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Feasts of the Lord: Biblical Holidays & the Hebrew Calendar

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May 22nd, 2020

Feasts of the Lord

The Jewish people have kept many of the biblical feasts through the centuries. God established the biblical feasts, and they continue today. And since Israel became an independent nation in 1948, some of the feasts became official holidays in Israel

What we commonly refer to as the ‘Jewish feasts’ should more appropriately be called Biblical Feasts or “Feasts of the Lord.” Especially, since in the Bible God calls these festivals simply His own. Just look at how many times that phrase is repeated in a single chapter of Leviticus:

These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. (23:4) These are the feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations. (23:37) You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord… (23:41) So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the Lord. (23:44

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Biblical Feast as Holy Convocation

Leviticus 23 briefly covers all of the feasts of the Lord. There are three annual feasts that the Lord commanded all of Israel to celebrate in Jerusalem — Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). Each feast, regardless when or how it is celebrated, is called the same thing: a “holy convocation.”

The Hebrew word for convocation is “mik-rah.” Strong’s Concordance describes this word as “something called out, i.e., a public meeting (the act, the persons, or the place); also a rehearsal.” It refers to both the act of gathering of people, as well as the actual event itself.

But this is not just any “public meeting.” When used in Scripture, this word “mik-rah” is almost always followed by the word “ko-desh,” which is translated, “holy.” This word “ko-desh” refers to something that is set apart for a special purpose.

In a very literal sense, the Hebrew for “holy convocation” means to make a public call to come to a sacred rehearsal meeting. This is not like just any another “church get-together.” This indicates a sacred gathering because God Himself has called Israel to come together, and He will be in their midst.

etrog and lulav set

Biblical Holidays

There are several Christian holidays that famously correspond with Jewish ones. We know Jesus had a Passover meal with His disciples. Later, that meal became known as the Last Supper. It was the night before His crucifixion.

You may also remember that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit happened on the holiday of Pentecost. Not everyone knows, but Pentecost is the biblical Feast of Weeks, Shavuot. So, how come we don’t celebrate both holidays – the Jewish and the Christian one – on the same day?

The Hebrew Calendar

That is because the Hebrew calendar is slightly different from the western Gregorian calendar. In short, the Gregorian calendar is solar. That means the seasons are determined by the sun. According to the Gregorian calendar, we are now in year 2020. Our years begin in January. 

In contrast, the Hebrew calendar is lunar. Each month is determined by the phases of the moon. In Biblical times, the year would begin in early Spring. God said the month of Passover was the first month of the year. However, in Israel today, the year starts in early fall – but more on that further below. 

A Day in a Week

In the Hebrew calendar, a day runs from one sunset to the next. This definition is rooted in the Biblical description of the Yom Kippur holiday in Leviticus 23:32, where it says the holiday lasted “from evening to evening”. Modern day Israel still follows this rule.

That is why the holiest day of the week – the Sabbath – rightfully identified as Saturday, starts being celebrated on Friday evening. And as soon as the sun sets on Saturday, the new week begins. 

When God created the world, He did so in six days. On the sixth day, God created man and woman, and instructed them to cultivate the earth. However, before they even got a chance to rule over creation, there came day number seven – the Sabbath. Adam and Eve started their lives with fellowship with their Creator.

Because of the story of creation, in Hebrew the days of the week are simply called: Day First (Sunday), Day Second (Monday), Day Third… The count ends with Shabbat, the seventh day. Whenever Western cultures debate whether the week starts on Sunday or Monday, in Israel it’s not even a question. It starts on… Day First. 

Hebrew Measure of Time in Biblical Feasts

God revealed so much of Himself in the biblical celebrations. Jesus said, If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for He wrote of Me (John 5:46). It is fascinating and exciting to explore this different approach to time and counting our days.

God revealed in His Word that even though He mysteriously works outside of our timeframe, He works with it for our benefit, and wants us to be mindful of it. He teaches us to remain watchful. 

In one of his psalms, Moses expresses it beautifully, asking the Lord: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12). Whichever calendar we follow, God is teaching us about His appointed times. We can celebrate the miracles He has done. Most importantly, we can prepare for the second coming of His Son to Earth. 

The pilgrimage feasts

There are two Hebrew words for “feast.” One is moed (mo-ahd) or moedim in plural. The second word for feast, “Chag,” is much more specific. Chag is often used in reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), and Feast of Tabernacles, as pilgrimage feasts. In contrast, other festivals or appointed times could be celebrated in your home or wherever you lived.

In Biblical times, these three feasts required that you make your way to where the Tabernacle or Temple stood. Which was initially several different places, and eventually, Jerusalem.

Chag means feast or festival, and has its root in the word “chah-gog,” which, in the Hebrew mindset, means “to circle, as in to circle dance or feast.” By definition, these three feasts are to be celebrated before the Lord in a joyous, party atmosphere with singing, dancing, and processions.

What is God’s intention with the ‘Feasts of the Lord’? When we look at these three words for feast and convocation, a remarkably familiar theme can be seen.

Convocation (mik-rah): public call to a holy and consecrated rehearsal meeting.
Feast (Mo-ahd): an appointed time that involves signals appointed beforehand.
Feast (Chag): specific joyful, celebratory festivals for pilgrims.

To what do the Feasts of the Lord point?

The feasts of the Lord are the public calling of God for anyone to come to these holy “rehearsals” that God Himself has ordained. At these “rehearsals” there are specific “signs” and “signals” that were appointed before the foundation of the world and represent His desire for all of mankind.

