Israel’s Spring Feasts
From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion’s Fire Magazine in May/June, 1995
People the world over observe holidays. There is not a nation anywhere, even among the most primitive of people, that does not have its unique days of special celebration. Holidays are often in memory of significant political events; sometimes they commemorate the birth date of national heroes; and frequently, holidays are simply designed to observe religious beliefs and superstitions. Worldwide, tens of thousands of holidays are observed annually.
In marked contrast, the eternal God instituted only seven holidays. And while it is not inappropriate for men to establish days of special celebration, their significance cannot be compared with the importance of the seven holidays instituted by God. These seven holidays are discussed throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. However, only in one place, the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, are all seven holidays listed in chronological sequence.
These seven holidays are called the “feasts of the Lord.” That expression indicates that these holidays are God’s holidays – they belong to Him – in contrast to man’s holidays. They are, quite literally, “the feasts of the Lord.” And only on His terms and at His invitation can men participate in them and enter into their benefits (Leviticus 23:4).
The word “feasts” in the Hebrew language means appointed times. The idea is that the sequence and timing of each of these feasts has been carefully orchestrated by God Himself. Each is part of a comprehensive whole. Collectively, they tell a story. These feasts are also called “holy convocations;” that is, they are intended to be a time of meeting between God and man for “holy purposes.” Since these seven feasts of the Lord are “appointed times” for “holy purposes,” they carry with them great sacredness and solemnity.
A number of important points needs to be emphasized concerning these feasts.
FIRST, these seven feasts of the Lord were given to the Hebrew nation. The Jewish people are God’s covenant people.
SECOND, these seven feasts relate to Israel’s spring and fall agricultural seasons. In the Old Testament, Israel was largely an agricultural nation. That agricultural characteristic remains to this day.
THIRD, these seven feasts were based on the Jewish lunar (moon) calendar of approximately 354-day years. Periodically (seven times every nineteen years), the Jewish calendar literally has a thirteenth month to make up for her shorter year. If such were not the case, winter months on the Jewish calendar would soon occur in the summer and summer months in the winter. It is for that reason that these holidays do not fall on the same day on the Gregorian calendar each year.
FOURTH, and fundamentally, these seven feasts typify the sequence, timing, and significance of the major events of the Lord’s redemptive career. They commence at Calvary where Jesus voluntarily gave Himself for the sins of the world (Passover) and climax when the Lord establishes His messianic Kingdom at His second coming (Tabernacles). No box has to be manufactured, no text twisted, and no truth manipulated to make these appointed feasts conform to specific events in the Lord’s life.
FIFTH, because the spiritual realities to which the feasts clearly point are fulfilled in Messiah, all men everywhere have been placed in a unique and opportune position. All of humanity has been extended an invitation to “meet” with God and receive the blessings toward which these seven feasts unerringly point. To turn down this unprecedented and gracious invitation is the height of folly.
SIXTH, the participation of Gentiles in the blessings associated with the feasts God appointed for Israel should come as no surprise. It is consistent with God’s unconditional covenant to the patriarch Abraham, the central provision of which is, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). The Lord himself taught, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Israel and the Church are distinct entities with distinct promises. However, every blessing the true Church now enjoys, and every hope she anticipates, comes out of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants that God made with Israel. There is a contiguous relationship between Israel and the Church. Therefore, it should not be thought that Gentiles cannot enter into the blessings accomplished through the Messiah and to which the feasts point.
There is no theme to which a man can give his attention that is loftier or more important than the seven feasts of the Lord. Permit it to be said once more, for its importance warrants it: These seven feasts depict the entire redemptive career of the Son of God.
Seven is the biblical number for perfection and completion. After creating the world, God rested on the seventh day. He did not rest as a consequence of growing tired – omnipotence does not grow tired, and God is omnipotent. Rather, God rested in the sense of “completion” and “satisfaction.” What God created was “good” and “satisfying” – nothing else was needed.
Therefore, He rested on the seventh day.
The seven feasts of the Lord, then, are His “appointed times” during which He will meet with men for holy purposes. When completed, the seven holidays will bring this age to a triumphant end and usher in the “Golden Age” to follow. During that age, every man will sit under his own fig tree (Micah 4:4). That concept is not intended to suggest boredom or a lack of creativity and activity, but of completion and satisfaction. In that day, all that the heart could ever desire will be possessed.
