The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them; 'these are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies. (Lev 23:1)
Calendars are very important. The need for a uniform reckoning of time for the ancient Hebrews was apparent. The complexities of their economic and political intercourse depended upon "a calendar" more and more as they emerged from a tribal to a monarchical organization, and as they broadened their relations with other nations. It was also imperative for the orderly regulation of their religious festivals.
After the building of the Tabernacle, God instructed the Hebrews, especially on the subject of Holy living. These instructions are found in the book of Leviticus. The key verse for the whole book is "I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be Holy, because I am Holy". (Lev 11:45) the book contains explicit instructions for offering sacrifices, for meeting everyday problems about cleanliness, and for observing Israel's special holidays. Of the 27 chapters in Leviticus, two (chapters 23 and 25) concern Israel's calendar.
Chapter 23 of Leviticus is one of the most fascinating and instructive chapters in the bible. In this short chapter of 44 verses, God presents the annual sacred feasts of Jerusalem. At first it seems like a simple list of Israel's major holidays. But the more one studies the entire bible, both old and new testaments, the more one realizes that this chapter is more than a list of mere holidays, they are Holy days! It is also more than a list of holy days. It is an actual outline of Gods calendar from eternity to eternity.
As we study the calendar outlined here, we realize we can not understand the New Testament without understanding the Old Testament. The opposite is also true. There are seven appointed feasts of the Lord listed in Leviticus 23: 1. The Passover (verses 4-5) 2. The feast of unleavened bread (verses 6-8) 3. The sheaf of first fruits (verses 9-14) 4. The feast of Pentecost (the feast of weeks) (verses 15-21) 5. The feast of trumpets (verses 23-25) 6. The day of atonement (verses 26-32) 7. The feast of tabernacles (verses 33-43)
The first three verses of Leviticus 23 which proceed our list of appointed feasts, show the importance of what can be called the most important day of the sacred calendar, the Sabbath. Contrary to popular belief the Sabbath was a day of delight not obligations. If you take the Sabbath from a Jew you are robbing him of a precious jewel. The Sabbath was one of Gods most precious gifts to Israel. It refers back to the day God rested after the six days of creation. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy (set apart), because on it He rested from all the work of creating He had done. (Genesis 2:3) It was meant as a time of rest and refreshing, for God first and then for the creation He loved. God knew man needed a day to recharge, refresh and rest himself from the regular toils of the week. This was a gift to us from God and we are still to use one day a week as a rest and a day of refreshing. We are not saying that we must observe the Sabbath as did the jews on Saturday. Only that as God intended, a day of rest, refreshing and knowing God on that day. We observe Sunday! As such we are compeled to do no work on this day or plan for anything other than rest, refreshing and coming unto God. Coming to church on Sunday should not be an obligation but rather a blessing we receive.
The seven feasts
As we carefully analyze the seven feasts in chapter 23 (see table 1) we observe three significant facts. First, we recognize that all these feasts are frequently mentioned throughout the Old and New Testament and that they have both symbolic and prophetic significance. Second, that the New Testament teaches that some of these feasts have already been fulfilled by our Lord Jesus Christ. Third, that it is quite evident that although these feasts are prophetic in both the New and Old Testaments, some of these are still as yet not fulfilled.
Table 1. The appointed feasts of the Lord.
Fulfilled Will be fulfilled Verses 4-21 verses 23-44 Passover Trumpets Unleavened bread Atonement First Fruits Tabernacles Pentecost
As we study the prophetic feasts, we also realize that they were fulfilled in the exact order and at the same time of year as they are described in Leviticus 23. If we can assume that this will hold true throughout the entire list, the next feast to be fulfilled is the feast of Trumpets. See the chart in figure 1 by Dr. Henry Heydt, which shows in outline, the scope of God's prophetic calendar. In the following study (possibly 2 or 3) beginning with Passover and continuing through to the feast of Tabernacles, we will look at these festivals, their history, their present celebration in the synagogue and home, and their prophetic fulfillment.
SEE CENTER PAGE FOR FIGURE 1
The feast of Passover & Unleavened Bread And the Lords supper
So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table. And He said to them "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer". (Luke 22:13-15)
Passover during the time of our Lord was a festive occasion. Jews from all over the world were required to be in Jerusalem at the Passover. There is no way to have an exact count of how many Jews attended the Passover feasts. Josephus, a Jewish historian, however says that on one particular Passover, 256,000 lambs were slain. Considering, that there were about 10 people for every lamb slain, you get the idea of the massive throngs that must have been in Jerusalem at the time of our Lord. Can you better appreciate the multitude that must have welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday? No wonder the Pharisees were upset. Every Inn was filled to capacity with the pilgrims from all over the world to come celebrate the Passover. There was no charge for their stay at these Inns but they were required to leave the skin of their sacrifice as well as the utensils they ate the meal in with the Inn owner.