These signals point to specific joyful celebrations in the presence of the Lord that all are invited to, yet can only be enjoyed by those pilgrims who come. These feasts point to something more.

“…in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day — things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Colossians 2:16-17

Let’s trust the Lord today and worship Him for the miracles that He has done and will continue to do! And Christians can freely celebrate the Jewish feasts (feasts of the Bible) out of a desire to know God’s character.

Now, let’s see what they are! 

Feasts of the Lord in Spring

Biblically, the Jewish year begins in Spring. As Passover was approaching, God said to His people: “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” (Exodus 12:2) 

Passover

Passover falls on the tenth of this month, called Nissan. It is the first of three pilgrimage holidays. These were appointed times for all Jews to come to Jerusalem.

It celebrates the exodus of Israelites from Egypt and freedom from bondage.

The Hebrews who believed God to keep them safe were protected from death by the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. It is a clear picture of the sacrifice of Jesus, who saved us through his death on the Cross. 

girl holding matzah

The Feast of Unleavened Bread

Unleavened Bread is usually identified with Passover as they are closely related. However, it deserves to be mentioned separately – as it is in the Bible. In fact, Passover only happened on the first day. The remaining seven holy days are the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. People are instructed to clean out the yeast out of their homes and only eat bread without leaven, called matzah. 

Feasts of the Lord in Summer

Shavuot or Feast of Weeks

In early Summer (or sometimes still in late Spring), all Israel celebrates Shavuot – Feast of Weeks. It is the second pilgrimage holiday and it opens the season of harvest in Israel. Called also the Feast of Weeks, it is celebrated after seven weeks since Passover. 

The 50 days is also the reason why it is called Pentecost, meaning fifty in Greek and Latin. On Shavuot, God gave Moses and the people of Israel His law. Millenia later, on this day God poured out His Spirit on the people celebrating Shavuot in Jerusalem. 

Summer is also a season when the Jewish people commemorate the destruction of the Temple. The day is called Tisha B’Av and it is a day of mourning and fasting. 

Feasts of the Lord in Fall

Fall is the most festive season of the year for the Jewish people. Fall feasts are the most famous ones in the Jewish holiday cycle.

Feast of Trumpets or Rosh HaShanah

The Feast of Trumpets, better known as Rosh HaShanah, meaning Head of the Year, points to the beginning of the civil calendar in Israel. However biblically, it was a solemn day with trumpet blasts reminding people to reflect on their lives and repent. 

Nevertheless, the Jewish tradition on Rosh HaShanah is to dip apples in honey, wishing everyone a good and sweet new year. Feast of Trumpets begins the High Holidays, also called the Days of Awe, that lead up to the Day of Atonement.

drawing of the old city Jerusalem

Day of Atonement in Hebrew is called Yom Kippur. It is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. Many spend the day on intensive prayer, asking God for forgiveness. It is a day of fasting and in Israel everything comes to a full stop, including airports and traffic. 

 

This day reminds us what a gift we have in Jesus, who became the ultimate atonement for our sins. 

The joyous Feast of Tabernacles is the third (out of three) pilgrimage holiday. It is both commemorative and prophetic in its meaning. Called Sukkot in Hebrew (booths), it points to the commandment of God to stay in temporary dwellings for a week, to remember the Hebrews’ journey through the desert. Moreover, it reminds us that our life on earth is also a temporary dwelling. 

Feasts of the Lord in Winter

In Winter, there are more holidays to observe. However, the following two festivals are not included in what the Torah describes as the Feasts of the Lord.

The Festival of Light called Chanukah and the holiday of Purim are times when the Jewish people celebrate God saving them from the hands of their enemies.

children lighting the menorah

Chanukah or Festival of Light

Chanukah is known as the Festival of Light thanks to the tradition of lighting candles every evening for eight days. Commemorating a victory of the Jewish people over their Greek oppressor, the holiday also celebrates a sanctification of the Temple. 

By God’s miracle, the menorah (a candelabra in the Temple) burned for eight days, despite having enough oil to last only a day. The holiday usually falls around the Christmas season in the Gregorian Calendar. 

Purim

Purim is a celebration of another victory of the Jewish people over their enemies. The Book of Esther tells the story of how an orphan made Queen together with her wise cousin unravel an evil plot orchestrated against their own people.

They take a stand in face of adversity and their courage is celebrated at Purim. 

Purim is observed in the last month of the Hebrew Calendar (Adar), which leads us back into spring. 

Want to learn more about the High Holidays? Check out this video:

 

Christians and the Biblical Feasts

You may be wondering, should Christians observe the biblical feasts? In the recent years, the amount of churches across the world that celebrate these holidays has grown. My answer has always been this: we don’t have to celebrate the feasts — we get to!

God revealed so much of Himself in these biblical celebrations. Many of Jesus’ teachings occurred during these biblical feasts. Why would we want to miss out on something that He said points to Him? Christians can freely celebrate these feasts out of a desire to know God’s character.

“If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for He wrote of Me.” John 5:46

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Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Estera Wieja
Estera Wieja is a journalist, book author and public speaker, focused on the topics of Israel, Jewish history, and Judeo-Christian culture. Born and raised in Poland, Estera is a regular contributor to "Our Inspirations" magazine in Poland. She holds a Bachelor degree in Communications and Media from Azusa Pacific University (California, USA), and a Master degree in Journalism from University of Warsaw, Poland. Estera has lived in Jerusalem, Israel for several years before joining the staff at FIRM in 2018.
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