Sukkot, Part 2: The Holy One Dwells Among His People

sparse sukkah
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As we saw in the previous article, when the people of Israel committed the sin of the golden calf, Moses removed the Tent of Meeting to outside the camp, to show that the sin of the people was so great that God had removed His Presence from them. And we saw that Moses fasted and interceded before God for forty days and returned on Yom Kippur with a new set of tablets to demonstrate that the Eternal One had restored His covenant with His people.

The story does not end there. Shortly after returning from Mt. Sinai, Moses commanded that Israel begin building the Tabernacle, the instructions for which he had already received (Exo. 35). This associates the building of the Tabernacle with the Feast. Scripture also tells us that the Glory of God descended on Solomon’s newly-completed Temple on Sukkot (2 Ch. 5:3), and that the foundation of the Second Temple, the altar, was completed for this Feast (Ezra 3:4). Therefore, this Feast is intimately connected with God dwelling among His people, since the Tabernacle and the Temple were where He came to meet with them and dwell among them (Exo. 29:42-46). This links the Feast with the birth of Immanuel, God With Us.

It is generally well understood that Yeshua was not, in fact, born on December 25 of 1 A.D despite long tradition and the date on calendars all over the world. Not only is this an absurdly late time of the year for shepherds to be tending their flocks in the field (Luke 2:8), when the weather would be cold and the mountains of Judea impassible, but it is well-known that the date was selected to co-opt a popular pagan festival, Saturnalia, into Christianity. Though the Bible does not specifically record Messiah’s birth-date, it does give us a number of clues.

Since the days of Solomon, the Aaronic priesthood was divided into 24 “courses,” or groups (1Ch. 24). Luke’s Gospel account begins not with the birth of Yeshua, as we might expect, but with the conception of Yochanan HaTivlei (John the Baptist). We learn that Yochanan’s father, Zechariah, was of the course of Aviyah (Luke 1:5), which was the eighth course (1Ch. 24:10). Josephus (Antiquities VII.14.7) tells us that each course served in the Temple for a period “one course should minister to God eight days, from sabbath to sabbath.” This would start with the first week of Nisan (the month of Passover), which the Holy One decreed to be the beginning of the year (Exo,. 12:2). On weeks with a Feastday, all the priests would serve together in order to handle the pilgrimage crowds.

As a result of this arrangement, Aviya served in the week leading up to Shavuot. It was during this service that Zechariah was visited by Gabriel and told that he would have a son. Yochanan, unlike Yeshua, was not virgin-born, which means that his conception could not take place until after Zechariah finished the week of his course’s service, the week of service for Shavuot, and returned home, putting his conception sometime in Sivan, the fourth month (again, counting from Nisan, not Tishri). Assuming a normal 280 or so day gestation, this would put Yochanan’s birth sometime in Nisan, perhaps on Passover itself. This not only makes the title by which he first greeted Yeshua, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” even more poignant and apropos, it is also completely in-synch with his coming in the spirit and power of Elijah: Every year at Passover, observant Jewish families set out a cup for Elijah, in the hopes that he will return bearing word of the Messiah’s coming.

Since Luke makes it clear that Yeshua was conceived six months after Yochanan (1:26, 36), this puts Yeshua’s birthday at the time of the Fall High Holy Days. Some have supposed the Messiah to have been born on Rosh Hashanah, when Jewish tradition says that Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Samuel were all born. Missler, noting this rabbinical tradition, supports the theory that Yeshua, the “last Adam” (1Co. 15:45), was born on that same feast (Feasts). Other commentators take the same position, but Rabbi Moreno-Bryars takes the position that the start of Sukkot was the correct birth date:

The only reason that Beit-Lechem would possibly be crowded in mid-Tishrei would be for Sukkot. The first and last days of Sukkot were “high Shabbats” and travel on those days was forbidden. Therefore Yoseph would have planned their trip to arrive not later than a few hours before sunset preceding the first day of Sukkot. According to Luke’s account, Yeshua was born that night, on 15 Tishrei. . .

The “birth” of a Jewish baby boy was not considered complete until he had been circumcised on the eighth day. On the eighth day, Yeshua’s “presentation” in the Temple included His circumcision according to Torah. Thus we see that the birth of Yeshua HaMashiach spanned the entire eight days of Sukkot, including His birth on the holy Shabbat which was the first day of Sukkot and His circumcision on the holy Shabbat which was the eighth and final day of Sukkot. . . God’s preparation of the Feast of Sukkot centuries before His birth gives extra significance to Yochanan’s comment “The Word became flesh, and lived(literally, “tabernacled”)among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). (“When Was Yeshua Born?”)

The word translated “dwelt” in the KJV is eskenusen, which is a form of the word skenoo. Skenoo is actually a Greek derivation of the same root from which we get sukkah, and literally means “tabernacle, to pitch a tent.” John’s word choice was not idle; is this his hint to us that the Word was made flesh and eskenusen among us on the day of Sukkot?

The second is in the nature of the Feast itself: The Lord commands that it last for seven days, but also commands that a special Sabbath be observed on the eight day as well. What special event in a newborn Israelite boy occurs on the eighth day? His circumcision (Lev. 12:3). Therefore, the Feast began with the birth of the Messiah, and concluded with His circumcision, when He received the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, the mark that identified Him fully with Israel.

A few weeks ago, I wrote on Psalm 27 and it’s significance to Rosh Hashannah, and noted,

The phrase “secret of His tent He will hide me,” yistireini b’seiter ahla’u, arranges the sentence to place two forms of the Hebrew word seiter together, which in most cases means emphasis; e.g., qadosh haqadoshim means, literally, “the holy of holies,” but is more of the sense of, “the most holy.” Here, since seiter means a secret, we could understand the sentence to mean, “He will surely secret me away in the most secret part of His tent.”

I suggested a prophetic remez in the interpretation of that passage, a hint of the day when we would be lifted up into the hidden, true Holy of Holies. But now, let me suggest another prophetic meaning: That the “secret of secrets” and “tent” of the Holy One refers to our Messiah.

In what way is Yeshua like a sukkah? A sukkah is a temporary dwelling, ideally made of natural materials rather than manufactured ones, deliberately frail and built in such a way that those within are exposed to the elements. It has no form or comeliness that we should desire it. Nevertheless, dwelling in a sukkah is an occassion of great joy and fellowship, one which we will see in a later post anticipates the Resurrection.

In the same way, Yeshua’s mortal body–what Christian theologians sometimes call His “human nature”–was a temporary residence and Temple/Tabernacle (John 2:21) for the Sh’khinah and Word of the Living God, deliberately made with all human frailty (Heb. 2:17), exposed to the elements. He had no form or comeliness that we should be attracted to Him, but nevertheless, those who dwell with Him experience the great joy and fellowship of His Spirit, anticipating the Resurrection.

I’ll have to write another post exploring the idea of Yeshua being a living Temple for the Sh’khinah of the Holy One sometime soon. For now, however, I and mine will be celebrating the birth of our King over the next eight days.

Shalom.

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