Today marks the conclusion of what Jesus’ Jewish culture called “The Great Feast,” or the “Feast of Tabernacles,” a week-long celebration that coincided with the beginning of harvest. God instituted this feast in the law to given to Moses in Leviticus 23, instructing his people to set up and reside in temporary shelters (or sukkah) for a week each year, commencing 5 days after Yom Kippur. In their temporary tabernacles they were to pray, eat festive food with family and friends, read God’s word, and be JOYFUL every day of the feast. No mourning was allowed; fasting was forbidden.
The Bible is rich with references to this feast; it is a frequent backdrop to the life and teaching of Jesus. Like all of God’s special seaons, the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot) illustrates beautiful realities about God and his people. God gave it originally to commemorate the time when the Israelites lived in the terrible wilderness protected only by His faithful provision and presence, so they would never forget his faithfulness and devotion to them there.
God wanted them to always remember that after setting the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt, he ordered Moses to build a tabernacle so that he could “dwell in the midst of” his people. This reveals much about God’s heart to not be a God far off, but to share life with his people.
Rabbinic sages teach that just as God left Heaven and caused His presence to dwell on earth in the midst of their camp, His people will show God that they also leave their homes and dwell with him in the sukkah, the protective shelter of His faithfulness. It is to me a lovely picture of how we meet with God by faith; and how that meeting is meant to be characterized by joy and blessed life.
Eliyahu Kitov writes of observant Jews in The Book of Our Heritage, “When Sukkos comes, and they leave the comfort of their homes to dwell in the shelter of the sukkah, it is then that they feel secure. Their hearts are filled with trust and joy, for they are no longer shielded by the protection of their own roof, but by the shelter of faith and trust in God. One who places his trust in the shadow of the wings of the Shechinah knows no fear at all.” For this reason their sages also call this festival the “shelter of faith,” because to them it represents the shelter of protection which is provided by faith and trust in God.
What worshipping Jews celebrate for just one week of the year is, I believe, a picture of what life (in the heart) is meant to be every day for the children of God who live by faith in Jesus Christ. We are safer in the shelter of God’s faithful love than anything the world offers. Furthermore, God has chosen our hearts for his tabernacle. Whatever else is going on outside, on the inside — where life is shared with God — there should be joy, satisfaction, rest, devotion to God’s word, and continual communion with the amazing and gracious God who chooses to live there.
From heaven’s perspective, this world is a type of wilderness for God’s children, because our sojourn here is temporary while we travel towards a better place, a promised land. But while here, dear believer, your heart is God’s tabernacle, and His heart is your tabernacle. Dwell in the shelter of His love, always, dear people. I am absolutely convinced that this is God’s joy….