Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 2 October 2004
"Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) for seven days to Yahweh. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it" (Lev.23:33-37, NKJV).
"You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress. And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates. Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to Yahweh your Elohim in the place which Yahweh chooses, because Yahweh your Elohim will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice. Three times a year all your males shall appear before Yahweh your Elohim in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag haMatzah), at the Feast of Weeks (Shavu'ot), and at the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot); and they shall not appear before Yahweh empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of Yahweh your Elohim which He has given you" (Deut.16:13-17, NKJV).
From the season of fasting, self-affliction, somber reflection, repentance and judgment we rapidly move, less than a week later, on to a festival of joy and celebration. People sometimes wonder why the autumnal festivals are in such quick succession and not spaced out more. There's a reason for that. Repentance and judgment is not something that is to be drawn out so that our life-energy and joy is drained out of us. We are not supposed to linger in the gloom of repentance lest we suffocate in it, but long enough that real change can take place. Our Father in Heaven is not a religious killjoy - He wants us to enjoy the holy life. But like all good things, there is always a price, and that price is repentance from sin.
The blessing of repentance is joy, and the blessing of Yom Kippur is Sukkot, otherwise known as the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles. Inside or outside every dwelling place of New Covenant Israel around the world, depending on the local climate, people have made temporary shelters in which to live for a week. This year in our family we have built several - two large tents over the communal table in our dining hall and several smaller ones for the youngsters and more adventurous adults to sleep in at night. In no other culture on this planet will you find such a tradition. It is utterly unique. People love to go camping, of course, but this is not your ordinary tent in a national park or on some safari. Indeed, strictly-speaking it's not a 'tent' at all but a sukkah which loosely translated is a 'hut'. In ancient Israel the people used to build them on top of their flat-roofed houses, something not easily done in our part of the world. These sukkot in which we live for a week have very important symbolic meanings and are not simply a memorial to an historical event. There is a vital spiritual message that Yahweh wants us to learn.
Reactions to Sukkot vary enormously. The small children always enjoy it. Those accustomed to the ways of the city and suburbia sometimes find it inconvenient and in a way this festival is particularly aimed at these people, but indeed at anyone who may find it annoying to abandon their soft beds for a tent and sleeping bag.
Historically, as everybody knows, the Festival of Booths is a reminder of the time when our forefathers spent an entire generation as nomads in the desert on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. That particular journey was not much fun, filled, as it was, with hardship and used, as it was by Yahweh, to stir up people's carnal nature. This was all a very long time ago to be sure but its message is the same for all generations. The story of the Exodus is also an allegory of our journey from captivity in sin to freedom in the theocratic life of the Almighty. The Exodus is a story about deliverance from bondage in the world, with all its flesh pots, lusts and temptations, to liberation in the Kingdom of God. And Sukkot is a part of that. Today, however, as we shall see in a moment, I want to look at Sukkot from a different angle which will have a special meaning for us in these last days. Before I do that, though, I need to remind you of a couple of things.
Firstly, the period of Sukkot was the time when the first mishkan was made. Now can anybody remember what the mishkan is? If you don't know I am sure you can guess. Yes, this was the time that the 'Tabernacle' or portable temple was built. After the first set of tablets had been destroyed, Moses once again climbed up to meet with Yahweh on Mt.Sinai at Yom Kippur to collect a second set which represented His forgiveness of the peoples' 'golden calf rebellion'. In the days before Sukkot the materials for the tabernacle were collected and construction began (Ex.35; 36:1-7). For Yahweh ordered Moses and the children of Israel:
"... let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it" (Ex.25:8-9, NKJV).
The building of the Tabernacle at Sukkot was for the purpose of allowing Yahweh to dwell amongst His people. The elaborate system of sealed off areas, ritual purifications, and priestly duties contained a formula for spiritual purification to allow man to approach God. In addition to the Tabernacle, a supernatural manifestation of Yahweh was present in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Thus the people had a way to approach the Most High and a compass to follow, at all times of the day and night, in their journey through the desert.
Today, as we know, the Tabernacle is our physical bodies. Our bodies, like the Tabernacle, have to be purified so that Yahweh can live in us through His Son. We too need a spiritual compass in life so that we can walk in God's will and purpose. After Yom Kippur, which is the purging process, we are given a divinely patterned covering or sukkah so that no matter where we are or whatever we are doing, we can walk in His presence always. The clouds, as we know from scripture, represent the saved (Heb.12:1; Rev.1:7), for no man or woman is called to be alone but is to walk together with the Body of Christ as a community. Being in Yahweh's presence in His Tabernacle is not just a personal one-to-one walk - it is a journey of all His people through life as a camp. We need each other today just as the children of Israel needed each other then, both for safety as well as to partake of the giftedness of each other as we work out individual and collective salvation in fear and trembling. We walk as a nation not just as private individuals.