- On the seventh day of the week, the children of Israel were to observe a Sabbath rest, patterned after God’s creation rest. They were to rest from all their labors (Exodus 16:23, 30).
- The seventh month of the year is, according to the Scriptures, especially holy. In that month, all three fall feasts are observed (Leviticus 23:24, 27, 34).
- The nation of Israel was commanded to refrain from farming the ground every seventh year – to allow the soil to rest (Leviticus 25:4).
- Seven sevens of years were counted (forty-nine years), and then the next year was to be the Jubilee (fiftieth) year (Leviticus 25:8-12).
- Seventy sevens of years were “determined” upon the Jewish people during which time God would bring to perfection and completion His redemptive purpose (Daniel 9:24-27).
- The Book of Revelation records the consummation of this age. It uses the number seven more than fifty times. Not without significance, the book revolves around seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls (Revelation 5:1, 5; 6; 8-9; 11:15-19; 15-16).
Four of the seven holidays occur in the spring of the year. Those feasts, if a colloquialism may be used to emphasize the truth, are “a done deal.” That is to say, that which the four spring feasts of the Lord typified in the Old Testament has been fulfilled in Christ in the New Testament. In that sense, one can look back at and examine them. They are history. They occurred almost two thousand years ago. Their spiritual benefits, however, continue forward to the present hour.
The final three holidays occur in the fall of the year within a brief fifteen-day period in the Hebrew month of Kislev (September/October). As the first four holidays depict events associated with Messiah’s first coming, these final three holidays depict specific events associated with the Lord’s second coming. Although still future in terms of literal fulfillment, biblical faith may lay hold of and live in the light of the feasts' future blessings today. These final feasts form the basis for what the Bible calls the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).
The four spring feasts, of which this article is concerned, are summed up in the short span of nineteen verses of Scripture (Leviticus 23:4-22).
THE FEAST OF PASSOVER
The first “feast of the LORD” is Passover (Leviticus 23:5). It is the foundational feast. The six feasts that follow are built upon it.
Passover occurs in the spring of the year, on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. Normally, it will occur on our Gregorian calendar in March or April. Just the same as many colleges have academic years and businesses have fiscal years, for Israel, the month in which Passover occurs commences the religious year.
While the Jewish people have celebrated the Passover annually since the time of Moses, in reality, there was only one Passover. It occurred almost 3500 years ago in Egypt. It was there, at that time, that a lamb was sacrificed, and the blood was applied to each doorpost and lintel. When done in faith and in obedience to God’s command, that home was “passed over,” and the firstborn was spared. All subsequent observances over the centuries have been memorials of that one-and-only first Passover.
In precisely the same way, there was only one occasion when the Lord’s flesh was pierced and His blood spilled on the cross of Calvary for the sin of the world. The Communion is an ongoing memorial of that one momentous occasion.
The events leading up to the Passover are among the most dramatic in all of Scripture.
The children of Israel were enslaved down in Egypt. Pharaoh was a harsh taskmaster. The lot of the Hebrews seemed helpless and hopeless. It was at that hour in history that God spoke to Moses from within a burning bush. It was a desert area – the bush was dry and sapless. Everything normal and natural argued for the speedy consumption of that thorn bush. But such was not the case. The bush burned and was not consumed (Exodus 3:2). Not without reason, therefore, Moses turned aside to see this unusual sight. And from the midst of that burning bush, God would speak to His servant.
That burning bush typified Israel. Through the centuries, she would experience the hot flames of satanic fury, often manifested in the form of vehement anti-Semitism – she would burn, but she would not be consumed. And as God spoke to Moses from the midst of a burning bush, He has spoken to the world amidst the fiery trials of Israel. She alone is the depository of God’s Word to man. When holy men of God spoke as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit, they were Jewish men.
God would tell Moses that He had seen the affliction of His people down in Egypt, that He had heard their cry for help, that He knew their sorrows. And now, He was coming down to deliver them out of Egyptian bondage and to bring them into the Promised Land (Exodus 3:7-8).
