Giving God thanks in rude, temporary shelters

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“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths [Hebrew: sukkot] for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:39-43 ESV)

Sukkot is plural for sukkah, which most often in the Scriptures refers to a small, rude, temporary shelter. (This is something removed from the large tents or meeting halls which its English equivalent “tabernacles” might nowadays bring to mind in some Christian circles). Nor is this Hebrew word the same as that used for the “tabernacle” in which the Levites ministered to the LORD in the wilderness (That is ohel moed— “tent of meeting” — or mishkan –– “dwelling place”).

In ancient times, sukkot were used as

  • Sheds for cattle (Genesis 33:17).
  • Guard shacks for watchmen over vineyards (Isaiah 1:8). Jonah built for himself a sukkah outside Nineveh (Jonah 4:5) from which to observe what God might do to that city.
  • Overnight shelters for warriors in the field (II Samuel 11:11). In Psalm 27:5 David trusts that God will hide him in His sukkah in the “evil day”.
Three sukkot (booths) stand ready for the feast of sukkot outside a Jerusalem apartment building.
Three sukkot (booths) stand ready for the feast of sukkot outside a Jerusalem apartment building.

As part of an annual fall “ingathering” festival after she had entered the land and was living in nice constructed houses (Exodus 23:16), Israel was called to rejoice and feast before the LORD for seven days, resting on the first and eighth days. For that occasion she was also called to build and spend time in sukkot.

“And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).

Jewish tradition has identified the “fruit of splendid trees” with the etrog (English “citron” — a fragrant, lemon-like fruit), the “branch of palm trees” with the lulav — the unopened leaf of a special palm, “boughs of leafy trees” with the myrtle. One way of “rejoicing before the LORD” with these plants is practiced by waving these plants together. The palm, myrtle and willow branch are bound together, and held in one hand, while the etrog is held in the other. The user brings the two hands together and waves the species in four directions, then up and down — attesting to God’s mastery over all of creation. When shaken, the lulav makes a sound reminiscent of rain — so waving the lulav is also seen as being a prayer for God’s provision of rain over the coming season. (The “former rains” begin in Israel during late autumn).

Today, we still build these tiny shelters (sukkot) for use during the festival. Besides the lulav, we also use leafy, fruitful boughs of foliage, and bright fragrant fruit to decorate the sukka, bringing to mind how when Israel was out in the desert moving from place to place in temporary dwellings, God had nevertheless provided life and beauty. It is a joyous time. Setting up and decorating the sukkah is a happy family affair — perhaps in some ways similar to that of Christians in the nations when they decorate a Christmas tree! (Regarding the birth of Yeshua, see below).

As we rejoice in thanksgiving before the LORD for His provision and sustenance, we remind ourselves that we are nevertheless still abiding in temporary dwellings — that, as goes the old American spiritual, “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through” — that “if our earthly house, this tent [this sukkah] is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavenlies!” (II Corinthians 5:1).

Yet while we are here, this same LORD who accompanied Israel through the desert will be with us all the way. It is significant that during this season, many Jews read through the book of Ecclesiastes — that strange, poetic, unflinching examination of passing “vanities” which we are tempted to attach our eyes and affections to during our journey through this earthly passage.

The feast begins and ends with a special Sabbath (Thursday, September 19 and September 26 this year). Since these are “holy” days (i.e. set apart), the days between are called chol –– “ordinary”. During chol hamoed — “the ordinary part of this special season” — many people in Israel will have an abbreviated work day, and children will be out of school for the entire week.

Finally, many Messianic Jews believe this to probably be the season in which the Holy One, Yeshua, came into the world in Beit-Lehem (“House of Bread”, Bethlehem) when the Son of God took on human flesh to “tabernacle” among us, and when He will return to dwell with us forever:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them…'” (Revelation 21:3)

This week’s Torah Portion

A sukkah stands across the valley from Old City Jerusalem.
A sukkah stands across the valley from Old City Jerusalem.

