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I am beginning this article shortly after a joyous Feast of Tabernacles. On September 21-22, 2002, our family participated in the annual Sukkot celebration of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, which was held this year at Cornerstone Community Church in Seymour, Indiana. The festivities included two inspiring worship services, a Bible study on the meaning of the Feast given by Dwight Pryor, and workshops on topics related to Christianity's Hebraic roots.

The theme of this year's celebration was ``Highways to Zion,'' based on Psalm 84:5-7 (NASB):

``How blessed is the man whose strength is in thee, In whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength, Every one of them appears before God in Zion.''

In an exposition of this passage, Dwight Pryor stated that God invites each of us to embark on a pilgrimage with Him. The valley of Baca, he noted, is a dry valley containing a certain tree which can survive on very little water. A person with a pilgrim's heart, he said, is one who is not deterred by the dry valleys of life. Such a person will dig deep and find springs of water, turning Baca (which in Hebrew means ``weeping'' ) into berachah (which means ``blessing''). A pilgrim, Dwight added, keeps his eyes fixed on Zion. Relating this psalm to the festivals of Israel, he observed that while the Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement are times of intense introspection in Jewish tradition, the Feast of Tabernacles is a season for looking beyond ourselves and praising God, the source of our strength.

A Time for Rejoicing

For me, the highlight of the celebration was the keynote message entitled ``More than a Redeemer.''1 Dwight Pryor opened the session by pointing out that God commanded Israel to rejoice at the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:39-40; Deut. 16:13-15). Rejoicing does not always come naturally to us, since there are many problems in this sinful world. Dwight mentioned that one ancient rabbi regarded the command to rejoice at the Feast as the most difficult in the Torah to obey. In order to pay special attention to this command, one modern Israeli rabbi hung a sign in his sukkah which read, ``This is a no kvetching zone.'' Dwight urged his audience to resolve not to ``kvetch''-i.e., complain-for the seven days of the Feast.

But why should we rejoice at the Feast? Deuteronomy 16:15 gives an answer: ``For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.'' God has great things in mind for us, and celebrating the Feast can help us to grasp the full meaning of God's purpose and provision for mankind.

Dwight asserted that the Feast of Tabernacles reminds us of key stages in God's plan that are too often neglected in Christian circles. Christians are very familiar with the Passover message of redemption through the shed blood of the Lamb of God. Christians value the gift of the Holy Spirit that was poured out on Pentecost, although they less often appreciate God's gift of Torah that was revealed on an earlier Pentecost. Christians understand themes associated with the Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement-the fact that God is our Judge and Jesus our High Priest whose sacrifice brings reconciliation between God and man. But by viewing salvation in largely otherworldly terms, they are less likely to be aware of a part of God's nature that is revealed in the Feast of Tabernacles: God's desire to dwell within and among His people, working with them right here on this earth both now and forever.

In a fascinating discussion of Exod. 3:14, Dwight shared the insight that this aspect of God's nature may be implied in the name ``I AM,'' which identifies God as the ``is, was, and will be'' Being, the One who was, and is, and is to come (Rev. 4:8). We often think of the meaning of this name in abstract philosophical terms, associating it with the idea that God is self-existent and created all things. However, an additional meaning is suggested by the context of Exod. 3:14. God identifies Himself in Exodus 3 as a covenant-keeping God who would enter into a relationship with a people, rescue them from slavery, and accompany them to the Promised Land. So in addition to saying that God ``will be what He will be,'' the name I AM may have the connotation of ``I will be there.'' God is the One who is always there for His people, who reveals Himself through His relationships and His actions. He is transcendent but also immanent, taking up residence with us and in us.

Adjusting Our Perspective

Developing his thesis further, Dwight Pryor commented that Christians often see the Bible primarily as the story of sin and redemption. This view of salvation history could be summarized with the words ``creation, fall, redemption, consummation.'' Dwight contended that this perspective, while capturing some of the most important themes of the Bible, is still incomplete. In effect, he said, Christians often tend to skip forward in their Bibles from Genesis 3, the account of the sin of Adam and Eve, straight to Matthew 1. He pointed out four negative consequences of such an approach:

1. Ignorance of the foundational nature of the Hebrew scriptures. Christians typically use parts of the Old Testament narrative as illustrations to teach moral lessons but often fail to appreciate the important place of this narrative in God's overall purpose.
2. Theological models of supersessionism and replacement theology, which mistakenly teach that the land and people of Israel have no further role in the divine scheme of things. According to Dr. Marvin Wilson, such models view God's plan as a sort of rocket ship whose early stages serve their purpose and then drop off. The final stage, representing the church, then circles the earth waiting for the next life. Supersessionism has led to centuries of Christian antijudaism and antisemitism, creating a climate that helped make the Holocaust possible.
3. A forsaking of history and preoccupation with theology, leading to endless doctrinal disputes and an overemphasis on ``creed'' at the expense of ``deed.''
4. A faith that becomes very individualistic and otherworldly, focusing heavily on personal salvation and the afterlife.

Dwight proposed a more complete view of God's plan summarized by the sequence ``creation, covenant, consummation.'' This model has several advantages. First, it encompasses the entire Bible, with Gen. 1-11 coming under the ``creation'' heading and ``covenant'' describing Gen. 12-50 and beyond. Second, by emphasizing God's covenants with His people, it makes clear that Israel's role in the divine scheme of things is neither incidental nor accidental. Instead, as the vehicle for bringing blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3), Israel plays an integral role in the plan of God. God is faithful to His promises and will never abandon Israel (Isa. 54:10; Rom. 11:29).

Third, by viewing redemption in the context of covenant relationships, this model reminds us that we are not just isolated ``saved individuals.'' Rather, we are redeemed in order to become part of a holy community in which God dwells and through which God is working, right here and right now.

Fourth, by viewing consummation in the context of covenant, this model shows that consummation is an ongoing process being carried out on the earth rather than an ethereal future reward. Instead of sitting and waiting for the next life to come, we can join the redeemed community in God's program of tikkun olam (``repairing the world''). The opening words of the Lord's Prayer (``Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.'') express a disciple's desire to be part of the advancement of this program, day by day, until God's kingdom fills the earth.

The Feast of Tabernacles reminds us of all of these things and helps us to see our lives in proper perspective. A sukkah built for the Feast lasts for just a week. Similarly, our bodies are ``booths'' that only last for a certain number of years. Without God all is meaningless, as we learn from Ecclesiastes, a book traditionally read during the Feast. But when God comes to dwell in our booths, then our lives matter.

Dwight Pryor's teaching set the tone for a wonderful Feast of Tabernacles. We hope that you also experienced a joyous festival, and that you will find this issue of Grace and Knowledge to be a source of further encouragement and stimulation.

Doug Ward


1Tapes of this message are available from the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, P.O. Box 750815, Dayton, Ohio 45475. The Center's website is http://www.jcstudies.com.


Issue 13


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