Joy and Return in Yom Kippur and Sukkot

Last week, we talked about the time between Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) as a traditional time of return and repentance. Now with Yom Kippur behind us and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) fast approaching ,we turn to a new theme: rejoicing.

Yom Kippur is widely considered the most solemn holy day by Jews and by Christians who observe God’s holy days. It’s a time of fasting, of strictly observed rest from labor, of prayer, and reminders of Christ’s work atoning for our sins as we look forward to His return and to Satan being locked away. It is followed just five days later by the most joyful of God’s festivals. While the first and last day of Sukkot are sabbaths of “solemn rest,” they’re accompanied by the command, “you shall rejoice before Yahweh your god seven days” (Lev. 23:39-40, WEB).

Why joy? We know joy is a fruit of God’s spirit–it’s something that should be part of our developing spiritual character all year-round. We talk about joy as something which God gives us that cannot be shaken by trials or external circumstances (Gal. 5:22; James 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:8; 4:13). But why the specific command to rejoice during Sukkot right after the solemnity of Yom Kippur?

Rejoice for Redemption

Jesus revealed Himself as God who heals sorrow, binds up wounds, and comforts the lost (Luke 4:17-21). This role connects with prophesies in Isaiah which speak of a Messiah who will come and do great things for His people. Part of these hopeful, joyful prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus’s first coming, and we still wait for others.

Then Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return,
and come with singing to Zion;
and everlasting joy will be on their heads.
They will obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

Isiah 35:10, WEB

Christians who keep Sukkot connect it to the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ pictured in Revelation 20:1-6. Isiah 35 is one of the millennial passages that hints at what that time will be like (see also Is. 11:1-16; 65:11-25; 51:11-12; 52:7-9). Even before that time arrives, though, we have reason for great joy (Is. 51:11-12; 52:7-9).

I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions,
and, as a cloud, your sins.
Return to me, for I have redeemed you.

Sing, you heavens, for Yahweh has done it!
Shout, you lower parts of the earth!
Break out into singing, you mountains, O forest, all of your trees,
for Yahweh has redeemed Jacob,
and will glorify himself in Israel.

Isaiah 44:22-23, WEB

Realizing how great Jesus’s sacrifice is and what He gave up to redeem us should leave us in awe, humbled by His goodness and selflessness. We should also respond with great joy, particularly after our return and repentence . He loves us, redeems us, and wants us to thrive. How could that not turn our “mourning into joy”? (Jer. 31:11-14).

Turn Mourning into Joyful Dance

We don’t have to wait for Christ’s second coming to experience the joy of knowing God, being loved by Him, and having Him save us. For example, in Psalm 30 David recounts the work of God in his life, singing “at the dedication of the temple” (v. 1) about the ways God responded to his calls for aid.

Weeping may stay for the night,
but joy comes in the morning. …

You have turned my mourning into dancing for me.
You have removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with gladness,
to the end that my heart may sing praise to you, and not be silent.
Yahweh my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Psalm 30:5, 11-12, WEB

New Testament writers also assure us that we can have joy. In John’s gospel, Jesus shares that He’s leaving His joy with His followers so that their “joy may be made full” (John 15:11; 17:23). He also assures them that even though they “will weep and lament” because of His death, their “sorrow will be turned to joy” that no one can take away because of His resurrection (John 16:20-22).

We also know the resurrected Messiah and have access to a joy that no one can take away. He still works with us today, giving us His joy as we increase “in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, for all endurance and perseverance with joy” (Col. 1:9-10). And when we walk with Him, we also align ourselves toward future joy the same way He did when He walked on this earth (Heb. 12:1-2).

Joy in Returning

Image by bluebeyphoto from Lightstock

Just as the trumpet call of Yom Teruah reminds us to repent and turn to the Lord, humbling ourselves and accepting Jesus’s atoning sacrifice pictured in Yom Kippur, so our “godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation” today (2 Cor. 7:9-10). That is something to rejoice about! Over and over, the prophets record that God’s people follow a pattern of wandering from God, repenting with sorry, then being filled with joy and gladness as they reconnect with God. That cycle is pictured in these fall holy days, both on an individual level and looking forward into the future of all humanity.

One of the truths I’ve been meditating on and marveling at this past week is that God works with an ever expanding number of people. He created two–Adam and Eve. Then He saved Noah and his family–eight people–in the flood and made a covenant with Noah. Then He worked with Abraham and his descendants to make him into a great nation we call ancient Israel–one precious people that God later made a covenant with at Mount Sinai after rescuing them from Egypt. People outside Israel could join themselves to that covenant, but for the most part God worked with just one nation. Then Jesus came and entrusted His followers with the message that salvation is open to everyone in the world, regardless of their background. Today, God is working with a group of people called out from among all the nations of the world. And in the future, He will show the entire world who He is, resurrect those who died without knowing Him, and give all an opportunity to choose life with Him (see “Rethinking Heaven: Capturing A Vision Of The Resurrection” and “Rethinking Hell: A Clearer View of God’s Judgement“).

“Yet even now,” says Yahweh, “turn to me with all your heart,
and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.”
Tear your heart, and not your garments,
and turn to Yahweh, your God;
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness,
and relents from sending calamity. …
Blow the trumpet in Zion!
Sanctify a fast.
Call a solemn assembly. …

Be glad and rejoice, for Yahweh has done great things. …
Be glad then, you children of Zion,
and rejoice in Yahweh, your God;
for he gives you the early rain in just measure,
and he causes the rain to come down for you,
the early rain and the latter rain,
as before.

Joel 2:12-13, 15, 22-23, WEB

God has great joy in seeing people turn from their wickedness and choose life (Eze. 18:23; Luke 15:7,10). The Bible represents this change in our way of life as a return to the Lord, and when we repent and turn to Him with sincerity there is great joy for us as well. Interestingly, at least one prophet connects that joy with coming back to keeping the feasts of the Lord (Zech. 1:3-4; 8:3, 19; 10:7-9; 14:8-9, 16-20). Let’s rejoice in these days and in the knowledge that the Lord loves us. He redeems us, welcomes us into His family, and promises to share His everlasting life and joy with us if only we’ll return to Him.

Featured image by Pearl from Lightstock

Song Recommendation: “Praise You With The Dance” by Casting Crowns

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