The Season Of Our Joy

Sukkot is a Biblical Festival of Joy, it’s even called zman simchateinu – “the season of our joy”. The Scripture commands us explicitly to be joyful during Sukkot:

13 Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. 15 For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. 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. (Deut. 16:13-15)

Why? Why Sukkot is such a joyful Festival? Today we are going to discuss the Torah reading for Shabbat that falls on intermediate days of Sukkot: Exodus 33:12-34:26. The 33rd chapter of Exodus describes events happening right after the terrible sin of Israel – the golden calf incident – right after the tablets were broken by Moshe. At the end of the previous chapter, we saw Moshe interceding for the people and being able to convince God to forgive Israel. At the beginning of this chapter, Moshe had already received God’s confirmation: Yes! He will allow Moshe to continue his mission of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land, the Land flowing with milk and honey. However, in His words we can still hear the echo of His recent wrath. While commanding Moshe and Israel to depart for the Land, He says, “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
This seems to be an absolute and definitive statement, completely clear and completely expected and fair after the terrible sin the people of Israel had just committed. This Torah portion is actually all about this – about God’s holiness, and about how He and His presence cannot, by any means, dwell with sinful man. I will not go up in your midst …

How great must be the reader’s surprise however, when literally several verses later we read: And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
How could it possibly be? He is not a man that He should change his mind (1 Sam.15:29), so what can the explanation be for this seemingly contradictory and sudden change of His decision?

This is the profound mystery we are about to touch upon in this chapter. All of a sudden we realize that Scripture is telling us, not only about God’s holiness, but also about His mercy. Yes, His holiness is such that He cannot dwell and cannot go with sinful and sinning people, and yet He chooses to dwell and walk with His people, for such is His mercy. The statement: My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest, testifies to the very mercy of God extended to sinful and sinning man – unworthy to be near Him, unworthy for God to walk alongside him.  Each of us knows that he fully deserves for the Lord to tell him: But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way. But herein is the great mercy of God, that despite this, He says to each person who is willing to call on Him: My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. Herein is the completely astounding interrelationship between God’s holiness and His mercy – between His power and might, and His meekness and humbleness.

In most translations, we find the same phrasing in both verses 3 and 14: I Myself will go; I Myself will not go. But in the original Hebrew Scripture, verse 14 is slightly different from verse 3. It says: My face will go with you. If we remember that prior to this the Lord promised to send His Angel , then we understand that it is the Angel of His Face – Malakh Panav – who will go with Israel and lead them to the Promised Land.
Who is this Malakh Panav? The name occurs in full in only one place – in the book of Isaiah: In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence (Angel of His Face – Malakh Panav –‎ וּמַלְאַ֤ךְ פָּנָיו֙ ) saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old  (Isa. 63:9-10). However, we actually encounter this special Angel many times in the Tanach – one who speaks in the name of God from the first person, as if he were God, and stands before people in the form of a man. Moreover, scripture is very clear about the fact that, after meetings with this Angel, people realize that they have seen God, yet their lives have been spared. We see Him in Genesis 18 appearing to Abraham; we see Him wrestling with Jacob in the place he named Peniel (Face of God); Manoah meets “the angel of the LORD”, and declares that he has seen God. This “messenger” or “angel” accepts blood sacrifice worship from Manoah (Judges 13:9-22). And if we go back to Exodus 33, undoubtedly, we find Him here as well: The face of God is going with Israel; the Angel of his Face, Malach Panav, is leading Israel to the Promised Land: My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest!
That is why Sukkot is a season of joy! Have you ever thought of yourself as not deserving God’s fellowship? Have you ever wondered how God could still be patient with you and merciful to you, when you would have given up on yourself long ago? Just think of it – each one of us knows millions of reasons why the Lord could, and should, tell us: for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are … stiff-necked. This thought is very strong in  Jewish tradition: Each one of us fully deserves these words; each one of us fully deserves God refusing to go with him – and each one of us has to be fully aware of that. Yet, more than anything in the world, each of us is longing to hear something completely different from Him: My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest – and the amazing thing is, that this is indeed what He is saying to us! This is His astounding promise to each one of us, the incomprehensible mystery of His mercy: we are stiff-necked, we do not deserve His love and His mercy, and yet, He goes with us and gives us rest.
This is the mystery of Sukkot – the mystery of His mercy and His renewed fellowship. In Jewish tradition, it is a well-known fact that Moses came back with the second set of tablets on Yom Kippur. Sukkot starts almost immediately after the days of Awe, the days of trembling and repentance! We finish Yom Kippur and the same night, we are starting  to build the sukkah: zman simchateinu, the season of our joy, has come – because God, in His mercy, came to tabernacle with His people!

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Dorothy Healy

    I see the breaking of the first set of tablets because of the sin of the golden calf as a prophetic picture of the “Word of God” (Yeshua) being broken for us. Like Moses, he came down, ‘found sin in the camp’, was broken’ and ascended to God, where his blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat; and like Moses he will return shining with the glory of God. We know that the death of Christ released the grace for His presence to remain with all who believe in Him.