Sukkot, as I have said, is that season of joy that follows those who know what it is to be forgiven. For those who have celebrated Yom Kippur mechanically, Sukkot will likely have just as little meaning. Sukkot is the fruit of Yom Kippur and if you have artificially constructed your repentance then you will in the same way artificially construct your joy. Yes, we can fake repentance as much as we can fake joy. Millions of people do. People put on masks of happiness when underneath they are discontented or miserable. So for someone who has not been touched by the mercy and healing of Christ for the repentant sinner, Sukkot will just be another ritual to go through and to get over with as quickly as possible. For such Yahweh graciously bestows another cycle of festivals to help them make contact with their real selves through symbols, to assist them to seek for the only One who can help them. For Sukkot is the last of the mandatory seven festivals. Even if you did 'miss the boat' at Yom Kippur and perhaps feel sad or disappointed as a result, please understand that there is still much you can learn from Sukkot. For in Sukkot Yahweh's promises remain.
This year I want to look at Sukkot from an entirely new angle. Sukkot was given by Yahweh to the children of Israel. It isn't just for 'anybody'. It was given when Israel, after years of exile in Egypt, had become a mighty nation consisting of anywhere up to a couple of million souls. But it began with one man and it is from here we can trace the original concepts behind Sukkot. And the name of that man was Abraham.
Now when Abraham was born there were no Israelites. Jacob, whom Yahweh renamed Israel, was two generations into the future. So if Abraham was not an Israelite, who was he? He came from Ur of the Chaldees, what is today a submerged part of Mesopotamia southeast of Iraq, but he is not called a Chaldee. The Bible calls him "Abram the Hebrew" (Gen.14:13), that is, a descendant of the patriarch 'Eber or Heber. So important is this designation that it continues to be used in the Scriptures long after 'Israel' is adopted as the name of Yahweh's set-apart tribe. Joseph of Egypt is called a "Hebrew" (Gen.39:17; 41:12). Centuries later, after Israel had become a numerous people in Egyptian captivity, they were known as Hebrews (e.g. Ex.1:15). Centuries after this the prophet Jonah called himself "a Hebrew ... who fears Yahweh, the God of heaven" (Jon.1:9). Unfortunately, Christians and non-Christians alike make the error that a Hebrew and an Israelite are one and the same. They aren't. All Israelites are Hebrews by descent, but not all Hebrews are Israelites. Though it might shock them, the Arabs are Hebrews too, because they are descended from 'Eber. And both are descended from Shem, or Shemites, from which we get the term 'Semite'.
There is an entire book in the New Testament addressed to the Hebrews. It is called the Letter to the Hebrews (written by Paul and translated to Greek by Luke) - not the Letter to the Israelites, and not the letter to the Jews, even though one translator (David Stern) has erroneously renamed it 'Messianic Jews'. It was not written to those who today call themselves 'Messianic Jews' but to all Hebrews. And more importantly than that, it is addressed to all those who are Hebrews by adoption.
We have a tendency in our carnal minds when we read words like 'Hebrews' and 'Israelites' to think racially. But this would be wrong. Strictly-speaking there is no such thing as someone who belongs to a 'race' called Israel because Israel was a name given by Yahweh to a MAN, and in particular, to Jacob. Yahweh didn't just rename Him for fun. He renamed Him for a reason. He renamed him after his contest with the angel at the Jabbok river. He renamed him as a testimony of his character for finally, at this battle, Jacob the deceiver surrendered. He was facing a crisis of his life, namely, an imminent meeting with his angry and vengeful brother Esau whom he had tricked of his inheritance and birthright years before. He faced death not just for himself but for his wives and children. He faced his judgment. He faced his Yom Kippur. And he was frightened - very frightened indeed. Then, as we know, one of Yahweh's malakim or angels turned up and Jacob clung on to that angel for dear life. He refused to let him go until he had received a blessing - until he was guaranteed deliverance. He dislocated his thigh in the struggle. And this was the blessing he received: "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed" (Gen.32:28, NKJV). Oh yes, he had struggled ... and do you know, the only way you can grow in your spiritual life is if you struggle! This man Jacob had character - he was a deceiver and was tricked in return by his father-in-law Laban on more than one occasion. He learned his lesson the hard way. He learned that there are real, tangible consequences for sin, and that life does not bypass those who break Yahweh's Torah, whatever the motives. He knew at the River Jabokk that he had reached his credit limit with Yahweh and now was the payback time ... in the form of a very angry elder brother called Esau. His past had caught up with him and he knew that he didn't stand a chance. He was both morally and physically outnumbered. Forced by circumstances to seek refuge, he turned to the only One who could deliver Him, and in spite of the grueling fight which I am sure was both spiritual as well as physical, he clung on for dear life to this angel until he had obtained his deliverance.
