Sukkot: A Simple SHELTER of Love and Protection

Sukkot: booths, sheltering structures [feminine plural] (Strong’s 5521). Sukkah [singular]

Sukkot in Hebrew script: סֻכֹּ֔ת

Sounds like: su’Cote

Tonight at sundown begins the first day of the appointed time of Sukkot, often described as the Festival or Feast of Tabernacles.

But sukkot means more than a tabernacle. In fact a whole host of English words are translated from sukkot, including:

  • booth, shelter, den, pavilion, canopy, tent, tabernacle, hiding place

However, there are already Hebrew words for some of these. Tabernacle/ tent is ohel/ahalow, shelter/refuge is kha’sah, den/lair is ma’own

The concept here is something that covers over. The root sakak (5526a) means to cover. But this covering is temporary. God calls His people to remember the time, before entering the promised land, when they lived in the wilderness in temporary shelters that covered and protected them from the harsh elements.

Leviticus 23:33-34

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles [ha’sukkot] begins, and it lasts for seven days’…

Leviticus 23:42-43

…Live in temporary shelters [ba’sukkot] for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters  [ba’sukkot] so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters  [ba’sukkot] when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’ ”

According to the Hebrew calendar today is the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei). Today is the day when all of God’s chosen people are to remember these temporary shelters. Until God’s shelter is permanently established, we should remember what He’s done for us in the past.

Photo by Yash Raut on Unsplash

Now, interestingly enough, first time we see the word sukkot in the Torah is when Jacob feels called to repent to his brother and own up to all the misdeeds he’s done towards him. Esau is very forgiving and they part ways on good terms. Esau heads to Seir and Jacob travels towards a place called Succoth (Sukkot):

Genesis 33:15-17

“Let me leave some of my people with you,” Esau said.

But Jacob replied, “Why do that? Let me find favour in the sight of my lord.”

So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir, but Jacob went on to Succoth, where he built a house [ba’eet] for himself and shelters [sukkot] for his livestock; that is why the place was called Succoth.

So the first time we read about sukkot, it was made to be a shelter for livestock. That seems strange. There’s nothing glorious about sukkot. These are not fancy shelters. They offer the basic need of protection, a quick roof over your head. Sukkah’s are often associated with giving shade: 

Isaiah 4:5-6

Then YHWH will create over all of Mount Zion and over her assemblies

a cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night.

For over all the glory there will be a covering/canopy [huppah],

and a shelter [wey’sukkah] to give shade from the heat by day,

and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and the rain.

The ever grumpy prophet Jonah, hoping to see the destruction of Ninevah, built himself a sukkah outside the city to catch the view:

Jonah 4:5-11

Then Jonah left the city and sat down east of it, where he made himself a shelter [sukkah] and sat in its shade to see what would happen to the city. So YHWH God appointed a vine, and it grew up to provide shade over Jonah’s head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was greatly pleased with the plant.

When dawn came the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant so that it withered.

As the sun was rising, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint and wished to die, saying, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Then God asked Jonah, “Have you any right to be angry about the plant?”

“I do,” he replied. “I am angry enough to die!”

But YHWH said, “You cared about the plant, which you neither tended nor made grow. It sprang up in a night and perished in a night. So should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well?”

Strangely this is how the book of Jonah ends. YHWH uses Jonah’s sukkah to make a point. Jonah’s sukkah wasn’t adequate enough to produce shade so YHWH made a plant to grow and protect Jonah. But Jonah did nothing to care for it or keep it alive. If we are given a gift and do nothing to protect it, we have no right to grumble when it’s gone. Jonah also did nothing for the people of Ninevah, other than a few words of doom and gloom. He needed to learn the virtues of  care and compassion. He needed to offer the people of Ninevah the shelter (sukkot) and protection that God provides for those who love Him.

The Psalmist understood this. He had compassion for the needs of people and, unlike Jonah, offered words of hope:

Psalm 31:19-24

[To YHWH:] How great is Your goodness which You have laid up for those who fear You,

and bestowed on those who take refuge in You in the sight of the sons of men.

You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the schemes of men.

You conceal them in a pavilion [b’sukkah]  from the strife of tongues.

Blessed be YHWH,

for He has shown me His loving devotion in a city under siege.

In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from Your sight!”

But You heard my plea for mercy when I called to You for help.

Love YHWH, all His saints.

YHWH preserves the faithful, but fully repays the arrogant.

Be strong and courageous, all you who hope in YHWH.

The festival of Sukkot isn’t just remembering what YHWH did in the desert for the Hebrew people. It also looks forward to a time when God will dwell among His people. He promised that a Messiah would come from the line of David to save all the people (2 Samuel 7:11b-16). When the line of David seemed to fall after being conquered by the Babylonians, the expectation for a Messiah must have seemed hopeless. But the Prophet Amos spokes God’s words of hope:

Amos 9:11-15

“In that day I will restore the fallen tent [sukkat] of David.

I will repair its gaps, restore its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old…”

YHWH, through the line of David, will rebuild His house in Jerusalem (also referred to as Salem and Zion). The Psalmist supports this:

Psalm 76:1-2…8-9

God is known in Judah; His name is great in Israel.

His tent [sukkow] is in Salem, His dwelling place in Zion…

…From heaven You pronounced judgment,

and the earth feared and was still when God rose up to judge,

to save all the lowly of the earth.

According to this Psalm God judges to save… to save the lowly of the earth. And this is exactly what Yeshua did. He came to save, and to turn the idea of a kingdom upside-down; a kingdom where the greatest is the least, and the least is the greatest. But none of it could have happened if Yeshua had not become a citizen of the earth.

John 1:14

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

When Joseph found out that Mary (whom he had never been physically intimate with) was pregnant, he struggled with what to do. But an angel visited him with these words:

Matthew 1:20-23

But after he had pondered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the One conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you shall give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

“Behold! The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel (which means, “God with us”).

And so, Messianic Jews and Christians throughout the world believe that Yeshua became Immanuel, God with us. He most certainly lived nomadically, temporarily moving here and there, wherever he was called to share his message. It wasn’t glorious living, but it was living to the fullest.

Yeshua (Jesus) dwelt on earth. He pitched his sukkah and wandered among us. He came to this planet to live and to come in direct contact with humanity. This action saved us. He is the tabernacle where we can face God; he is the tent that protects us; he is the shelter in the storm; he is the hiding place we can rely on. In every way Yeshua is the dwelling place where we can rest and be at full peace, shaded by his overwhelming compassion and and everlasting love. Amen.

Next week: family

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