    There are five days between Yom Kippur and Succot – the number five represents GRACE.
    Thank you Angelika for bringing Isa. 63:9-10 to light – a wonderful scripture.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Dorothy, for your profound comment! Undoubtedly, this whole story with Moshe and broken tablets is an additional insight into the story of Messiah! We will definitely talk more about it in the future posts – so stay tuned 🙂 .

  2. Angelika Walter

    Shalom Julia,
    Thank you for this article, thank you for reminding us how God is, perfectly holy and perfectly merciful. Yes, I am aware, were it not for God´s mercy, I would be unworthy to be near Him, for I, too, am stiffnecked, unworthy of God to walk alongside me. All the more it´s a great comfort to know, in spite of all sins and shortcomings, He assures us, that His Presence is going with us! It´s easy to forget in daily life and so important to never loose sight that His grace is not self-evident, but He paid for us with such a high price.
    Moses is very much Christ-like in his interceding on behalf of the people. At the same time we can clearly see that no one can enter the promised land through his own efforts, that more than the giving of Torah is needed, since no one, not even Moses is without sin. Only the Angel of his Presence, who is none other than Messiah, God himself made flesh, could bring the Israelites into the promised land and all believers the world to come.

    I look forward to discuss the Malakh Panav, the Angel of the Lord, with you. I find it interesting that this name occurs only this one time in full: ” In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence (Angel of His Face – Malakh Panav –‎ וּמַלְאַ֤ךְ פָּנָיו֙ ) saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old (Isa. 63:9-10)” – as the very expression of God´s love and pity, of him suffering with us and for us!

    This year I was invited for the first time in a Sukkah, it was a great joy for me.

    1. Julia Blum

      Great, Angelika, I am so glad that you had a Sukkah experience this year and that it was indeed a great joy – zman simhateinu! And of course, we are going to discuss Malach Panav in depth – once we are done with the Hidden Messiah series, we will move to Malach Panav. This topic is absolutely fascinating, especially for believers in Yeshua. Blessings and Chag Sameach (It is Simchat Torah here, in Israel, today)!

  3. Mark

    So is the Angel of God is the pre incarnated appearance of Jesus Christ and the season of joy is the probable time for the Lord to be born and dwells among us?

    1. Julia Blum

      These are wonderful questions, Mark! In my next post, we are going to talk about the time when Yeshua was born; and then in a short while, when we are done with our Hidden Messiah series, we will be discussing Malach Panav (the Angel of the Lord)! So – stay tuned! 🙂

  4. Samuel Premkumar

    1 cor 10:4

  5. jane z mazzola

    I appreciate how you have drawn our unworthiness for God’s walk; yet even though God has known us & our often “stiff necked ways”, He, the God of the universe, still has been merciful to continue the journey w/us & even grant rest. That is reason for joyful celebration!

    Thank you, Julia, for sharing more @ Sukkot & the insights of God’s Holy & also, Merciful (seeming contradiction) presence w/us, the fallen creation.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Jane, for your insightful comments!It’s always a blessing to hear from you!

      1. jane z mazzola

        I must add, that I LOVE that beautiful scene you selected w/your title. I’m very observant, interested, & affected by visuals. The sea, foliage, & fruit here bring joy & peace to mind.

        I study carefully each graphic w/the posts just because it will always “speak” a lot. It is truly another element of communicating your thoughts. 🙂

        1. Julia Blum

          Thank you so much Jane for this comment, it’s wonderful to hear that! I do invest a lot of time and efforts in finding a proper picture, it is indeed an additional element of “communicating my thoughts” , so I am very grateful for your words – and I really, really appreciate you mentioning it! Thank you!

  6. Gay Ford

    I believe this is why Jesus came to the Jews first because they knew the Torah! When G- d allowed in HIS Sovereign Hand for the separation of the Jew and Gentile we have all suffered from the very best our Creator had for us but allowed ! But now HE is fulfilling Paul’s words in Romans about the time of the Jewish people! But, we Gentiles are now being so blessed from you as we are learning the greater depth of the Hebrew of understanding! Again, Thank You! Gay Ford

  7. Leaky Kaburu

    First time to come to a realisation about Malakh Panav…I hoped this season would be joyous for me..Proverbs 13:12..Am hoping HaShem would answer to my persistent prayer..But every time I percive it’s answered a back-lash occurs..Please Adonai show your presence and give me rest..Do not let the enemy triumph..

    1. Julia Blum

      May the Lord answer your prayer Leaky! Blessings!

  8. Pat Kelley

    lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

    Your breakdown Call’s GOD (him) I am who is .

    refer to GOD not a earthly man . He isn’t of the earth !

  9. David Russell

    Julia, Shalom, and much much thanks for this instructive lesson about Sukkot, the season of our joy! I have been going through a dry spell lately, and this is like a fresh glass of lemonade on a hot day! Thanks!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, David! I am very happy to hear that!

  10. Henrietta Wisbey

    Dear Julia
    Again you do it!!!
    This morning I went looking for Succoth in Genesis.
    Interesting that Jacob builds a house and booths for his cattle after his encounter with Esau!
    Gen.33:10 Jacob says to Esau,” Nay, I pray thee if now I have found grace in thy sight then receive my present at my hand for therefore I have seen thy face as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me.”
    Some interconnecting parallels!!
    Also I alighted on Is. 56:3-8
    A lovely picture of the fulfilment of the feast. What a day that will be!!!