Tabernacles: A Shed

Opulence. So often we feel that in order to receive guests, everything must be perfect, pristine. Sukkot, Tabernacles, says no.

In order for Sukkot to be perfect, joy must be present, not opulence. As the Lord commands, “and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Lev. 23:40).

It’s not the building, it’s the joy. The joy becomes the foundation of the mishkan, the tabernacle of His presence. Your joy, and that of those gathered with you, becomes a building of joy, praise, and thanksgiving, as the psalmist writes, “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). This joy is not dependent on a building, but the reality of His presence (Matt. 18:20).

The Lord commands us to build a booth, a tabernacle, or, another way, a rough shed. At no other time of the year would we put up a couple of walls, throw some branches over the top, and invite family and friends over to sit in our makeshift shed, out in the elements. No, we do this for the opulence of joy.

Traditionally we welcome the ushpizin, guests, to our sukkah; but gathered with with us is the living presence of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mk. 12:26-27), and those who came before us. As the author of Hebrews writes, “so great a cloud of witnesses,” (Heb. 11:1) sharing in faith, faithing toward the unseen Lord, and the city He has promised to those who love Him (Heb. 11:16).

An opulent, perfect dwelling does not make for a perfect festival, but tasting the harvest of His promise, when the cloud of His glory rests in our midst Ex. 40:34), and we are bathed and baptized in the clouds of His glory does.

When Peter, upon the Mt. of Transfiguration, suggested that he build three booths, three sukkahs, the Father interrupts, and it is Yeshua/Jesus alone that remains; shining out the glory of heaven (Matt. 17:1-8).

Be well. Shalom.

Tabernacles: Look.

Tabernacles: Look.

Leviticus 23:40:

וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים, וַעֲנַף עֵץ-עָבֹת, וְעַרְבֵי-נָחַל; וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם–שִׁבְעַת יָמִים.

“And you shall take, on the first day of the feast, fruit of a beautiful tree, curved branches of a palm tree, branches of a willow, and you shall rejoice before the Lord for seven days.”

We are living in a season of desperate pressure. People around the world, from every tribe, nation, and tongue, sharing a global pandemic; fear, anger, restriction, loss, separation, and isolation are conditions perhaps more relatable now than at any point in living memory.

Yet, the appointed seasons of the Lord continue. While many of us have wrestled with how to celebrate communal holidays indoors, Sukkot, the feast of Tabernacles, sends us out.

The deep significance of Tabernacles is beyond a single article, as it has historical, ecclesiological, eschatological, and prophetic significance, even today. Still, we will first look to one point: “And you shall take.”

Under the weight of enormous familial, societal, and occupational pressures, many of us have become tunnel visioned; so focused on the troubles before us that we scarcely take a moment to look up, look around, and remember that we are alive, after all.

This is not a commentary on meeting the immediate needs of the moment; rather, a reminder for all of us: look up.

I start this festival commentary, not in the grand endeavor of building a sukkah/tabernacle, but with a reminder to look. Look away from the mountain of pressures and problems before you, and look to the trees and waterways around you.

The Lord commands, “And you shall take,” implying that you are outside, and in the midst of life, but differently, the “fruit of a beautiful tree,” you have admired something other than your troubles, “curved branches of a palm tree,” movement once again, now down by the water, “branches of a willow,” to do what, “you shall rejoice before the Lord for seven days.”

Here the Lord takes us away from the confinement of our troubles, to His creation. We’ve had to look for fruit, look for beauty, touch creation, and visit flowing, living water. Life, beloved, is more than your troubles, fears, schedules, and pressures.

By this simple, overlooked, and often ignored command, the Lord is reminding us to saturate ourselves in His grace. All the rain has brought forth beauty, and fruit. The rain has caused the living waters to flow. The aroma of life fills, filters, and refreshes the stale air of worry. Beauty is what surrounds, the trials will pass.

Rejoicing before the Lord, waving the elements, the bouquet of His creation gathered in our hands, is the witness of victory. Yes, a victory even in anticipation.

Here is the final scene of Sukkot, a victorious people from every tribe, people, nation, and tongue, not fighting a virus or each other, but victorious in the Lamb:

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9).

Hag Sukkot Sameach!

Be well. Shalom.

Take Hold of the Rain

“Let my teaching drop as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, as raindrops on the tender herb, and as showers on the grass” (Deut. 32:2).

As Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 5782 dawned, it seemed prophetic that a heavy cleansing rain moved through the region, followed by a persistent, gentle shower – a cleansing picture of sorts. In this week’s Torah portion of Haazinu, “give ear,” the Torah is compared to rain. Rain is generally understood to be a blessing of the Lord associated with His demonstration of common grace in creation. Yet, the Torah – the instruction of the covenant Lord – is joined to the special revelation of covenant to the children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29).

What do we learn from Deuteronomy 32:2?

Rain has been known to spoil many a plan. How many of us can relate to planning an outing on a day off, only to have rain, which had not been forecast, suddenly enter the timeline of the day? Rain is necessary, but it can also be devastating in many ways.

On days when we have plans, dry weather is usually preferable. Still, even on those dry days we are eating the fruit of rain. We need it. When we eat, or admire creation, we appreciate the rain, that often causes annoyance, differently, in its fruit. The fresh produce; or the beauty of flowers, trees, and flowing streams. This fruit, however, takes time to be realized.

