Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Doorway But No Roof--God's Annual Camp-Out

One year for his birthday, my brother received a camouflaged, one-person pop-tent.  I thought it was wonderful...for a play-house, that is.  Hot summer afternoons were spent lining the tent's floor with old carpet samples and serving mud with acorn pies in upside-down Frisbee platters.

My brother, however, wanted to actually camp out in the backyard in that tent.  No way was I interested.

To this day, the thought of sleeping outside in a paper-thin shelter terrifies me.  Coyotes, raccoons, and wild boar, o my! Their teeth, their claws, their tusks!

Unlike the children of Israel who camped forty years in the desert, I know the security of locked windows, sealed doors, and the safety of an alarm system.  Camping outdoors just doesn't hold any allure.  I'm quite content to experience my closeness with God's creation during the daylight hours and from a front porch swing in the evenings.

Yet, the seventh and final feast commanded in Leviticus 23 involves just that--camping out.

Sukkot.  The Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths, is a seven-day celebration at the end of the harvest season, similar to our Thanksgiving.

God commanded, "On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.  Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:40, 42-43).

Here, God makes it clear that for the duration of the Feast, His people were to leave the security of their homes and dwell in temporary shelters made from tree branches covered with palm leaves.  According to Rabbi Derek Leman in Feast, "The rabbis say that you have to leave holes in the roof large enough to see the stars shining through" (p. 99).

This is a Feast focused on God and man dwelling together, about man leaving the security of his man-made walls and living outdoors in flimsy "booths" where he must rely fully on God for protection.
John 1:14 says "The Word became flesh and took up residence among us.  We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

That word "residence"?  It is also interpreted as "tabernacled."  In other words, when Messiah came to earth as a tiny babe, He tabernacled among us, God residing with man in a human body that seemed like those palm-branch-covered booths--flimsy, frail, easily crucified on a cross.  Yet, while He was fully human, He was also fully God, fully our protection.  

What's even more interesting for the believer in Jesus is that in Scripture, the prophet Zechariah says that all will celebrate this feast in the New Jerusalem, in the new kingdom where Jesus reigns as king: " Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles" (Zech. 14:16). 

All the nations (even those against God) will come to give thanks to Him for His provision.  Those nations who refuse will be denied rain for the next year, reminiscent of Elijah's prophecy against a defiant King Ahab. 

For those who love Him, God promises that in that day, He will be a tabernacle over Israel: "Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain" (Is. 4:5-6).

Isn't that beautiful?  God, Himself, as our physical shelter, our protection, our refuge?

God took much care to show us that every good thing comes from Him, that He is our ever-present refuge... even in the wilderness periods of our lives.

 Image: Preparing for Sukkot in Jerusalem.

Other Articles in this Jewish Feasts Series:
When The Books Are Closed: A Look at Yom Kippur
A One Hundred Trumpet Blast Wake-Up Call
Positioning Passover Pronouns
Preparation Day: 'Go to Church' or Worship
Reorienting Our Lives: 50 Days From the Cross
Understanding the Jewish-ness of Jesus
The Truth About Passover

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