Preparation for the Passover started one month before on the fifteenth of Adar when bridges and roads were repaired for the use of the pilgrims. Two weeks before as well as two weeks afterwards the flocks were tithed and temple treasury chests were publicly opened and emptied. In the homes, special preparation for Passover began on the evening of the thirteenth of Nisan. At this time the father of the house would go through the house with a candle, spoon and goose feather collecting any crumbs of leaven that may be left behind, so the house was clean of any leaven. The search was made in complete silence. Paul says "get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast….as you really are. For Christ our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor 5:7). Rabbinical tradition interprets this custom prophetically according to Zephaniah 1:12 when God "will search Jerusalem with lamps"
Next was the selection of the Passover lamb itself. It must be free of blemish or defect and at least eight days old but not more that one-year-old. It could not be eaten by an individual alone. There had to be at least ten but not more than twenty in a group. The group at the Lords supper consisted of our Lord and His twelve apostles. God's blessings and festivals were never intended to be enjoyed alone (including salvation) but they were to be shared with others. For us to think that we can be saved and not share it with others is totally against what the scriptures suggest and what was practiced as a result of their interpretation.
In the Temple. The first of three divisions of worshipers were then admitted into the temple court of the priests. The massive gates were then shut behind them, after which the Levites sounded a threefold blast on the shofar and the sacrifices began. The priests stood in two rows, holding gold and silver bowls. As each Israelite slew its own lamb the blood was caught in the bowls and passed to other priest that would give the first priest a new bowl. The head of each household would have to kill His own sacrifice. He would confess his sins and his gratitude for deliverance and slit the lambs throat. The blood filled bowl was then taken to the priest at the altar, and the blood was offered to God there. Throughout the sacrifice the Levitical choir sang Psalms 113 to 118. These were called Hallel's or Halleua's for the fact that God delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians. After this the second and third divisions were admitted and the process was repeated. The massive amounts of blood soaked the ground and ran into the brook of Kidron that ran through the temple court and then down through the Kidron valley. Jesus had to pass through this valley and across this stream on His way to the garden of Gethsemane latter that night. The sight of the red stream must have made Him think of what He was about to do. The realization no doubt had caused Him to ask the father to let the cup pass from him (a symbol of the bowls the priest held). Jesus as always though, gave in to Gods will and not His own. As a result the ultimate sacrifice was made, we were delivered from our slavery and look forward to our Promised Land.
After the sacrifices, the lambs were rushed home to be roasted in the ovens for eating that very night. Not a bone was to be broken and all was to be consumed. Whatever was left over was burned by fire. The rich invited the poor to eat with them in their house and to celebrate the Passover. Remembering that they were all poor in Egypt. All partake, rich and poor, bond and free, the aged and the little children. This was just a type on the coming kingdom, where all are welcome regardless of status. The participents were fully clothed and their garments wrapped aboutthem as if they were in haste.
Four cups were served with dinner. During the first cup (cup of blessing) our Lord reminded the apostles that he would not partake of this meal again until he did it with them in paradise. The second cup (cup of redemption) was when the Lord most likely told the apostles of His impending death on the cross and His betrayal. The third cup (cup of deliverance) was most likely the cup the Lord shared for a new covenant and is the one we share weekly together. The fourth and final cup was the cup of Hellel's. The Israelites toasted each other and Praised God for His deliverence and in reply would say "till the Messiah comes". Before this time they would say till we enter the land God has promised. And today they say "next year in Jerusalem". It was with this cup that Jesus dismissed the apostles and went to the garden to Pray to His Father.
The table contained many significant and symbolic items too long to go into for this study. There was the egg, which signified new life. The bitter herbs for their bitter time in Egypt. The Cheroseth (a honey, nut and maple sugar mixture) that represented the mortar they built the Egyptian buildings with. There was the salt water to represent the tears shed. The empty chair for Eligah and the proclamation that Messiah was coming. It was right after the first cup when all involved were to wash their hands, that Jesus washed the apostles feet. During the dipping of the bitter herb into the salt water that Jesus told John he would reveal the one who would betray Him. It is a fascinating celebration of life and deliverance for the Jews then and for us now, if we will but see it.
