The Feasts of Israel
In The BeginningThree times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty.Deuteronomy 16:16
Though as an agricultural country Israels calendar was largely influenced by the progression of the crops, as a religious entity it was the sacred festivals which determined their time-keeping. Actually there were three ways to reckon the beginning of a year and the progression of months.
The Calendar of Gezer
Gezer was a small city in the southwest of the tribe of Ephraim (Joshua 16:3) where archaeologists have made extensive excavations. Among their findings was a schoolchilds copy book with the agricultural calendar of the time. This calendar offers the following progression of months (which we have coordinated with both the months of the Hebrew calendar and our modern Gregorian calendar). It is worth noting that the calendar of Gezar begins at a time that is not common to the Jewish religious nor civil years. Since the ancient months started at a new moon, this table has all months starting at the middle of one of our months to the middle of the following month.
The Civil and Religious Years
The civil or fiscal year in the Middle East was commonly reckoned from the autumn, usually falling in either September or October. But when Israel left Egypt in the days of the exodus, God directed his people to observe another year, a religious year, beginning in the month of the Passover, usually our March or April. The beginning of this year was determined by the new moon nearest the spring equinox.
The following chart compares the civil and religious years, with the main festivals and a scripture text referring to each of the months in the religious year. (The names of some of the months have changed, the older names appear in parentheses.)
According to the religious year, the first celebration was of Passover, a combination of two commemorations that lasted from the 14th to the 22nd of the first month. In the article The Feast of Dual Deliverance the author examines the historic nature of the salvation of both the first-born of Israel from the death angel of the last plague and the subsequent freeing of all the Jewish people from bondage. This is also connected with the harvest festival of the waving of the first sheaf of the barley crop which finds its fulfillment in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Due to the laxity of the ancient Hebrews in religious matters and the disastrous influence of idolatry, the prescribed rituals were often not observed. When a reformer came into their midst, the reinstitution of these celebrations was observed with a combination of great joy and solemnity. One of these occasions is noted in our verse by verse study entitled The Passover of Hezekiah.
Fifty days after the offering of this sheaf came the Feast of Weeks, so named for its being just seven weeks after the Passover celebration. The treatise When the Day of Pentecost Was Fully Come probes the exact timing ofthis observance and the details of how this day marked the giving of the holy spirit to the Christian community.
These two feasts were in the spring. The Feast of Ingathering coincided with the grape vintage in the autumn. This was perhaps better known as The Feast of Tabernacles, and is discussed in detail in the article of that title.
Shortly before this feast, however, was the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement. The function of this ritual was to cleanse the tabernacle (and later the temple) for its services for the coming year. While it was accompanied by joy for the forgiveness of sins, it was also attended with great solemnity with individual, as well as national repentance. It is these combined emotions that form the basis for the treatment of A Sabbath of Affliction.
These were the main feasts as directed by God through Moses. However, as history progressed, two other deliverances were annually commemorated by the Jews. The first of these, recorded in the book of Esther, celebrated their release from Haman the Agagite, a chief minister in the Persian government of King Xerxes. This subject, with a noteworthy twentieth-century parallel, is discussed in The Feast of Purim and the Lot of the Jew.
Our final article, The Feast of Dedication, deals with the celebration of the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid empire of Antiochus Epiphanes. This feast was still held annually in the days of Jesus and his words about it are recorded in John 10.
The Jewish people, throughout time, were always to remember the hand of their God in their various miraculous deliverances. Christians likewise frequently experience divine intervention on their behalf. May we each have the faith that Jehovah desired of his ancient people to appreciate and thank the Lord for his constant forgiveness and salvation.