On the first day of the seventh month, Yom Truah, the day for sounding the shofar, also known as Rosh HaShana, we blew the shofar and considered the things the shofar reminds us of. For the Yamim Nora’im, the 10 Days of Awe from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur, we confessed our sins and turned to the Lord. Now we are celebrating the last holiday of Tishrei – the Feast of Sukkot – Shelters, Tabernacles, Booths.
God is a great mathematician. He designed numbers and mathematical equations and relationships throughout creation. Numbers are also found in God’s calendar and in His holidays – particularly the number seven, which symbolizes completion.
According to Genesis, the Lord designed the sun and moon, not just to give light, but also to give us days, seasons and years.
According to Leviticus 23, Sukkot is the seventh of the seven annual holiday. It completes the holidays and fulfills the holidays.
Sukkot takes place in the seventh month, the month of completion.
Sukkot begins on the fifteenth day of the month, when the moon is full.
Sukkot takes place in the fullness of the calendar. Passover starts in the first month, in the spring. Sukkot takes place exactly six months later in the fall. Six months from Passover to Sukkot. Six months from Sukkot to Passover. Sukkot takes place in the exact middle of the calendar, in the fullness of the calendar.
Sukkot celebrates the fulness of the harvest.
Sukkot speaks to us about fullness and completion.
According to the Torah, for the third and final time of the year, Jewish men were required to go up Jerusalem and celebrate the Lord’s goodness to us, particularly for the harvest. We were to give thanks to Him for providing for us, for giving us land to grow crops, seeds to plant, sun to shine on them, rain to water them, strength to harvest them.
We were required to build shelters and live in them for seven days. We were required to take willow, palm and myrtle branches, and fruit, and wave them and be happy.
These booths that go up one week and come down the next remind us of the Exodus from Egypt. They remind us that our God is the kind of God who can save a nation of slaves from a powerful nation like Egypt.
The tabernacles remind us of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. They teach us about the consequences of disloyalty to God and disobedience and unbelief.
These impermanent, frail structures teach us that we are like sukkahs. We are frail and our lives are short. We have no permanent home in this world.
These shelters also point us to the future, to a greater Exodus from these ages of sin, rebellion, transgression, disobedience and sorrow, and our domination by the forces of Satan and the demons, sin and the sin nature, and death.
These booths point us to the golden age of mankind, when Messiah returns to Jerusalem His capital, to Zion His dwelling place, and gathers the harvest of humanity into His glorious Kingdom which will last for 1,000 years.
Sukkot teaches us that God is a God who is close to us and wants to be close to us.
He is close to us because of His nature. All other beings, including humans and angels, can only be in one place at a time. When they are “here” they can’t be “there.” God is different. He is omnipresent. He is all present. There is nowhere where He is not present, as King David observed 3,000 years ago: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, the place of the dead, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Jeremiah recorded this: “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
The Lord is indeed a God who is nearby. He fills the heavens and the Earth. He is present throughout the billions of galaxies with their trillions of stars. He is close to us because of His all-present nature.
However, that doesn’t mean that He is present in the same way everywhere or present in the same degree in all His creatures. Louis Berkhof observed this: God does not dwell on Earth as He dwells in Heaven. He was more present inside the temple than outside the temple. He does not live in Messiah’s Community to the same degree that He lives in Messiah Himself – fully. He is not present in the wicked as He is in the righteous. He does not live in animals as He lives in people who are made in His image.
God is close to us because of His all-present nature, and He wants to be close to us because we are like Him and are able to have a close relationship with Him. Most people prefer to be close to people rather than be close to other creatures like frogs or snakes or spiders.
Why? People are like us. We are able to understand them. We are able to have a relationship with them which is greater than any relationship we can have with fish or snakes or spiders.
God wants to be close to us because we were made in His image. We are like Him. We are persons, like He is, and can relate to Him as a person. We have a mind, like He has, so we can understand and think and reason like He does. We have a will so we can chose the right things, like He does, and reject the wrong things, like He does. We have emotions so we can love and rejoice in what is beautiful and holy and be angry about and hate and be saddened by what is ugly and unholy. God wants to be close to us because we are persons, like He is, who are able to have a close personal relationship with Him.
Israel’s sacred history reveals that God wants to be close to us. The Word of God reveals that the Lord created the universe, and then this wondrous planet, and then made a special place for Adam and Eve to live in. There, in that delightful garden, He appeared to them and spoke to them. He was with them. He was close to them.
The Fall of Man changed all that. By choosing to listen to the Adversary and disobey the Lord, Adam and Eve joined the rebellion of the fallen angels. They were no longer close to Him. When they heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they avoided Him. They hid from Him.
The Lord, however, wanted to restore our closeness to Himself. That’s why He created the Chosen People. That’s why, after rescuing us from Egypt, while we were in the wilderness, He instructed us to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the place where He could dwell among us. And He said: I will dwell among the Israelis and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them.
Because He wanted to be close to us, when we were established in the land of Israel, He commanded us to build the temple, which was a more permanent structure for Him to live in. There, among a holy people, served by a holy priesthood, in the midst of a holy land, in the center of the holy city, Jerusalem, in a holy house, which had a holy place and a most holy place, the Shechinah, the Dwelling Presence of the Holy God was able to be more present on an unholy Earth.
