There were three great annual feasts in Israel (Exodus 23:14-ff; Deuteronomy 16:16). All men of Israel were to attend (Exodus 23:17; 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16).
There are two Hebrew terms which are significant in a study of these feasts. (1) Hag: This word refers to movement. “(A) Pilgrimage; (A) feast, especially one observed by pilgrimage” (B-D-B). “This word especially refers to a feast observed by a pilgrimage” (Vine’s). (2) Moed: This word refers to an appointment. “Appointed time, (or) place, (or) meeting (B-D-B). Both of these terms are translated “Feast”.
The Bible says, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning” (Romans 15:4 cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). The festivals of old were “a shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:16-17). There must be something we can learn from a study of the Jewish feasts.
1. The Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread.
This was the first of the annual feasts. The Passover and Unleavened Bread were together one feast (Leviticus 23:5-14; Deuteronomy 16:1-8). Passover occurred on Abib or Nisan 14th. Unleavened Bread occurred on Abib or Nisan 15th-21st. Their months were based on a lunar cycle. According to our calendar, these things would occur in March-April.
Passover commemorated God’s passing over in judgment those who had the lamb’s sacrificial blood applied to the doorposts and lintel of their dwelling (Exodus 12:7, 13). The sacrifice involved a male lamb without blemish (Exodus 12:5), still in its youth (Exodus 12:5). No bones were to be broken (Exodus 12:8). The sacrifice lamb was to be eaten by the circumcised (Exodus 12:43-51). This was both a remembrance and a proclamation of what God had done (Exodus 12:25-27). Note: The term “Passover” is sometimes used of the sacrifice itself (Exodus 12:11; 12:21).
Christ is our Passover sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7). He was offered as a lamb without spot (1 Peter 1:18-19). He was just 33 years old (Luke 3:23 cf. John 2:13; 4:35 cf. 5:1; 6:4; 11:55). His bones were not broken (John 19:32-36). His blood is applied to us (1 Peter 1:2 cf. Hebrews 10:22. Note — “sprinkling” refers to blood cf. Hebrews 9:13, 19; 11:28; 12:24). We come in contact with his saving blood in baptism (Revelation 1:5; 7:14 cf. Acts 22:16 cf. Romans 6:3). We are to keep this feast (the Lord’s Supper) each first day of the week in remembrance of Him (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). It is for the disciples (Acts 20:7). Those who have undergone the circumcision without hands (Colossians 2:11-13). God cuts away our guilt of sin in baptism (Colossians 2:11-13). Note — “without hands” is a Biblical expression for something God does and not man (cf. Daniel 2:44-45).
Unleavened bread was to be eaten to remember the Exodus (Exodus 12:8-9, 11, 17-18; Leviticus 23:4-6; Deuteronomy 16:1-4). All leaven was to be removed from their houses.
Concerning us: Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during the Passover. There was no leaven in the Passover observance (Exodus 12:8-9, 11, 18-19; Deuteronomy 16:1-4). Moreover, we keep the church pure with church discipline and self-discipline, “purging out the old leaven” (1 Corinthians 5:1-8).
2. The Feast of Weeks, aka Feast of Harvest, aka Feast of First fruits, aka Pentecost.
This was the second great feast in the Jewish calendar. This feast occurred in their month of Sivan, or during our month of June. It occurred seven Sabbaths and a day after the Passover. Thus, it always occurred on the first day of the week (Leviticus 23:15-16). It was called the Feast of Weeks, due to the counting of seven weeks after Passover (cf. Leviticus 23:15-16). It was called “Pentecost” in the N.T., due to its occurring 50 days from the Sabbath after Passover. It was a one-day festival (Deuteronomy 16:9-12).
This feast was called the Feast of First fruits (Numbers 28:26). It was a harvest festival (Exodus 23:14-19). “The festival was the time when … the first-fruits of the corn-harvest (grain, wheat B.H.) … were formally dedicated” (Zondervan’s Pictorial Dictionary, p. 634-f).
The term “first-fruits” is figuratively used of the first converts in a particular place (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15), or in reference to time (that is early Christians – James 1:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11), and the first of the New Testaments converts came on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36-38, 47).
The Israelites claim that it was also on this day that the law was given on Sinai. This seems possible (Exodus 12:1-2, 6 cf. Exodus 19:1, 11).
Consider this. Jesus died during the Passover season. The New Covenant officially began on Pentecost (Acts 2 cf. Micah 4:1-2).
3. The Feast of Tabernacles (Booths), aka Feast of Ingathering.
This was the last of the annual feasts. It occurred on Ethanim or Tis(h)ri 15th, which corresponds to September-October. This feast lasted a week (Deuteronomy 16:13).
This was a harvest festival (Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:40-43; Deuteronomy 16:13). However, it also required that the Israelites live for the week in tabernacles, booths, or tents as they did in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:42-43; Nehemiah 8:14-16).
It is good to look back and remember how far we’ve made it with the help of God. Spiritually “you, who were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now has He reconciled” (Colossians 1:21). It is He who has provided salvation to us. It is He who has brought us out of Egyptian bondage (sin). We should not let our current harvest (state of blessedness) cause us to forget that we owe all to Him.
Also, remember that during the wanderings the children of Israel were guided to the promised land by a “pillar of cloud” in the day, and a “pillar of fire” in the night (Exodus 13:21-22; Numbers 14:14; Nehemiah 9:12, 14; Psalm 78:14; 105:39). The commentator Hendriksen indicated that during this feast, “There was the illumination of the inner court of the temple, where the light of the grand candelabra reminded one of the pillar of fire by night, which served as a guide through the desert (Numbers 14:14)” [18th Annual Denton Lectureship Book, p. 379].
May we be mindful of the fact that Jesus is the way to the true promise land. He declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) … “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
In these three great feasts, we see: (1) The sacrifice for our sins (Passover). (2) The first-fruits of the harvest (Pentecost). (3) The journey to the Promise Land and the good things on the other side (Tabernacle, Ingathering). We’re not there yet. Let us press on.