King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. One of his first acts was to decree that the Jewish people could go to Jerusalem and re-build the temple to their God. Cyrus returned to Sheshbazzar, a prince of Judah, articles from the first temple that Nebuchadnezzar brought from Jerusalem. In 537 B.C. a company of close to 50,000 individuals along with horses, mules, camels and donkeys arrived in Jerusalem.
Several months later, the Jews assembled in Jerusalem. The priests Zerubabbel and Jeshua built the Altar of the God of Israel. Despite the Jew’s fear of surrounding peoples, they sacrificed burnt offerings on the Altar according to the Law of Moses. Both morning and evening sacrifices were made. Then, following the Law of Moses they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-43).
The Feast of Tabernacles also called the Festival of Sukkoth (booths) was a festival of joy, referred to in Jewish prayer and literature as the Season of Rejoicing (Rich, 2011). The significance of Sukkoth is two-fold: a) reminder of the 40 years the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness living in temporary shelters and 2) a celebration of the fall harvest. Sukkoth lasted seven days. During the seven days, or some part of the seven days, Jews built and lived in temporary shelters as their ancestors did in the wilderness.
Observance of Sukkoth involves Four Species of plants:
1) citron, citrus fruit similar to a lemon, in Hebrew called etrog;
2) a palm branch, in Hebrew called lulav;
3) two willow branches, in Hebrew called aravot;
4) three myrtle branches, in Hebrew called hadassim.
The palm, two willow, and three myrtle branches were bound together and collectively known as the lulav because the palm branch was the largest plant. The lulav was placed in the right hand and the etrog in the left. Jews recited a blessing and waved the species in six directions (east, south, west, north, up, and down), symbolizing that God is everywhere. In ancient Jerusalem the four species were held while Jews processed around the Altar of the Temple.
The citron of Sukkoth is the Citrus medica, also known as goodly fruit. The origin of the citron is not known; possibly it came from India. Seeds were found in Mesopotamia excavations dating back to 4000 B.C. The original goodly fruit of Leviticus may have been a cone from the cedar tree; however, by the Restoration, the citron was the accepted goodly fruit. Citron is acclimated to a wide variety of soils as long as soil is aerated. Citron is a small evergreen shrub or tree growing to a height of 15 feet. The economic life of the tree is 25-30 years. Larger fruit grow from branch cuttings than from seeds, therefore most propagation is done through cuttings. The fruit is about the size and shape of a lemon. The outer rind or peel can be smooth or rough with many ridges and indentations. When young, the fruit is dark green, but turns yellow with maturity (in about 3 months). When fruit ripens on trees, citrons are aromatic and the inner peel is very tender. In comparison to other citrus fruits, citron pulp is drier, sourer, and less tasty. The main use of citron is in religious celebrations, e.g., The Festival of Tabernacles. Also, fruit peel is candied and used as a flavoring in cakes, pastries, and jams. Citron peel is used to produce citron water and may be used to flavor wine and vermouth.
In the past, citron had been associated with perfection and hope for fertility and abundance in the new agriculture year. When the returned exiles celebrated Sukkoth with the citron, they were hopeful. Once again, they were in the Promised Land; they hoped for a new future in Jerusalem. The archaic or ancient definition of hope is desire accompanied by expectation that the desire would be fulfilled. Another word for hope is trust.
Prophets predicted the exile of the Jews because of their apostasy. These same prophets promised that God, not an earthly king, would restore the Jews to their home land. After 70 years of captivity, they were home and remembered God’s promises (Jeremiah 29:10-14). God said he would give them hope and a future. He was going to send rain; streams would run again on the dry land (Isaiah 44:3). God knew that newly returned exiles feared their neighbors, so he reassured them that all who raged against them would be put to shame and disgraced (Isaiah 41:11). The Festival of Tabernacles was a wonderful time to come together as a community, praise God for his care, celebrate the abundance of the fall harvest, and hope – expectantly believe – in a prosperous future.
The returned Jews planned to rebuild the Temple. Having a new Temple would mean God dwelt in their midst. In contrast, New Testament Christians know that Christ lives in them; he is always in their midst. At the same time, they live in hope. Their hope is for eternal life, the redemption of their bodies when Christ comes the second time (Romans 8:23-25, Titus 1:2).
Paul wrote to the young churches about hope. He told the Romans that hope that is seen is not hope at all because no one hopes for what they already have (Romans 8:24-25). Rather we hope for what we do not have and have not seen. While we are hoping for eternal life with Christ, our attitude should be joyful (Romans 12:12). Many times people who are hopeful and yearn for something do not feel joy; they are anxious, restless, and cannot sleep at night. Yet, Christians do not have to experience any anxiety about life after death and redemption of our bodies. Our belief and trust — our hope — for eternal life comes from God, who cannot lie (Titus, 1:2).
Christians live in hope, but still experience trials, temptations, and persecution. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, that he constantly prayed for their endurance inspired by hope in Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3). St. Peter advised us to not be surprised by the painful trials we suffer as if something strange was happening to us (1 Peter 4:12). Rather hope in eternity with Christ helps us endure the present on earth, where we live as strangers.
Reflection. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/
Copyright December 6, 2012; carolyn a. roth