Old Testament Feasts that are Commanded by God * by Jack Kettler
Old Testament Feasts were a common part of Israel’s religious preparation. In the unfolding of God’s redemptive history, Israel is prepared for the coming Messiah by acting out through the types and shadows in the law what the Messiah would fulfill in reality. Said another way. in the Old Testament, the feasts were preparatory, looking forward to Christ’s great atonement. In addition, they were celebrations of God’s protection of Israel and ultimately, the perfect once for all atonement of Christ, the lamb of God.
Passover Pe-sa פֶּ֖סַח
“And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, this month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb.” (Exodus 12:1-4) All Scripture references are the King James Version unless otherwise noted.
Reformed commentator, Meredith Kline introduces us to this important feast:
The Passover was established in Exodus 12 prior to the Sinai covenant. It is technically non-Levitical, but Levitical statues expanded regulations for the Passover.
Of all the feasts of Israel, the Passover is the clearest example of God’s election and grace. The Passover celebrated God’s divine grace and deliverance of the faithful. By “passing over” the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, God allowed Israelite firstborns to live (Exod 12:21–31). Kline suggests that the emphasis of Passover is not on the passing of God over the Israelites but on His “covering” the Israelites through the blood on the doorpost. This interpretation makes the Passover an atonement feast like the Day of Atonement, and may be contradicted by passages such as Exodus 12:12–13. (1)
“These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons. In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD'S Passover.” (Leviticus 23:4-5)
In the Passover feast there is a foreshadowing of the Last Supper and Christ's sacrifice on the cross. For Israel, the Passover is a remembrance of God’s deliverance from Egypt. For the Christian, the Lord’s Supper or communion is a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice as the true Lamb of God and our being delivered from death and sin.
Unleavened Bread ham-maṣ-ṣō-wṯ הַמַּצּ֖וֹת
“Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you. And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.” (Exodus 12:15-20)
This feast for Israel was a celebration of redemption and a reminder that they were strangers or pilgrims on the way to a better land. The land of Israel itself was a type of heaven. In Israel, God’s temple was where the people, through the types and shadows of the sacrificial system, acted out the work of the Lamb of God in securing sacrificial redemption and deliverance from death. In heaven, God himself will be on His throne and the redeemed in His presence forever singing praises of thanksgiving.
“And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread.” (Leviticus 23:6)
From the Pulpit Commentary we learn more about the significance of the feast of Unleavened Bread:
"The Feast of Unleavened Bread was instituted at the same time with the Feast of the Passover (Exodus 12:15-17), and from the beginning the two festivals were practically but one festival, never separated, though separable in idea. The Passover, strictly so called, lasted but one day, Nisan 14; the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted seven days, Nisan 15-21. The whole made a festival of eight days, called indifferently the Feast of the Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The bread to be eaten throughout the festival was unleavened, in order to remind the Israelites of the historical fact that on account of the urgency of the Egyptians, "the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders" (Exodus 12:34), and quitted the land of their affliction in haste. Accordingly, in the Book of Deuteronomy it is appointed, “Seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou earnest forth out of the laud of Egypt all the days of thy life” (Deuteronomy 16:3)." (2)
First fruits rê-šîṯ רֵאשִׁ֥ית
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the Lord. And the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the Lord for a sweet savour: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of an hin. And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” (Leviticus 23:9-14)
Consulting the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, we learn more about this feast:
10. ye shall bring a sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest unto the priest—A sheaf, literally, an omer, of the first-fruits of the barley harvest. The barley being sooner ripe than the other grains, the reaping of it formed the commencement of the general harvest season. The offering described in this passage was made on the sixteenth of the first month, the day following the first Passover Sabbath, which was on the fifteenth (corresponding to the beginning of our April); but it was reaped after sunset on the previous evening by persons deputed to go with sickles and obtain samples from different fields. These, being laid together in a sheaf or loose bundle, were brought to the court of the temple, where the grain was winnowed, parched, and bruised in a mortar. Then, after some incense had been sprinkled on it, the priest waved the sheaf aloft before the Lord towards the four different points of the compass, took a part of it and threw it into the fire of the altar—all the rest being reserved to himself. It was a proper and beautiful act, expressive of dependence on the God of nature and providence—common among all people, but more especially becoming the Israelites, who owed their land itself as well as all it produced to the divine bounty. The offering of the wave-sheaf sanctified the whole harvest (Ro 11:16). At the same time, this feast had a typical character, and pre-intimated the resurrection of Christ (1Co 15:20), who rose from the dead on the very day the first-fruits were offered. (3)
In short, this feast celebrated God’s gracious provisions for Israel by His blessings of provisions coming from the harvest.
As Christians we Jesus assure us of God’s provisions:
“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, šā-ḇu-‘ō-wṯ שָׁבֻעוֹת֙
“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering.” (Leviticus 23:15) (English Standard Version)
“And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord. And ye shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering unto the Lord, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet savour unto the Lord. Then ye shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits for a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:15-22)
The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost was also a celebration of the harvest.
