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No. 115: Baptismal Rain and the Feast of Booths

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 115
Copyright (c) 1999 Biblical Horizons
March, 1999

In Biblical Horizons 90, I published an essay, "The Oddness of the Feast of Booths." We saw in that essay that the Feast of Booths is a commemoration of the first encampment of Israel at Sukkoth (Booths) in Exodus 12:37, almost certainly the first celebration of the week of Unleavened Bread after the first Passover. The Feast of Booths is a memorial of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a week in the seventh month harkening back to a Feast in the first month.

At the Feast of Booths, the people were to take boughs of leafy trees and make huts for themselves around God’s tabernacle and live in them for a week. We saw that the word sukkoth means not only "booth" but also "cloud," and so the Israelites were dwelling in little family glory-clouds around the great symbol of God’s own Glory Cloud, the Tabernacle. They lived symbolically as a heavenly people, just below the firmament of heaven, for a week.

The leafy crown of a tree, providing shade and rest for those under it, is one of the Biblical symbols of God’s Glory Cloud, under which the nation rested. Thus, the people were symbolically making tree-houses for themselves, which represented clouds. This was the greatest feast of the year, the family feast, and living in such "tree-houses" were certainly fun for the children!

From clouds come rain, and from God’s Glory Cloud comes His special baptismal rain. Psalm 77:16-20 tells us that as Israel walked through the Red Sea dryshod, between the walls of water, it was raining on them. Thus, Paul can write that Israel was baptized in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:2), just as Peter can write that the descending water of rain at the Flood baptized Noah (1 Peter 3:20-21). The waters from below were for the wicked, while the water from above were for the righteous (cf. Genesis 1:6-7).

The link between the Feast of Clouds and baptismal rain was made explicit through the prophet Zechariah. Speaking of the latter days, the prophet said: "And it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, Yahweh of Armies, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, Yahweh of Armies, there will be no rain for them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then none for them. Such will be the plague with which Yahweh smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the sin-judgment of Egypt, and the sin-judgment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths" (Zechariah 14:16-19).

Perhaps the reason Egypt is singled out, among other reasons, is that Egypt does not receive her water directly from rain, but from the annual flooding of the Nile (caused by rain falling in central Africa).

The rabbis understood the connection between the Feast of Clouds and baptismal water from God. On each day of the feast, they drew water from the Pool of Siloam (Sending) and poured it on the altar along with the libation wine during the morning sacrifice. They understood this, in part, as a prayer for good rain for the crops of the coming year. But also, since 70 bulls were sacrificed at the Feast of Booths for the 70 nations of the world, it was a prayer for all the nations of the earth, a prayer offered by those who were priests to the nations (Numbers 29:12-32; Genesis 10).

But "mere rain" for crops was only a symbol for the outpouring of the Spirit. It was doubtless on the occasion of the daily water ceremony that Jesus stood up and cried out "on the last day, the great one of the feast . . . , `If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scriptures said, "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water’"" (John 7:37-38). This saying is explained as referring to the Holy Spirit (John 7:39).

Once the Spirit came, sanctifying "water" would flow from the hearts of believers. Each believer would be a glory-cloud of baptismal rain for all people. The Feast of Booths would be ongoing and permanent.