The word for the feast that started last night, as most of you know, is Sukkot, from Sukkah, which means something like a temporary dwelling or a tent. The original word in Hebrew refers to a covering or, more precisely, the act of covering something or someone. A tent is just another word for a covering, something that protects, something that provides shelter. If that is the case, many people would say, why cannot we remain in our solid and more permanent and properly built brick and wooden houses during the time of Sukkot? Don’t they provide even better covering and shelter than a tent – especially in the Cape where extreme winds and rain this time of the year is never out of the question? Let us remember that Sukkot is not primarily about camping in the mountains or at a designated place for camping. What we have here is very nice but it is a fairly recent invention – fancy tents, camping plots and ablution blocks. Sukkot is more about the combination of both taking time off and spending time – in a simple structure – anywhere, even in your own backyard – a structure or shelter that is put – even that was put up specifically for the purpose of basic covering against the elements. This is exactly what the people did in Nehemiah’s time: (Neh 8:17) “And the entire assembly of those who had come back from the captivity made booths and they sat (or spent time) under the booths … And there was very great rejoicing.” And why did the people of Yisrael have to do it? Lev 23 gives us the reason: “So that your generations may know that I made the children of Yisrael dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Mitsrayim. I am Yahweh your Elohim.” First He brought them out. Then He brought them to a place of covering. Then He brought them back to Himself: I am Yahweh your Elohim! There is a sense in which we were all brought out of bondage; and then brought to a place of covering; and then brought to Yahweh – brought back to Him or brought to Him for the first time.
Why is the aspect of covering so prominent in the feast of Tabernacles? Let us look at places in Scriptures where the verb for “to cover” is used – the very same word from which we get the word “sukkot”. When looking at these words that are all about a certain kind of covering, each one of us may find one or two or three kinds of covering that speak to our own situations and our own lives. Let’s face it: We cannot exist without Yahweh’s covering. Without his covering we shall be exposed to all the dangers and all the brutality and all the ugliness and all the evil of the powers and principalities of this world. Even the important day of Yom Kippur, a few days ago, was all about covering – the covering of our sins through repentance and forgiveness and the sense of being reconciled again with Yahweh, or moving back to a position of being covered by his favour and love.
Speaking of Yom Kippur, the FIRST COVERING is a type of covering that is not pleasant at all, but also one that we know, all too well. It is the covering spoken of in Lam 3:44 “You have covered Yourself With a cloud, so that prayer does not pass through.” It is when we cover ourselves with activities and attitudes that are standing in direct opposition to our Father’s design for his children, that we find that our prayers do not pass through. They do not feel right, they do not work, they do not hit the mark. And then, usually, we are quick to blame Yahweh. You have covered yourself with a cloud. You have covered your ears. You do not listen to the cries of my heart. Let us ask ourselves this year if our tent coverings are not a reminder of the many things we may have become involved in, that are causing a blockage to our prayers and a covering preventing our petitions from reaching the throne room of the Almighty..
The SECOND COVERING is one that many believers nowadays feel, is not necessary at all. But the One who created us, not only feels that it is necessary – He knows it is. This kind of covering is spoken of in Ex 33:22 “And it shall be, while My esteem passes by, that I shall put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand while I pass by.” I know you don’t like this covering, Yahweh may have said to Mosheh, but here it is, anyway. Yahweh wants us to come into his presense but when we do, He puts up a covering so that we may see and experience no more than a fraction of his fulness. Why? Because, as human beings we are limited in our understanding and appreciation of the Almighty – He is just so much more that what we are. We are only capable of knowing and seeing and understanding in part. That is all that we can bear. That is our full capacity as human beings. That is why He sent us his Son. Y’shua said He came to show us the esteem of his Father. He said that those who have seen Him, has seen his Father. Did He show us the fulness of his Father’s being? Is He the same as his Father? No, He clearly said that his Father was greater than Him. He is the covering, the screen that Yahweh had sent to show us that bit of Himself that we could handle and respond upon. We owe everything to Y’shua for the way in which He made it possible for us to come to know Yahweh better.
The THIRD COVERING is described in Ps 139:13 “You possessed my kidneys, You have covered me in my mother’s womb.” The idea here is that before my birth, I was covered from other people, even from my own parents, but I was never covered from Yahweh. He knows everything about me. Even today. I cannot fool Yahweh, like I often fool other people. I cannot hide things from Him. But the most amazing thing is: He had complete knowledge about me, even before I was born. Yahweh’s knowledge is so much more than our own limited and sometimes arrogant knowledge. This Sukkot, while we are spending time in our temporary coverings, let us also dwell on the thought that no covering is good enough to hide anything about each one of us from the perfect knowledge of Yahweh, the Almighty.
The FOURTH COVERING is the kind that we experience every single day of our lives. The kind of covering that is described in verses like Ps 140:7 “O Master Yahweh, my saving strength, You have covered my head in the day of battle” and Ps 91:4 “He covers you with His feathers, And under His wings you take refuge” and Ps 5:11 “Let all who take refuge in You rejoice; Let them ever shout for joy, because You cover them”. Like our shelters and our tents during the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, Yahweh’s covering is upon us and around us, every living moment of our lives. His covering is like a wall of defense against our enemies and like a stronghold, a refuge, that is always sure and stable. His covering is never faltering. His covering is like the covering of a bird protecting its little babies with its feathers. He is faithful, powerful, always alert. He is the keeper of his people who never slumbers nor sleeps. Our tents, this week, is a reminder of this very important reality. Let us rejoice, for He is our covering!
The LAST COVERING that I would like to point out today is the kind of covering that Yahweh spoke about to Job when he was having a difficult time and struggled to recognize the hand of Yahweh in all the bad that was happening to him. Yahweh spoke to him about the miracle and the splendour of creation, in Job 38:4-9: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding. Who set its measurements, if you know? Or who stretched the line upon it? Upon what were its foundations sunk? Or who laid its corner-stone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of Elohim shouted for joy? Or who enclosed (“covered”) the sea with doors, when it burst forth and came from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its draping cloak?” This is poetry in the most supreme sense of the word. But it is also telling us something about the unlimited greatness of our Elohim. He laid the foundations of the earth. He knoes the exact measurements. He fully understands the concept of the cornerstone of this world. When we look at the stars and marvel at them, He hears the morning stars singing together. When we listen to the sea, and the clouds and the darkness and just feel like saying “WOW”, He can pin-point its lines, it shape and its borders. And He not only covers us, as human beings. He also covers these magnificent, superb works of his hands – the unspeakable greatness of his creation. Let us not forget that when we spend time in our tents, our coverings, during these seven days, including today!