The ‘Last Great Day’ and its symbolism

Some notes on ‘the last day, the great one of the feast’ which is mentioned in John 7:37

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This article belongs to a series on the Old Covenant’s Sabbaths or holy days. This present part concentrates on the “Last Great Day” and its symbolism.

The phrase “last great day” comes from John 7:37 in the New Testament. That verse contains the words “the last day of the feast, the great one” which refers to the seventh and last day of the Feast of Booths. The reason why the Jews viewed that day as the “great one of the feast”, is found in certain temple rituals that were practised on that day.

A note: Some writers have misunderstood what day John 7:37 refers to. Had they checked things in old Jewish writings, they would have found out that it was the seventh and last day of the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles that was viewed as the “great day”. The following day, the “Assembly on the Eighth Day”, was a separate feast with a different symbolism.

Colossians 2:17 records that the apostle Paul noted, regarding the Old Covenant’s high days, that they were a “shadow of things to come” – that is, they were types and symbols of future things. It is true that literally, many of them pointed to things that happened to the ancient Israelites, but it is clear that they also pictured things and events that were to come. Because of that prophetic symbolism, those days and the rituals that were connected to them, are an interesting object of study.

John 7:37, ‘the last day, the great day of the feast’.

John 7:37 On the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus got up and said in a loud voice, If any man is in need of drink let him come to me and I will give it to him. 38 He who has faith in me, out of his body, as the Writings have said, will come rivers of living water. 39 This he said of the Spirit which would be given to those who had faith in him: the Spirit had not been given then, because the glory of Jesus was still to come. (BBE)

The Greek text of the first part of verse 37 has en de tê eschatê hêmera tê megalê tês heortês, “and on the last day, the great [one] of the feast”. The feast in question was the Feast of Booths, sometimes called “the Feast of Tabernacles”. (The word “tabernacle” comes from the old Latin noun tabernaculum which meant “a tent”.)

Here are two passages which record instructions that were given to the ancient Israelites, regarding that seven-day feast:

Leviticus 23:34 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord. […] 42 You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths (AKJV, highlighting added)

Numbers 29:12 And on the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have an holy convocation; you shall do no servile work, and you shall keep a feast to the Lord seven days (AKJV, highlighting added)

The seventh day was that feast’s last day. The following day, the “Assembly on the Eighth Day”, was a separate high day with a different symbolism.

(The article nxa050.htm has more on the Feast of Booths. The article nxa070.htm has some notes on the “Assembly on the Eighth Day” which followed it.)

The symbolism of the Feast of Booths.

Leviticus 23:42–43 shows that the Feast of Booths symbolised the Israelites’ desert sojourn after the Exodus.

Leviticus 23:39 But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the produce of the land, ye shall celebrate the feast of Jehovah seven days: on the first day there shall be rest, and on the eighth day there shall be rest. 40 And ye shall take on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, palm branches and the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before Jehovah your God seven days. 41 And ye shall celebrate it as a feast to Jehovah seven days in the year: it is an everlasting statute throughout your generations; in the seventh month shall ye celebrate it. 42 In booths shall ye dwell seven days; all born in Israel shall dwell in booths; 43 that your generations may know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am Jehovah your God. (DBY, highlighting added)

Verses 42 and 43 record how it was: The seven days of the Feast of Booths were a reminder of the time after the Exodus, the time when the ancient Israelites had left Egypt but had not yet entered the Promised Land.

During that time, they lived in tents or huts, as nomads in a land that was not their own. They neither sowed nor harvested. The Lord fed them; they ate manna. This was in the Arabian desert.

Later, when the Israelites had settled in the Promised Land, they were to keep the Feast of Booths, as a reminder of the desert sojourn after the Exodus.

During the seven days of that feast, they were to live in ritual booths. Jewish tradition has it that at the end of the seventh and last day of that feast (before the eighth day which was a separate high day), those ritual booths were put away. Obviously, that symbolised the end of the desert sojourn – the in Joshua 3 recorded event when the Israelites crossed over the river Jordan and entered their inheritance, the Promised Land.

The living water of John 7:37–39, the water ceremony by the temple, and the miraculous waters in the desert.

During the seven days of the Feast of Booths, there was in Jerusalem a special ceremony where water was taken from the pool of Siloam and then carried into the city through the Water gate. That water was then ceremonially poured out by the altar by the temple. John 7:37–39 records an occasion when Jesus, on the last day of that feast, told people to come to him for living water. It could be that he did that by the temple, during the water ceremony.

