by elizabeth darby bass
1. We study to observe the feasts because they are God’s feasts.
Lev. 23:1 & 2 The L-rd spoke to Moses "Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘These are the L-rd’s appointed times which you must proclaim as holy assemblies – my appointed times’ . . ."1
God does not say here that these are Israel’s feasts. He does not say here that they are “your” feasts. The L-rd, our God has stated that these are HIS APPOINTED TIMES. The word translated here as ‘appointed times,’ translated as ‘feasts’ in many versions, is the word Moedim- which means, a place or time of meeting, a fixed or set time or season.2
This presents us with the second reason we study and practice the feasts.
2. We study and observe the Feasts because they are appointments with God.
Lev. 23:4 “These are the L-rd’s appointed times, holy assemblies, which you must proclaim at their appointed time.”
For those of us who use date books to manage our time, it is easy to understand. Usually, when I put something in my date book, I am careful to use pencil, so that there is room for all the little changes that life can throw at me. But some things are really important. Some things are so important that I can not afford to let them be moved around. Some appointments are written in with INK. If I say to you, “I am putting this in INK,” that means it has priority. It means that I am not letting anything get in the way of this one appointment. This is what the L-rd has said here.
The feasts, as presented to us in the Torah, are times which He has set apart for His people to come and meet with Him. Think of it this way: The King of all the Universe has set aside specific times and places where He has said that He will make himself available to His creation. He has promised to meet us at these times.
As Christians we have been taught that God is always available to us. And this is true – God is always near to those who call upon Him3. And yet, in our experience, we know that there are times when His availability is more tangible to us. There are times when His presence is, for lack of a better word, stronger.
The feasts are times and places in which God has promised that He will meet with us. He has set up specific appointments for us. And for centuries, the church has been unaware of this. And for centuries, the L-rd has made Himself available – and most of us have stood Him up. I believe that God, at this time in the history of the church, is desiring to restore a part of the relationship that has been lost.
In many marriages, one thing that often helps to keep a couple's love fresh is for the couple to institute a ‘date night’ with each other. Why would we do that? We live together. We are together most every day. But there is something special about spending undivided time with one's partner. This is just what God is offering to his people.
Song of Solomon 2:10 “My lover spoke to me, saying: “Arise, my darling; My beautiful one, come away with me!”
And why would we spend time with someone? Usually because it helps us get to know that other person. It provides us with deeper understanding in our relationships. This is another reason we study the feasts:
3. So we can better understand the Gospels and letters of the Apostles.
The Gospels are full of references to the times and the seasons in which Jesus walked. There are many things that we are told Jesus did and said that can be better understood when we learn the background – the context in which he was speaking. The feasts of Israel and the way they were celebrated at that time provide a rich background for much of what we find in the writings of the apostles.
Today we have specific times when speakers are invited to give a message. There are graduation speeches, wedding toasts, seminars, political campaigns, and funerals to name a few. When we take these speeches out of their context and place them in a different one the points of the message can be altered.
When I was in college, one of my instructors had us read Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letter from the Birmingham Jail." It was proposed that since this letter was written to other Ministers, there might be a lot of references to the Bible. One powerful literary technique designed to reach a particular audience with a deep understanding of a message, is to reference something with which they are very familiar. Then, much that you want to say can be more clearly understood.
Our assignment was to read the letter, and mark all the scriptural references, all the times when Dr. King used a Bible verse, or a part of one to make his points clear to the readers. As we discussed these scriptural allusions some students found one or two, while others found more. The more a student knew of the Bible, the more they saw how Dr. King had used it to bring an understanding of his position to his audience. He was writing to men who had studied the Scriptures and who used them regularly to deliver their own messages to the church at large. What he wrote was written with the backdrop of the letters the Apostle Paul had written to the church centuries before. By using Paul’s words to make his points Dr. King was attempting to evoke a strong response in his audience. He hoped they would understand his message clearer because of the already understood messages behind the words he chose to use.
