This series about the Feasts of the Lord will be simple, a primer for those who are approaching the theme for the first time. We do not anticipate an in-depth study for Bible students, but if that is your status, be kind enough to keep on reading and regard the series as a refresher course!
Our core passage is Leviticus 23. The feasts are mentioned elsewhere, especially in Deuteronomy 16, where there is an emphasis on the location for these gatherings, “the place which the Lord shall choose to place his name there” (v2). They are feasts in the sense of festivals, and in fact, one of them, the Day of Atonement, was more like a fast than a feast!
There are two general descriptions of the feasts in Leviticus 23:2. First, they are called “the feasts of the Lord.” Most translations insert the word “set,” the set feasts of the Lord, or some use the term “the appointed seasons.” They were appointed by God, with the timing very precise for various reasons, not least in expressing His care for His people. The seven feasts involved three annual visits to Jerusalem in the months that more or less approximate to what we call March, May and September. This schedule expresses the goodness of God in two ways. First, every male in Israel was obliged to attend, for it was all for God’s pleasure, but there was nothing arranged for the winter months when travel would be challenging because of the frost and snow. Second, He took into account that this was an agrarian society, and there were no feasts at the height of the season when the fields were in need of attention. Yes, these feasts made great demands on the people, but as ever, “his commandments are not grievous” (1Jn 5:3).
As stated, the gatherings were for God’s pleasure, hence the designation “the feasts of the Lord,” “my feasts.” By the time the Lord Jesus was here, the focus had shifted from honoring God to mere ritualistic activity, and so the Spirit of God describes them as feasts “of the Jews” (e.g., Joh 5:1). Be guarded, lest biblical activities in connection with the assembly degenerate into events that are simply routine. There can be the whirr of religious machinery without the warmth of heartfelt devotion.
The second description of the feasts is “holy convocations,” for while they were primarily for God’s pleasure, there was a benefit for His people in being together in fellowship with each other. Human beings are social creatures, and even men of the world see mental and emotional advantages in companionship, hence the multitude of clubs, lodges and organizations that allow people with common interests to associate and interact with each other. The feasts of Jehovah created a spiritual atmosphere in which those with a common loyalty to Him could associate to honor Him, and they were clearly occasions that were anticipated with joy and engaged in with pleasure. A song that they would have sung en route to Zion was Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem” (vv1-2).
Today, the prospect of being with the saints should be equally exciting. Our attendance is not optional but mandatory, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb 10:25). While that is true, never let it be a sense of duty that drives us to the meetings, but rather our allegiance to the Lord of the assembly who has pledged His presence among those who gather to His name (Mat 18:20). There are huge advantages in being together in His company, and in each other’s company, and our spiritual lives will be severely damaged if we are careless and uncommitted absentees.
Before introducing the seven feasts, the Lord revisits Israel’s Sabbath (Lev 23:3), a weekly “holy convocation.” That seventh day, the day of rest, was patterned on the record of creation when God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made” (Gen 2:2). The introduction of annual festivals was not to be a substitute for observing the weekly Sabbath. It seems that the Sabbath was in place even before the giving of the Law, for when the manna was first given, the sixth day of the week brought sufficient to cover its non-appearance on the Sabbath (Exo 16:23). However, with the giving of the Ten Commandments the keeping of the Sabbath became compulsory. Nine of the commandments are restated in the New Testament in one form or another, the one exception being “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exo 20:8). The reason for its omission is that, in a unique way, it was part of God’s covenant relationship with the people of Israel. “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever” (Exo 31:16-17). Therefore, it had exclusive significance for the people of Israel. In the New Testament, the emphasis shifted from the seventh day of the week to the first, as when “upon the first day of the week … the disciples came together to break bread” (Act 20:7).
The Lord’s Day is never regarded as a carbon copy of the Sabbath, and yet because “the sabbath was made for man” (Mar 2:27), there are advantages in at least giving attention to some of the principles connected with it. From a physical standpoint, the concept of rest must be important. From a mental standpoint, a change of routine is advantageous. From a spiritual perspective, to be released from normal duties allows freedom to devote the day to God’s interests.
Providing only minimal Scriptural support at this stage, the prophetic foreshadowing connected with the feasts is as follows:
- Passover: The Death of Christ (1Co 5:7)
- Unleavened Bread: The Span of the Believer’s Life (1Co 5:8)
- Firstfruits: The Resurrection of Christ (1Co 15:23)
- Weeks: Descent of the Spirit and Formation of the Church (Act 2:1)
- Trumpets: Regathering of Israel (Mat 24:31)
- Atonement: Israel’s National Repentance (Zec 12:10-14)
- Tabernacles: The Millennium (Zec 14:16-21)
It will be noted that one-day feasts point to historical events, while the multi-day feasts foreshadow periods of time. This will be developed in more detail in succeeding articles, God willing.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.