|A sukkah in Israel. Click to learn more about this photo.|
We are in the midst of Sukkot,* the Feast of Tabernacles.
To be honest, I wish people didn't call it that.
You see, this feast has nothing to do with the tabernacle of worship. The word God used to describe the feast is completely different from the one referring to the sanctuary. The Hebrew words aren't even close. Tabernacle, the house of God, is mishkan,* while this is the Feast of Sukkot.
So Jewish bibles translate the word as “booths,” instead of "tabernacles," to make sure the difference isn’t lost – it’s the Feast of Booths.
This difference between the mishkan and a sukkah* is actually the key point God is trying to make.
Let me explain. Have you ever seen a sukkah – perhaps behind a synagogue or in a neighbor's backyard? Does it look permanent and weatherproof? Nope.
A sukkah is a temporary, flimsy hut - not a solid, ornate building. The walls are to be made of branches or unfinished lumber. There must be enough branches across the top to provide shade during the heat of the day, but not so many that you can’t see the stars at night.
For the entire seven-day feast, people are supposed to live and eat their meals in their booth. You don’t see that too often in the United States except among the most religious these days, but that is the command.
Spending time during the Feast in the sukkah can be very refreshing and spirit-lifting, especially on sunny, breezy, autumn days with children playfully hanging apples and pomegranates from the walls. On the other hand, a sukkah can be absolutely miserable on a cold and rainy autumn day.
But what's the point? Why did God command His people to live in these makeshift booths for a week every single year? And why should it matter to us today?
Actually, the point He was making for the ancient Israelites is incredibly relevant for us in the twenty-first century.
The Lord told His people to live in these huts to remind them of the their nomadic life in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. To remind them that through their ups and downs in the desert, He sustained them and protected them every step of the way.
You see, God knew that when His people got to the Promised Land and began to thrive, they might forget their reliance on Him. No longer wanderers, they might get used to their fortified cities with stone walls. They might start thinking that they had control over their environment – their safety, their security.
The Feast of Booths was an annual opportunity to be physically reminded that the Israelites' true shelter and true safety was in the Lord.
Incredibly, more than 3,000 years ago, God proactively addressed something that we continue to struggle with today: material versus divine security.
Do we trust and rely on God, or do we trust and rely on the work of our hands?
Or do we say that we fully rely on God, but live each day as if it all depends on us?
“Where does my help come from?” asks the psalmist (121:1) It doesn’t come from brick homes or fat retirement accounts or five-star crash rated cars, or even from our mishkan – our church.
Our true, unwavering, unfailing help – no matter what we may think to the contrary – our only Sustainer, Provider and Protector is the Lord Almighty.
All of those other things are what He sometimes uses to bring about that security and provision. But they can all be stripped away in an instant. And living in makeshift huts is a tangible reminder that, ultimately, God's protective Hand is our only real shelter.
So go out this week and hang out in a sukkah. Pitch a tent. Or just spend time sitting outside - whether the sky is crisp and blue, or gray and stormy. The elements are all His, after all.
And grasp hold of the fact if you choose to abide in Him, He will remain your strong shelter for all eternity, no matter the storms - or the calm - around you today.
(This is a repost of last year's Feast of Tabernacles blog; look for a new post about the last day of the Feast next week)
*sukkot is pronounced soo-kote, and is the plural form
*mishkan is pronounced meesh-kahn
*sukkah is pronounced soo-kah, and is the singular form