Many, many years had passed since the days of Abraham’s sukkah celebrations. From Abraham came Isaac, from Isaac came Jacob, and then Jacob had twelve sons. One of Jacob’s sons (born to his beloved wife Rachel) was named Joseph. This Joseph’s story is coming soon; but today we will speak about his father Jacob.
The story of Jacob’s life is very long and detailed. There are a million other stories inside of the whole long story of Jacob. Today I will be short with the beginning of this part of Jacob’s life and I will not tell it all here. I will only tell you a small part.
I will simply tell you right now that Jacob did something terribly wrong to his brother for which he had to ask forgiveness from God. After that happened Jacob had to go to face his brother and make amends to their relationship. Jacob called this “doing Teshevah.” Whenever we ask forgiveness for how we have wronged someone today we sometimes still call this act; “doing Teshevah.”
Jacob did this act of Teshevah and it pleased God greatly to see that the two brothers were finally reconciled and had begun living together in peace in the Promised Land which God had given to Abraham and his descendants.
Some things Jacob never forgot.
Jacob always remembered that he had to live outside of the land until the time he came back to make peace with his brother. When the peace was made; Jacob rode back into the land that God promised his father; Abraham. The Promised Land was the land of Jacob’s rightful heritage. It was in that land that Jacob began to build a proper home for his family. Until that was completed; they lived in a temporary shelter which Jacob also built himself.
To get to the land of promise Jacob traveled many miles with his family and his livestock.
When they arrived the animals were very hungry and very tired.
These were the animals that God had blessed Jacob with when he lived in a foreign land. God had blessed Jacob even before he had done Teshuvah; in spite of his many sins. God had been looking after Jacob all along. These animals gained in the foreign land had made Jacob’s family become very prosperous, wealthy and happy.
The animals were very valuable to Jacob and one day Jacob decided that he would build them temporary shelters to live in. Jacob was pondering this act of building temporary shelters for his animals as he crossed the river and came into the Promised Land.
Until Jacob, no man in history had ever built a shelter for an animal.
Until this new day that Jacob brought with this new idea of sheltering the animals, the cattle, sheep and donkeys always had to brave the harsh elements of nature in the land. Whether it was hot or cold, dry or rainy, the cattle, sheep and donkeys were always outdoors without a shelter and always exposed to the harsh weather.
Because Jacob built these temporary shelters for his family as well as his animals; and because the land was scattered with these little temporary shelters that Jacob had erected; the first city in The Promised Land where Jacob dwelled after his return was named Sukkot!
The word “Sukkot” is the Hebrew word that is now used to describe the eight days when we celebrate our time of joy with God at the Feast of Tabernacles! This word “Sukkot” means “temporary dwellings.”
It became known to some in the course of time that each person in the line of the descendants of Abraham had their own special set of special character traits which brought them special and individual blessings from God.
It is said that the blessings of Abraham came from kindness. This can be seen by Father Abraham’s heart-felt desire to feed the Angels of God and to offer God’s stories and love to the strangers and pilgrims that wandered throughout the land.
It is said that the blessings of Isaac (Abraham’s son) came from self-sacrifice. For Isaac had been willing to offer his life for the glory of God; but an Angel of The LORD had stopped him and an animal (a white ram) was provided as the sacrifice in the place of Isaac.
Because of Isaac’s willingness to give of himself, and his desire to sacrifice himself for the sake of others, we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, which is the sound from a ram’s horn. Some say it is the sound of the horn from the white ram that was caught in the thicket which God provided in Isaac’s place that we hear. It is also said that now mankind has possession of one horn; but God is keeping the other horn to use as a special shofar one day at a feast in the future.
It is said that the blessings of Jacob (Isaac’s son) came from his care and concern for the animals of God’s creation.
Now God had originally put Adam in charge of the animals of the earth and God had even let Adam name each of them in The Garden of Eden where they were created. Mankind had been caring for the animals since that day; but Jacob was the very first man to provide a temporary shelter from the elements for them.
Jacob, in his own way was carrying on the purpose that God had given to Adam in tending to the creatures of the earth. Sometimes the gifts and the destiny that God gives us in the purpose of our daily lives plays out into the story of eternity. Most times; like Jacob in our story today, we never realize what is happening when this is taking place.
It was Jacob who said to his son Joseph “Please go check on the welfare of the sheep!”
We will hear more about this part of the story when we hear the tale of Joseph’s story; but right now we are just remembering that Joseph, being the youngest son of Jacob, was with him when Jacob returned to live again in the promised land.
Joseph lived as a young child in the temporary shelter called a sukkah that Jacob built for his family to dwell in until he could build them a permanent home in the land. Joseph helped his father, Jacob to build the temporary shelters (sukkahs) for the livestock too.
Now; let’s think of a different time beyond the future of Jacob.
Close your eyes and think far, far ahead for many years past the times of Jacob and Joseph.