At that moment, the Hebrews were a motley group of unorganized and uneducated slaves. They knew nothing of nationhood yet – that would happen at Mount Sinai. They carried about, under their nails and in their hair, the mud of the slime pits of Egypt. There was nothing innately desirable about this group of unkempt slaves who had, through the years, all but forgotten their God. Lesser gods, gods created by men’s minds and fashioned of wood and stone by their hands, would have passed them by. After all, the sons of Jacob had not been faithful to their God.
It could have been argued that He owed them nothing, that He was no man’s debtor. But not the true and living God; He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And to them He had solemnly promised that their seed would be as the sand of the seashore and the stars of the heaven – without number. God is a covenant-keeping God. What His mouth speaks, His right arm of power performs. Therefore, the Hebrews, however unattractive and undesirable they may have appeared at that moment, were still “His people.” He was aware of their affliction and, by His reckoning, it was time for them to “pack their bags and head for home” after more than four hundred years down in Egypt.
Cecil B. DeMille, in his classic epic, The Ten Commandments, while using the best cinematography and special effects of his day, did not overstate the reality of the exodus from Egypt. Nor could men today, with all of their technology, in a remake of The Ten Commandments, overstate the miraculous nature of the exodus.
The eternal God was at work. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let the children of Israel go. And then, plague after plague was unleashed with deadly accuracy against the idolatrous land of Egypt. Each of the plagues was directed against an Egyptian deity, until, at last, the firstborn of each home in Egypt would perish where a lamb was not slain and the blood was not applied. The plague reached even to the palace of Pharaoh himself. Since the pharaoh of Egypt was worshipped as a god, a god’s son would die.
Finally, in desperation, Pharaoh consented to let the children of Israel go. Under Moses, servant of the Lord, it is estimated that more than a million slaves, with all of their possessions, marched past the Sphinx of Egypt into the desert. What a scene that must have been to behold! What insanity by human standard! A million emancipated slaves marching off into the desert. Unlike most ancient cities, there was no great wall surrounding Egypt. None was necessary. The inhospitable desert provided the best protection. And here were the Hebrews, walking right into it – men, women, children, and livestock. Water, food, shelter, clothing – from where would these most basic necessities come? These Hebrews, as they were known at that time, knew little about where they were going or how they would get there. Fortunately, Moses knew the One who was leading them. They would cross the Red Sea, they would wander in the wilderness for forty years, and ultimately, under Joshua, they would enter the Promised Land.
Of the many words that could be used to describe what took place down in Egypt 3500 years ago, none fits better or is more comprehensive than the one word redemption. The events were real, the miracles genuine – all wrought by the God of the Hebrews, who was greater than all the gods of Egypt.
A motley crew of slaves was redeemed so that they could worship and serve the true and living God. But such a redemption was not without cost. Blood had to be shed to secure their redemption.
All of those lambs sacrificed down in Egypt (one per household) pointed to the one true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Writing to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul noted for all of time that “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). “Low in the grave He lay!”
THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD
The very next day, on the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan, God appointed another feast. It is called the “Feast of Unleavened Bread.” It was to last for seven days. On the first night, and again on the seventh, there was to be a time of meeting (convocation) between God and man. So intimately related are these first two holidays (Passover and Unleavened Bread) that with the passing of time they came to be observed as one holiday by the Jewish people.
I can remember vividly, as a youngster, how my orthodox Jewish grandmother, in preparation for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, would meticulously go throughout the house sprinkling breadcrumbs (leaven/yeast) in difficult-to-get-at places in, literally, every room in the house. Then, armed with only a broom and a dustpan, she would march through the house sweeping the leaven (which she herself had recently scattered throughout the house) into the kitchen. She would then sweep the crumbs into the dustpan, take it out of the house, and burn it. Even today, in observant Jewish homes throughout the world, this ancient custom is still observed. It is, as expressed in Fiddler on the Roof, “tradition.” Leaven in the Bible symbolizes error or evil. It is the agent that causes fermentation. The Lord said to His disciples, “Beware of the leaven [erroneous doctrine] of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6, 11-12; Mark 8:15). And the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian Church, in a context of unjudged sin in their midst, that “a little leaven [yeast] leaveneth [ferments] the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6). Left undealt with, sin will permeate and infect everything.
