The Security of a Lean-To

Sukkot is that one week of the year when every Jewish neighborhood turns into a shanty town. The word “sukkot” is usually translated “booths” or “tabernacles”, but more literally means lean-tos, as in a temporary shelter assembled quickly from whatever materials happen to be close at hand.

You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23:41-43)

Traditionally, a sukkah (the singular form of sukkot) is a three-sided shelter made of tree branches with an open-lattice roof, but these days, you can see them built out of everything from PVC pipes and plastic to 2x4s and plywood. Some of us less conventional types put up a tent or borrow a portable bicycle sukkah for a few minutes.

Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like: a small sukkah mounted on the back of a bicycle for feast keepers on the go.

There are two holiday seasons on God’s calendar: spring and fall, with one that’s set more-or-less in the middle. The spring feasts, collectively known as Passover are in the Hebrew month of Nisan, roughly corresponding to March/April. The fall feasts, including Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, are in the Hebrew month of Tishri, exactly six months later. Shavuot (aka Pentecost) is about 7 weeks after the start of Passover in the Hebrew month of Sivan.

One of the really interesting things about God’s feast days is that they primarily memorialize a series of divine actions that occurred within just a few months of each other. For example, Passover is about the final plague that God sent against Egypt and how He freed the Hebrews from slavery. Shavuot is the anniversary of God giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Yom Teruah memorializes God’s voice as it was heard from Sinai, among other things.*

Sukkot breaks this pattern in that it’s not about something God did, but about something the people did.

But is it really?

Sukkot celebrates the love and protection of God in every circumstance.Starting from the very first night of the Exodus when the Hebrews built sukkot at a placed named Sukkot (Exodus 12:37), they slept undisturbed in a wilderness that was barren, but not uninhabited. They didn’t have guards except to keep unauthorized people from hurting themselves in the Tabernacle. They didn’t assign watches at night. They walked through the lands of Midianites, Amalekites, and and other semi-nomadic peoples who proved that they were more than willing to do the Hebrews harm despite the dramatic defeat of Egypt, yet they slept safely in the flimsiest of structures with nobody to watch over them except for that towering pillar of fire and smoke.

In the wilderness, Israel was completely under the protection of God Almighty and nobody but Israel could compromise that security.  The didn’t have to build fortifications or post guards because God kept watch of the camp of Israel. This is what Sukkot is really all about: the divine providence of God.

God said to live in sukkot for seven days every year not just because the Hebrews lived in sukkot in the wilderness, but because they lived and ate and slept in ultimate security in fragile structures with no locks or barred doors in a country peopled by hostile nations.

God said to live in sukkot for seven days every year so that we would never forget the central message of the Bible:

“I love you. Trust me.”

 

* All of the feasts look both backward and forward. They memorialize things that happened in the past and prophecy things that will happen in the future, especially where events center on the Messiah. That aspect of the feasts will have to wait for another post!

Choosing to Live

Ancient Egypt was obsessed with death.Ancient Egypt was obsessed with Death. They wrote about death. They worshiped gods and goddesses of death. They built gigantic monuments to the dead. They amassed fortunes in metals, tools, and slaves, thinking they could take them with to the other side.

They rejected the God of Life.

In many ways our own culture mirrors theirs. We talk about death. We sing about it. We imitate it. We constantly invent new ways to cause it. We are always at war.

We have chosen to embrace death and to reject the God of Life.

Stephen Baars wrote that choice equals life. He was right in a way. Pharaoh chose to kill the children of Israel and his people’s children were killed. He chose to reject God’s reasonable offers, so choice and life were taken from him and his people. Every choice either adds to or takes away from our life.

Choose life.

If you choose to spend your days watching television, you are choosing death. You are surrendering active participation in your own life in favor of passive observation of someone else’s life. More often than not, that other life is a fiction. It is not real and can never be real. It is death. Video games aren’t much better. You might be participating, but it is still fiction, and it can still never be life.

In order to live, you must choose life. You must get off your couch and do something. Take a walk, learn a skill, have a conversation, sing a song, go to church, anything that advances and builds your life.

But be careful. Doing something isn’t always the same as living. There are many active choices you can make that will still take away from your life. Sports and physical activity enhance life, but somewhere there is a line beyond which sports become an invitation to death. Socializing, singing, dancing, laughing, drinking, and eating are all wonderful parts of life, but they can all steal from your life if taken in the wrong measures or in the wrong company. Love definitely adds to life, but imbalanced or untimely expressions of love only bring death. Both God and the Devil are in the details.

We should thank God that he has set us free from slavery so that we can make our own choices. We should also thank God that he has given us guidelines to help us make good decisions, to help us choose life.

God’s Timing and the Greater Exodus

God’s timing rarely aligns with ours. When God decides it’s time to move, it’s never what we think is the right time. Allow me to explain by way of an example.

God told Abraham that his descendants would live as foreigners for 400 years and that they would be mistreated and enslaved during that time. God promised to punish the nation that mistreated them and to rescue the people. (Genesis 15:16) Certainly the wise men of Israel living in Egypt prior to the Exodus knew of this promise and they probably put on prophecy conferences and published endless pamphlets claiming that “This is the year. Surely this is the year that God will rescue us!”