Many are of the false belief that Jacob somehow conquered the angel, and therefore God. That is ridiculous. No human being can overwhelm an angel, and any thought of a human being overwhelming God is insanity. Let us be quite clear: Jacob won only by losing. The new name he received, 'Israel', does not, as some linguists (and especially proponents of the neo-Nazi Jewish Master Race doctrine) like to tell us, 'he will rule God' (Strongs 3478) - but what it actually means is 'God rules'. The name Israel means that Yahweh 'rules, 'orders' or 'commands' and not the other way round! Jacob won only because he surrendered - completely - to Yahweh's sovereignty in his life.
And that, brethren and sisters, is the meaning of 'Israelite' today - one who has struggled and surrendered to Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). This is consistent with the teaching of Paul to the Romans. The New Testament teaches that Yahweh's chosen people are those who have struggled with the flesh and conquered. The New Testament teaches that Yahweh's chosen people are not those of some racial descent but those who, like Israel, have confronted the awfulness of their sin and clung on to God until they are blessed with a new name - Israel - meaning that God rules in their lives. The New Testament teaches that Yahweh's chosen people are those who are circumcised in their hearts so that all impurity is removed by the knife of affliction (Rom.2).
Race means nothing in the New Covenant. Those Jews who refused Yah'shua (Jesus) as their Messiah in the days of the apostles lost their membership in the Tribe of Judah, and those Gentiles who accepted Him became Judahite citizens (Rom.11)! They became Israelites in exactly the same way as Jacob did. You see, we have entered a covenant like that of the old patriarchs. We get right with Yahweh through overcoming through faith. Only those Jews who accept Yah'shua (Jesus) as King of the Jews remain Jews - the rest cease being Jews of the covenant. They are something else, but they are not Jews anymore. So how can those who have rejected the King of the Jews possibly claim to be the 'chosen people'? It is a lie. They are not. They are the children of rebellion without inheritance rights or any claim on the name of Israel. They may call themselves Jews but they are not. A true Judahite is one who is circumcised in his heart and believes in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). That is what the Bible teaches.
Whenever a person accepts the Messiah and makes his heart holy he becomes a Judahite because he has accepted the King of Judah as his Redeemer. When he wrestles with his fallen nature and overcomes as Jacob did by total surrender, Yahweh becomes his God and Ruler for real and not just in name. Alpha-salvation makes you a Judahite but overcoming makes you an Israelite. Simple-faith makes you a member of the tribe of Judah, but wrestling with your flesh until you have obtained Yahweh's full blessing makes you a member of the nation of Israel and a son (or daughter) of the Firstborn.
Now it is important to remember that Judah and Israel are separate nations (e.g. 1 Ki.1:35). Judah consisted of the two southern tribes with capital in Jerusalem. Israel consisted of the ten northern tribes with capital first in Shiloh and later in Samaria. The very first tabernacle or temple was at Shiloh where Samuel grew up under the High Priest Eli. This was in the land of Ephraim. Samuel was an Ephraimite and, as I mentioned in a sermon I gave to you on two Nazirites, was a man who did not sin before Yahweh unlike King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin which, after the Kingdom of Solomon divided, became attached to Judah. Please note this important prophecy made concerning Shiloh:
"The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes" (Gen 49:10, NKJV).
Here Shiloh is an epithet for the Messiah, Yah'shua (Jesus). Rulership would be in the hands of Judah until the coming of Christ. But why is Christ called 'Shiloh'? The answer may astonish you.
The first Sukkah, Chupah or tabernacle was at Shiloh in the land of Ephraim. When the northern Israelites apostacised, Yahweh's glory departed from it and it was transferred to Jerusalem after the Ten Tribes were taken into captivity by Assyria and eventually scattered across the whole world. When Judah apostacised in the days of Jeremiah, the glory of Yahweh departed again and the Judahites were taken into captivity in Babylon. A small remnant was allowed to return to Judah so that the Messiah could be born. This remnant became totally mixed up with the Edomites to the south - the descendants of Esau - so that by the time Yah'shua (Jesus) was born those who called themselves 'Jews' were partly of Judah, partly of Esau, and partly of other tribes. And the Samaritans in Samaria were mixed in with the Assyrians. The priestly class in those days was run largely by the Edomite Jews and this was a reason they were so hostile to the Messiah. They have since presented their own anti-messiahs or antichrists in great numbers, the latest being a Lubavicher Jew who has since died, and created their own republic in the Middle East.
