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“Gimme Shelter, or I'm Gonna Fade Away”

First Published JCF Newsletter October 2012

 By Gary Alley

We live in a world seemingly and constantly on the edge.  Globalism’s reach extended by uninterrupted internet only reinforces this perspective.  Last month’s Youtube Mohammed film was a perfect example of our world’s instant instability.  In the wake of the film, many died in the Islamic street’s violence.  At the same time, a planned terrorist attack killed four American personnel, including the American Ambassador to Libya.  No one is guaranteed safety, even behind protective walls.

You may remember that the Mohammed film was originally, and falsely, attributed to an Israeli producer.  So, not surprisingly, modern day Israel’s existence is often mired in and encapsulated by such media-saturated, high wire crises.  So much so, that rocket barrages, like this week launched from Gaza on Israeli homes, are not headline news, just reality.  Israel, not much larger than the state of New Jersey, often finds its national security under duress on multiple fronts. 

Egypt, a paid peace partner of Israel, is now at best a chaotic, depressed land, or at worst, a burgeoning hotbed for Islamic fundamentalism.  Syria is descending into a civil war that may rival Iraq’s bloody sectarian strife.  So far, more than 30,000 have died and 325,000 refugees have fled Syria since the unrest began in March, 2011.  Who will gain eventual control of Syria is anyone’s guess and everyone’s fear. 

Two allied regional powers hoping to influence Syria’s outcome are Hezbollah and Iran.  Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based proxy-army for Iranian interests, points its 60,000 missiles southward at Israel, with its fingers itching for a fight.  While Iran’s economy and currency shrivel under economic sanctions, it continues building “the bomb.”  Fittingly, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, the closest the world has come to all-out nuclear war.

Throughout history, humanity has recognized the dangers of being unprotected from their environment—weather, wild animals, and especially other humans.  From the humble home to stalwart city walls, people have sought shelter.   

This past weekend concluded the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), the biblical festival that remembers the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings when they slept in shanties (Lev 23:39-43).  The Hebrew word “sukkah” has been translated as tabernacle, booth, hut, yet its supreme meaning is found in its impermanence.  The sukkah was not built as a long-term abode.  There was no security behind its stick walls or significant insulation under its branchy roof.[1]  It was a lowly shack, defenseless to enemy and element alike.

Yet, the sukkah was a God-ordained living arrangement— “your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in sukkot when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God (Lev 23:43).”  Instead of celebrating their nation’s victories, God wanted His people to recognize their mortality and weakness.  The festival of Sukkot reminded the Israelites of their utter dependence on the Lord.  The sukkah was a symbol of Israel’s tenuous existence cradled within God’s merciful hands.

On a larger scale, the sukkah is also an image of our earthly reality.  In particular, Paul builds on this motif for the followers of Jesus when he likens believers’ earthly bodies to a sukkah/skene.[2] 

For we know that if the earthly hut (skene) that we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.  For while we are in this hut (skene), we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be naked but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:1-10).

Life is temporary, passing away, and unpredictable.  We can try to build our castles, our fortresses, our walls to insulate our fears and guard our plans, but as the prophet said, all flesh is like grass.  Ultimately, we are mere shacks blowing in the wind.  Yet, though we are weak, He is strong.  When we recognize our nakedness, God’s Spirit empowers us to bring hope to this world.  Paul reminds us that although we live in a feeble body, we are still held accountable for what good or bad we do.  May our light so shine before people, that they may see our good works and praise our Father in heaven (Mt 5:16).[3]  This is how we live by faith; this is how we find shelter.

 


 

[1] We see this in the story of Jonah, where Jonah builds and sits under a sukkah outside of Nineveh.  God grows a plant to shade Jonah’s head from the heat of the day.  It is clear that the sukkah’s roof is not capable of saving Jonah from the scorching sun (Jonah 4:5-8).

[2] In the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, sukkah of the Feast of Tabernacles was translated as skene, which has a similar meaning of a temporary abode, like a moveable tent or hut. 

[3] See also Eph 2:10; Gal 6:9-10