I have been so busy writing about either the Feast of Trumpets or the Day of Atonement, that I realize I rarely write about The Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (Sukkot, in Hebrew – the term I will use from this point on). I do enjoy this holiday, with a but… you see, I’ve never personally observed in any real festive manner. I love the passages in scripture about it, and how it points to Jesus. I am stirred by the words of Jesus on the “last and great day of the feast” which, based on chronology and terminology, we know was Sukkot (John 7:37). I have visited friends’ booths and eaten in them. I’ve even taught my Chinese students about the Feast of Tabernacles – many times! But I’ve never lived in one, and never really observed this feast, other than as a holiday and a chance to have time off from work or travel overseas.
I feel like I’ve missed out
I wish things could be different this year, but with a national lockdown, I can’t even think of trying. The police will be fining people NIS 500/each if they are caught eating in a booth of a non-family member. So whoever wants to celebrate with others must do so quietly and even furtively, and perhaps, not in a booth at all – which kind of defeats the purpose of this feast.
I realize, that I want to celebrate, I need to celebrate, and looking back, I feel like I’ve missed out.
Then I began rereading passages about Sukkot, especially Deuteronomy 16. And I began rethinking the meaning of Sukkot. Maybe I can celebrate after all…
An unusual perspective of Sukkot
For those of you who don’t know, the word “Sukkot” is plural for “sukkah” and means booths. In the Bible the word sukkah is used many times. The Greek translation for a “booth” is used a lot in the New Testament as well. For example, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (John 1:14) could be better translated as “The word became flesh and pitched his tent/tabernacled among us.” As I ponder how to celebrate Sukkot this year, these thoughts remind me of a lesson learned long ago, but particularly applicable during this pandemic season where celebrating Sukkot with others is suddenly illegal!
So here comes some food for thought. Did you know that it is possible (no one knows, but it is possible), that the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8) occurred during Sukkot? Why do some people think this? Because of Peter’s interesting and spontaneous response when he saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus. First, he said, “It is good to be here.” It carries an idea of pleasantness and joyful companionship. And then Peter said, “Let’s build three Tabernacles, one for each of you (for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses).”
Now a good Jewish man like Peter was not talking about alters (which is what many people think this passage means). Most likely, Sukkot was on Peter’s mind. “Let’s build three Sukkot (tabernacles), so that we can stay here and enjoy this special time together.”
Tabernacled with God: Sounds safe, but is it?
Could it be? I don’t know. But there is something wonderful about having a dwelling place with God, here on earth. Something companionable, comfortable, and safe in the thought. And then I realize, God did dwell on earth for a while, among us. He tabernacled with us, in a human body.
I am reminded of my feeling that I’ve missed out by not having a Sukkah and being able to celebrate in this way. Then I look at my window and notice the clouds and feel the cooler weather, that almost always accompanies this feast. If I did live in a booth, I would have to depend on God to keep me safe while I stayed in it for the duration of the Feast. Then I caught myself wondering, no wonder most Jewish people no longer live in their sukkot!
I realized that I’d been so caught up with the ideal of Sukkot, that I’d forgotten the reality of it. What is this feast about, after all? It’s about remembering how God took care of us in the desert for 40 years and it’s accompanied with a command to rejoice (which could be a bit difficult if it begins to rain while sleeping in my booth, and what if it get’s cold, and what about wild animals, and…?).
You see I like the idea of being safe in God, but I don’t like the reality of it.
To feel safe means there is a real danger to escape
Sukkot – a time to be reminded of how God has taken care of me. I am alive today because thousands of years ago, He kept my ancestors alive in the desert, despite their disobedience and complaining. I am alive today, by God’s grace, because of all He has brought me through in my brief 65 years, despite my own disobedience and complaining. The very fact that I am writing this blog reveals that I am indeed sheltered by a wonderful, loving, merciful, forgiving, and gracious God.
The dangers around me are very real, ranging from the physical (like the pandemic) to the spiritual (resisting sin, spiritual warfare, and more). I’ll be honest. I don’t like them. I don’t like what is going on around me: I could make a long list of all the depressing things going on right now, from the politics of Israel, the chaos in other countries, the resurgence of COVID-19, to the major and minor inconvenience of this most recent lockdown (now extended by the government to October 15).
It is so easy to get caught up with the frustrations and worries of life, and the minor inconveniences that disturb me. They make me take my eyes off of God—I seem to be an expert at that.
Blessed dependence – blessed hope!
Sukkot reminds me all over again that I always have been and always will be totally dependent on God. And as Peter said, that is a good place to be—if God is faithful, loving, true, gracious, and merciful—and He is.
The surprise is that I no longer need to build a booth to remind me that I need Him. Why? Because He is still tabernacled with me – with us – through His Holy Spirit. He is living in us—if we are living in Messiah. And if that is the case, well then, you and I could be in no place safer, more secure, and more restful. I realize I had forgotten that He is the one keeping me, not I Him, and that makes all the difference.
And I’ll tell you a secret. As long as we live, we are living in a “sukkah.” But Jesus promised that He is preparing a place for us to dwell with Him – forever (John 14:2). When that day comes, we will leave the sukkah of this life and enter our wonderful home in the promised land.
This Sukkot, whether you are Jewish or not, let’s be count our blessings and rejoice in being so dependent on such an amazing and wonderful God – our blessed hope and soon coming King!
You might find this song encouraging (click the picture below), whatever the storm you are going through. You have a shelter (booth/tabernacle) and are safe.
Photo credit: Cindy Chen