INTRODUCTION TO THE ANNUAL OBSERVANCES AND FESTIVALS

The  annual observances and festivals are not just days that  God arbitrarily chose as holidays for the nation of Israel. God had a purpose  and  plan  for humanity before  their  creation, and this purpose and plan is revealed through the literal, prophetic,  and symbolic  meaning  that God has placed within each  of  his  very special observances.

It is through the observance and study of these annual observances and festivals that  one  can gain many awesome insights  into  the minds  of God the Father and Jesus Christ and into their plan for the future of humanity.

Each  commanded observance is unique in its meaning and purpose; however, all the observances are interrelated in their contribution  to God's plan for the salvation of humanity.  Moreover, each observance has a literal, symbolic, and  prophetic  meaning concerning the people, places, times, and events in God's plan.

The annual observances that God commanded Israel to observe  were times  of  great rejoicing. These were times when  all  Israelite males  were to present themselves before God to formally worship him and bring him the required tribute and  freewill  offerings. These observances were to be times of national thanksgiving and  rejoicing, which showed appreciation for the great blessings  that the Creator God had bestowed upon national Israel.

Later in this study, it will be shown that these days also hold a great importance to those who are called to salvation during the ages prior to and after the return of Jesus Christ  as King of kings. Three Festival Seasons

"Three times you shall keep a feast to me in the year. You  shall keep the  feast of unleavened bread: (you shall  eat  unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it you came out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:) And the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of your labors, which you have sown in the field: and  the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when  you have gathered in your labors out of the field. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God"  (Ex.23:14-17 KJV).

In these verses, the English word 'feast' is a translation from the Hebrew word 'hag', which is used to denote 'keeping a feast' or  'celebrating  a holiday', and it is usually used to describe  the   three pilgrimage feasts of God (i.e., the Passover season, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Shelters/Ingathering). The noun 'hag' means pilgrim-feast  or holiday (i.e., a day or season of religious joy).

Although the nation as a whole was supposed to worship God in the place  where  he  placed his name, learn his  ways,  and  rejoice before him, a specific command was given to every male Israelite to appear before him during these three festival seasons:

"Three times in the year every male of yours shall be seen before the face of the Lord, the God of Israel. For I will expel nations from before your face, and you will make broad your borders;  and no  one shall covet your land, as you go up to appear before  the Lord your God three times in the year" (Ex.34:23-24 Para.).

Because observing these festivals meant that many of the  Israelites would leave their property unprotected, God  promised  that their  property would remain safe while they  attended  the annual observances and festivals.

One of the reasons the males of Israel were to appear before  God during  the three festival seasons was that they represented  the leadership of Israel and bore within their flesh the outward sign (i.e., circumcision)  that the nation of Israel  was  under  the terms and conditions of the Abramic Covenant (Gen.17:10-14).

"Three  times  in a year shall all your males appear  before  the Lord your 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 shelters" (Deut.16:16 Para.).

The three festival seasons fell within the three main agricultural  seasons  of  Palestine: The  spring harvest  of  barley;  the  early summer harvest of wheat; and the fall harvest of fruit.

The  three  festival seasons contained  the  following  commanded observances and festivals:

Spring:

Early Summer:

Fall:

The Worship of God

From the first chapter of the Book of Genesis to the last chapter of the Book of Revelation, God reveals and gives instructions on how to worship him in order to receive the  blessings that he wants to give.

One of the very first things the Israelites were told to do  when they  entered  the promised land was to completely  destroy  and erase all traces of the pagan worship system that existed there:

Deuteronomy 12:1-4 KJV

"These are the statutes and judgments, which you shall observe to do in the land, which the Lord your God gives you to possess  it, all the days that you live upon the earth. You  shall utterly destroy all the places, within  the  nations which  you shall possess wherein they served their gods, upon the high  mountains,  and upon the hills, and under every green tree:  And you shall  overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and  burn their groves with fire; and you shall cut down the graven images of  their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that  place. You shall not do so to the Lord your God" (vs.1-4).

A  very important thing to keep in mind as one studies the  Bible is that God wants to be worshiped in a certain way and he will not accept  any other method of worship. Any method of  worship  that God has not sanctioned is considered sin: a pollution and perversion  of  his  law of worship. Any deviation from  God's  lawful worship system always leads people away from him and his  purpose and  plan for  humanity. Therefore, he told  the  Israelites  to eliminate  these objectionable practices and objects  of  worship from  the land they were to inherit. God alone would  choose  the place, the methods, and the times in which Israel  should  come before him in formal worship.