John 7:37 On the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus got up and said in a loud voice, If any man is in need of drink let him come to me and I will give it to him. 38 He who has faith in me, out of his body, as the Writings have said, will come rivers of living water. 39 This he said of the Spirit which would be given to those who had faith in him: the Spirit had not been given then, because the glory of Jesus was still to come. (BBE)

Again, Leviticus 23:42–43 shows that the Feast of Booths pictured the time when the Israelites after the Exodus lived in booths or tents in the desert. Here, it is good to keep in mind that during that desert sojourn, there were occasions when the Lord miraculously poured forth water, for the Israelites to drink. So, the water-ceremony during the Feast of Booths may have been reminiscent of those events of the past. But, it appears that both the miraculous waters in the desert as well as the water ritual by the temple, pointed forward to Jesus and the living water which he spoke about – that is, the Holy Spirit, and everlasting life. See even John 4:11–14.

A note: Many parts of the Old Covenant’s temple ritual are not recorded in the Bible. Knowledge about those things was in some other way transferred to new generations, as long as there was a temple in Jerusalem. In other words: The Scriptures do not give us any description of for instance the water ritual. But, old Jewish writings have some information about it.

The symbolism of the (end of the) ‘last day, the great day of the feast’.

It is said that in New Testament times, during the seven days of the Feast of Booths, people ritually encircled the altar by the temple, in a special procession. On the first six days this was done once a day, but on the seventh and last day, the altar was encircled seven times. While this was being done, trumpets were sounded.

It is obvious that that ritual with the encircling of the altar and the sounding of the trumpets, was reminiscent of the encircling and taking of Jericho. Joshua 5 and 6 record that for six days, the Israelites encircled Jericho once a day, and then seven times on the seventh day, with the priests sounding their trumpets. At the end of that encircling, the walls of the stronghold Jericho fell down, the Israelites conquered it, and could then begin to settle in the Promised Land.

Here, it is good to keep Leviticus 23:42–43 in mind. That passage shows that the seven days of the Feast of Booths symbolised the ancient Israelites’ desert sojourn after the Exodus. And so, it is reasonable to assume that the end of that feast’s seventh and last day, the “great” one, symbolised the time when their desert-sojourn came to its end – the time when they crossed over the river Jordan and entered the Promised Land and took the stronghold Jericho. After this, they could begin to settle in the Promised Land. Their time of living in tents and booths in a desert was over.

In real life, the taking of Jericho happened in the Passover season in the spring. The marching around Jericho was probably done during the seven Days of Unleavened Bread. But later, that event was pictured in a temple ritual in the autumn, during the seven days of the Feast of Booths. And, as was noted earlier, Jewish tradition says that the ritual booths in which the Israelites lived during that feast, were put away at the end of its seventh and last day. (Again, the Assembly on the Eighth Day was a separate high day with a different symbolism.)

So, the seven days of the Feast of Booths in themselves pictured the time in the desert, but the end of the seventh and last day pictured the time and event when the Israelites, in the days of Joshua, entered the Promised Land. Later, this was echoed in the temple ritual. It was because of that ritual, and perhaps also what it symbolised, that the seventh and last day came to be called “the great one of the feast”.

The Jews have sometimes called that day by the name “the day of Hosha’na”, or Hosha’na rabbah, “the Great hosanna”. Apparently, that name comes from the phrase Hoshi-’ah-nna in the Hebrew text of Psalms 118:25. An English translation of the first part of that verse is something like “save now, we pray, o Lord, o Lord”. That passage was a part of the Hallel, “praise God”, which according to old Jewish writings was sung in the temple ritual during the Feast of Booths. Apparently, those words were sung on all of the seven days of that feast, but many more times on the last of them. Thus, the seventh day came to be called Hosha’na rabbah, “the great Hosanna”. On that day, there was great rejoicing. In several ways, it was the “great day of the feast”.

So, it appears that literally, the end of the “last great day” pictured the time when the ancient Israelites after the desert sojourn entered the Promised Land. Did that have even a forward-looking symbolism of some kind? Probably. Let us keep in mind that in the first century, the saints were on their way to a better land, the one of Hebrews 11:16. The articles nba040.htm and nxa100.htm have some notes on this.

The article nxa050.htm has more on the Feast of Booths.

The article nxa070.htm has some notes on the separate feast that followed it, the “Assembly on the Eighth Day”, and its symbolism.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm

On the symbolism of the Feast of Tabernacles. → nxa050.htm

On the Assembly on the Eighth Day and its symbolism. → nxa070.htm

What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm

Hebrews 4:9, the sabbatismos or rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature. → nxa100.htm

The route of the Exodus, and the location of Mount Sinai. Did the Israelites cross the Red Sea by the Gulf of Suez, or by the Gulf of Aqaba? Or, was it some “reed sea” they went over, as some say? And, where did the forty-year desert sojourn take place? → noa060.htm

Should the Old Covenant’s Sabbaths, the annual ones and the weekly one, be kept today? → nxa090.htm


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