From ancient times there has been a weekly portion (Parashah) from the first five books of Moses (The Torah) and an ending (Haftarah) from the Prophets read on the Sabbath in synagogues around the world. This portion is given a Hebrew name drawn from the opening words of the Torah passage. An illustration of this practice appears to have been recorded in Luke 4:16 where Yeshua (Jesus) arrived in the synagogue in Nazareth and was asked to read the portion (Isaiah 61) from the Prophets. We have found that in perusing these weekly readings, not only are we provided opportunity to identify in the context of God’s Word with millions of Jewish people around the world, but very often the Holy Spirit will illumine specific passages pertinent that week in our intercession for the Land and people of Israel. All texts are those of English translations of the Scriptures.

Since the eight days of Sukkot extend over a Sabbath, a special Parashah is read on the weekend, and there are also a number of other readings read during the festival week. Among these, the following are especially significant:

  • 1st Day of Sukkot (19 September 2013)
    Torah: Leviticus 22:26-23:44; Numbers 29:12-16
    Haftarah: Zechariah 14:1-21
  • 2nd Day of Sukkot (20 September 2013)
    Haftarah: I Kings 8:2-21
  • During Sukkot it is customary to read Qohelet (The Book of Ecclesiastes)
    and Hallel (High Praise) Psalms (Psalms 113-118)
  • 21 September 2013 — שבת חול המועד (Shabbat Chol haMoed — Sabbath falling within the Festival)
    Torah: Exodus 33:12-34:26;Numbers 29:17-22
    Haftarah: Ezekiel 38:18-39:16

It is significant that the Haftarah readings for both the first day of Sukkot and for the following Sabbath include calamitous occurrences of the last days when nations will unite to come against Israel. In the holy, divine judgments released at that time, the LORD “will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel, and I will not let them profane My holy name anymore. Then the nations shall know that I am YHVH, the Holy One in Israel (Ezekiel 39:7, emphasis ours).

Israel will come to know the holy name of her God in her midst (Yeshua — a name which historically most of Israel has refused to know, means “Yehovah saves”) and nations will be required to acknowledge that this Holy One still chooses to identify Himself with and in the land and people of Israel. The Zechariah passage teaches that this acknowledgment will be exemplified by the nations coming annually to Jerusalem to participate in the Feast of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16-19).

As a prophetic anticipation of this, the streets of Jerusalem are filled each year with thousands of believers from the nations joining together in various places to worship, praise and to pray.

Please pray

  • For protection of Israel during this week of rejoicing — both of native Israelis and of those who are joining us for the Feast. Pray for powerful praise to be released and for God to grant prophetic insight for those with ears to hear what His Spirit is saying to the congregations.
  • That Israelis discover that in order truly to “rejoice before the LORD for seven days”, they must come first into relationship with the One who came that their “joy might be full”.
  • For God’s presence to be in the “sukkot” of Messianic believers where many will have their devotions during this week. Many will also invite their neighbors to pay a visit there.
  • For safety and a great blessing over all the believers from the Nations who are coming up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast this week. Pray that they release what God would have them release-and receive what He would have them receive while they are here. Pray for understanding and graciousness on behalf of Israelis to welcome and be thankful for their presence here at this time.
  • Many Jews follow a mystical Jewish tradition which demands hospitality: during this festival the spirits of various Patriarchs are said to sometimes arrive as visitors (ushpazin) to the sukkot of the faithful (This is in some ways not unlike the admonition to early Messianic believers, that they “not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

Please pray that this week the awakening and convicting Holy Spirit of Yeshua (whom the Patriarchs themselves longed to see) will visit many Jews in their sukkot throughout the world!

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One thought on “Giving God thanks in rude, temporary shelters

  1. ‘ we remind ourselves that we are nevertheless still abiding in temporary dwellings — that, as goes the old American spiritual, “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through” ‘ – Amen.

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