Light from the Sidra

Shemini Atseret

Deuteronomy 14:22 - 16:17; Numbers 29:35-39; 1 Kings 8:54-66

Nowadays, we do not often see these words come up on our TV screen: NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Breakdowns are few and far between, thankfully. But when I thought about the eighth day of Succot and the sacrifices described in the additional reading for the Sidra that phrase came to mind, not because of a breakdown, but because of a change. That may seem strange to you but I wonder how you explain the gradual reduction in the number of the bulls to be brought as burnt offerings during the first seven days of the festival and then, on the eighth day, a more dramatic reduction so that things are “back to normal” with the same offerings as on Rosh Hashanah. It seems to me that while a key element of the feast is rest and rejoicing, nevertheless life has to be resumed at the end of it. The LORD knows this and prepares the people for this reality by what we would call a “wind down”. It is not meant to dampen the genuine joy of the festival but to gently prepare the way back into normal life. How wise God is!

This means that the worshipper should arrive at the end of the festival with a quiet sense of satisfaction, peace and contentment. This should lead to a grateful readiness to resume normal life in service to the LORD - normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Have you been engaged in the Succot activities of home and Synagogue in recent days? Is that how you feel as you come to the end of Succot?

Why should Succot have this keynote of joy? The answer is, of course, obvious, but I want to look at this briefly and then at Solomon’s blessing of Israel in the Haftarah. Succot is after harvest and the assumption is that everything needed for the coming year has been gathered in safely. With no Sainsburys etc. to go to at anytime of the day or night, to buy goods from anywhere in the world, that was no small consideration. We might even say that the Sidra expects an abundance from God’s hand. For example, it contains a stress on tithing to the Levites and gives instructions for the year of release of debts and of Israelite slaves. Such things should not be onerous when the LORD has provided. The year of release underlines that the land is God’s, as are the people, so he can be trusted to provide.

The cycle of festivals described in the Sidra underlines all this. Pesach reminds us of the LORD’s gracious deliverance of his people, Shavuot points to the need for a life of obedience to him which leads to fruitfulness, and Succot has the note of consummation and fulfilment of promise.

King Solomon saw all this goodness of God and, after he had finished praying at the dedication of the temple, he turned to bless the people. As he did so, he declared how God had kept his promises to Israel. This led to an abundance of sacrifices as they feasted for eight days. He and his people had caught the vision of God’s goodness.

It is interesting to note that, in giving his blessing, Solomon could not help but include the whole world. As he looked to the LORD to bless Israel his desire was “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other.” Here is the mark of a man of God - as he enjoys the blessing of God, his heart goes out to those who do not. It is worth pausing here to ask yourself if your heart goes out in that way. If not, it is surely fair to say that it is questionable that you are truly appreciative of God’s goodness.

All this must take our thoughts to the days of the Messiah. The note of abundance and joy, the thought of the nations knowing the LORD God of Israel; these all find their fulness in the Messianic times. Are you looking forward to those days? Who does not want such things! With all the efforts to find peaceful solutions in Israel and many other places of conflict in the world, with all the hopes for personal contentment and fulfilment, with all the striving for a sense of forgiveness, it should be no surprise that the hope of Succot strikes a sympathetic chord in many.

For some of us those things are a present reality and it is our desire, as it was Solomon’s, that others should rejoice with us. Does that sound boastful? It is not meant to, for it is built on the grace of the LORD. It is based on what Yeshua has done and is doing now. Think back for a moment over the cycle of festivals recorded in this Sidra. Pesach is about deliverance through the blood of a lamb; and Yeshua died an innocent, but willing, sacrifice in our place, rising from the dead after his completed work. Shavuot is about obedience to God’s ways, and those who know the risen Yeshua find he gives the power to obey God, which a religion of morality and ritual cannot provide. Succot is about peace and joy, and those of us who know the LORD through Yeshua experience that joy of forgiveness and delight in a living relationship with the Most High.

As I wrote above, Succot is designed by God in such a way that it leaves the believer with a sense of satisfaction, peace and contentment. Those of us who have trusted Yeshua experience that daily, and it is our desire for others to know the same blessing from the LORD. What about you? If you have not yet entered into the blessings of Messiah pictured by Succot, then now is the time. Trust in Yeshua’s sacrifice for your sin, ask the LORD to forgive you, and his fellowship and joy will be given to you. This is his promise, “ I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Gospel of John 10:10).

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