Light from the Sidra

Ha’azinu (‘Give ear’). 15th October 2016. 13th Tishri 5776

Torah: Leviticus 22:26–23:44; Numbers 29:12–16; Zechariah 14:1–21

A feast of Israel for the Gentiles

Chag ha Sukkot, Chag ha Asif, Zeman Simchateinu, Chag ba-Chodesh hashvei'e and Ha Chag. So many names for a single festival but, then, Tabernacles is universally regarded as the greatest of Israel’s festivals. It is the ‘Festival of Ingathering’ because it celebrates the final harvest of the year. It is the only festival at which Israel is commanded to be joyful for seven days, which is why it is the ‘Season of our Rejoicing’. Tabernacles is such a great festival that many refer to it simply as Ha Chag, ‘The Festival’. And it is the only festival for which, according to Zechariah 14, the Gentile nations will celebrate. Even as I write tens of thousands of Christians from around the world are boarding planes to Israel in order to be in Jerusalem for the feast and to express their love and support for Israel in the belief that they are fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy.

Deuteronomy 16:16 declares that all the men of Israel are to go to Jerusalem three times every year to keep the great pilgrim festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. All three festivals occurred at harvest times but Sukkot – the third and final pilgrim festival of HASHEM, when all the males of Israel have to appear before HASHEM in Jerusalem – stood out from the other two. For the eight days of Tabernacles Israelites were to live in tabernacles so that future generations would remember that HASHEM made Israel live in tents after redeeming them from Egypt. Tabernacles was to be a joyful celebration at which religious Jews remember HASHEM’s loving care and provision when Israel travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land, living in tabernacles.

Harvest in the Bible is full of symbolism about God’s purposes for Israel and the nations. Jeremiah 2:3 says that when God chose Israel, she was ‘holy to HASHEM, the first of his crop.’ If Israel is ‘the first’ of HASHEM’s crop, the implication is that the rest of his crop will be the nations.

The idea of Israel as the ‘first’ of HASHEM’s harvest occurs in different ways. In Genesis 12:1-3, HASHEM called Abraham to be ‘a blessing’ to the world. God promised that all the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham. The author of Psalm 67 has Genesis 12:3 in mind when he prays that God will favour Israel and make his face shine on Israel so that the nations will know God’s salvation. If Israel is blessed, the nations will be blessed. Israel Abrahams made the point in Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels that Psalm 67 ‘is a prayer for salvation in the widest sense, and not for Israel only but for the whole world. Israel’s blessing is to be a blessing for all men… if Israel has the light of God’s face, the world cannot remain in darkness.’

Ps. 67:1,2 also recalls the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-26: ‘May HASHEM bless you and safeguard you. May HASHEM illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you. May HASHEM lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.’ The high priests had blessed Israel with the words of that blessing for centuries but the psalm implies that the nation was not experiencing God’s blessing in its fullest sense. Only through Messiah could Israel know God’s blessing, grace and the shining of his face in their fullest sense.

Before he redeemed Israel from Egypt, HASHEM declared that Israel was his ‘firstborn’ son. Just as ‘firstfruits’ carries the promise of a full harvest, ‘firstborn’ implies more children. If Pesach, the first pilgrim feast, looks back to when God redeemed Israel his ‘firstborn’ from Egypt, the final festival Sukkot looks forward to when HASHEM will have a family from all the nations.

We see an anticipation of this hope in Numbers 29, in which HASHEM provides instruction for the sacrifices to be offered during the festival. Seventy bulls were to be offered over the seven days of Sukkot, starting with 13 on the first day and finishing with seven on the last day. Genesis 10, features a list of seventy nations and Israel’s sages taught that the 70 bulls sacrificed at Sukkot were offered on behalf of the seventy nations. Zechariah 14:16-19, therefore, foresees a time when all nations will keep Tabernacles.

In the New Covenant Book of the Revelation of Jesus the Messiah, the prophet Yochanan ben Zavdai was granted a vision in which he saw 144,000 Jewish followers of the Messiah from all the tribes of Israel. The same vision is revealed in chapter 14 but with additional details to help us understand chapter 7 better. In Revelation 14:1-7 the 144,000 Messianic Jews are the redeemed from among mankind as the first of Messiah’s crop and the vision of the 144,000 ‘firstfruits’ in chapter 7 is followed by a vision of a multitude from all nations, so great that no one can count them.

In those two chapters we see not only the first of God’s crop from all the tribes of Israel but also his full harvest from all nations. In chapter 14, after Yochanan’s vision of the 144,000 ‘firstfruits’, he sees ‘the Son of Man’, the Messiah, reaping a great harvest from the nations.

In Rev. 7:15-17, the followers of Israel’s Messiah from the nations are keeping Sukkot! They are dressed in white tallitot, waving lulav and singing the ‘Hoshanah Rabbah’. This is the fulfilment of Zechariah’s enigmatic prophecy; Jews and Gentiles keeping the Festival of Tabernacles in the heavenly Jerusalem!

The first disciples of Jesus were Jewish. In fact, mission to Gentiles didn’t begin until almost two decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the year 70, there were tens of thousands of Torah-observant Jews in Jerusalem and many more in the diaspora who believed Jesus was the Messiah. The New Testament isn’t very flattering about Gentiles like me. The Letter to the Ephesians say that Gentile followers of Jesus were once ‘without Messiah, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from Israel’s covenants of promise, without God, without hope and in the world.’ However, the writer goes on, Gentiles who were once far off from HASHEM have been brought to him by the sacrificial death of Messiah.

I’m writing this on Erev Yom Kippur and in a few hours will meet with Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus to pray for Israel and the Jewish people that the nation will recognise that although repentance and affliction soul are important, without the shedding of sacrificial blood there is no forgiveness. When you read this, you will have fasted, prayed and repented on Yom Kippur. During Yomim Noraim you would have tried your best to make amends for your shortcomings during 5776. So why do you still feel guilty?

HASHEM never intended that the festivals should be ends in themselves. The Chagim were just signposts pointing to the Messiah, which is why today they can’t be kept in the way they were supposed be kept when the temple was still standing. Jesus is the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; the scapegoat who bears away sin as far as the east is from the west. And because he is the fulfilment of the all that the festivals foreshadowed, Jews and Gentiles together may joyfully celebrate the great salvation bought with nothing less than the blood of Messiah! Don’t settle for the signpost; rejoice with us where the sign points to!




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