During this time there was a young couple who were coming into the city to pay their taxes and to be counted among their people for the census. Their names were Mary and Joseph. This was ANOTHER Joseph, and Mary (his wife) came riding on a donkey. She was expecting a baby and her tummy was large.
They had traveled into the area early in order to be there in time to spend Rosh Hashanah with some of their loved ones and relatives.
During the Feast of Rosh Hashanah the relatives spoke with Joseph of how they feared that Mary could not endure the bumpy donkey ride for the long journey they would make to Jerusalem to pay their taxes. They were afraid she might be forced into labor because of the very bumpy ride, and perhaps even end up giving birth to the child too early. They urged Joseph to stay with them until after the feast of Sukkot; but he could not do so. They had to be counted and they had to pay their taxes.
So on the way Mary and Joseph stopped often and rested from the journey. They chatted and remembered the fun times they had spent resting and celebrating Rosh Hashanah with their relatives who lived right outside the city of Bethlehem.
Eventually they made their way into the city of Bethlehem to find a good shelter for celebrating Sukkot, and to be counted in the census among their people who were from Bethlehem, that great City of the ancestors of King David.
The city was loud, very busy; and very crowded.
It was the time of Sukkot!
Everyone had entered Jerusalem to celebrate the great festival and their sukkahs were dotting the land! They went to their sukkahs to eat and drink together during the holidays and they all had made reservations to stay in the city either in inns or with relatives or friends. There were large crowds of celebrating people everywhere that Joseph and Mary went. They were all there for Sukkot.
Sukkot was the Hebrew name which was given for the festival we sometimes call The Feast of Tabernacles. Sukkot is the Hebrew word and The Feast of Tabernacles is the English translation.
In the days of Mary and Joseph it was the time when all the men from everywhere came to Jerusalem and built temporary shelters to dwell in for eight days in order to have a harvest festival before God. They built shelters for themselves and their families, and they built shelters for their animals and livestock in honor of the temporary shelters their ancestor Jacob had built for his livestock when he had re-entered the Promised Land.
Mary and Joseph had not had enough time to gather together the materials they needed to build a shelter. Even if they had; they would not have been able to carry it with them on this long, long journey. They had planned on finding some materials and building such a place when they arrived. All of the available materials for building a sukkah in the city were now being used by those who were already dwelling there.
They had no money and it was almost time for Mary to deliver the child!
Their best hope was to find an open door or room in an inn.
Frantically Joseph knocked on the doors of inn after inn and house after house asking for a place for his wife to lie down in order to give birth to their child.
Joseph did not tell them the things that were racing through his head.
He did not say “THIS IS THE CHILD OF GOD!!!! YOU MUST LET US HAVE A PLACE!!!
Joseph knew no one would believe him, and they would probably just think he was crazy; so he kept up his stressful search, going to house after house and inn after inn until he realized he was not going to find a place.
Finally, in desperation, Joseph sat down beside the road and buried his head in his hands. He did not want to go back to tell his wife she must give birth to The Messiah on the side of the road. Joseph prayed to God for help!
When Joseph finally raised his head and looked up a kind man was standing right next to him.“What is the matter my son?” asked the kind man.
“My wife is with child and will deliver any minute. I do not have a place for her. I have tried to get into the inns in the city but with the harvest festival going on everywhere, everyone is all booked up, and every house is filled to the brim with guests from out-of-town. There is NOWHERE for us to go. I do not want to go back and tell this to my poor wife.”
The kind stranger could hear the desperation in Joseph’s voice.
“My son,” said the kind stranger, “I do not wish to see you in such distress in the time of such a joyful celebration and festival! Surely Our Father God has picked the perfect place and time for the birth of this child. Come with me.”
And the kind stranger led Joseph to a temporary shelter! It was a sukkah where the animals of the people coming to the festival were being kept.
“Will this do for a while, until the child has come? The entrance is temporary and the roof is only covered with palm branches, but in the back of this shelter there is the entrance to a cave. You can find water and privacy there, even though people will be coming and going to look in on their animals. Will this work for you?”
Joseph looked up to the kind stranger through thankful and teary eyes.
‘Yes!” said Joseph.
He thanked the man over and over again, then Joseph ran all the way back to Mary.
Joseph loaded Mary up onto the donkey and brought her into the little temporary shelter where only the animals were being housed.
As he took Mary inside and made his way through the sukkah and back to the cave; Joseph had thoughts of his ancestor Jacob entering into the place God had provided. Joseph realized that God had started making a way for their provision even then, in all those many, many years ago when Jacob had begun building these little temporary shelters for the animals!
Joseph pondered how amazing this was and took it all to be a sign from God. Now he knew that Mary would lie down on a bed of soft hay and give birth to a perfect son in this little sukkah that backed up to a cave which was located next to a well of fresh spring water. Was it one of the sukkahs that Jacob had constructed years ago? No one really knows. With God; anything is possible. Jacob’s sukkah could have survived until the days of Mary and Joseph.
