We are all familiar with Hajj since it is celebrated every year when Muslims perform the required acts of devotion in the pilgrimage to Mecca. What is less known is that the Sharia law of Musa (PBUH), received 3500 years ago, also required Jewish believers of that time to make sacred pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Al-Quds) every year. One such pilgrimage was called the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot). This pilgrimage ordered by the prophet Musa (PBUH) has many similarities to that of the Hajj today. For example, both of these pilgrimages were on a specific week of the calendar, both involved sacrifices of animals, both involved obtaining special water, both involved sleeping outdoors, and both involved marching around a sacred structure seven times. In a sense, the Feast of Tabernacles was like a Hajj for Jews. Today, in fact, Jews still celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles but do it a little differently since their Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
The Injil records how the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did the pilgrimage for this Feast one year – his ‘Hajj’. I reproduce the account with some explanations when appropriate.
Jesus Goes to the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7)
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
Here his brothers were treating the prophet with sarcasm since they did not believe in him. But something happened later which caused a change in his brothers because two of his brothers, James and Jude, later wrote letters (called James and Jude) that are part of the New Testament (Injil). What caused his brothers to finally believe in him we will look at later (insh’allah).
6 Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. 8 You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”
12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”
Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.
Jesus Teaches at the Festival
14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”
16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.
18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”
20 “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”
21 Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
Division Over Who Jesus Is
25 At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? 27 But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”
As you can see, the discussion in that time among the Jews was whether the Prophet Isa (PBUH) was the Masih (Messiah) or not. The Jewish people believed that the place where the Masih would come from would be unknown. Since they knew where Isa came from they thought that he could therefore not be the Masih. So where did they get this belief that the origin of the Masih would not be known? From Taurat? Writings of Prophets? Not at all! The prophets had clearly stated where the Masih would come from. The prophet Micah (PBUH) in 700 BC had written in Zabur that
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
This prophecy (see article here for more details on this) had stated that the ruler (= Masih) would come from Bethlehem. We saw in the birth of the Masih that he was indeed born in Bethlehem as that prophecy had predicted 700 years before his birth.
It was simply religious tradition of the time that said that the place where the Masih came from would be unknown. They made an error because they did not judge by what the prophets had written but instead judged by opinion on the street, the ideas of their day. We need to be careful that we do not make the same mistake.
The account continues…
28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”
30 At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.
33 Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”
35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36 What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
On this day of the Festival the Jews would take water from a special spring on the south of Jerusalem and enter into the city through the ‘water gate’ and take the water to the altar in the temple. It was while they were doing this sacred water ceremony that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) cried out, as he had said before, that he was the source of ‘Living Water’. In saying this he was reminding them of the thirst in our hearts leading to sin that the prophets had written about, as well as the promise of the coming Spirit who would be given to those who believed in him to satisfy this thirst so that they need not longer be slaves to sin.
40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”
Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.
Back then, just like today, people were divided about the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH). As we saw above, the prophets had predicted the birth of the Masih to be in Bethlehem (where Isa was born). But what about this question of the Masih not coming from Galilee? Isaiah the prophet (PBUH) had written in 700 BC that
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9: 1-2)
So the prophets had predicted that the Masih would begin his teaching (a light has dawned) in ‘Galilee’ – the very place where Isa had indeed begun his teaching and did most of his miracles. Again the people were mistaken because they had not carefully studied the prophets and instead only believed what was commonly taught by their teachers.
Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders
45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.
47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
We can see that the experts in the Law were completely wrong since Isaiah had prophesied that the enlightening would come from ‘Galilee’.
Two lessons come to me from this account. First it is very easy to perform our religious activities with much zeal but with little knowledge. As we approach Hajj we need to be careful that the following is not true of us
For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:2)
We need to learn what the prophets have written so we are properly informed.
Second, we see here that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) makes an offer. He said at their Hajj that
Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.
This offer is given to ‘anyone’ (thus not only to Jews, or Christians, or Muslims etc.) who ‘is thirsty’. Are you thirsty? (See here for what the prophets meant by this). It is good to drink from the zamzam well. Why not also drink from the Masih who can satisfy our inner thirst?