SUKKOT AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

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We have seen that Sukkot is a feast of joy.  Funny that the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes / Prediker) is traditionally seen as a fitting book to read during the feast of Sukkot.  Many people feel that Ecclesiastes is a depressing book.  It begins with the words “All is futile” (1:2) and it ends with exactly the same words – “all is futile” just 7 verses short of the last verse of this book.  In the entire book the same Hebrew word (for “futile” / “tevergeefs”) is used no less than 38 times.  So what’s there to be joyful about?  Quite surprisingly, the word “rejoice” (H: “samach”) appears 8 times (one for each day of this feast, plus the eighth day) the word “joy” (H: “simchah”) appears another 8 times and the word “laughter” appears 4 times (one for each season and more than in any other book of the Tanach) and the word “tov” which means “good” or “cheerful” or “pleasant” a whopping 52 times (one for each week of the (Gregorian!) year – an extraordinary number, considering the short span of this book).

Quite clearly, Shelomoh,  who was wiser and richer than any other man of his day, was looking into life and searching extensively for things that would bring true joy and pleasure and fulfilment in life.  In the process he found many things that fell short and did not provide the enjoyment that he thought it would provide.  And in the end we can say that the Book of Kohelet is his effort to share his findings with people like us.  His findings on matters like the meaning of life and what really matters in life.

Yesterday a strong wind came up during the time when Hannelie and I went to Fish Hoek – just after we had completed our service here in the tent – and within a few split seconds this wonderful new meeting tent of ours came down completely and was lying flat on the ground.  I know many people would be keen to read some kind of meaning into this event where the tent collapsed to a few layers of canvass on the ground.  Some people would perhaps say:  It just shows you that the Almighty does not approve of what we are doing here this weekend and gave us the sign of the collapsing tent!  Others would perhaps be more practical and conclude that the tent pegs were too small and the surface of the ground too brittle and soft to be able to hold up the tent against the well-known fierce winds in this area during this time of the year.

And hopefully more than one have been wise enough to realise:  This is what Sukkot is all about:  To abandon the steadiness and the protection of a house or a flat worth one or two or six million rand and to expose yourself to the possibility of a tent that may leak in the rain or may blow over in the wind.  Why?  To remind ourselves that we need MORE in life than the security and the protection and the wealth and the comfort and the technology and the enjoyment that the things of this world can offer.  Incidentally, that is exactly what Shelomoh had discovered and what he consequently tried to convey with this intriguing book of his.

Like the tent that collapsed in the wind, there are many things in life that we may depend upon and pursue and hold onto and value with almost everything we have, that may potentially and WILL, eventually, collapse like a house of cards. Let us look at a few of these in the Book of Kohelet.

1. The collapsing nature of money.
Ecc 4:8 There is one, without a second, who has neither son nor brother. And there is no end to all his labours. His eye also is not satisfied with riches. “And for whom am I toiling and depriving myself of good?” That too is futility, and an evil task.

2. The collapsing nature of ambition.
Ecc 2:22-23 For what does a man get for all his labour and strain of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun?  For all his days are sufferings, and his work grievous; even in the night his heart takes no rest. That too is futile.

3. The collapsing nature of the battles we fight.
Ecc 4:4-6 And I saw that all the toil and skill of the work bring envy between man and his neighbour. That too is futile and feeding on wind … Better is a hand filled with rest than both hands filled with toil and feeding on wind.

4. The collapsing nature of earthly success
Ecc 2:18-19 And I hated all my labour in which I had toiled under the sun, because I leave it to a man who would come after me. And who knows whether he is wise or foolish? Yet he shall rule over all my labour in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. That too is futile.

5. The collapsing nature of words and idle talk
Ecc 5:5-7 It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay. Do not allow your mouth to cause your flesh to sin … For in much dreaming and many words there is futility. But fear Elohim.

6. The collapsing nature of popular forms of enjoyment.
Ecc 2:1-2  I said in my heart, “Come now, let me try you with rejoicing and find out what is good.” But see, that too was futile. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of rejoicing, “What does it do?”

7. The collapsing nature of religious zeal.
Ecc 5:1-2  Guard your steps when you go to the House of Elohim. And draw near to listen rather than to give the slaughtering of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.  Do not be hasty with your mouth, and let not your heart hurry to bring forth a word before Elohim. For Elohim is in the heavens, and you on earth

Every year with our exodus to Noordhoek for Sukkot people are quite surprised to find out that there is a complete lack of any organized program, special events, guest speakers – no fireworks display, no sound and light show and no high profiled visitors – as that one advert say:  “definitely no lawyers”.  Just a bunch of ordinary believers who get together, feast together, eat and drink together, sing together, listen to Yahweh’s Word together and cherish the knowledge that we are all in the same boat, travelling together to the same destination.

Have you noticed how often in this book the expression appears: “A man could do no better but to eat and drink, and enjoy himself in his labour, for this is from the hand of Elohim.”  Nothing in life is more simple and more basic than eating and drinking.  But Yahweh is the One who enables us to do even the most simplest of things.  And eating and drinking is having fellowship with one another.  Eating and drinking is coming to know one another.  It is even a means to learn and to earn respect and love and caring for one another.  That is why no feast can be complete without eating and drinking.  It is not being fleshly or worldly minded to eat and to drink together and to make a big thing of it.  It is being human.  It is a way of caring for one another.  It is acknowledging:  I am not alone here on earth and I cannot manage on my own.

Is there anything else that Shelomoh had discovered in his search for meaning in life?  Yes, there is.  No less than seven times had he repeated the commandment:  Fear Yahweh … fear Yahweh … fear Yahweh. How is this accomplished?  The answer comes to us in the very last words of this book:
Ecc 12:13-14 Let us hear the conclusion of the entire matter: Fear Elohim and guard His commands, for this applies to all mankind! For Elohim shall bring every work into right-ruling, including all that is hidden, whether good or whether evil.

This is also the conclusion and the answer to the question why we are keeping this feast and what we are here for.  TO HAVE TRUE AND BASIC FELLOWSHIP WITH ONE ANOTHER AND TO TAKE HANDS IN OUR COMBINED EFFORT AND DESIRE TO FEAR YAHWEH AND TO OBEY HIS COMMANDMENTS!