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Feasts, Jewish


JEWISH FEASTS

The Jews had seven main feasts. In chronological order, these were: The Passover, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, the Feast of the First-fruits, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). The Jews added more feasts after the Babylonian exile. These feasts were communal in the sense that they brought the nation together for worship and also helped commemorate their common origin and memorable experiences concerning God.

Out of the seven pre-exile feasts that originated from God, three were pilgrimage feasts: Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks) and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths). According to Deuteronomy 16:16-17, “Three times a year all your men shall present themselves before the LORD, your God, in the place that will be chosen by him: on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. You shall not present yourselves empty-handed; each one will bring his gifts in proportion to what he has, according to the blessing that the LORD, your God, has bestowed upon you.” Since they travelled to Jerusalem for these feasts, they called them “Pilgrimage Feasts”.

There is a correlation between the first four of the seven feasts:

(1) The Passover
“Between dusk and dawn on the fourteenth day of the first month is the LORD’s Passover” (Lev 23:5). Passover reminded the marking with the blood of a slaughtered lamb on the doorposts of the houses of Israelites to save them from the angel of death. In the New Testament, this Passover became the slaughter of Jesus, the true Lamb of God, who marked his blood on the cross for redeeming humanity from the bondage of sin.

(2) The Feast of Unleavened Bread
After the Passover, the Israelites had to leave Egypt in a hurry and could not wait to leaven the dough for bread. So, God asked Israel to celebrate the feast of the Unleavened Bread for one week to remember this historical event. “And on the fifteenth day of this month it is the LORD’s feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you shall eat bread without leaven” (Lev 23:6). Leaven symbolized sin. Israel had to give up all their sinful ways in Egypt and follow the Lord to the Promised Land.

(3) The feast of the “First Fruits”
The Israelites celebrated this feast on the day after Sabbath during the one-week long feast of Unleavened Bread. “When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you will bring to the priest a sheaf, the first fruits of your harvest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD for you to be accepted; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Lev 23:10- 11). This offering was the first ripe barley in the field and each Israelite presented it as a bundle to the priest who would wave it in front of the altar of the Lord. Farmers harvested barley first and only then wheat and other agricultural products. Along with a sheaf of barley, they offered a one-year-old lamb and a grain offering. According to Deuteronomy 26:1-11, this offering was to acknowledge that God had delivered them from Egypt and had given them the fertile land that He had promised to the forefathers. They had to depend on manna for 40 years and now they could cultivate and eat fresh agricultural products. The Israelites did not eat of the new harvest until they offered the first fruits offering (Lev 23:14).

Jesus rose from the dead on the feast day of the “First Fruits” because he was the first fruit of the redemptive activity of God. The day of Easter was the day after the Sabbath, during the one- week feast of the Unleavened Bread after Passover. Jesus then went to heaven, the Holy of Holies, on the 40th day after his resurrection to present his sacrificial offering as the High Priest used to do on the Day of Atonement. His Son’s offering pleased the Father who accepted it. God then sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles to establish the Church on the 50th day after the Passover sacrifice of Jesus. This fiftieth day coincided with the (Pentecost) celebration of the Old Testament.

(4) The Feast of Pentecost
The Israelites celebrated the Pentecost, also known as the Feast of the Weeks, according to God’s directive given in Leviticus 23:15-22. From the feast of the first fruits, the Israelites must count seven full weeks and the day after that, or on the 50th day, they shall observe Pentecost by a wheat grain offering. This included two loaves of leavened bread representing Israelites and Gentiles, a burnt offering of seven one-year-old lambs, one bull and two rams, followed by a sin offering of one goat and a fellowship offering of two lambs (Lev 23:18). Although this 50th- day observance was a harvest feast of thanksgiving, the Israelites associated it with God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai on the 50th day after the Passover in Egypt.

FEAST OF BOOTHS (TABERNACLES)

Feast of the Tabernacles lasted seven days. The Jews added an eighth day later as the “greatest day. The Jews called the Feast of Tabernacles also as the Feast of Booths and Sukkot. This feast started on the 15th day of the seventh month, Tishri of the Hebrew calendar (late September to mid-October) and lasted for seven days. It began and ended with a special Sabbath day of rest and worship, thus making up eight days.

During the seven days of the feast, all Israelites left their homes and lived outside in temporary tents or booths made of tree branches to remind them how their ancestors lived in tents for 40 years in the wilderness after God delivered them out of Egypt (Lev 23:39-43). It also was a feast of Messianic expectation when the Israelites prayed for the new Joshua (Jesus) to come and establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. By the month of Tishri, the Israelites have completed the fall harvest. So they thanked God for the continued provision of rain and crops for them.

The Feast of the Tabernacles correlates with many Biblical events. King Solomon dedicated the Temple during the Feast of the Tabernacles (1 Kgs 8:2). When the Israelites returned from Babylon to reconstruct the Temple of Jerusalem, Ezra read the Word of God to the Jews in the seventh month. They then revived the feast of the Tabernacles that the Israelites had dropped from the days of Joshua (Neh 8). Some Bible scholars associate the birth of Jesus with the Feast of Tabernacles referring to John 1:14, “the Word made his dwelling among us.” They believe that his second coming to establish the earthly kingdom will also happen on that feast day.

The ritual of the Feast of Tabernacles included a solemn procession with music everyday morning from the Temple under the leadership of a priest to the pool of Siloam. He would fill a golden vase with water and carry it back to the Temple in procession. The people accompanied him holding branches of trees they had used for making the tents and sing joyful songs. The priest then poured the water on the western side of the altar of burnt offering. In the meantime, another priest would pour wine as a drink-offering on the eastern side of the altar. During this time, the pilgrims would move around the altar singing Praises of Hallel (Alleluia) 113–118. They repeated this seven times on the seventh day, remembering the procession done around the wall of Jericho carrying the Ark of the Covenant, causing its fall and the conquest of Jericho. So, this ritual of offering water on the altar was symbolic of God supplying them with water from the rock in the wilderness and the rain they have been receiving for an abundant harvest.


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