The Biblical Feasts of Israel


Shalom Partner and Friend of Israel,

Let’s study together the main Holy days that God gave His people, Israel. They are filled with prophetic meaning and truth.

Yes, the Holy Scripture is a living force among the Jewish people, and its influence can be felt in Israel’s public life. Where else other than in Israel are the returning harvests wagons decorated with ribbons bearing Scripture texts?

Where else are harvest festivals celebrated with dancing to the accompaniment of Psalm / singing?

Where else are the premises of national exhibitions hung with Scripture posters?

In what other country does the Bible competition form the highlight of a jubilee, as it did in the 10th anniversary celebrations of the foundations of the state of Israel? So widespread was the interest shown in the contest that cafe’s and cinemas were deserted while people gathered around their radios to follow each stage of the contest eager to know who was the most versed in the Scriptures.

Before we look at the Biblical Feasts, we would like to share about the Shabbat. Over centuries the Jewish people have kept this Commandment of God. Living in Israel Julie and I are ‘learning’ to adjust to the Sabbath rest and in fact it was hard in the beginning since we are having to re-program our way of thinking, yet it makes complete sense – if God rested, why shouldn’t we?

"So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation." Genesis 2: 3

Especially in Jerusalem and in major Jewish cities Friday the eve before the Sabbath is a very busy morning. In the supermarkets the traditional "Chalah" bread is now available and so the people like to get theirs as soon as they can.

The shelves have a variety of grape juice and traditional wines especially for Shabbat use. The Shabbat meals are cooked before the sun goes down and the candle is lit in Jerusalem (time varies according to season – but is known for each week of the month). For the Jewish people the day starts according to the word of God, evening and morning…"God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day."  Genesis 1: 5

Each week, on the Shabbat (Sabbath) life comes to a virtual stand-still. How impressive is the beginning of the Shabbat in Jerusalem? The Shabbat horn sounds through the streets and in a moment a large, busy city is reduced to silence. It is as if at sunset, with the sound of the Shabbat horn, the city becomes shrouded in a silence of that of eternity. There is hardly a car to be seen; the few that remain are driven mostly by Christians or Muslims. One witnesses here an entire people - even if many may conform only outwardly - yet still abiding by God’s commandments and honouring as a nation this commandment to keeping the Sabbath Day – Holy!

Shabbat (Sabbath)

The feast of Shabbat is a "Holy day" and an "everlasting sign" of the Covenant of God and Israel. Shabbat is celebrated weekly on the seventh day and it is a day of rest – resting in God’s presence. It is a Holy day of convocation." Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,   but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day." Deuteronomy 5: 12 - 15

"And Moses said, ‘make your meal today of what you have, for this day is a Sabbath to the Lord: today you will not get any in the fields. For six days you will get it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.’"Exodus 16: 25 -26

"You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In ploughing time and in harvest you shall rest." Exodus 34:21

We will give a brief but thorough overview of the nine major Biblical / Jewish Feasts – the seven God told his people to celebrate in Leviticus 23 and other places, plus "Purim" and "Chanukah." Also explained is the non traditional Biblical New Years Day. But before we begin we must explain that the Jewish calendar is completely different to our Gregorian calendar.

Biblical / Jewish Lunar Calendar:

The Jewish calendar is based on the cycles of the moon. Each one of the twelve months begins with the new moon. God explicitly and repeatedly commanded His people to celebrate the New Moon and the beginning of each month ("Rosh Chodesh"), just as He told then to celebrate the Sabbath and the Biblical Feasts.  1 Samuel 20: 18, 1 Chronicles 23: 31, Ezra 3: 5, Nehemiah 10: 33, Psalms 81: 3, Isaiah 66: 23, Ezekiel 45: 17and Ezekiel 46: 1- 6

The Hebrew months are 29 or 30 days long and periodically an extra month (Adar 2). It is added to catch the Lunar Calendar up to the cycles of the sun.

Torah Portions of the week:

The Jewish people have followed a Bible reading program since, according to some, the time of Nehemiah and Ezra. In every Jewish community and in every Synagogue a portion from the Torah (the 5 books of Moses – the Pentateuch) and one or more portions from the Prophets and writings (the other 34 Books of the Old Testament / First Covenant) are read on Shabbat (Sabbaths) and on major Biblical / Jewish holidays. Each Torah portion has a name, derived from the first few words of the texts of the portion.

However - Messianic Believers (believers in Yeshua) will also read the New Testament (Second Covenant).

