FEASTS OF JEWS AND JESUS
The Israelites had seven main feasts which according to the calendar order were: Passover, Unleavened Bread, 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 later after the Babylonian exile. These feasts were communal in the sense that they brought the nation together for worship and they helped to commemorate their common origin and memorable experiences in relation to God.
Out of these seven pre-exile feasts 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, then, all your males shall appear before the LORD, your God, in the place which he will choose: at the feast of Unleavened Bread, at the feast of Weeks, and at the feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed, but each with his own gift, in proportion to the blessing which the LORD, your God, has given to you.” Since they traveled to Jerusalem for these feasts, they were known as “Pilgrimage Feasts.”
The first four of the seven feasts were interrelated.
(1) The Passover
“The Passover of the LORD falls on the fourteenth day of the first month, at the evening twilight” (Lev 23:5). It commemorated 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 whose blood Jesus marked on the cross for our redemption from the bondage of sin.
(2) The Feast of the Unleavened Bread
Immediately after Passover, the Israelites had to leave Egypt in a hurry and could not wait to leaven the bread. So, God asked Israel to celebrate the feast of the Unleavened Bread for one week to remember this historical event. “The fifteenth day of this month is the LORD’s feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread” (Lev 23:6). Leaven was a symbol of sin. Israelites 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 feast of the Unleavened Bread. “When you come into the land which I am giving you, and reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest, who shall elevate the sheaf before the LORD that it may be acceptable on your behalf. On the day after the sabbath the priest shall do this” (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. People harvested barley before 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. For 40 years, they had to depend on manna, 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 (Lev 23:14).
The resurrection of Jesus happened on the feast day of the “First Fruit” because that was the first fruit of the salvific activity of God. The day of Easter was the day after the Sabbath (Sunday) 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 to Atonement. The Father, who was well pleased and accepted the offering of the Son, sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles to constitute the church on the 50th day after the Passover sacrifice of Jesus. This fiftieth day coincided with the 50th day (Pentecost) celebration of the Old Testament.
(4) The Feast of Pentecost
Also known as the Feast of Weeks, the Israelites celebrated Pentecost according to the directive of God 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 wheat grain offering. It comprised two loaves of leavened bread representing Israelites and Gentiles, a burned 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). Though this 50th day observance was a harvest feast of thanksgiving, it was also associated with the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai on the 50th day after the original Passover in Egypt.
FEAST OF TABERNACLE / FEAST OF BOOTHS
The Feast of the Tabernacles was a pilgrim feast also known as the Feast of Booths and Sukkot. Though it lasted seven days, an eighth day was added later as the “greatest day.” The feast started on the 15th day of the seventh month, Tishri of the Hebrew calendar (late September to mid-October). It began and ended with a special Sabbath day of rest and worship, thus constituting eight days. During the seven days of the feast, all Israelites left their home and lived in temporary tents or booths made of branches of trees outside to remind them how their ancestors lived in tabernacles for 40 years in the wilderness after God delivered them out of the “land of Egypt” (Lev 23:39-43). It was also a feast of Messianic expectation that the Israelites prayed to God for the new Joshua (Jesus) to come and lead them to the Kingdom of God. The Israelites had completed the fall harvest by the month of Tishri, and hence they joyfully celebrated and thanked God for the continued provision of rain and corps for them.
There are Biblical events are associated with the feast of the Tabernacles. Dedication of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:2) took place at the feast of Tabernacles. When the Israelites returned from Babylon to reconstruct the Temple of Jerusalem, it was in the seventh month that they listened to the Word of God Ezra read. Then they revived the feast of the Tabernacles that they had discontinued from the days of Joshua who succeeded Moses (Neh 8). Some Bible scholars claim that the birth of Jesus (“the Word made his dwelling among us” Jn 1:14) and his second coming to establish the earthly kingdom are associated with the Feast of Tabernacles.
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. The priest would fill a golden vase with water and carried back to the Temple in procession amid the joyful songs of the people who would hold branches of trees that they had used for making the tents for the feast. On the western side of the altar, the priest poured the water. 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 Psalms 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 conquest of Jericho. So, this ritual of offering water on the altar was symbolic of God providing them water from a rock in the wilderness and rain they have been receiving for abundant harvest.
During the feast, four large golden menorahs, having seven torches, each illuminated the temple courtyard. These twenty-eight big torches shed light on a wide area and were visible from all around the city as a “pillar of fire.” People used to sing and dance with musical instruments throughout the night until at daybreak when they start procession to the Pool of Siloam. Jesus made use of this ritual to teach people he was the light of the world.
Jesus observed Jewish practices and gave them a new spiritual dimension. Through that, he renewed the past with new faith and religious practices. He replaced Israel with his church, circumcision with dedication of heart, animal sacrifices and old Passover with the Holy Eucharist. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). As Christians, Jesus calls us to renew everything in him and make our human life perfect with Christian virtues.