The festivals of Israel (Leviticus 23)

God summoned the Israelites to worship and to celebrate various feast He had appointed (Leviticus 23:2-6). During these holy convocations the priests presented sacrifices and other offerings, while the common people rested from their daily labour, sometimes fasting and sometimes feasting, and celebrated the seasonal blessings of God and the great redemptive moments in the lives of His people. Following a sabbatical principle, pre-exilic Israel observed seven annual feasts (Leviticus 23, Numbers 28-29, Deuteronomy 16:1-17).

  • Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar (our late Mach to early April). According to Exodus 12:26-27, when subsequent generations inquired about the meaning of the Passover, they were to be told that it commemorated the manner in which the Lord had spared the Israelites the night He struck down the Egyptians’ firstborn sons (Exodus 12:29-30). Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover meal. Jesus Christ is accordingly described in the New Testament as “our Passover lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7) and as “the Lamb, who was slain” (Revelation 5:12).
  • The feast of Unleavened Bread immediately followed the Passover (Exodus 12:15-20) and lasted for one week. In the context of the exodus, eating bread without yeast signified hasty preparation and a readiness to depart. Yeast, which was studiously avoided during this feast, became a symbol of the pervasive influence of evil (cf. Matthew 8:15, 1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
  • The Offering of Firstfruits took place at the beginning of the barley harvest and signified Israel’s gratitude to and dependence upon God (Leviticus 23:9-14). It occurred seven weeks before Pentecost, but there was also an offering of firstfruits associated with the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (see below) in celebration of the wheat harvest (Numbers 28:26-31).
  • The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21), occurring seven weeks after Passover, was a day of sacred assembly in which no work was allowed. Its primary focus was an expression of gratitude to God for the wheat harvest. Leviticus 23:17-20 and Numbers 28:27-30 delineate detatailed lists of what the priests were to offer to God on behalf of the nation.
  • The Feast of Trumpets, celebrated on the first day of the seventh Hebrew month (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1-6), marked the end of the agricultural year. The seventh month was important because it also included two major holy days – the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Booths. The blasting of the trumpets announced the commencement of this special month. The Israelites associated the sound of trumpets with the theophany (visible manifestation of God Himself) on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-19). Priests had also sounded trumpets prior to the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6:16), and trumpets were regularly used in Israel as a military signal (2 Samuel 2:28). Thus, the blast of trumpets at the onset of the seventh month added to the solemnity of this sacred season.
  • The Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16) focused exclusively on atonement for the sins of the people. This ceremony took place on the tenth day of the seventh month. The high priest made atonement first for himself and his family and finally for all the people. Coming at the end of the agricultural year, this feast symbolize a final reckoning before God.
  • The Feast of Booths (also called the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkoth) took place five days after the Day of Atonement (Numbers 29:12-40). The people “camped out” in small huts during this time in order to recall their temporary living quarters prior to taking the land of Canaan (Leviticus 23:43). This joyous week was a time of final celebration and thanksgiving for the year’s harvest (Deuteronomy 16:14-15). As the seventh and last annualfeast, the Feast of Booths also represented the Sabbath principle.
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