And the same thing the next year and the year after that. Some bright individual must have thought, “Well, God said ‘in the fourth generation.’ He didn’t mean the fourth from the promise, so maybe it’s the fourth from our enslavement. And how long is a generation, anyway? Forty years? One hundred years? Is it four hundred years from when we were first enslaved, when we entered Egypt, when Joseph was enslaved, when we were enslaved, when God made the promise to Abraham, or when Abraham first came to Egypt? Oy vey!”

Sound familiar? I’ve heard the same kinds of thing about the establishment of modern Israel and the Second Coming for as long as I can remember. Talk of blood moons and Russian tanks in Lebanon will get little more from me than a skeptically raised eyebrow.

We know from Exodus 12:41 that it was precisely 430 years from the day God gave Abraham the promise until the day the promise was fulfilled, but God told him it would be 400 years. If “400 years” was ever meant to be taken literally, then the clock didn’t start ticking until some unspecified date later, and God didn’t tell anyone when that day was. At least it’s not recorded in Scripture. Prophecy is always this way. If it’s from God, then you can count on it being true, but you can’t necessarily count on this or that day. God does this deliberately, I believe to keep us from thinking we can get away with anything we want so long as we straighten up before the deadline. He gives us signs to watch for, but not a specific date.

Stephen told us in Acts 7:17 that, when the time grew near for God to fulfill His promise, the people multiplied, and only then were they enslaved. The Hebrews lived free and prosperous lives in Egypt until after Joseph died. In fact, when God decided it was time to rescue them, they didn’t even need to be rescued. The fulfillment of God’s promise began when he made them to prosper beyond all expectations so that the Egyptians would become jealous and turn against them. By that time, they had probably decided they didn’t need God’s promise after all. Who would want to leave such a great setup? Sometimes God turns the world against us to remind us of who we are or so that we will be able to appreciate the greater things He has in store for us down the road.

When the time was right, the Hebrews multiplied. The Egyptians grew jealous and enslaved them. The Hebrews cried out to God. Then God destroyed the Egyptians and rescued Israel.

There was nothing any of them could do to stop or even slow the inexorable approach of God’s day of redemption. When God decides that He needs to teach the nations a lesson, He will make sure the lesson is delivered and learned. There are no snow days in this school. The Hebrews could not have failed to multiply, the Egyptians could not have set them free ahead of schedule, and they could not have kept them past the due date.

So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. -Deuteronomy 26:8

As with everything else that happened to the patriarchs, the Exodus was a prophecy of an even Greater Exodus yet to come. Jeremiah and Isaiah (among others) write of this future Exodus as a time of great suffering followed by great revival and restoration. As a mixed multitude left Egypt and was absorbed into Israel (Exodus 12:38), so will a vast mixed multitude leave the world and be absorbed into Israel in the last days (Isaiah 60:4-9). As Egypt practically begged the Hebrews to leave and to take as much gold and silver as they could carry with them, so will the world send the throngs of returning Israelites, both natural and adopted, back to the Land along with whatever financial, material, and technical resources might be required to accommodate the massive numbers of new Israelites. (Isaiah 60:9-16) Just as Egypt suffered even more for refusing to let the Hebrews go, so will those nations who refuse to cooperate in the Greater Exodus suffer more than others. (Isaiah 60:12)

When will all this happen? I’m sure that nobody alive today knows. We have been told to watch for signs, but the signs are ambiguous. Wars and rumors of wars have been with us since long before Nimrod built his cities. Will it be one generation from the establishment of the modern state of Israel? How should we count a generation? How do we know that this Israel isn’t just another Maccabean revolt destined fade away or to be crushed by the next iteration of the Roman Empire? I don’t know the answer to these questions and I am suspect of anyone who claims they do.

Here is something I do know, however: Our God lives and His promises are sure. He never fails and even if He waits longer than we would prefer, He never forgets.

Here is another thing you can count on: God’s promises concerning the New Covenant and the Greater Exodus were made only to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. (Jeremiah 31:31-32) There is no “church” in that equation. God’s promises were not made to Rome or Babylon or Washington, D.C. If you want to be a party to the New Covenant, then you must become a Hebrew. (Notice that I did not say you must become a Jew!) You must cross over from Egypt to the Wilderness, from then from the Wilderness to the Promised Land.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means acknowledging your personal failure to live up to God’s standards and throwing yourself on His mercy. Ask His forgiveness and commit to keeping His commandments.

Obedience to God’s Law is not required to leave Egypt. Remember that the Law wasn’t given to Israel until three months after they had crossed the Red Sea and arrived at Sinai. But also remember that God still expected them to keep it. Nobody would be cut off from the nation for an occasional lapse, but total rejection of God’s commandments did bring either death or being “cut off from the people.” We don’t obey to be saved from sin (Egypt). We obey because we are grateful for God’s salvation and because we love Him.

I strongly recommend reading all of Jeremiah 31 and Isaiah 56 for some perspective on God’s covenant with Israel and what He requires of gentiles who wish to be made party to it. “Let no foreigner who is bound to Adonai say, ‘Adonai will surely exclude me from His people.’ …And foreigners who bind themselves to Adonai to minister to him, to love the name of Adonai, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—-these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.”

With freedom and citizenship comes responsibility. We are no longer slaves to sin (Egypt), but we have voluntarily made ourselves slaves to our Creator and Messiah Yeshua. If we serve Him faithfully, if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.

The first Exodus was merely a dress rehearsal for the Greater Exodus described in Isaiah 60.