Promises, Provision, and Presence for the Journey
Take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the LORD your God…Live in temporary 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. (from Leviticus 23:40-43)
“Are we there yet?” If you’ve ever traveled with young children, you’ve heard that question—probably many times before you arrived at your destination. Children joyfully anticipate arriving and have difficulty seeing the journey as a process that takes time.
As the Israelites traveled through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, God told them to build temporary shelters. Though their wandering lasted forty years, it was temporary. They did not settle in one place for very long. During this time God was with them and provided for them supernaturally— food called manna (Exodus 16:15, 31) and water which came from a rock (Exodus 17:6). He protected them with a covering cloud by day and a fiery pillar of light at night (Exodus 13:21-22). Neither their shoes nor clothes wore out! (Deuteronomy 29:5)
For 3500 years Jews have remembered the journey of the Israelites by celebrating Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. They build little booths with “plaited branches and with thatched roofs, which afford shade by day, but permit the stars to gaze down by night…”* They may eat meals and sleep in the booths.
When Jesus attended what would be his last Feast of Tabernacles before his death and resurrection, he stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:37-38). Later he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The symbols of water and light were prominent features of the Feast. Jesus was declaring that he was the fulfillment of God’s promise and provision of these things for all who would follow him.
Christ’s followers are “not there yet.” We’re on a journey through the wilderness on our way to the New Heaven and New Earth where God will dwell with us forever. As we journey, let us jubilantly rejoice in God’s promises, provision, and presence!
Sukkot is also celebrated by waving lulavs made from branches of citrus, palms, myrtles and willows, reminiscent of the desert plains, the mountains, and the valleys the Israelites passed as they journeyed. As you look at your past, can you see God’s promises, provision, and presence in your deserts, mountains, and valleys?
Sukkot looks back to God’s provision for the Israelites, looks at his provision for his people today, and looks forward to the fulfillment of all his promises. The reading prescribed for the first day of Sukkot is Zechariah 14:1-21.** How will the Feast of Booths be celebrated in the end times on the great Day of the Lord (see especially verses 16-21)?
Read Hebrews 11:12-16. How would the words used to describe these heroes of the faith fit us in our temporary dwellings on this earth?
Read John chapters 7-10 and reflect on Jesus’ words in light of the festivals and traditions which form the background. How has Jesus Christ fulfilled and transformed these things? Can you think of other examples of how the context of a scripture passage makes it more meaningful?
Nancy J. Baker
*The Gospel in the Feasts of Israel by Victor Buksbazen (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1954),45-55.
**www.etz-hayim.com/festivals/docs/sukkot.pdf. Accessed 9/16/2013.