The word feast comes from the same Latin word that gives us festival. Today we think of a feast as primarily a very special meal. In the Bible feasts were more like festivals, and they commemorated great acts of God. Many of these festivals included a feast or banquet as a central part of the celebration. For a long time we have stopped using the term festival or
feast in the old way, substituting the word holiday. Too bad we don’t notice more often that the origin of that word is holy day. Symbols are often sneaky: we lose sight of them when they become such a part of our lives that we take them for granted. The delight in identifying symbols in Scripture and throughout Christianity is not the power of mystery but the power of the mundane. Special days can remind us of God’s priceless gifts. The feasts that feed our bodies with delicious food can feed our souls with even deeper and more lasting satisfaction. Each one of these religious feasts is a symbol pointing to the greater reality of God’s faithful love throughout Israel’s history.
FEASTS OF ISRAEL
Listed according to the Jewish calendar, the feasts of Israel were as follows:
Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread (March/April). Passover is the first and perhaps greatest of the Jewish holidays, celebrating the Jews’ astounding released from slavery after four centuries of bondage in Egypt. It also serves as the birth anniversary of the nation of Israel, For more on the Passover, look for the entry by that name.
Feast of Pentecost (May/June). As the name suggests, this feast occurred fifty (pente) days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In the Jewish calendar Pentecost was a day to celebrate the harvest (Exod 23:16; 34:22; Lev 23:15-21; Num 28:16-31). For Christians, this feast was made forever holy in that on this day the early church experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit,
Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) (September/October). This feast is listed in Leviticus 23:24-25 and Numbers 29:1-40, but its particular purpose is somewhat unclear. It marked the beginning of the civil year of the Jews. Its status may have become greater during the exile, when the displaced Jews celebrated their heritage and tried to keep it alive for each generation, though they were far from Jerusalem.
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) (September). Technically not a feast but a fast, the Day of Atonement was the yearly time of accountability for sin by the nation. Leviticus 23:26-32 describes this day as “a special day for the payment of sins” (v 27-28). Leviticus 16 explains the fascinating symbol of a dual sacrifice that atonement requires, for on this day the sin of the people are dealt with by the death of one goat and the “living sacrifice” of another, the scapegoat. One goat’s life represents payment for sin. The other goat, bearing the sins of the people, is taken out and released in the wilderness. Those who read these instructions with New Testament history in mind can see how Jesus fulfilled all God’s requirements for the atonement of sin. And the book of Hebrews explains this built-in sign as a centerpiece of how Jesus fulfilled the codes and commands of the Old Testament.
Feast of Tabernacles/Booths (Sukkoth) (September/October). This feast, celebrated with the construction of makeshift dwellings, invited the people of Israel to remember how God protected and provided for them in the wilderness after the exodus.
Feast of Lights (Hanukkah) (November/December). Not long before the life of Jesus, a group in Israel temporarily took power back from foreign invaders and held a great ceremony to cleanse the temple in Jerusalem. This feast celebrates their victory and the restoration of the temple.
Feast of Purim (February/March). This feast was a later addition to the calendar, attribute to Mordecai in Esther 9:18-28, and was a day to remember how God moved through Esther to preserve the lives of his people in Persia.
FEASTS OF THE CHURCH
Christians celebrate and anticipate two feats: the Lord’s Supper and the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb.
The Wedding Banquet of the Lamb is the much-anticipated eternal celebration in Christ’s presence when the Kingdom of God is fully revealed in the new heaven and new earth. Jesus repeatedly referred to this event in teaching and parables (Matt 8:11; 22:1-4; Luke 14:15-24). It is foretold in Revelation 19:9. The symbol of a grand meal brings together all the themes of Joy, satisfaction, and pleasure that the Bible highlights as God’s intention for us. We may be prone to focus on what we assume is God’s lack of provision, but his Word reveals that God never withholds anything from us that he doesn’t intend to replace with something far better. We might settle for a meals as God’s symbol of provision for our physical hunger; he intends us to remember at every meal that he is the giver of every good gift and that his plans for us are eternal and beyond our wildest imagination.