Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (Tabernacles)

Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. (Exodus 23:16b)

So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of sabbath rest. 40 On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. 41 Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters 43 so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 23:39-43)

Though the Feast of Tabernacles (or more properly, Sukkot, or Feast of Booths) fell during the latter harvet or ingathering of crops, it also had a historical purpose.  It commemorated the 40 years of wandering Israel did in the wilderness after their refusal to conquer Canaan the first time they arrived there (Numbers 14).  Though they lived in tents during that whole time, God provided for their needs and prepared the next generation to take the land.

Coming as it did after the Day of Atonement, it provided a needed celebration of joy after a time of great soul-searching and sorrow over sin.  It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals that, like Passover and Weeks, was meant to be celebrated in Jerusalem.  Though this is not meant for arguing how much vacation we should have or take, it is interesting that Israelites were called upon to make three pilgrimages which could equal anywhere from 4-6 weeks worth of time traveling and festival depending on how far away from Jerusalem they lived.

Jesus attended a Feast of Tabernacles or Booths incognito one year according to John 7.  It was during a time when the opposition of the religious leadership made it very dangerous for him to publically participate.  At the opportune moment he revealed himself and made a prophetic proclamation about his authority to speak and the dangers he was facing, then offering living water to whoever wanted it.  It is quite possible that prayers were offered at this time for the rains to water the land but Jesus was offering spiritual water for the soul to all who believed in him.

In a sense, we are all living out the Feast of Tabernacles as we await the coming of Jesus to establish his kingdom.  We are in the wilderness, so to speak, in a temporary arrangement for living that will be done away with when the perfect or complete comes.

For further reading:  http://www.christcenteredmall.com/teachings/feasts/tabernacles.htm, http://www.nowpublic.com/culture/sukkot-2010-feast-tabernacles-or-building-fort-2677107.html, http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm, http://www.answers.com/topic/sukkot, http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/Sukkot

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (The Day of Atonement)

Leviticus 16

Nine days after the feast of Trumpets, on the 10th day of the 7th month, Israel was to observe the Day of Atonement, or literally, the day of covering.  This was because on this day the top of the ark of the covenant, which represented the throne of God, was to be covered with the blood of sacrifice in order to satisfy the just demands of the Holy God, Yahweh, so that He could forgive the sins of His people.  Even though they were bringing sin offerings throughout the year, this ceremony represented the need for one over-arching sacrifice to truly cover their guilt.

The day consisted of fasting, sabbath rest and a holy convocation or coming together before the sanctuary.  God wanted the people to focus on their sin and the awful requirements for atonement.  The process was even different for Aaron or whoever the high priest was that year.  He did not wear his usual priestly garments during the ceremony (except for the turban), but rather a unique set of white linen garments put on only after an entire bath in the Holy Place (the section of the tent in front of the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant was located).

As the people watched, the high priest brought a bull and a ram for a burnt and sin offering.  This was for his own atonement.  He would also bring two goats as sin offerings for the people and cast lots to see which would be offered to Yahweh as a sin offering and which would be sent out in the wilderness as a scapegoat.  Then he alone entered the sanctuary, removed his normal garments and bathed, then put on the linen garments.  He then came out and slew his sin offerings and brought blood from these offerings as well as hot coals from the altar outside and some incense in with him to the Most Holy Place.  He put the incense in the coals to create smoke that would conceal to some extent the cover on the ark of the covenant so that he wouldn’t die.  This seems to be a representation of the fact that a clear, unobstructed view of God’s holiness would be dangerous to us.  Then he sprinkled blood from his sin offering on the cover or lid of the ark and some before or in front of it.

The people could see none of this, but at this point the high priest would come out of the sanctuary and offer in sacrifice the goat chosen as a sin offering for the people of Israel.  He would re-enter the sanctuary with blood from this goat and sprinkle it on the cover or lid of the ark and in front of the ark in the Most Holy Place.  This was also meant to cleanse the sanctuary.