Interesting facts on the Biblical New Year’s Day:

Date in Hebrew Calendar: 1st of Nisan (1st Biblical month, March – April). Scripture References: Exodus 12: 2, 18; Leviticus 23: 4 – 8; Numbers 9: 1 – 5and Esther 3:7.

In Exodus 12: 2, The Lord said to Moses: "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you." In the following verses He describes the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, beginning on the 14th day of the same month, the month now called Nisan (sometimes called "Aviv"). Clearly, Nisan is the first month of the year in the Biblical calendar.

Today everyone celebrates the completion of one year and the beginning of the New Year, even though we are not commanded in Scripture to do so.

Many interesting events took place on this day:

The waters were dried off the earth (Genesis 8: 13); Moses set up and inaugurated Tabernacle in the wilderness (Genesis 40:16 – 38) and God’s glory filled it (Exodus 40; 34 – 35); Hezekiah rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem after a period of apostasy (2 Chronicles 29: 17 – 19); Ezra left Babylon to return to the Promised Land (Ezra 7: 9); and Ezekiel was told to dedicate the second temple on that day (Ezekiel 45: 18).

Passover – Pesach

Date in Hebrew calendar: 14th Nisan, (twilight March / April). Scriptural References: Exodus 12: 1 – 14; Leviticus 23: 5; Deuteronomy 16: 1; Luke 22: 1and Hebrews 11: 28.

The first of seven Biblically mandated feasts, Passover celebrates God’s deliverance of His people, Israel, from the tenth plague in Egypt / the killing of the first born. Each family of Israel applied the blood of the lamb to the doorposts of their homes, and the angel of death "passed over" their homes, spearing them from the plague. This last plague was so terrible, that Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go from Egypt.

The Passover has been celebrated for thousands of years on the fourteenth day of the first month of the Jewish calendar. Yeshua (Jesus) was celebrating the Passover with His Disciples on the night of the last supper.

Today the Passover is celebrated in Jewish homes with a family ceremony – "Seder" (Order) – on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan presided over by the head of the household.

The story of the original Passover is recounted and certain symbolic foods are eaten to remind the family members of the suffering of their people in Egypt, and of their miraculous deliverance from bondage.

The Passover was a type or picture, of the final deliverance that God had promised for the people of Israel, and indeed for the whole world. When He would offer His Son for the world as the ultimate sacrifice - - Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) the Passover Lamb who would take away the sin of the world. Each person need only to apply the Blood of this Lamb to the door posts of his heart and he or she will be delivered from bondage of sin and spiritual death. (See also our March 2009 Newsletter Study Article for more details on Pesach)

The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Matzot)

Date in Hebrew Calendar: 15th – 21st Nisan (March / April). Scriptural References: Exodus 12: 15 – 20 and vs. ; Leviticus 23: 6 – 8; Deuteronomy 16: 3; Luke 22: 7; Acts 20: 6; 1 Chronicles 5: 7 -8.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread commemorates the fact that when the Israelites were finally freed from bondage in Egypt, they had to flee so quickly that there was no time to let their bread rise ("Matzah").

This feast was celebrated in New Testament times as well as today. No doubt it was the unleavened bread of this feast that Yeshua broke with the Disciples at the last supper, telling them that it was His Body, and that they should continue to break it together in remembrance of Him.

Today Jewish families all over the world eat only unleavened bread during Passover and the seven days of this feast. During the days before Passover, their homes are scoured to remove any trace of leaven so as not to cause defilement during the feast - perhaps the original spring cleaning.

The unleavened bread, or Matzah (Matzo) used during this feast is pierced and stripped – a perfect symbol of Yeshua (Jesus) on the cross. Leaven is often used as a symbol for sin in the Scriptures, so its removal from the home was a symbol of purification from sin, exactly what Yeshua came to accomplish in the lives of His followers.

The Feast of First Fruits (Bikkurim)

Date in Hebrew Calendar: 16th Nisan (March / April). Scriptural References: Leviticus 23: 9 – 14 and 1 Corinthians 15: 20 - 23

The original Feast of First Fruit was a celebration of the spring barley harvest. The harvest would begin in the month of Nisan, and the Lord required the Israelites to bring the first sheaf of the harvest – "the first fruits" to His Temple as a wave offering.

Yeshua (Jesus) was resurrected from the dead on the Feast of First Fruits – as the "first fruits from the dead" – another sign of His Messiah ship and of His fulfilment of all the Law and the Prophets.

