard to the Messianic prophecies.
- He spoke of Adam and Eve as real persons (Matt. 19:3-6)
- He talked about the worldwide flood in the days of Noah as a historical fact (Matt. 24:37-38).
- He compared His physical resurrection to the reality of Jonah’s three-day experience in the belly of the great fish (Matt. 12:38-40).
- He made numerous references to Abraham as a real person (Matt. 8:11; 22:32; Luke 3:8; 13:28; 16:19-31; John 8:58).
- His disciples staked His claim of being Messiah, in part, to His lineage, which included Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).
What life application should we take into our lives from the feasts? Understanding that they point to the return of Christ, and that some churches even celebrate these with the Jewish people, how can or do the feasts or the knowledge of them fit into our worship practices today?
It seems to me that the Western church has largely lost the “Jewishness” of the Scriptures. A systematic teaching of the feasts would strengthen the faith of believers as they see God’s hand in human history, and they may serve to convince unbelievers of the amazing prophetic truths of Scripture.
In addition, worship services and sermons devoted to the feasts in the spring and fall may help all of us reconnect with the fact that God’s Anointed One came to us through God’s chosen people, the Jews. One great opportunity that exists now is the Lord’s Supper, which was instituted during the Passover. What a great opportunity to teach Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Also, baptism gives us the opportunity to talk about Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits.
On a personal level, I know I have become much more aware of the imminent return of Christ in the fall, and I watch with anticipation for Trumpets, when the dead in Christ shall rise first, and then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
There are other Jewish feasts besides the seven we have studied. What can you tell us about Purim and Hanukkah, for example?
Purim commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination, thanks to the heroic acts of Esther, a Jewish woman chosen as Persia’s queen. Her story is told in the book of Esther. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which usually falls in March. The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that the evil Persian leader Haman used to choose a date for the massacre of all Jews. Haman’s sinister plot against the Jews was thwarted when Queen Esther, at the urging of her cousin Mordecai, risked death by revealing the plot to King Ahasuerus. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was put to death. Purim is a joyous celebration preceded by a fast, which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king. Observant Jews read the book of Esther, enjoy food and drink, and make gifts to charity.
Hanukkah (also spelled Hanukka, Chanuka and Chanukah) is one of the most joyous times of the Jewish year. The people remember the miraculous military victory of the small, ill-equipped Jewish army over the ruling Greek Syrians, who had banned the Jewish religion and desecrated the Temple. In addition, they celebrate the miracle of the small cruse of consecrated oil that burned for eight days in the Temple’s menorah. As a result, Hanukkah is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, which normally falls in December. It also is known as the festival of lights. Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting a menorah for eight nights; eating foods fried in oil, especially potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts; and playing with a dreidel, a four-sided top. Many non-Jews – and even some Jews – equate this holiday with Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs such as gift-giving and adorning the house in festive decorations.
Neither Purim nor Hanukkah are “appointed times” or “holy convocations” in Scripture. Nevertheless, they play important roles in Jewish history and modern custom.
The idea of salvation in the Jewish mind — as written in Isa. 12:2 for example — is tied to the feast of tabernacles. The reference in verse 3 to joyfully drawing water from the springs of salvation reminds the people of the ceremony practiced each day of the feast in which water is drawn from the Pool of Siloam, and it foreshadows the day when Jesus would stand, on the final day of the feast, and proclaim, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).
“As the Jew was reminded by the feast of tabernacles of his wanderings in tents in the wilderness, so the Jew-Gentile Church to come shall call to mind, with thanksgiving, the various past ways whereby God has at last brought them to the heavenly “city of habitation” (Ps. 107. Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 12:2).
Everyone can see Jesus in the Feast of Tabernacles by noting the Messianic symbols God gave us — and Jesus fulfilled — in the feast, most notably:
1. The tabernacle.
2. The water.
3. The light.
4. The harvest.