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Why are Jews eating in shacks?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews check myrtle branches to determine if they are ritually acceptable as one of the four items used as a symbol on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which begins on Sunday and commemorates the Israelites 40 years of wandering in the desert, September 24, 2015 (Credit: AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

If you have observant Jewish neighbors, you may be wondering why they’re eating in outdoor shacks this week. If they live in apartments, they’re eating in booths built on balconies, on the roof or next to the building.

The reason: this is the holiday of Sukkot (also known as the Feast of Tabernacles), a Jewish tradition that celebrates the harvest and remembers the Jews’ forty-year wandering in the wilderness.

During that time, the people lived in shacks they made along the way. To commemorate this experience, the Lord instructed his people: “You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:42-43).

When the nomadic, recently-enslaved Jews were following Moses to a Promised Land none of them had ever seen, who would have imagined that they would become one of the most significant races in the world? For example, Jews constitute around two percent of the American population, but make up thirty-seven percent of all our Nobel Prize winners.

No nation has been more persecuted in human history. But no nation has been more pivotal to human history.

Divine retribution and reward are often obscured by present circumstances. For instance, when David was celebrating the ark’s arrival in Jerusalem, Saul’s daughter Michal ridiculed him for dancing and rejoicing in public (2 Samuel 6:20). With this result: “And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death” (v. 23). However, her judgment was not apparent at the time it was provoked.

In Ezekiel 25, the prophet was told to pronounce God’s judgment against Ammon, Moab, Seir, Edom, and Philistia for their persecutions of Israel. None of these judgments came to pass immediately.

In Revelation 1, we find the Apostle John exiled on Patmos. There the risen Christ appeared to John and gave him the Revelation. At the time, no one in Rome knew that it would outlive the Empire by millennia and encourage Christians to the end of time.

Last football season, I was traveling during a Dallas Cowboys game, so I recorded it. My intention was to avoid all news of the game until I watched it at home. However, a TV monitor I happened to see in the airport broadcast the score of the Cowboys’ victory. I still watched the game, but with no anxiety. I knew the opposing team would score, but that my team would emerge victorious. And I remembered a college professor’s claim that he could summarize Revelation in two words: “We win.”

In a post-Christian culture, believers who stand for Jesus will pay a price. When you choose integrity, those who don’t will ridicule your position rather than admit their own failings.  When you make your faith public, those who reject God will reject you as his servant. But remember how the story ends. And know that God redeems present persecution with present grace and eternal reward.

Holocaust survivor saw these lines scratched into a wall at Auschwitz: “I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.”