In Modern observance this day is called the "Counting of the Sheaves" ("Omer" in Hebrew). The count begins on the day the Sheaf was to have been waved in the temple – The Feast of First Fruits – and ends 50 days later on Shavuot (Pentecost).

Just as the term "First fruits" implies that there will be more, so Yeshua’s resurrection from the dead on the Feast of First Fruits is indicative of the promised resurrection from the dead of many more – of all those who confess with their mouths that He is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised Him from the dead. Romans 10: 9 – 10

The Feasts of Pentecost

Date in Hebrew Calendar: 6th – 7th Sivan (May / June).

Scriptural References: Leviticus 23: 16; Exodus 23: 15 – 21 and Acts 2.

This feast was to take place exactly seven weeks and one day (the Hebrew word "Shavuot" means weeks) or fifty days (the Greek word "Pentecost" means "50") of the First Fruits.

It was also a harvest festival when the Israelites were to present an offering of new grain in the temple. In Israelite tradition it came to be believed that Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai exactly 50 days after First Fruits or in other words on Pentecost based on Exodus 19:1. Hence the receiving of the Law is also celebrated on this day. An extremely well known event occurred in New Testament times on the day of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit fell on the first Disciples with tongues of fire and other languages.

It took place 50 days after the resurrection of Yeshua, and it was the birth of the Church or the Body of Messiah.

Today in Israel the Feast of Shavuot is celebrated by decorations with a harvest theme, and the reading of the account of the giving of the Law (Exodus 19 – 20).

The book of Ruth is also read, as it is a book of harvest and redemption, ending with the genealogy of King David who – according to tradition was born and also died on Shavuot.

For Christians, Pentecost marks the "First Fruits" of the New Testament Covenant - the first believers in the Church of Jesus Christ. It also celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit so the Law could be written not on tablets of stone – but on our hearts.

The Feast of Trumpets "Rosh Hashanah" or New Years Day

Date in Hebrew Calendar: 1st Tishri (7th Biblical Month, September / October).

Scriptural references: Leviticus 23: 23 – 25; Numbers 10: 9 – 10, 29:1 and Nehemiah 8: 1 – 12

The Bible says less about the Feast of Trumpets than any of the other feasts – it was simply to be a holy day celebrated with trumpet blasts, on the first day of the 7th Month. The blowing of the trumpet was associated with the calling of the solemn assembly; a warning of danger and action to be taken (such as gathering of the troops to war or the arrival of a king).

Over the centuries this feast – because it was the first in the series of three fall festivals considered to be the holiest time of the year – came traditionally to be called "Rosh Hashanah" (literally head of the year), or New Years day. This may be connected to the events described in Nehemiah 8: 1 – 12 called "holy" in verses 10 and 11.

While this event is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament, at least two extremely important prophetic events are described there with the beginning of the trumpet blast – the "rapture" of the church (1 Thessalonians 4: 16 – 18), and the return of the Lord (Matthew 24: 31).

The Feast of Trumpets is celebrated today with several blasts of the "Shofar" (trumpet made of ram’s horn). It is a very solemn time, just proceeding the holiest day of all – the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). On Yom Kippur God’s atonement (forgiveness) is sought and His judgement is feared. The 10 days of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are called the "days of awe," when one considers his / her sins before God and enters into a period of repentance; of asking for forgiveness from God and those one has harmed; and of restitution.

While there is no special celebration of this feast in the Church a time of repentance, asking for forgiveness and of restitution certainly would not be out of place, especially as we await the last trump and the coming of the King of Kings.

Yom Kippur is the most solemn and important day in the Biblical calendar. Only once each year was any Israelite permitted to enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle or Temple and to approach the Lord where His Spirit resided above the mercy seat; the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

Day of Atonement

Date in Hebrew calendar: 10th Tishri (September / October).

Scriptural references: Leviticus 16: 29 – 34, 23: 26 – 32; Hebrews 9: 11 – 14, 22: 24, 10: 1 – 25.

The High Priest went through a complex set of sacrifices to atone for his own sins and the sins of all the people, and a goat was then led out to die outside the walls of the city – symbolically taking the sins of the people with it. The High Priest was then able to enter the Holy of Holies, sprinkling blood on the Ark of the Covenant. It was by no means certain that he would leave alive. A rope was tied around his legs so he could be pulled out if he should die. If he lived, he would go outside, lift his hands up and pronounce the Aaronic blessing on the people – the only time in the year any one would invoke the tetragamatron ("Y-H–V-H-"), the usually unutterable Name of God.