Allen Moseley in his Christ Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Leviticus notes:
“The word Pentecost means 50, and Pentecost was 50 days after the Festival of First Fruits. Pentecost was at the end of Israel’s harvest, and the purpose of Pentecost was to celebrate God’s gift of the harvest that the people had gathered by that time.” (4)
The Feast or Memorial of Trumpets, tə-rū-‘āh תְּרוּעָ֖ה
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.” (Leviticus 23:23-25)
From the Matthew Henry's Commentary, we learn about this memorial rather than a feast:
23:23-32 the blowing of trumpets represented the preaching of the gospel, by which men are called to repent of sin, and to accept the salvation of Christ, which was signified by the day of atonement. Also it invited to rejoice in God, and become strangers and pilgrims on earth, which was denoted by the feast of Tabernacles, observed in the same month. At the beginning of the year, they were called by this sound of trumpet to shake off spiritual drowsiness, to search and try their ways, and to amend them. The day of atonement was the ninth day after this; thus they were awakened to prepare for that day, by sincere and serious repentance, that it might indeed be to them a day of atonement. The humbling of our souls for sin, and the making our peace with God, is work that requires the whole man, and the closest application of mind. On that day God spake peace to his people, and to his saints; therefore they must lay aside all their wordly business, that they might the more clearly hear that voice of joy and gladness. (5)
Day of Atonement yō-wm י֧וֹם hak-kip-pu-rîm הַכִּפֻּרִ֣ים
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.” (Leviticus 23:26-32)
A celebration of the removal of sin.
Feast of Booths, bas-suk-kōṯ. בַּסֻּכֹּֽת׃
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. For seven days present food offerings to the Lord, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the Lord. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work. (“‘These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies for bringing food offerings to the Lord—the burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings required for each day. These offerings are in addition to those for the Lord’s Sabbaths and[a] in addition to your gifts and whatever you have vowed and all the freewill offerings you give to the Lord.) “‘So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of sabbath rest. On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’” (Leviticus 23:33–43)
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary provides an edifying explanation of this feast:
23:33-44 In the feast of Tabernacles there was a remembrance of their dwelling in tents, or booths, in the wilderness, as well as their fathers dwelling in tents in Canaan; to remind them of their origin and their deliverance. Christ's tabernacling on earth in human nature, might also be prefigured. And it represents the believer's life on earth: a stranger and pilgrim here below, his home and heart are above with his Saviour. They would the more value the comforts and conveniences of their own houses, when they had been seven days dwelling in the booths. It is good for those who have ease and plenty, sometimes to learn what it is to endure hardness. The joy of harvest ought to be improved for the furtherance of our joy in God. The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; therefore whatever we have the comfort of, he must have the glory of, especially when any mercy is perfected. God appointed these feasts, Beside the sabbaths and your free-will offerings. Calls to extraordinary services will not excuse from constant and stated ones. (6)
This feast reminded Israel of their time in the wilderness and how God brought them into the promised land. For the Christian, this feast points to our time in the wilderness of sin and Christ’s deliverance and our future home in heaven where Christ has prepared a place for us. Passover and Pentecost have special significance for Christians. First, Christ was crucified at the Passover. Second, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples on Pentecost. Ultimately, the Feast of Israel all point to the great Feast in Eternity, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
“And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.” (Revelation 19:9).
In closing, Matthew Poole's Commentary sums up the glory awaiting God’s redeemed people:
And he saith unto me, Write; write it, as a business of moment, of which a record is fit to be kept.
Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb; that is, (say those who understand by the marriage of the Lamb the Jews’ conversion), who live in this happy period of time when the Jews shall be converted, and with the Gentiles make one gospel church. But this seems to me not sufficient. The marriage is one thing, the supper another, and (ordinarily) consequential to the marriage itself. The kingdom of glory seems to me rather intended, and those are called to it, who are made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.
These are the true sayings of God; that is, these are the undoubted truths of God, and therefore to be called into question by none. (7)
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 32:
“i. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.
ii. At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead shall be raised up, with the self-same bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls for ever.
iii. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour: the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, unto honour; and be made conformable to His own glorious body.”
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen” (Romans 16:27). “heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28, 29).
1. Meredith Kline, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Feast of Cover-Over,” pp. 498–500.
2. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Leviticus, Numbers, Vol. 2., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 346.
3. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977), p. 104.
4. Allen Moseley, Christ Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, (Nashville, Tennessee, Holman Bible publishers), p. 206.
5. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, Fourth printing 1985), p. 179.
6. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 229.
7. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), pp. 999, 1000.
* Feast of Purim: Recorded in the book of Esther.
Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) The Feast of Dedication was a feast to celebrate the re-dedication of the temple of Jerusalem in 164 BC.
These two feast are not commanded by God in Scripture.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com