Then the high priest would come out to the Holy Place, still unseen by the people, and put some of the blood from this sacrifice on the altar of incense to cleanse it (though some believe he came all the way out of the sanctuary and cleansed the altar outside). 

Then he would come outside and get the goat chosen to be abandoned in the wilderness, lay his hands on it and confess Israel’s sins over it.  The man chosen to take this goat would then escort it to the wilderness as a symbol of the people’s sins being taken far away.  God’s forgiveness was thus represented by the death of one goat and the removal of another, signaling how completely Israel had been forgiven.

The high priest would then re-enter the sanctuary, remove his linen garments and bath and redress in his normal garments, come out and offer the burnt offering for himself and the one for all the people and make sure it was entirely burnt up (no one would eat any portion of this sacrifice).

What kind of sense do you think you would have watching this about how seriously God deals with sin?  How comfortable would you feel that this had to be done every year?  This makes all the more wonderful the complete answer God had coming in the Messiah, Jesus.  Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary with his own blood, not needing a sacrifice for his own sin because he was sinless, and cleansed forever the sin of those who trust in him (Hebrews 9).

Our day of atonement has been observed once and for all!

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (Trumpets)

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the LORD.’” (Leviticus 23:23-35)

It was typical in Israel to blow the trumpets whenever there was a new moon or beginning of a new month (Numbers 10:10), but the new moon or first day of the seventh month was also viewed as the beginning of the new year according to a calendar that reckoned a new year as beginning in the fall.  So the feast of Trumpets is also called Rosh Hashanah (“head of the year” or New Year).

There were additional sacrifices required on this particular new moon or first day of the month and the calling of a holy convocation or coming together of the people.  In Ezra’s day they met to hear the reading of the Law (Nehemiah 8:1-12).  The kind of trumpet allowed was any straight animal horn, not a crooked horn nor a metal trumpet.

Whereas Passover was a commemoration of Israel’s redemption by God and Weeks or Pentacost was a commemoration of Israel’s constitution as a nation under God’s Law, Trumpets was often viewed as a preparation for the Day of Atonement feast that came nine days later on the tenth day of the month.

In a sense, every day for us should be a day of Trumpets as we consider our lives and how they should be brought into conformity with God’s loving will.  But it is healthy also to have a yearly event in which we consider where we’ve been and where we want to go.  Our own New Year’s Day serves in this capacity and the preparatory Feast of Trumpets for us could be New Year’s Eve.

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (Pentecost)

While Passover has some overlap with the barley harvest in Israel, Pentecost has some relationship to the wheat harvest.  Both Passover (Exodus 23:15) and Pentecost (Exodus 23:16a), which came 50 days after Passover, are pilgrimage festivals along with Tabernacles (Exodus 23:16b)and required a trip to the central place of worship in Israel.  After some more temporary locations prior to the conquest of Jerusalem, David moved the Tabernacle to Jerusalem and Solomon built the Temple there and this became the permanent site for pilgrimage.

As you might suspect, if pilgrims from a long way off made it to Jerusalem for Passover, there was some motivation for staying there 50 days until Pentecost (hence, it was also called the feast of weeks, Exodus 34:22).  This made for one long period of celebration and festivities.  The main event of this feast was the offering of two bread loaves to Yahweh in gratitude for the harvests.

Leviticus 23:15-21 describes the details of the festival:

From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. 16 Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. 17 From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. 18 Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the LORD, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. 19 Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering. 20 The priest is to wave the two lambs before the LORD as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. They are a sacred offering to the LORD for the priest. 21 On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.

An admonition frequently associated with the feast of weeks or Pentecost was,  “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:22).  So the Israelites associated this holiday not only with provision for the Levites but for the poor, as well.