The Lord is telling us in Deuteronomy 32:2, to take hold of His teaching, His Word, with rain in mind. As noted above, rain can be inconvenient. If we are honest, faith, and the requisite time needed to study or devotionally read the Word of God can also be inconvenient. So we are told to take hold of it, like the rain.

יַעֲרֹף כַּמָּטָר לִקְחִי, “My teaching shall trickle as the rain.”

The word translated as “teaching” or “doctrine,” depending on translation, לֶקַח/leh’-kakh, means to take hold of something received, in hand or mind, in this case, rain. I’ve translated “drop,” עָרַף/aw-raf’, as trickle in order to illustrate what seems to be the meaning behind this verse.

On a recent long day hike I run out of water. While there were plenty of ponds on that section of the trail, even when filtered, pond water does not always taste that great. I knew there were several good running streams on the trail ahead, so I decided to wait. They were a bit further, well, a lot further than I remembered. Thirsty, I needed water. I decided the next pond would work. Thankfully, as I continued on the trail I heard a trickle of water in the woods; which fed a small stream further down in the valley. The water was clean, cool, and, well, water; but it was also a trickle. So I positioned my water bottle for the fill up. It took time, and while I drank one bottle, I filled a second bottle for the trail until the next water source. The trickle took a lot more time to fill my bottle than a rushing stream; but it gave me comfort, health, and renewed life for the journey ahead.

Bible study takes time, and might seem like a trickle. The fruit of study, like that of rain becomes apparent with the passage of time – a trickle of water filled the liters I needed, and the fruit of the trickle was readily apparent.

Study of His Word, and the fruit it produces will become apparent over time as life circumstances press in, and the well of encouragement, promise, and His faithfulness fills a thirsty soul seeking comfort, and refuge. So take hold of His rain, even a trickle can change your life.

Be well. Shalom.

Busy … Holy … Time

Luke 10:41-42, “Martha, Martha, you are fretting and worrying about so many things! But there is only one thing that is essential. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it won’t be taken from her.”

Can’t we all place ourselves in Martha’s position? Couldn’t we all insert our names into the correction offered by Jesus? What is Jesus saying to Martha’s frenetic and distracted situation and lifestyle? Mary has chosen the good portion – what is essential – but Martha chose something else.

We live in an age of busyness. We are all busy, busy, busy, and we never seem to have enough time. Professor Bruce Hindmarsh calls busyness “moral laziness.” This sounds rather harsh, but give attention to his reasoning, “Busyness is moral laziness because it is often a statement of our self-importance and our excuse to be inattentive to people . . . But God has given us just enough time to do what we need to do moment by moment to respond to him. And his grace is there; it is eternally present. Every moment is a sacrament where time touches eternity and there is exactly enough time to do what God has called us to do.” Everyone is busy, and there are often good reasons to be busy – but who are we living for? who are we testifying to? and who is the author of our days?

According to Professor Hindmarsh’s reasoning, time has an ethical, as well as, spiritual value to it. This begs the question? Is the Lord concerned with how His people spend their time? According to Leviticus 23, the answer is yes.

Leviticus 23 details the festival seasons of the Lord. Beginning with Passover in the Spring, and ending with Sukkot in the Fall, the seasons of the Lord show us how to make time holy – or set apart. These seasons are called – מוֹעֲדִים – often translated as “appointed times” or “designated time.” These “designated times” can be seasons of rest, joy, or even times of atonement.

Why does the Lord designate time?

The Torah of Moses created distinctions on numerous levels, but these distinctions were not to causes us to become arrogant or haughty, rather, to demonstrate who the Lord of our life is. The Lord, by the Torah, not only provides a normative standard for our conduct – but also for our time. Why? The feasts of the Lord are called “Sabbaths,” or times to rest. How can time become an ethical issue?

First, that the Lord created “designated time” demonstrates that rest is an ethical issue – why – because the Lord Himself rested. The normative standard is a call to rest. The existential motive is our response in obedience to His standard to rest by resting ourselves. Finally, the teleological witness is our response by creating an environment where others can rest.

מוֹעֲדִים, or “appointed time,” comes from the verb root, עֵד, meaning “witness.” What is it that we are a “witness” of by honoring the Lord’s appointed times? The Sovereignty of the Living God. Still, this root, עֵד, also tells us how we demonstrate this witness: 1) in the עֵדָה, or in our “congregation” – as we sanctify our time in response to the Lord, 2) with our עֵדוּת, or “testimony” of who He is and what He has done for us. We find that our “witness” is a triad: 1) time, 2) assembly, 3) and testimony; and each of these speak to “life” itself.

This was the heart of the correction that Jesus gave Martha: How are you spending your time? Who are you honoring with your time? Mary has chosen the good portion – what is essential – but Martha chose something else. Martha was trying to demonstrate how important and how essential she was, even in her devotional serving. Yet, Mary demonstrated how important and how essential Yeshua/Jesus is.

How we spend our time, and how we designate our time also reveals something of vital importance – who we are betrothed to. The root עֵד, referenced above, can be conjugated into another verb יָעַד, meaning “to betroth.”

“I will betroth you to Me forever – yes, I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, and mercy. I will betroth you to Me with faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord” (Hos. 2:19-20).

How we spend our time shows who we are betrothed to – whether honoring his times and seasons, or pausing just to sit in the quiet with the Lord – the appointed times demonstrate His love and faithfulness for us, and our love and faithfulness to Him. The Lord provides so much time for us each day, week, and year; and He only asks for a small portion of it to be dedicated to Him.

What, or who, are you pursuing with your time, and why?

Be well. Shalom.