It was during Sukkot 23 years ago, right about this hour, that Alexandra and I sat at a desk with a mortgage banker, signing the paperwork to close on our home. We thought it was really cool, and God-ordained, that we were able to go right from that meeting, keys in hand, to join with our Shema family in building and decorating the sukkah – another, temporary, home.
I say ‘another temporary home,’ because though a house is vastly more durable than a sukkah, it is nevertheless temporary. A house doesn’t last forever, and you can’t take it with you when you die, and besides, for those of us who love Yeshua, we won’t be need bricks and mortar where we are going.
So I find it a little ironic that the day after tomorrow, once again during Sukkot week, Alexandra and I are having the roof replaced. Because, while we’re supposed to be able to see the stars in the sky through the roof of the sukkah, we sure don’t want to see the sky through holes in our roof. If the roof of a house fails, water damage can quickly destroy the rest of the house. So, for us it is a matter of good stewardship.
But, as I said, it’s temporary – as is everything else in this world – an important and wonderful lesson we learn from Sukkot – the Holiday of Booths or Tabernacles. During Sukkot we remember the tents (booths) in which our people lived, while we sojourned in the Sinai. Sinai wasn’t our home. Those tents were portable, temporary shelters. Here’s what we read in Leviticus:
“On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days… so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23:39-43)
God intended Sukkot to help us to remember and, as a result, to be appreciative. Isn’t it just like us to be momentarily thankful, but perennially forgetful? It is a very short distance from ingratitude to outright egotism and greediness. By dwelling in the sukkah for a week, we remember how God delivered us from slavery in Egypt, preserved our lives in the wilderness for a generation, and brought us into the Land He promised our people.
But did you notice that God didn’t tell us to make ugly huts for ourselves. We are to decorate it with beautiful foliage. His purpose for Sukkot was not that we be miserable, but that we rejoice and have a great time! I can think of a lot worse things than a week-long festival, replete with singing and dancing, a lovely decorated booth, and recounting the mighty acts of God – not to mention a lamb roast! Like much of life, the sukkah is meant to be pleasant, but temporary, and it is God’s way for us to remember and be grateful.
And during Sukkot we are meant to reflect on the temporariness of these bodies and this life. The very nature of a sukkah tells us something of God’s intent for the festival. The booth goes up quickly, and comes down quickly, and only remains in place for a matter of days. I believe God wants us to see the Holiday of Booths as an opportunity to reflect.
We should reflect on the fact that these bodies of ours are like the sukkah – meant only to be temporary dwellings (as our knees, hips and backs frequently remind us). Certainly we ought to take thoughtful care of them, since they are, after all, a stewardship given us by God. But don’t be overly-preoccupied with that which will soon pass, and give way to something so much better – something immortal!
Even this world is destined to pass away. God has told us through His Word that He will create new heavens and a new earth, and a New Jerusalem. So while we should practice good stewardship even of the world, it isn’t where we should invest the bulk of our energies and attention.
And if the world is destined to pass away, how much more the things in the world? They are even more transitory! Be sure that you aren’t owned by the things you own – which really are on loan to you. You will leave them behind, as well.
Sukkot, with its emphasis on what is temporary, should cause us to reflect on our priorities. Where are your F.A.T. portions being used (your Finances, Abilities and Time)? Are your priorities directed heavenward, or is it all dedicated primarily to earthly endeavors? Please don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing inherently wrong with pursuing happiness, and it isn’t it isn’t wrong to have wealth. It is in the stewardship of your resources that your priorities are revealed.
I believe God intended Sukkot to remind us that this world and the things in it are destined to pass away, and that we not place too much stock in it. Scripture has so much to say concerning the brevity of life, the immanent return of Messiah Yeshua to Earth, and what our perspective ought to be in light of these things. Rabbi Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, reminding them:
…this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31).
Finally, during Sukkot we rejoice about the infinitely greater home that awaits us. A third reason God commanded us to celebrate Sukkot was to encourage us to look ahead. We anticipate the glorious future awaiting God’s people. We await, with great joy, the 1,000 year reign of Messiah, when our King will dwell in our midst, and pitch His Great Sukkah, His Tabernacle, among us!
And, Sukkot causes us to look even further ahead, anticipating the unimaginable joy in eternity, when God and mankind will dwell together forever. Listen to and rejoice at the words John wrote about God’s sukkah:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them (Rev. 21:1-3).
Taking care of the things we have is wise, but grasping them tenaciously is pointless, and we are in danger of becoming tight-fisted and cold-hearted toward those around us; or what the Bible calls having an ‘evil eye’. If everything we have here is temporary, let’s be a generous and gracious people. It will please God, and kindness on our part is the kind of thing God will use to draw many others to Himself. Listen to, and take to heart, Paul’s words from Colossians 3:1-3
If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above, where Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Messiah in God. When Messiah, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory!
We have such an amazing future ahead of us! It makes the momentary insanity of these days in which we live a lot more bearable.
A final thought I’d like to share with you about Sukkot – and this is one of the most beautiful truths we learn from its observance: our unity in the Lord. Those of us who love Adonai and Messiah Yeshua come together as one.
Psalm 117, which earlier we read together, says this: Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol Him, all peoples! Right in the midst of the Hallel is a summons to the whole world – an invitation – “Come, celebrate the Lord with us!”
But this invitation, this beautiful picture of people from many nations coming together in unity to the God of Israel goes all the way back to the beginning. In Genesis 9:27 Noah prophesied, saying “May God enlarge Japheth, (Japheth – who represents most of the nations of the world) and let him dwell in the tents of Shem.” He did NOT say, “Let Shem dwell in the tents of Japheth,” but, “Let Japheth dwell in the tents of Shem.”
The idea is that through Shem (Shemites – Israel), through God’s special people, the whole world one day will dwell together in that tent, as one. This unity, in fact, is reflected even in the number of sacrifices – 70 – that took place during the week of Sukkot in antiquity. The 70 sacrifices reflected the belief that there were, at that time, 70 nations in the world. And so, Sukkot has this theme, that all nations are welcome to come together to worship and celebrate Adonai together.
I take delight that, in our little congregation, we have such a variety of people, from so many different backgrounds, and what binds us together is our love of Messiah. Our little sukkah out in front of the building testifies to that joy and unity, and my prayer is that people will stand up and take notice!