"Have you ever noticed who's invited on the fourth day?" my wife asked as we were sitting in our three-sided, branch-covered sukkah on a Sabbath afternoon. Around us were scattered our obligatory collection of Jewish sources. We had been studying the Feast of Tabernacles.
The question intruded on me. I had been wrestling with my Genesis Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon as if it were a monstrous python. The distraction was not helpful.
"You know! Joseph!"
"What are you getting at?" I began to feel uneasy. "Oh, yeah...yeah! I see." I didn't.
Frantically I scrambled to make a connection, terrified of the thought that somehow my wife had seen something that I had missed.
Think! Think! Joseph...fourth day...
The fog was beginning to clear. I had this experience once before while coming out from the effects general anesthesia. Slowly relationships began to take shape.
I smiled. "Cool!"
"What was that?" she asked.
"Hmm?... Oh, nothing."
What my astute spouse had seen was a very big prophetic picture that seemed related to the writings of the New Testament but was derived mostly from ancient Jewish traditions.
The Torah commands the Children of Israel to dwell in booths for seven days. The commandment is in remembrance of the time when they and God dwelt in tabernacles in the wilderness of Sinai after He had delivered them from the harsh bondage of Egypt.
Oddly enough, this week-long celebration is called the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). The Torah requires that the Children of Israel dwell in booths for seven days. Later sages reduced this to taking at least one meal per day in the sukkah. A medieval Jewish book of mysticism, the Zohar (5: 103b), became the source for a peculiar custom of the Feast of Tabernacles. From it was derived the tradition of inviting one of seven great biblical figures to dine with us in the sukkah on each of the seven days of the festival. The European (Ashkenazi) Jewish community orders them thus: Abraham on day one, Isaac on day two, Jacob on day three, Joseph on day four, Moses on day five, Aaron on day six, and David on day seven.
Possible evidence for an ancient date for this custom come from the words of Yeshua:
'..many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven...' (Matthew 8:11)
In the following passage, Yeshua connects sitting down with the patriarchs with the appearance of the 'master of the house' (Messiah) in the Kingdom of Heaven:
There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. 29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:28-29)
Such a banquet was envisioned by some of Israel's teachers:
In the future to come, the Holy One, blessed be He will make a banquet for the pious in the Garden of Eden... (Numbers Rabbah 13:2)
A Very Long Day
The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 31a) contains another tradition that relates to our discussion. The Sages noted that in Psalm 90:4, Moses stated that 'one thousand years' in God's sight 'is as yesterday when it has passed.' That is, one-thousand years is like a day. So they speculated that, just as God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, the world would endure in its present condition for six-thousand years. This would be followed by one-thousand years of rest (Sanhedrin 97a-b.) This 'rest' was typified by the weekly Sabbath, an idea also found in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4. The idea of a thousand-year day is affirmed by the Apostle Peter:
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Peter 3:8)
Son of Joseph, Son of David
A third part of our prophetic picture relates to the Messiah.
The Jewish sages searched earnestly for the Messiah in the Scriptures. But the pictures they derived seemed contradictory. On the one hand Messiah seemed to be a triumphant conquering king who would bring Israel back from the four corners of the world, build another Temple to God, and crush the nations under his heel. This Messiah they called, 'Mashiach ben David,' or Messiah, Son of David. This title was applied to Yeshua many times in the New Testament.
But, they also discerned another Messiah from Scripture as well. This Messiah would suffer and die for the sins of his people, would be mourned, and ultimately be resurrected. He was called Mashiach ben Yosef, Messiah, son of Joseph (also referred to as Ephraim who was the son of the patriarch Joseph. See the article Messiah in the Encyclopedia Judaica.) It is fascinating to remember that Yeshua was also 'the son of Joseph:'
Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Yeshua of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. (John 1:45)
A Cord of Three Strands
From these seemingly disconnected ideas emerges a fascinating picture:
Yeshua was born about the year 3760 on the Jewish calendar (the Jewish year is supposed to relate to the time from the creation of Adam.) This places His life (according to the traditional Jewish reckoning) within the fourth millennia after creation, or 'the fourth day' from God's perspective. His appearance at that time as the 'son of Joseph' corresponds to the invitation we extend to Joseph on the fourth day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Just before His execution Yeshua sat down with His disciples for the festive meal of Passover. He said these words:
But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom. (Matthew 26:29)
Yeshua's next appearance as the 'son of David' will assuredly be at the seventh millennia, corresponding to the invitation we extend to David on the seventh day, of Tabernacles. It is in this context that the following rabbinic legend is set:
And they will eat and drink and rejoice until the Holy One, blessed be He, commands that the cup of benediction be filled, and the pious say to Abraham: 'Arise, and say the benediction.' But Abraham replies: 'Ishmael accuses me.' They say to Isaac and he replies: 'Esau accuses me!' They say to Jacob and he replies: 'The two sisters accuse me!' They say to the tribes, and they reply: 'The testimony of Joseph accuses us' Finally the reach David [Messiah] and place four cups into his hands...And David [Messiah] will say: 'It behooves me to say the benediction, it behooves me to praise God.' And he will rise and bless and praise and exalt with all kinds of song...In that hour, the Holy One, blessed be He will take His crown and place it on the head of David.... (Pirqe Mashiah, Beit ha Mikdash 3:76-77)