The same is true of the written testimony of Jesus and of the letters the early apostles wrote. The teachings of Jesus often happened around the celebrations of the feasts. As the authors of the Gospels wrote, they wrote from a full understanding of the practices of those feasts. As the letters to the churches were written, they were written to people from particular backgrounds. When we remove these writings from that background, practical meaning can be greatly altered, or misunderstood. As we study the feasts and the practices that surround them, especially those that have been established since the time of Jesus, we see more and more references which give us deeper understandings of the teachings of our Savior; which, often clarifies for us some of the more difficult passages. If this is not enough to motivate us to learn from the feasts there is yet another reason.
4. The feasts are God’s revelation of His plan for our full salvation.
There is another word used in Leviticus’ description of the feasts that is important to understand. The Hebrew word “miqra,” often translated as ‘convocation’ or ‘holy assembly’ has another connotation as well. This word can also refer to a rehearsal.4 In instructing His people about His feasts, God calls them rehearsals. And that they are.
Zola Levitt said, “All of God’s plan- from chaos to eternity are ingeniously revealed through the nature and timing of the seven annual feasts.”5
All of the feasts have three components, or three applications from which we can learn. For each one there is a historical message, a prophetic application and a spiritual understanding. All of which are designed to draw us deeper into relationship with the Almighty One.
Each feast is primarily historical in nature, they are a looking back for the people of God. The feasts preserve the great stories of the nation of Israel. Each one presents a specific story revealing God’s hand at work for His people and acts as a reminder of all the great things that God has done! Also each feast offers us a chance to act out the miraculous ways of the One true God as He preserved His special people. In the acting out of the story we experience for ourselves the nature of our God, and we are able to clearly see the hand of God at work in the history of the world.
Just as the feasts give us a vision of God in relationship to Israel in history, they also provide clear pictures of the Messiah and of His relationship to both Israel and the Church. In each feast there is a prophetic application which is to be fulfilled in the Messiah. For those of us who recognize Jesus as that Messiah, the feasts present pictures of all that Jesus has done and will do for us. In every feast we can see a representation of Messiah, the Redeemer King from Israel for the world. So, just as there is a looking back at the nation of Israel, There is also a looking forward to the Messiah of Israel.
In the practices of the feasts there are clear pictures of what Jesus accomplished when he came to the earth as our suffering Savior and of what He has yet to accomplish when He returns as the Conquering King. In fact as we look at the prophetic nature of the feasts it is easy to divide them between these two roles. The first being the priestly role of Messiah, which we believe Jesus has fulfilled and second being those that reveal the kingly role of Messiah, which we believe Jesus has yet to fulfill.
The Spring Feasts, from the sacrifice of the lamb at Passover to the wave offerings at Pentecost, reveal the role of Messiah as the priest for His people. They reveal to us the Suffering Savior fulfilled with the first coming of Jesus, and the salvation that is made available to us today because of the sacrifice already completed. They show us Jesus, crucified, risen and coming again.
The Fall feasts, from the month of preparation before Rosh Hashanah to the eighth and last day of the seven day feast of Tabernacle, all reveal the role of a ruler, a king in the field and on the throne. They show us the reigning Messiah, the second coming of Jesus with the fulfillment of His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.6 Looking at the way the feasts are laid out in the calendar year, it is easy to see a picture of the timeline of redemption. Looking at this timeline, it is easy to see what God has done and what He has planned for us in the future, but there is also much that we can see in what God wants for us here, in the present as well.
In each feast there are practical spiritual applications for use in our lives today. In the practices of the feasts we are shown specific things we can do which will enhance our walk with God and which can help us to grow in our personal relationship with Him. Each one provides us with a vision of what God desires to see in the lives of those who are His people. In the practices of the feasts we are given tools, or spiritual disciplines, which we can use in our lives to fulfill our desire to become more and more like Him. As we practice the feasts, we are invited to regularly examine our lives and our relationship with God, and we are given the opportunity to draw ever closer and closer to Him.
David said we are “to taste and see that the L-rd is good”7 and that is just what the feasts allow us to do. They allow us to experience in tangible ways the fullness of our God and the goodness of our L-rd.
1 All scripture references unless otherwise noted are quoted by permission from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. www.bible.org All rights reserved. "The NET Bible® is freely available at www.bible.org/ .