The feast of first fruits
The feast of First Fruits was the third feast Israel celebrated during the Passover festival. "Speak to the Israelites and say to them; 'When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap it's harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath' " (Leviticus 23:10-11)
Passover week in the days of the temple, originally consisted of three main events; (1) the Passover lamb was slain on the fourteenth of Nisan, (2) the feast of unleavened bread beginning on the fifteenth of Nisan, and (3) the offering of Firstfruits on the sixteenth of Nisan.
The feast of Firstfruits was not just a harvest festival. It was an acknowledgment of God's bounty and providence to Israel. The order of service for the presentation of the firstfruits is both fascinating and instructive. Remember the day began at sundown:
On the fourteenth of Nisan the spot where the first sheaf was to be reaped was already marked out by delegates of the SANHEDRIN, by binding them together while still standing in its place before being cut down. It had to come from a field in Palestine and not a cultured field or garden and could not have been artificially fertilized or watered. It was cut down on the fifteenth of Nisan by men or a man who formally worked the field. Before cutting down the sheaf they were to ask the bystanders three times (1) has the sun gone down? With this sickle? Into this basket? (2) On this Sabbath? and (3) shall I reap? After receiving an affirmative all three times they then cut about 10 ounces for the offering. The sheaf's were then taken to the temple court and thrashed with canes or stalks then they were parched and finally exposed to the wind. It was then run through a barley mill so as to leave the grains whole. It was then sifted into a fine flour and only after a rod could be plunged into it and come up with no flour on it was it fine enough.
"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive. But each in his own turn; Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him" (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
The similarities are striking as to the symbolism of this feast. Just as the firstfruits were marked for harvesting by members of the Sanhedrin so was Jesus marked for death by the same body of men. As the sheavs were bound before harvest so was our Lord. Just as bystanders were asked first what they wanted so was the crowd at the trial. As the grain was thrashed so was our Lord. As the grain was milled and yet kept whole, not a bone of Him was broken. Just as it was sifted and found to be fine by the plunging of a rod, our Lord was sifted and plunged with a spear and He was the finest. And finally just as it was waved before God for His acceptance, so our Lord Hung high before God for His acceptance as a sacrifice for our sins and the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead.
Scripture tells us that unless a grain die first and fall into the ground, it can not bring forth fruit. So Christ had to die first and be placed in a tomb before Gods first fruits could come forth. God always demande the best from His people. Their flocks and their harvest as well as their lives. He demanded no less from Himself, by offering His son, His perfect son, firstborn of Mary. Can we offer any less? Would we substitute a lesser self than our best for His service? Before we look to our own needs and wants we are to make sure that all Gods needs and services are taken care of. That is what first fruits is all about.
The Feast of Pentecost
The Lord said to Moses… "from the day after the Sabbath, the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering (firstfruits), count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord. 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-an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering. 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. 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". (Leviticus 23:9, 15-21)
The feast of Pentecost climaxed the glad season of Israel's grain harvest. Firstfruits started with the barley offering and now ends with the wheat offering. From the day of Sabbath and the offering of the sheaf of first grain (the sixteenth of Nisan) fifty days were counted, and usually the sixth day of the Hebrew month Sivan is proclaimed as Shavuoth (a Hebrew word meaning "weeks") or feast of weeks or Pentecost. This chronology is fascinating because it is the basis for the Rabinic reason why Judaism now celebrate the giving of the law on the day of Pentecost by Moses on Mount Sinai. While the deliverance of the Jewish people was thought to be completed on Pentecost with the giving of the law. It is believed that the work of Christ and his offering of firstfruits was completed with the out pouring of the spirit on Pentecost.
A modern Orthodox Hebraist scholar describes the giving of the law this way: Dawn on the sixth day of Sivan, in the year 2448 after the creation of the world… thunder and lightening rent the air, and the sound of the shofar was heard growing strangely louder and louder. All the people in the camp of Israel trembled. Then all was quiet again. The air was very still. Not a sound was to be heard. No bird twittered, no donkey brayed, no ox lowed. Every living thing held its breath. Even the angels interupted their heavenly praises. Everybody and everything kept silent… waiting… Suddenly, Gods mighty words were heard from o0ne corner of the earth to the other; "I AM GOD, THY GOD!" one after another, God proclaimed the Ten Commandments.
Once Pentecost arrived, it marked the beginning of the long summer months in which the seeds planted in spring would begin to grow and produce a bounty of all God have provided. The fields were full and soon they would be white unto harvest. It was a time to reflect on Gods goodness, but also to be concerned about where to get workers to work the field come harvest. These are the fulfilled feats of God's calendar. Four in all, fulfilled in the order they were written and at the exact times of year they were to be celebrated.
Next month: the coming feasts.