The blood of bulls and goats could not provide true and permanent forgiveness of sins, and so God’s Son came to provide the ultimate sacrifice Himself. He was sentenced to death in the temple by the High Priest who said, prophetically, that it was good that one man should die for the nation. He was led outside the walls to bear the sins of the people – all the people of the world.

When the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, and again by the Romans, there was not longer a Holy of Holies, a High Priest or a sacrificial system. The Jewish people had to find another means of atonement. Their solution was prayer and good deeds.

Today, the Day of Atonement is spent in the Synagogue, in repentance, fasting and prayer asking to be written in the Book of Life for one more year.

In modern Israel, nothing moves on Yom Kippur. One can walk down the centre of highways without fear of being hit by a car. It is an awesome day! This day, or any day is a good time to approach the Lord with the fear and awe that He deserves, to repent of our sins and to thank Him for His Son’ s sacrifice that brings us into continual "At-one-ment" with our Maker and allows our names to be recorded forever in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

The Feast of Tabernacles "Sukkoth"

Date in Hebrew calendar: 15th – 21st Tishri (September / October)

Scripture references: Leviticus 23: 33 – 44; Deuteronomy16: 13 – 15; Zechariah 14: 16 – 19 and John 7: 2 – 52

The Feast of Tabernacles was the last of the seven Biblically mandated celebrations. It was also the most joyful; in fact it was the only one in which the Israelites were commanded by God to rejoice (Deut. 16: 14)! It celebrated the final harvest of the year, and God’s great provision for His people. During this feast, the Israelites were required to leave the comfort of their homes and live in tabernacles or booths -- three sided temporary structures with leafy roofs through which the stars could be seen. In this way they would remember how their ancestors had lived in booths or tents when they came out of slavery in Egypt.

In New Testament times Sukkoth was a major celebration, often referred to simply as "the feast." It incorporated great ceremonies using water and light. Yeshua made His proclamation in the temple during Sukkoth: "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Yeshua stood and cried, saying, ‘If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,’ John 7: 37 – 38. He was challenging the system in a very relevant and pointed way.

In modern Israel, many families start building and decorating their "Succah" right after Yom Kippur, in their yards or on their balconies. They spend as much time there as possible, almost always taking their evening meal together under the leafy roof and the stars of God’s glorious creation. Zechariah says that, in the Millennium, all nations will come up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, or incur God’s wrath, Zechariah 14: 16 – 19. The ultimate fulfilment of this feast will come after the return of the Lord, when God will once again dwell or "tabernacle," with His people.

The Feast of Dedication "Chanukah"

Date in Hebrew calendar: 25th Kislev – 2Nd Tevet (November – December)

Scripture references: Daniel 8: 22 – 25; 11: 20 - 45 and John 10: 22 – 42.

"Chanukah" the word means "Dedication" in Hebrew and is a celebration of God’s faithfulness and deliverance. The events it celebrates took place during the inter-testamental period, in approx. 165 BC.

Yeshua went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, and while in temple area He proclaimed His divinity – "I and the Father are one." (John 10: 30) It is also called the "Festival of Lights."  Today Chanukah is celebrated with a nine branch candelabra. Eight of them recall the eight days the oil miraculously burnt while the ninth (middle one) is the servant used to light the others (Refer to our Newsletter Study Article teaching Chanukah – December 2008) and is often accompanied by the exchange of gifts.

Chanukah celebrates one of the much deliverance of the Jewish people from those who would try again and again to destroy God’s Covenant people. In recent history we have two horrible examples of this – the pogroms in Russia, and the Holocaust. Yet the Lord’s people are alive today and back in their own land against unbelievable odds. But the enemy has not given up and he is trying and will try to destroy them again. Pray for God to deliver His people again, and to breathe His Spirit into their revived bodies (Ezekiel 37: 14), restoring them to Himself.

The Feast of Lots "Purim"

Date in Hebrew calendar: 14th and 15th Adar (February / March)

Scripture references: Esther 9: 20 – 22

The story of Purim is related in the Book of Esther. Today the book of Esther is read and re-enacted. It is a joyful and light-hearted event, but it recalls great danger, great deliverance and great faithfulness of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob toward those who trust in Him.

We were blessed researching and writing this topic on Biblical Feasts of Israel and trust that it will bless you too.

Alf & Julie Saunders

15th January, 2024

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