The Son of God was crucified on Passover. For His Roman executioners, the Jewish holy day was no barrier to carrying out their dastardly task (Matthew 26:5). He was then taken from the cross and, in keeping with Jewish custom, buried as soon as possible. His body was placed in a borrowed tomb – the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea. But, unlike all other corpses, His body would not decay in the grave. There would be no decomposition of his flesh. His body would be exempted from the divine pronouncement: “From the dust of the ground you came, and to the dust of the ground you shall return.” This truth should not catch us off guard. Did not the Son of God allow us to listen in on a conversation He had with His Father: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [hades, sheol]; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption [to decompose in the grave]” (Acts 2:27; cf. Ps. 16:10)?
If Passover speaks of the Lord’s death on Calvary, and it does so loud and clear, the Feast of Unleavened Bread proclaims His physical body would not experience the ravages of death while in the grave.
THE FEAST OF FIRSTFRUITS
The third feast occurs on the second day of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is called the “Feast of Firstfruits.” Passover occurs on the fourteenth of Nisan; the first day of the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” occurs on the fifteenth; and “Firstfruits,’’ according to Jewish reckoning, occurs on the sixteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan.
The barley harvest – the first crop planted in the winter – is now, in the spring, beginning to ripen. The first sheaf (firstfruits) of the harvest is cut and, in a carefully prescribed and meticulous ceremony, presented to the Lord. The Lord’s acceptance of the firstfruits is an “earnest,” or pledge on His part, of a full harvest. As to the significance of the Feast of Firstfruits, as with the other feasts, there is no room for doubt or speculation.
In writing to the Church at Corinth, it became necessary for the Apostle Paul to correct a major doctrinal error that was creeping into the assembly of believers. Some were being infected by the deadly first-century virus known as “Gnosticism.” Among other things, this philosophy held that the material universe was inherently evil. Consequently, if men rose physically from the grave, according to Gnosticism, the result would be an evil body. Because of this teaching, some within the Church were beginning to deny the concept of physical resurrection. They believed in the immortality of the soul, but not in the resurrection of the body. The Apostle Paul rushed to “nip the problem in the bud.” He wrote to the Corinthian believers: “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12). To reject the concept of physical resurrection was to reject the physical resurrection of Christ. Logically, you can’t have one without the other.
To deny physical resurrection was to call the Apostle Paul a liar, for he had taught them that Messiah rose bodily from the grave. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
To deny the physical resurrection of Messiah was to repudiate their faith. Paul argued, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).
To deny the physical resurrection of Messiah was to consign loved ones who had died in Christ to eternal condemnation. Paul noted, “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (1 Corinthians 15:18).
To deny the physical resurrection of Messiah was to consign men to misery. Paul warned, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ [and such would be the case if there is no bodily resurrection], we are of all men most miserable” (I Corinthians 15:19).
Using irresistible logic, Paul brought those denying bodily resurrection down to the depths of despair based on their own reasoning.
The Corinthians’ thesis was this: There is no bodily resurrection.
Paul’s valid conclusion was: Then Christ is not raised.
The tragic consequence of their thesis, if correct, would lead to this inescapable conclusion: Paul was a liar, their faith was in vain, their loved ones who had died in Christ were perished, and they were of all men most miserable. Happily, their thesis was not correct.
Using two words, Paul leapt from the depths of despair (where a denial of physical resurrection unerringly led them) to the heights of certain hope and exaltation. Those two words are “but now.” Paul wrote, “But now is Christ risen from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20). The Apostle Paul loved to use the expression, “but now.” He used it no less than eighteen times in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 12:18, 20; 15:20; 2 Corinthians 8:22; 12:6; Galatians 4:9; Ephesians 2:13; 5:8; Philippians 2:12; Colossians 1:26; 3:8; 2 Timothy 1:10; Philemon 11; Heb. 2:8; 8:6; 9:26; 11:16; 12:26). When he did so, he often used it as an equivalent to the military terms, “About face!” and “To the rear, march!” He was saying, “Turn around one-hundred-eighty degrees.”
