Israelite Festivals

The Israelite community had several aspects of their life that were set apart from other nations around them. Last time we looked at their offerings to Yahweh and what they meant for them and for us today. This time, we will look at their feasts, festivals, and sacred days. Days, weeks, or even years set apart for special reasons to get them closer to each other and their God. We can learn so much from them and even though we may not observe these todays, their lessons stand the test of time. 

The first day we are going to look at happened every seventh day. The Sabbath day. The seventh day of the week where there was no work to be done (Leviticus 23:3). It was a day of sacred assembly and rest. This idea comes from the Genesis 1 narrative where God created for six days and rested on the seventh. God wanted his people to rest and take time to appreciate all He has done. Jesus is now Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) and He has brought rest to our souls (Matthew 11:28). Jesus gives us rest and gives our souls the relief we need in a broken world. 

The next feast is a big one. Passover. The Lord’s Passover tells the story of the 10th plague on Egypt when the firstborn were killed and how God rescued Israel. Also combined with this celebration is the Unleavened Bread feast since they left Egypt in a hurry and did not have time to make bread with yeast. Because of this, for seven days they eat bread without yeast. It’s interesting that Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper during this festival. It’s as if Jesus is saying that He now gives deliverance to all people from sin. For Passover, we celebrate God’s deliverance from Egypt. In the Lord’s Supper, we celebrate Jesus’ deliverance of all people from sin. Jesus fulfilled the meaning of the Passover by his actions. 

The firstfruit festival came at harvest. They were to bring a burnt and grain offering. This festival was celebrated to thank God for his blessings and the harvest of the land God gave them. 

The next festival is the celebration of Pentecost. It was a festival of joy and thanksgiving to God for the blessings. They were to leave the edges of the fields so that the poor or travelers could have something to eat. All of the offerings are mentioned here at this festival except the guilt offering. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit comes on the apostles for the first time during Pentecost. 

The festival of trumpets was like a preparation for the festivals to come. It was a day of rest and offerings were presented. The Israleite community was to present themselves before God as a renewal of commitment. 

The day of atonement was a day of rest, fasting, and offerings. The High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place, God’s presence, only on this day of the year. 2 goats would be presented, one as a sin offering and one that would be cast into the wilderness. It was a day of purifying and canceling debt for the Israleites. Now, Jesus is our High Priest who entered heaven (Most Holy Place) and made the sacrifice once and for all to cover our sins (Hebrews 9 & 10).

The festival of tabernacle or tents, was a celebration of God’s deliverance and a remembrance of how they lived in tents as they journeyed through the wilderness. It is interesting that they were to take fruit from trees (sounds like Genesis 3). Maybe this is a way to think about how God’s way is always right, even if it doesn’t seem like it. 

The Sabbath year was a whole year of rest for the fields of the land. Every seventh year, the land rested. No one sowed or reaped their fields. What the fields produce is what they ate. This was a year of rest and trust that God was going to provide for them. No planting crops meant no food, often a terminal action. But they were meant to trust that God would provide what they needed, even if they couldn’t see how. 

The Year of Jubilee is an exciting year. Every 50 years, there was freedom for people, animals, and land. Debts were canceled, land was returned, hired workers returned home, and there was peace that year. There was also no work to be done in the fields during this time either. The whole point was to love others and live in freedom. Now we can live with freedom in Christ (Galatians 5) and love others just as Jesus loves us. 

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