THE GOOD AND THE BETTER OF SUKKOT

alternate textOne of the books in Scriptures that is traditionally read during the time of Sukkot, is the book of Ecclessiastes or Kohelet (Prediker). Few people would have picked this book as a guideline for Sukkot, if they were given the opportunity to pick any book from Scripures. If I were given the choice I may have chosen Genesis (Bereshit) where the word TENT appears about 25 times, or the book Exodus where the word TABERNACLE is used almost a 100 times or a book like Nehemiah where we find a wonderful description of the first time, after 70 years of exile, that the people came together in Yerushalayim and celebrated the feast of Sukkot. But for many people Ecclesiastes may seem like such a depressing book, with the infamous phrase “all is futile” being used almost 40 times in this book.

However, we should not underestimate the book of Ecclesiastes. The feast of Sukkot is a feast of seven days and if we add Yom Hashemini, it is 8 days altogether. Yom Hashemini (The Eighth Day) is sometimes also called Simchat Torah, which means Rejoicing in the Torah. Now, the word “simchah” is found 8 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. Interesting. The related word “samach” (which means “to rejoice” is also found 8 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. Interesting, once again. Sukkot is a feast of seven days but it is very closely linked to the the Eighth Day. And the Eighth Day is a reminder that Yahweh did not just assign seven days or seven seasons or seven millennia (seven periods of 1000 years) to mankind’s existence here on earth. No, He also prepared an Eighth Day – eight being the number of eternity and reminding us of eternal life.

What is even more interesting about the book of Ecclesiastes, is that the word “tov” which means “good” or “cheerful” or “pleasant” will be found no less than 52 times in the book of Ecclessiastes. There are 52 weeks or 52 periods of seven days in a normal year. Every time I hear that someone says there are 52 weeks in a year, I am amazed at how short that sound! No wonder, at the end of each week, one feels as though it was just yesterday or the day before that, when we came to the end of the previous week. And when you get to the end of the year, it feels like just the other day when the year began and the 52 week cycle was set into motion. Something that may help in this regard is to remind yourself that there are 31.5 million seconds in a year. That will make you feel much better and will help you to achieve much more, in the year to come!

But 52 instances of the word “tov” in a relatively short book like Ecclesiastes, is still pretty impressive. Many of you may have heard the Hebrew words of the song “Hinei ma tov umah na’im, shevet achim gam yachad” – “How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together”. In our Father’s estimation, there are many things that are valued as “tov” – “good”. One of those things is when brothers (and sisters!) are dwelling together in unity. I believe something really GOOD is happening here in Noordhoek this week where brothers and sisters are dwelling together in unity. Today, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank each one of you for your unique and honest contribution in this regard.

Yahweh wants for us all to stay as close as possible to what He regards as “tov”. Remember, at the end of each of the six days of creation, He looked at the act of creation of that particular day and saw that it was … TOV – GOOD! And whoever composed the original report of what happened during the six days of creation, thought it necessary, after each single day, to add the words, “And Elohim saw that it was good!” If our Creator performed his original work in this world alongside the guiding principle of “TOV”, we should do the exact same in all the works of our hands!

A book in Scriptures that uses the word “tov” even more than the book of Ecclesiastes, is the book of Proverbs or Mishleh. While the word “tov” appears 52 times in Ecclesiastes, it appears 62 times in Proverbs. And many times in the book of Proverbs, the word “tov” is translated as “better” – not just “good”. There are times when we have to decide whether we are going to settle for what is good, or whether we are going to choose what is better. Good is good, but better is better than good! And when it is an option to go for better than good, we better go for better!

Proverbs comes up with many examples of this principle. Prov 3:13-14 says the gain found in wisdom is better than the gain found in silver and gold. If that is the case, one may ask, why do so many believers invest a lot more effort and time into pursuing riches than they do into pursuing wisdom?

Pro 15:16 looks at the same principle, from a slightly different angle. “Better is a little, combined with the fear of Yahweh, than a great treasure, combined with trouble.” Let us remind one another once again today: There is no money in this world that can buy the most precious of all possessions, namely the fear of Yahweh. In our world today there are so many obsessions with possessions, but tragically only a handful of people that are serious about the fear of Yahweh.

We are having a great time when it comes to meal time this year, thanks to some wonderful contributions and the hard word of a number of people in the time leading up to this feast. We should extend our sincere thanks to the ones who made this happening and to Yahweh, who is our ultimate Provider and Source of abundance. A Feast without food would be like Cape Town without wind – it is quite simply unthinkable. But having said this, we should listen to another “better” saying in the book of Mishleh: Proverbs 15:17 “Better is a meal of vegetables where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.” Perhaps this is the reason why those communal meals of the early believers in Messiah were called “love feasts”. We can have the best food in the world, and enough food to feed an army, but we need to have the love of Yahweh – the kind of love demonstrated to us so exceptionally by his Son Y’shua. If this love is not dwelling and showing among us, we can just as well pack our things and go home. May these precious days also be a time of practicing and sharing a love that that is more than just words – love that reaches out and makes a difference!

Let us conclude with Pro 16:32. “He who is patient is better than the mighty, and he who rules over his spirit is better than he who takes a city.” To me this verse is something of a Sukkot special. We may not realize it while we are dwelling in our tents during Sukkot, but this is specialized therapy for those who struggle with impatience, short-temperedness and arrogance. You’ll not make it if you come here and rub shoulders with a 100 or so other Sukkot observers, if you have an attitude of being high and mighty. Why not? Because there is already a process of humbling and self-denial that has taken place in each one of us, even before we came to Noordhoek or to this service or even before we made the decision to join via Skype. I am speaking about the self-denial of admitting that Yahweh’s ideas are more important and more precious than our own ideas. That’s why we chose to get involved with a feast like Sukkot. Even though we may previously have felt that these feasts were NOT for us. But now I am submitting before Yahweh and I choose to follow his desires, ahead of my own! There is nothing that will help me more to become patient, than such an attitude. There is nothing that will help me more to rule over my own rebellious spirit, than this. There is no better treatment for arrogance than choosing a tent ahead of technology and a stretcher ahead of structure, simply because its part of Yahweh’s design for his people. The only verse in Proverbs (that I know of) that is quoted twice in the New Testament, is Proverbs 3:34 “Elohim resists the proud, but gives favour to the humble.” There is so much pride and arrogance in this world of ours, that we can only benefit by choosing a pattern of life and a pattern of worship that is truly inspired by Yahweh. By that simple declaration “It is good” when He created man, Yahweh gave us a clue that what He intended for us, was not only goodness, but excellence, granted that we put his ideas ahead of our own!