But even with the temple, closeness to God was severely limited. Of all of the millions of human beings who lived while the temple existed, only one man, the high priest of Israel, could enter into the most holy place where God was most present. And the high priest could only enter the most holy place once a year, on Yom Kippur, and only by washing himself and bringing the blood of a sacrifice and burning incense so that a cloud of incense permeated the most holy place, so that he, a sinful mortal, would not gaze at the presence of the holy God – and die.
Because of our sins, the Lord allowed the Babylonians to destroy the temple in 586 BC. Seventy years later, those who returned from Babylon rebuilt the temple. But the ark of the covenant was lost; and as far as we can tell, the Shechinah, the Dwelling Presence of God, wasn’t manifested in the same way.
About 520 years later, something amazing happened, something which enabled God to be much more present on Earth than He ever had been before. The Son of God left Heaven, and through the incarnation, came to Earth. He became flesh and tabernacled among us.
Yeshua the Messiah was the ultimate temple. He was the way in which God was able to be closest to us and live among us in the greatest way. Destroy this temple, Yeshua told a group of leaders, and in three days I will raise it up – referring to Himself.
And it gets better. The same time Yeshua died on the cross, the veil to the most holy place was torn from top to bottom. That was the Father’s way of letting us know that through Yeshua’s death, a new and better way to get close to God is available – not just for the high priest, but for everyone.
Yeshua died to make a new and better way to the presence of God. Then, 50 days after He died, on another Jewish holiday, Shavuot, the risen and ascended Lord sent His Spirit to live in His first Messianic Jewish disciples. With the giving the Spirit, they became the temple, the place where God lives on Earth.
Do you not know that you are a temple of God, Rabbi Paul asked the Corinthians, and that the Spirit of God lives in you? In his second letter to them, he added: We are the temple of the Living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Amazing! Wonderful! By means of His Spirit living in us, God is dwelling in us and is so very close to us.
Since we are the temple of the Living God, let’s learn from the temple of the Sinai Covenant so we can be a better temple.
The temple served a holy God. It needed to be holy. Pure. Clean.
We need to be holy. Pure. Clean. Let’s turn from our sins, our impurities, anything that isn’t holy, so we can serve the holy God the way we should. Yes?
Even though the temple was devoted to the service of the one true God, there were times when other gods were worshiped there. That defiled the temple. God was grieved.
Like the temple, we need to be devoted to the service of the one true God. Anything we love or serve more than Him is a false god. Let’s remove those idols so we aren’t defiling ourselves and grieving the Spirit of God who is living in us. Amen?
Levites sang songs of praise to God at the temple.
We are to do the same. We are to sing and make music from our hearts to the Lord. The more we focus our thinking on who God is, and how great He is, and how full of love and grace He is; the more we think about all the amazing things He has done, is doing and will do for us, the more we will be able to sing and make music from our hearts to Him.
Sacrifices and offerings were brought to the temple.
We are to bring sacrifices and offerings. We are to offer our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice. All we are, all we have, we are to offer to Him to do with as He pleases.
We are to offer spiritual sacrifices. When we give the Lord the first and the best of our time, talents and treasure, we are offering a spiritual sacrifice.
When we put His interests ahead of our interests, we are offering a spiritual sacrifice.
When we serve others instead of ourselves, especially by helping and encouraging those in Messiah’s community, we are offering a spiritual sacrifice.
When we proclaim the gospel, which is despised by the world, we are offering a spiritual sacrifice.
When we take a courageous stand for the truth, when we suffer for doing what is right, we are offering a spiritual sacrifice.
When we resist temptation, we are offering a spiritual sacrifice.
When we worship God in spirit and in truth, we are offering a spiritual sacrifice.
When we give thanks to God and praise God, we are offering a spiritual sacrifice.
When we pray for others, we are offering a spiritual sacrifice.
When we forgive those who have sinned against us, we are offering a spiritual sacrifice.
We are the temple of the Living God. Let’s be the best temples we can be. Amen?
And when Immanuel, God With Us, returns to Jerusalem, He will rebuild the temple. There, in Zion, the nations of the world will go up to get close to Him and to worship Him – especially on this holiday – Sukkot.
Then, after a thousand years, there will be the great day of judgment, followed by the creation of a new universe. The New Jerusalem will come down out of Heaven and be married to the new Earth. That great city will be the eternal dwelling place of God and the chosen and redeemed remnant of humanity.
However, in that perfect place, there will be no temple. The Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. There will be no building, no walls, no veils, no priests, no barriers of any kind to separate us from the eternal presence of the Father or the Son. There will be perfect closeness and communion between God and people.
If we really believe that, shouldn’t we live the same way now as we will live then? God-centered lives? Holy lives. Close to God lives? Shouldn’t we summon the courage to tell the world around us that they too can experience eternal closeness to the Living God – if they become loyal to Yeshua the Messiah?
Father, thank You that although we were far from You, You made it possible to be close to You and Your Son and Your Spirit. Thank You that Your Spirit lives in us, and that we are Your temple. Help us be good temples, holy temples, devoted temples, God-centered, God-honoring temples. Remove the false gods and idols from our lives.