I am a Christian, and was re-reading a piece by theologian James B. Jordan on this feast:
“The rabbis suggest further that “Sukkoth” might not be a place name at all, but a description of an environment in which the people dwelled. And what was that environment? It was an environment of clouds.
This seems to me exactly correct, and the burden of this essay is to unfold the correctness of this suggestion, and show its meaning and fulfillment.
First of all, an examination of the word sukkah, its relatives sak, sok, and masak, and its verb form sakak, will reveal that this interpretation is entirely possible. The general meaning is “covering,” but specifically associated with clouds or foliage. There are other words for “cover” that do not have these associations. Sukkah or sok can refer to a booth set up to shelter someone from the weather, especially from the sun (Gen. 33:7; 1 Ki. 20:12 & 16; Job 27:18; Jonah 4:5). It can also refer to the thicket in which a lion crouches (Job. 38:40; Ps. 10:9; Jer. 25:38). Most significantly, it can refer to the Glory Cloud of God, His booth (2 Sam. 22:12; Job 36:29; Ps. 18:11; Is. 4:5-6).
Booths set up by an army in the field are sukkoth, and there is probably a double-entendre in 2 Samuel 11:11. There we find Uriah reminding David that the Ark is in the field and the men are living in booths. It is as if Israel is having a kind of Feast of Booths and David is not present with them.
(As a sidelight, Psalm 42:4 refers to the booths of Israel at a festival, which identifies it as the Feast of Booths. The word sak is, however, mistranslated as “throng” or “multitude.”)
The other main noun in this group is masak, which is used consistently for the veils that formed the doorway-barriers of the court and two rooms of the tabernacle. It is also used, however, for the idea of protection in Isaiah 22:8, and for God’s Glory Cloud in Psalm 105:39. The tabernacle was a symbol of God’s Cloud, so linking God’s Cloud as a covering and the veils of the tabernacle as coverings is appropriate.
The verb form of this word, sakak, “cover,” is used in the same range of associations. The veils of the tabernacle cover the Ark (Ex. 40:3, 21). God’s wings cover His people (Ps. 91:4), and the wings of the cherubim cover the Ark (Ex. 25:20; 37:9, 1 Ki. 8:7; 1 Chron. 28:18). The high priest is such a covering cherub (Ezk. 28:14, 16). God’s Cloud is said to cover and to be a barrier against the wicked (Lam. 3:43, 44). Coverings as protection, especially God’s protection, are another usage (Ps. 5:11; 139:13; 140:7; Nah. 2:6). Since a man is defenseless when defecating, he retires to a protected place to “cover” his “feet” (Jud. 3:24; 1 Sam. 24:3). (If we translate “boothing the feet,” and think of an outhouse, we are in line with the meaning of this phrase.) Finally, of great interest to us is that trees are said to cover and shade (Job 40:22).
Putting all this together, we find that a sukkah or booth is a covering or shade. It is analogous to the shade of a tree, and thus is made of arboreal materials. It is also analogous to the covering and shade of God’s Glory Cloud, and to the symbol of that Cloud, the tabernacle.
With this in mind, we can see how the Feast of Booths memorializes the time in the wilderness. During that time, Israel dwelt in The Booth of God’s Cloud, in the sense of being shaded by His Cloud. Psalm 105:39 says, “He spread a Cloud for a covering, and fire to illumine by night.” Similarly, Isaiah 4:5-6 speaks quite clearly: “Then Yahweh will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a Cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the Glory will form a canopy. And there will be a booth to shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain.”
God’s Cloud over the people forms a Great Booth, within which they live. That Cloud over them is like the glorious canopy of a leafy tree, and thus the reproduction of such an arboreal canopy is a symbol of God’s Cloud.”
Is what Jordan attributes to “the rabbis” correct?