Strangers and Sojourners – Feast of Tabernacles

Painting of the Pilgrims - examples of strangers and sojourners.
The Embarkation of the Pilgrims (1857) by American painter Robert Walter Weir at the United States Capitol in Washington, DC

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto YHWH . . . And you shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the YHWH your God . . . Ye shall dwell in booths seven days. . . that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the YHWH your God.

(Lev 23:34-43)

What can sitting in our booth each day during the feast of Tabernacles teach us about being strangers and sojourners? After all, we want our celebrating to be reflected in our daily life all year long. It is what we do after it’s over that makes the difference. So, what are the practical aspects of celebrating this feast, this sitting in the booth each day? What is the life changing knowledge we should gain from it?

Table of Contents

Abraham – one of the strangers and sojourners

Let’s imagine ourselves with Ancient Israel in those days. They have been brought out of slavery in Egypt by miraculous events. They are traveling to the land YHWH had promised to Abraham. They stop for the day in an oasis and pitch their tents or booths for the night. It’s a beautiful place; cool and refreshing after the long day’s journey in the hot sun. The night sky is clear and bright. They see the stars and the full moon. Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter are shining up there in the dark sky. Would they have said, “Let’s stay here. It’s perfect and comfortable?” No, they would not have done that. They understood they were returning to the land promised to Abraham. This was a temporary stop and the next day they would move on again. They kept the goal in mind.

Abraham considered himself a stranger and sojourner, as did Isaac and David (Gen 23:4, Gen 26:3, Ps 39:12). Even the writer of Hebrews says after naming all the people of old in Heb 11:13 “All these died according to faith, not having received the promises but beholding them afar off and saluting them and confessing that they are strangers and sojourners on the earth.” We are like them, strangers and sojourners in the land. Peter implores us, “I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims [sojourners], abstain from fleshly lusts . . .” (1Pe 2:11).

Sojourners store up heavenly treasures

Let’s look at some statements Jesus makes that imply this same idea of being sojourners, or the attitude we might have if we consider ourselves sojourners.

“For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Matt 6:21). Treasure refers to the things we value, the things we give our time and attention to, the things that we love. Where is our treasure?

“Then if your eye is sound, all your body is light” (Matt 6:22). Our eye represents our viewpoint, what we look forward to and pay attention to. When we keep our lusts under control of the spirit, our body is full of light. The Apostle John says that the lust of the eyes is love of the world which is the enemy of God (I John 2:16).

“You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt 6:24). In this case, we experience internal conflicts, unable to give full loyalty to God and unable to lay up treasures in heaven. If our heart is on the things of the earth, we will behave differently, and have different values than if we are storing up treasures in heaven. Each time we choose to deny the lust of the eyes, and lusts of the flesh, and reject the pride of life, we develop the fruit of the spirit and store up treasure in heaven.

Strangers and Sojourners leave everything behind

Three accounts in the gospels (Matt 19:16-30, Mark 10:21-31 and Luke 18:18-30) tell of the man asking what good thing he had to do to have eternal life. Each writer emphasizes the point that forsaking the things of this world is necessary to having treasures in heaven and to inherit eternal life. To the man’s question Jesus replied that he should keep the commandments. The man states that he has kept the commandments all his life. Jesus says, “If you desire to be perfect, go sell your property. . .” (Matt 19:21). The man could not do that. This man had not kept the last commandment, do not covet. Covetousness is idolatry according to Paul and it was keeping this man from perfection (Col 3:5-17).

When Jesus refers to a needle’s eye in Matthew’s account many people say it is the gate in the city wall called the eye of a needle (vs 24). It is a safety measure designed to protect the inner city from enemies. In order for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, it must be unburdened. In a similar way we must be unburdened by the cares of our lives in order to store treasures in heaven.

Peter states, “We have left everything.” Jesus assures us that everyone who has left everything will receive a hundred fold back and inherit eternal life (Matt 19:27-29). Even the settlers of the Mayflower left everything behind; they called themselves Pilgrims (Sojourners). When we behave like sojourners, unattached to the things of the world, we leave everything behind and look forward to these eternal rewards.

In Luke 12:22-34 Jesus restates the idea that where our treasure is that is where our heart, attentions, affections, concerns, and desires will be. Life is more than food, body more than clothes…your heavenly father knows you need these things (vs 23, 30). Jesus reminds us there are more important things to concern ourselves with.

Since we trust that the Father knows and cares for us, we turn ourselves away from these daily needs and focus on developing the new person, renewed in true knowledge of God and being like him. It is natural that we concern ourselves with these things because we are people with needs. We must remind ourselves of what Jesus says and stop being afraid, little flock. We must train ourselves to behave like sojourners.

None of these verses exactly says that we are strangers and sojourners, but still the implication is that we must have a sojourner point of view; otherwise, we will become too attached to the things of this world, wanting to satisfy unhealthful lusts, rather than meeting the needs of the body. Love of the world will develop in us: lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and pride of life.

Strangers’ and sojourners’ attitudes

Let’s look at what Paul and Peter say on this idea of sojourners in this world. Paul and Peter both talk about the body as a temporary dwelling, a corruptible tabernacle that we put off. They are looking forward to that day when they will be resurrected with an incorruptible body which will inherit the Kingdom of God (1Cor 5:50). They had a sojourner’s attitude.

Because of this, we do not faint, but if indeed our outward man is being decayed, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day (2Co 4:16).

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle is taken down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in Heaven (2Co 5:1).

But I deem it right, so long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by a reminder, knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle is soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me (2Pe 1:13-14).

Cultivating the attitude of strangers and sojourners

The big question, then, is how to cultivate the attitude of strangers and sojourners. When we keep in mind that YHWH possesses the earth, and we belong to him, it should be easier to guard against coveting the corruptible things of the world or becoming attached to them. In due time, they will belong to us as the inheritors of God’s possessions.

We store up heavenly treasures because we walk after the spirit (Rom 8:5). We exercise discernment of good and evil (Heb 5:14) and choose the goodness of God (Deut 30:19-20). We put on the new man according to the image of our Father, YHWH (Col 3:10), and we are being sanctified daily (1Thes 4:3). God’s spirit in us is the guarantee of the eternal reward which has been promised to us. Let’s meditate on these things as we sit under our succoth this seven-day feast of Tabernacles.

For we do not have here a continuing city, but we seek the city coming. Then through Him let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God always, that is, the fruit of the lips, confessing to His name (Heb 13: 14-15) [my emphasis].