Jewish Feasts

It’s a pity that in contemporary Western Christianity we don’t have regularly scheduled feasts woven into our faith – other than communion, that is.

Dating all the way back to Abraham in 2100 BC, the Jewish religion holds the distinction of being the oldest religion in the world still being practiced today. If that weren’t enough, it’s also the only ancient religion still practiced by the same people in the same land with the same language. How does a religion and a people-group survive that long? The easy answer (and the correct one) is that God adopted them and gave them special favor: glory, covenants, Law, worship and promises (Rom 9:4). God chose them as His people for a specific purpose and will not let them come to utter ruin. God has not dealt likewise with any other people. Praise the Lord (Ps 147:19-20).

Sociologists will tell you that one of the methods in which God kept His people intact was by giving them feasts. If you flip through the Pentateuch, you’ll see a wide variety of feasts for any number of occasions, all commanded by God. Even their harvest tithe had a feast associated with it:

And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire – oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. (Deut 14:24-26, ESV)

Maybe it’s me, but my guess is that any preacher advocating this in the 21st century would be barred from the pulpit. I’ve heard some people say that their wine wasn’t as potent as it is today, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything: whatever “wine” and “strong drink” was, it was enough to get a number of men to take leave of their senses (Noah, Nabal, Uriah, Proverbs, etc).

But the point here is not “drunk” – it’s “party”! God’s people were to feast and have a good time before the Lord (but not like the Corinthian church did – 1 Cor 11:21). These feasts (parties?) worked as a social bond to preserve the language, religion, tradition and identity of the Jewish people for 4,000 years. Should we, as 21st century Christians celebrate these Jewish feasts? For sanctification, no. For education and social bonding (fellowship)? Ya know… I see a lot of benefit to these!

To learn more about how the Messiah is depicted in the Hebrew Feasts, read this fascinating PDF:
Messiah In The Hebrew Feasts

There are a number of reasons why modern Christians should be well versed on these feasts:

  • They were instituted by God. That alone should be enough.
  • They are both a medium and a message. They give us a picture of God, Christ, the cost of sin, atonement, redemption, and many other themes germane to the Salvation of man. As it did for the Old Testament Jews, these object lessons help us gain an appreciation for what God has done and will be doing for His people.
  • Jesus Himself participated in the feasts, and on two occasions, used them to further expound on the truths of Himself  (John 7 & 10). If Jesus participated in them, certainly there’s nothing wrong with us participating in them.

Every time I mention these feasts, it seems someone is quick to misunderstand and condemn what I’m getting at, so I’ll repeat it again:  Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone! These feasts are not required for NT believers, and they do nothing to procure or secure our salvation. But they can certainly enlighten us about our salvation. And for that, they’re worth learning about (and even participating in).

Here is a list of the various feasts that the Jews were required to observe throughout the year.

Levitical Feasts
These are the feasts described in the book of Leviticus
Nisan 14 (April)
Exodus 12:1-28
Leviticus 23:5
The Children of Israel first celebrated this feast moments before the Angel of Death made his way through Egypt, killing the firstborn of every home not covered by the blood of the lamb. Thus, the celebration of the Passover commemorated the Lord’s saving His people from the Destroyer. God marked the month of Nisan as the first month of the religious New Year.1. On the 10th day of the first month, a spotless lamb was to be chosen and then observed for 4 days to ensure the lamb was free of defect and imperfection.2. On the day of the Passover, the lamb was killed, roasted over an open fire, and consumed in its entirety while fully dressed for a trip. It was only to be consumed by Israelites (or those who converted to faith in Yahweh). None of its bones were to be broken. (During the Exodus, the Israelites were required to put the blood of the lamb on their door posts, thereby causing the Angel of Death to pass over their homes. The Angel of Death struck every home without the blood, whether Israelite or Egyptian, killing their firstborn son.)
Unleavened Bread
Nisan 15
Exodus 12
Leviticus 23:6
The day after Passover, the Israelite’s home was to be rid of all leaven (yeast). Leaven represented sin, and a holy God cannot allow sin to go unpunished.All Jewish males were required to travel to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
First Fruits
Leviticus 23:10
Nisan 17
Three days after Passover, the Israelites celebrated the Feast of First Fruits. In this feast, Israelites took the first sheaf of their ripening barley (or first fruits of their orchards) and ceremoniously dedicated it to the Lord.
Weeks / Pentecost
Leviticus 23:16
Sivan 6 (May)
The Feast of Weeks (aka Feast of Harvest, Latter Firstfruits, Pentecost) took place fifty days after the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Israelites presented to the Lord a grain offering of the summer wheat harvest in joy and thankfulness of His blessings on the harvest.It is also celebrated as the “Matin Torah” because the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai took place on this day.All Jewish males were required to travel to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Leviticus 23:24
Tishri 1 (Sept)
The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah) marked the first of the fall feasts and the Civil New Year. It began Ten Days of Repentance, ending on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). During this time, people are to repent for their sins in preparation for the Day of Atonement.The shofar (ram’s horn) was blown 100 times during the Rosh HaShanah synagogue service.
Day of Atonement
Leviticus 23:27
Tishri 10
Many believe this prophetically points to the day of the Second Coming of Jesus when He will return to earth. That will be the Day of Atonement for the Jewish remnant when they “look upon Him whom they have pierced,” repent of their sins, and receive Him as their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10 and Romans 11:1-6, 25-36).
Tabernacles / Booths
Leviticus 23:34
Tishri 15 (Oct)
Many scholars believe that this feast day points to the Lord’s promise that He will once again “tabernacle” with His people when He returns to reign over all the world (Micah 4:1-7).
Traditional Feasts
These feasts are celebrated by Jews, although not taught in Leviticus
Rejoicing In The Law
Tishri 22, 23 (Sept/Oct)
The Simchat Torah was appointed by God as a day of sacred assembly to rejoice in the Torah, God’s Word. During the Middle Ages, this feast became a time of giving and receiving the Torah or Pentateuch to each other.
Hanukkah / Feast of Dedication
Kislev 25 – Tevet 2 (Nov/Dec)
The Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes IV defiled the temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig on its altar. The Feast of Hanukkah commemorates the purification of the temple and the Jewish victory over the Greeks in 165. This military victory gave way to the short-lived Maccabean dynasty, where the Jews were under their own rule for the first time in 400 years.
Adair 14
While under Persian rule in the 5th century BC, the Jews found themselves headed for annihilation by the hand of Hamaan, royal vizier to king Ahasuerus. When Queen Esther risked her life by coming before the king unannounced, King Ahasuerus granted her wish and she was eventually able to save her entire people from extermination. The Feast of Purim honors Esther’s bravery before the king and God’s sparing the Jews in all the land of the Persians. This story is found in the book of Esther.