So what happened to the tabernacle after it had departed from Jerusalem? What of Herod's Temple? Didn't Christ recognise it as His Father's House? Yes, He did, but the glory was no longer there. And it was soon to be totally and utterly destroyed for the last time.
The moment Yah'shua (Jesus) was presented as Messiah, the sceptre that had been held by Judah passed to Him who was called 'Shiloh'. The King of the Jews or Judahites was now also the King of Shiloh and of Israel. In Him the two halves of the Kingdom of Solomon are reunited.
But we must be careful not to be focussed on racial or fleshy things. Judah represents, as we have seen, the first stage of our discipleship, simple faith in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). Evangelical Christians and other Protestants are largely doing this work - bringing unbelievers to Christ. But that is not the end of the road. Yahweh did not become tabernacled as Yah'shua (Jesus) just to bring people to simple faith and give us inheritance in the Tribe of Judah. He came also to make us Israelites and wishes us to come to Him as King of Shiloh in Ephraim ... in Joseph.
But before that can happen we have to become Hebrews as was Abram. A full redeemed son or daughter of God is a Judahite, an Israelite and a Hebrew. Paul called himself a Hebrew (Phil.3:5). What, then, is a Hebrew spiritually-speaking? The answer lies in the meaning of the name. A Hebrew is a 'refugee', an 'immigrant' as Abram was. He was told to leave his father's house and his Chaldean roots just as we, as simple spiritual Judahites, are told to forsake and overcome the world, go on to perfection (Heb.6:1), and inherit all things (Rev.21:7). That means forsaking our cultural roots and becoming immigrants in a 'foreign land' - becoming "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Heb.11:13). It means, like Abraham, leaving the house of our father and our homeland for a better land. And that begins within.
Many people still cling emotionally and mentally onto the place of their birth and where they grew up. These things were important for us as children but are a hindrance in our adult spiritual life. Are you proud because you are an 'American', 'British', 'Norwegian', 'Indian', or anything else? If you are, then you are a prisoner of the flesh still, a victim of the "pride of life" (1 Jn.2:16). These things can never bring you to perfection - they are stumbling blocks in the way. You are being called to cast off the old tabernacle of your birth and allow Yahweh to cover you with His tabernacle - the tabernacle or Succah of Israel - the sukkah that makes of you a Hebrew, an immigrant - one who has left home and childish things (1 Cor.13:11) and released himself from his past so that he can go on to maturity - "... let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation ..." (Heb.6:1, NKJV).
Those who choose to remain babes in Christ will remain spiritual Judahites. Those who refuse to leave their father's home and childhood things cannot become Hebrews - overcomers, the Firstborn. We have to completely sever the psychic apron strings of our parents and the countries that birthed us in order to be single-mindedly grafted into the Nation of Israel. The majority of Christians will not do this - they still want to be linked by their umbilical cords to that which birthed them. And so they will not become tabernacled by the fullness but remain in the Pentecostal Age of Shavu'ot.
The Festival of Tabernacles is about many things but primarily for us it is about growing up into the fullness which is in Christ. Paul said:
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ" (Eph.4:11-15, NKJV).
This has been the message of the New Covenant Church of God since the day Yahweh called us into existence. It is the calling to become tabernacled by the fullness. But first you have to let go of the old because the new wine cannot be put in the old wineskin (Lk.5:38). That is why Yahweh had to start us from scratch and take us through many painful purging processes so that we, as a Body, could become ensigns of the new Gospel Dispensation of Sukkot which has begun. The Body of Christ is in a painful transition from a multi-denominational mass of confusion to a single Echad oneness as a Hebrew and Israelite Community of Overcomers. Only the overcomers will survive the darkness that is daily growing around us. The simple, milky Judahite faith is not enough, and indeed is being destroyed by counterfeits.
What is Yahweh asking you to do, brethren and sisters? He is asking those who have repented and been judged at Yom Kippur to abandon the "weak and beggarly elements" (Gal.4:9) of the world and of watered-down Christianity which are worse than useless. You can't be double-minded in Christ (Jas.1:8) and expect not to be unstable, for if you remain so, you will twist the word and your experiences to fit into your double-minded world (2 Pet.3:16) and end up even more confused than before. The Gospel - the fullness of the Gospel - is whole, complete, harmonious, and conducive to single-mindedness.
Somebody once told me that the fact I walk in a straight path with a fixed goal scared them. It unnerved them. But the truth is, anyone who walks this Path in the spirit of Sukkot is unnerving for those whose lives twist and turn as they desperately seek for meaning. Our pole is fixed in the Rock of Ages and is our first marker - the second, which is like it, is the Fullness of the Father. We want to be Israelites. We want to be Hebrews. We want to return to Yahweh. And that is why we are gathered today. I hope you will join with us. Amen.
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Last updated on 7 January 2005
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