Today’s reading: Leviticus 22-23.
Remember, back in Genesis, when God created the sun and moon? He said they were for signs, and for seasons (a word that also means appointed times or feast days). God created them to give light, but also to frame the calendar year. The calendar was essential for the feast or festival days that, in turn, were essential to Jewish life. Leviticus 23 gives a full accounting of the sacred celebrations, but before we look at those, we need a little astronomy lesson.
The moon circles the earth in 29 days. That 29 days defined the Jewish month, and there were twelve lunar months in each Jewish year. To keep the lunar calendar in sync with the 365 day solar year, the Jewish calendar repeated the twelfth month every three years or so. Each month began as the crescent moon appeared after the new moon. The full moon shone at the middle of each month. In celebration of their deliverance from Egypt, Moses declared that the Jewish year began in the month of their departure (around March in our modern calendar).
These festivals appear over and over again throughout the Bible, both in the life of Israel and in the life of Christ. Finally, there is a hint that Christ will fulfill the fall feast days when he returns a second time to rule and reign on earth, as he fulfilled the spring feast days in his first coming. Today we get an introduction to these sacred days so that we can appreciate their significance better when we read about them in later books of the Bible.
- Passover. The fourteenth day of the first month (our March-April), beginning at sundown. A reminder of the meal eaten in haste as the Jews fled Egypt. Jesus’ last supper with his disciples was a Passover meal.
- Feast of Unleavened Bread. Begins at sundown on the 15th day of the first month, and lasts for seven days. Israel purified themselves spiritually, as symbolized by all their bread being made without yeast.
- First Fruits. The sixteenth day of the first month. The first day after the Sabbath that followed Passover. An offering was made from the first of the barley harvest. Jesus, the first fruits of those raised to eternal life, rises from the tomb on this day.
- Feast of Weeks. Also called Pentecost and Shavuot. Fifty days after the feast of First Fruits. An offering of the first of the wheat harvest. The birth date of the church, when the Holy Spirit indwelled believers.
- Feast of Trumpets. The first day of the seventh month (September). Also called Rosh Hashanah. The blowing of the trumpets announced a ten-day period of preparation for the day of atonement, a time when the Jewish people felt God was examining them, as in a courtroom, to see if they were worthy. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (I Thess 4:16).
- Day of Atonement. The tenth day of the seventh month. Also called Yom Kippur. The highest holy day of the year. The most solemn of sacred days. The one day each year when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place.
- Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. Begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, and lasts for seven days. Also called Sukkot. The people stayed outdoors in makeshift shelters that recalled their journey through the wilderness. Zechariah foretold its observance in the millennium to come: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.”
Hannukah and Purim were added much later: Purim at the time of Esther when God delivered the Jews from destruction, and Hannukah in the time between the Old and New Testament when the Maccabees freed Israel.
What meaning do these feast days have for you? If none, how could you begin to remember them in a way that reminds you of what God has done for his people in the past, and what he will do in years to come?
Image from Solomon’s Temple website.