Joseph made the area as clean as possible.
He laid blankets down on the hay.
Mary then lay down on this fresh, soft bed of hay. She was amazed to find she was not even afraid. She had joy inside her heart as she looked up through the covering of the roof of the little sukkah. She took comfort from the sounds of the many creatures from God’s creation as they shared their dwelling place with her.
The animals quietly looked on with wonder, as if they knew the secret that Mary and Joseph shared about the child that was going to be born that very night!
Mary saw the stars of the sky twinkling through the palm branches covering the shelter and she felt as if they too were preparing their own welcome for the little child that was soon to be born.
Mary could almost hear the stars whispering in her ears over and over. As she struggled in labor Mary could hear them repeating: “God always keeps His promises, God always keeps His promises!”
These words were the ones she began repeating softly to herself as she labored in childbirth.
When the little boy was born they wrapped him in the cloth they had brought for him, and laid him inside a soft hay-filled manger. The animals looked on with wonder as the Christ child who would grow up to become the bread of life was placed inside their feeding trough.
The animals knew the baby boy was a holy being from God and they were amazed that he now lay sleeping inside their dwelling!
The animals and Mary and Joseph could hear the glorious sound of angels singing, even though the people passing by did not even notice the heavenly choir in the sky; nor did they seem to recognize the fact that a Savior had come to earth.
The night stars kept singing their lullaby to The Baby Jesus as Mary and Joseph huddled lovingly over Him giving thanks and praise to God.
Suddenly there was a loud and rowdy sound of Seven Shepherds who appeared at the door of the shelter. They had come on that special night simply to look in on and to feed and water the animals in their charge.
There was something different in the air tonight though. They came stumbling into the shelter with excitement on their faces, each of them telling the astounding stories of how they looked up into the sky from the hills of their tents while keeping the feast and heard a glorious heavenly announcement that a child would be born in Bethlehem and they would find him laying in a manger.
As they proclaimed the shepherd’s eyes fell on Jesus! Instantly they recognized the child as the Son of God!
They fell on their knees with praise and adoration that night when they entered the sukkah and saw the child that the angels had sung about.
Mary and Joseph, though they were very tired physically and preoccupied with the birth of the child; welcomed the seven shepherds into the little sukkah. They invited them to come closer and to gaze upon the sleeping child. They invited them to share their meals and to join in the singing of joyful hymns before God with them.
One by one these seven poor, humble shepherds who had only been able to come to the harvest festival at the expense of their wealthy masters spent time with the Christ Child. They were there only because they were hired by rich masters to feed and tend their sheep inside a temporary shelter while the owners of the sheep enjoyed the feast. They had been given the lowest of all jobs; but they were the very first people ever invited to know Jesus.
Our Father God is the great arranger; and He has this special way of looking after all of His children and arranging the circumstances of their lives perfectly. God never forgets one person. Everyone has a special destiny in life and each special destiny always comes to pass when the time is right.
Then came the miracle of all miracles. One by one they were all allowed to hold the Christ Child in their arms!
Those poor, humble, uneducated men knew from The Father, God that a special miracle had happened at this feast and in this sukkah on this night.
Not one shepherd ever forgot that holy night.
Not one shepherd ever failed to pass the story on to their children and grandchildren.
They all were reminded of this greatest of all miracles every Sukkot afterwards, and they all always filled their own sukkahs with joy and praise for Christ the King, the One the Angels of Heaven sang about that night as they tended their flocks in the hills of Bethlehem.
After the child was born on the first day of the feast, Joseph took their offering of two turtle doves up to the Temple in Jerusalem and gave them to the priest for an offering to God. Then Mary and Joseph watched and listened to the whole world in joyful celebration of the harvest festival as they were coming and going outside their little temporary shelter.
From a distance they could hear the joyful and festive parades as the people took their offerings up to the temple.
They could hear the songs, the hymns from the Psalms of David, and they knew there was dancing in the streets. The people were celebrating the end of a good harvest year and the beginning of a brand new sacred year. God had blessed them indeed!
Joseph and Mary smiled at one another, knowing that from this moment on, the blessings of the world would fade a bit as the blessings of heaven were going to be so much greater!
Without saying a word to each other; they knew: God always keeps His promises!
Jacob had passed away many long ago; but the legacy of his sukkah lived in Bethlehem that night as the descendants of Abraham saw the coming of The Promised Messiah.
The Messiah had come down to earth to dwell with mankind and hardly anyone even noticed that He had come; but the form of a little tiny baby was laying in a manger inside a temporary dwelling in Bethlehem!
AND THE STARS KEPT SHINING,
AND THE WAVES OF THE SEA KEPT BRUSHING THE SAND ON THE SHORE,
AND THE ANGELS KEPT SINGING FOR JOY BECAUSE:
GOD ALWAYS KEEPS HIS PROMISES!