The first Pentecost was observed on the day Israel came to Sinai and God came down on the mountain to give them the Law (Exodus 19,20).  The people were delivered when the  angel passed over their blood-stained doors in Egypt and spared their firstborn children.  The Egyptians finally allowed them to depart.  At Sinai they became a nation in covenant with Yahweh.  So Pentecost highlights the completion of Israel’s deliverance and formation as the people of God.

Much has been made of the significance of the two loaves.  Was this a foreshadowing of the two peoples whom God would redeem, Israel and the Gentiles?  Was it meant to represent Jesus and his bride, the church, being wed before God?  Whatever their significance, it is fascinating that Jesus chose to send the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after his crucifixion and resurrection, to inaugurate the Church.  Just as He purchased our salvation with his death and resurrection during Passover, He completed the new work of God at Pentecost.

[see representative viewpoints on the significance of Pentecost here: http://www.triumphpro.com/two-loaves.htm and http://philologos.org/__eb-ttms/temple13.htm]

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (Passover)

One of the ways God ordered Israel’s life so that it would point to Him as their true God and away from foreign gods (who are not gods at all), was to arrange their weeks and months around spiritually significant events.  So the sabbath (Saturday) was a remembrance of creation and the setting aside of a day of rest to reflect God’s ceasing from creating.  It would remind Israelites that they can depend on God to take care of them even if they cease from work one day a week.

The festivals or feasts of Israel accomplished the same thing.  They commemorated spiritually significant events and meanings in Israel’s history to remind them of God’s great salvation.  Passover is the first of these feasts and reminds them of the deliverance from bondage in Egypt.  Exodus 12 is the key passage for this festival, but it is also discussed in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28.

This feast was established while Israel was still in Egypt.  After God had sent nine plagues on Egypt and Pharaoh had still refused to let the people go into the wilderness to worship Yahweh, Yahweh told the Israelites to consider the seventh month they were in, Nisan, to be the first month of their spiritual calendar year.  He told them to take an unblemished lamb or goat on the 10th of the month and hold it for four days (presumably to make sure it is healthy and without blemish) and then slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan at twilight, spread its blood on their doorposts, and then eat the entire animal that night in preparation to leave Egypt the next day.

The feast is called Passover because on this night Yahweh was going to visit death upon the firstborn of every household except those with the sacrificed animal’s blood on them.  These He would “pass over” and spare.  The 14th-21st of Nisan were to be sabbath days, the only work allowed being preparing and cooking the sacrifice.  They were to be observed by the elimination of leaven or yeast from the bread dough.  Hence it was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread and immediately followed the Passover feast.

This perpetual celebration was an opportunity annually to instruct each other, especially one’s children, concerning Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from slavery and the power and justice of God in bringing punishment on Israel’s enemy.  Special instructions were given to observe this feast and all who were able were to come to the place Yahweh picked to observe the feast each year.  The place He eventually picked was Jerusalem.

John the Baptist later shows part of the anticipation this feast was expected to generate when he identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and Paul does the same when he calls him “Christ, our Passover lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7).  The animal whose blood had to be shed to deliver the Israelites from Yahweh’s wrath on their firstborn foreshadowed the only sacrifice that could take away our guilt and satisfy God’s wrath, Jesus the eternal God who added a human nature.  He too was spotless and His blood has kept us from death as we trusted in His sacrifice to cover our guilt.

Many Jews have used Passover as a time of prayer for the coming of the Messiah.  We believe that He has indeed already come and is coming again.  It is the passover meal which Jesus celebrated with his disciples the night he was arrested.  He told them he would not eat it with them again until he returned in his kingdom.  Passover represents our initial redemption from the bondage of our sin and of Satan.  We are in a perpetual experience of the benefits of this salvation purchased in Christ and are in a spiritual sense now observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread as we live in the world but don’t become influenced by its mindset of self-redemption.  We celebrate now not the freedom from Egypt but the freedom purchased at the cross by the resurrected Jesus.

[See this article on the history of Passover observance]