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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.” The law was binding only on adult males who lived within about 23 km of Jerusalem.

Blood covenant was a binding practice of religious contract and was common among the people in the middle east in the ancient times. God established circumcision as a symbol of the covenant between God and Abraham. The name for the act of circumcision is bris, which means “covenant.” According to the God’s covenant with Abraham, “When he is eight days old, every male among you will be circumcised, generation after generation; including the slaves born in your household or bought from a foreigner as slaves. Whether born in your household or bought as slaves, they must be circumcised. So my covenant will be written in your flesh as an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, will be cut off from his people for having broken my covenant” (Gen 17:12-14). The scar of circumcision became as outward evidence of the covenant. The Jews continued circumcision from the time of Abraham, and it remained as a sign of their covenant with God.

The Israelites circumcised children on the eighth day. It signals the beginning of a child’s covenant with God and initiation into Israel. Even if the eighth day was a Sabbath, when God had prohibited any work, the Israelites performed circumcision on that day as an exception. This highlights the eighth day’s importance.

In his covenant with Abraham, God’s demand from Abraham and his descendants was their faithfulness to God obeying his commandments. From God’s part, there were three promises:

1. Land: Israel shall own Canaan, the promised land.

2. Seed: A great nation will emerge from the descendants of Abraham.

3. Blessing: Salvation offered to all the world through the seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:18). That seed is Jesus.

Circumcision became the sign of incorporating into the people of Israel and becoming a covenant person with God. Just as a wedding ring reminds of the marriage covenant with a person’s spouse, male circumcision of Israel was a reminder of their permanent commitment and covenantal union with God. The Israelites had no female circumcision. The women’s incorporation into the body of Israel and covenantal relation with God were through their wedding to a circumcised Israelite.


Number eight, according to the Biblical numerology, stands for recreation. God completed creation of the universe, including a day of rest in seven days. So, eighth day means a new beginning. The covenant with Abraham through circumcision was also a new beginning of salvation. So, circumcision, which signals the beginning of the child’s covenant with God and initiation into Israel, was held on the eighth day. The importance of the eighth day is clear from that fact that even if the eighth day was a Sabbath when work was prohibited, circumcision was performed on that day as an exception.

The selection of eighth day for circumcision, regardless of Sabbath observance, was the decision from God. One reason is that the newborn baby will live a complete week, inclusive of a Sabbath. Hence, the baby experiences the “holiness” of a Sabbath before he enters the covenant with God and thus joins the community of the Jewish people.

Medical Science has found out that the eighth day after birth is the best day for blood clotting and so it is a suitable time for circumcision. Blood clotting depends on platelets, prothrombin, and vitamin K. Prothrombin levels and vitamin K are at their peak on the eighth day. The omniscient God knew this and selected that day, though the humans did not know it until recently.


The Israelites could perform the circumcision either in the synagogue or at home. In John the Baptist’s case, the priests and relatives came to do it at home. Since Zachariah was mute, they wanted Elizabeth to name the child.

If the circumcision of John took place in the synagogue, Elizabeth could not be present for the ritual. According to the Mosaic Law, the mother was unclean for seven days if she gave birth to a boy. After the circumcision of the child on the eighth day, the mother “shall wait for thirty-three days to be purified of her bleeding. She shall not touch anything that is consecrated nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed” (Lev 12:4). Since Elizabeth could not enter the synagogue for forty days after John’s birth, the performers and the participants of circumcision came to Zechariah’s house to perform the ritual.


Naming of a child also took place along with the circumcision on the eighth day. The naming of John was on the eighth day after his birth along with his circumcision (Lk 1:59-64). Same was the case with Jesus. “When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Lk 2:21).


Moses reminded the Israelites that a physical circumcision should lead to the circumcision of heart. The covenantal relationship through circumcision involved love of God with whole heart and whole being (Deut 30:6). “Circumcise therefore the foreskins of your hearts, and be stiff-necked no longer” (Deut 10: 16). Jeremiah warned the Israelites: “Be circumcised for the LORD, remove the foreskins of your hearts, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Or else my anger will break out like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of your evil deeds” (Jer 4:4).

Physical circumcision is not a requirement in the new covenant Jesus established because his salvation is not just for Abraham’s descendants but is open for all believers in Jesus. Every Christian has to circumcise his or her heart by being faithful to God according to the teachings of Jesus. “Circumcision means nothing, and uncircumcision means nothing; what matters is keeping God’s commandments” (1 Cor 7:19).

Since Joseph and Mary observed Jewish practices, they circumcised Infant Jesus on the eighth day and named him according to the revelation from Angel Gabriel. Besides the covenantal scar of circumcision, Jesus also made the bloody scars on his hand and feet and the spear of his heart. Thus, he had even the physical circumcision of the heart.


Through Baptism, we made a covenant with God and got the privilege of calling God, Father. Though we do not have to shed blood, we have to consecrate our heart for the Christian responsibilities that God wants us to do at home, church, and community.

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.


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.


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