For instance, to the Church at Ephesus, Paul wrote: “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13). And again: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). And to the Philippians, he wrote: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
Some were saying there is no physical resurrection of the dead. Logically, therefore, Messiah was not resurrected. The end result of such thinking is hopelessness and despair. Paul’s triumphant response was: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Paul had in mind the first sheaf (firstfruits) of the barley harvest (Leviticus 23:10). When God accepted the firstfruits, they became the earnest or guarantee that the rest of the crop would be harvested. Christ himself is the “firstfruits” (I Corinthians 15:23). In both the Old and New Testaments, there were people who were raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-23; 2 Kings 4:18-37; Luke 8:54-55; John 11:43-44). In time, however, they died again. Jesus was the first to be resurrected from the grave, never to die again. He alone is the “firstfruits.”
The Feast of Passover speaks of Messiah’s death as a sacrificial and substitutionary lamb.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread indicates that His body would not decay in the grave.
The Feast of Firstfruits proclaims that death could not hold her foe. “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.”
THE FEAST OF WEEKS
The fourth feast is known as Shavuot (Hebrew), or the “Feast of Weeks.” It is called the Feast of Weeks because God specifically told the sons of Jacob that they were to count seven sevens of weeks from firstfruits (Leviticus 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:9), and then “unto the morrow” this fourth feast was to be observed (Leviticus 23:16). Seven sevens of weeks are forty-nine days. Add one additional day (“unto the morrow”), and it brings the total days to fifty. This fourth feast was to occur precisely fifty days after firstfruits (Christ’s resurrection). This feast is also called “Pentecost” (Acts 2:1) – meaning fifty.
On this occasion, the children of Israel were not to simply bring the firstfruits of the wheat harvest to the Temple (as they brought the firstfruits of the barley at the Feast of Firstfruits), but two loaves of bread. These two loaves of bread were to be baked with fine flour, and leaven was specifically commanded to be included in the loaves (Leviticus 23:17). Fifty days, two loaves, and leaven – what did it all mean? In short, it all pointed to the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church. The Son of God arose from the grave on Firstfruits. He then spent forty days with His disciples in post-resurrection ministry (Acts 1:3), He informed them that it was necessary that He ascend to His Father (there to apply the benefits of His once-and-for-all sacrifice), but that He would not abandon them. He would send them His Holy Spirit who would come alongside to help in His absence (John 14:16-17).
They were commanded to tarry at Jerusalem until He came (Acts 1:4). The disciples knew exactly how long they had to wait. The coming of the Holy Spirit would occur on the next Jewish holiday. They waited as they were commanded. Their wait was not long – only ten days. And then it happened. The Spirit of God descended on those first-century believers.
For the Feast of Weeks, two loaves were brought to the Temple. They represented Jew and Gentile, now one in Christ with the advent of the Spirit’s coming. Writing to the Ephesian believers, Paul said: “For he is our peace, who hath made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us . . . to make in himself of twain [Jew and Gentile] one new man, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:14-15).
There was to be leaven in those two loaves, for the Church had not yet been glorified. During this age, there is still sin within the Church. Someone has rightly said of believers, “If you find a perfect church, don’t join it, because you will spoil it.” Positionally, in Christ, the Church is perfected. Practically or experientially, she still has a long way to go. Messiah, the head, is unleavened. The Church, the body, still has leaven within her. Therefore, leaven was to be included in those two loaves.
THE FULFILLMENT OF THE SPRING FEASTS
Passover speaks of redemption. Christ the Passover Lamb has been slain for us.
Unleavened Bread speaks of sanctification. He was set apart. His body would not decay in the grave.
Firstfruits speaks of resurrection. Death could not hold her foe. On the third day Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave.
The Feast of Weeks speaks of origination. The coming of the Holy Spirit inaugurated the New Covenant and Church Age, which the Lord instituted in the upper room (Matthew 26:28-29). The middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down. From the two, God is calling out the Church, which is His body.
Each major event during our Lord’s first coming occurred on the precise date of the appropriate Jewish holiday. The three major events to be associated with our Lord’s second coming will, likewise, fall on the appropriate Jewish holiday. Those three feasts – Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles – unerringly point to the Rapture of the Church and judgment of the wicked, the salvation of Israel, and the establishment of the Lord’s millennial Kingdom, respectively.
Israel’s Spring Feasts
From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion’s Fire Magazine in May/June, 1995