Seek God

"But to the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your  tribes to put his name there, even to his habitation  shall you seek, and there you shall come" (Deut.12:5 Para.).

In this verse, the English word 'seek' is translated from the Hebrew word 'darash', which can  mean 'pursuit', 'search', 'seek', 'ask', or 'worship'.

The Israelites were  to go to the place were God placed his name and presence. There, they were to commune with God, pay homage  to him,  reverence him, and do his will. There, they  were  to seek him through obedience and worship.

Where  God  placed his name and presence was the  only  place  on earth  where these things could be accomplished in a formal  way because this was where the presence of God resided.

Rejoice Before God

Deuteronomy 16:11, 13-15 KJV

"And  you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you,  and  your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your  maidservant, and the Levite that is within your gates, and the  stranger, and the  fatherless, and the widow, that are among you,  in  the place which the Lord your God has chosen to place his name there" (v11).

Anyone who was considered a part of national Israel, regardless  of their  personal status (e.g., child, servant, slave, or   proselyte),   was  to observe the festivals of God by  worshiping  and rejoicing before him:

"You  shall  observe the feast of tabernacles seven  days,  after that you have gathered in your grain and your wine: And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter,  and your manservant,  and  your maidservant,  and  the  Levite,  the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates. Seven days you shall keep a solemn feast to the Lord  your God in the place where he shall choose; because the Lord your God shall  bless  you in all your increase, and in all the  works  of your hands; therefore, you shall surely rejoice" (vs.13-15).

The  Israelites had a great deal to rejoice about throughout  the year as they lived their lives under the guidance and  protection of the Creator God. As they came to these very special days, they were to remember that they were the only nation and people on the earth  that  God claimed as his personal treasure  and  children. They were the only people on earth that God had personally chosen to represent  him on earth. They were the only people  on  earth whom  God  had  personally promised to bless and  care  for.  The Israelites truly had a great deal about which to  rejoice.

A Time of Remembrance

"And  you shall remember that you were a bondsman in Egypt: and you shall observe and do these statutes" (Deut.16:12 KJV).

Each annual observance reminded the Israelites of their  national captivity and slavery in Egypt and that God had brought them out of this slavery and made them his children.

A Time to Sacrifice and Bring Tribute

"And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your  sacrifices,  and  your tithes, and heave offerings of your  hand,  and your  vows,  and your freewill offerings, and the  first-born of your herds and of your flocks" (Deut.12:6 Para.).

"You  shall truly tithe all the increase of your seed,  that  the field brings forth year by year" (Deut.14:22 KJV).

"And you shall keep the feast of weeks to the Lord your God  with a  tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which  you  shall give  to  the Lord your God, according as the Lord your  God  has blessed you:" (Deut.16:10 KJV).

"And none shall appear before me empty:" (Ex.23:15 KJV).  See also Lev.23:37-38.

Tithes and Freewill Offerings

The  annual  festivals were a time when the  Israelites  were  to bring the tithe of the land and freewill offerings to present  to God.

All who worked the land and received an increase from it were  to set  apart  a certain amount of this increase to be used  as  God directed.  The increase of the land was to be divided into  three tenths (tithes), which were each intended for a specific purpose.

The First Tenth

"And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth  in Israel  for  an inheritance, for their service when  they  serve, even   the  service  of  the  tabernacle  of  the  congregation" (Num.18:21 KJV). See also Deut.14:28-29.

God  required the first tenth to be given for the support of  the priesthood  and the Levites who performed the many services  that God required as a part of his system of worship.

The Festival Tenth

The second tenth was to only be used for the purpose of celebrating and enjoying the annual observances and festivals:

"You  may not eat within your gates your tenth of your grain,  or of your wine, or of your oil" (Deut.12:17; 14:23 Para.).

These annual days of worship were such an important part of God's worship  system  that he required a full tenth of the  increase from  the land of Israel to be used by the Israelites  to  attend and  enjoy these festivals.

Deuteronomy 14:23-27 Paraphrased

"And  you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place  where he  shall choose to place his name, the tithe of your  grain,  of your wine, and your oil, and the first of your herds and of your flocks;  that  you may learn to fear the Lord  your  God  always" (v23).

"If  the  trip is to distant from you, and you are  not  able  to carry  it there; or if the place be too far from you,  which  the Lord  your God shall choose to set his name there, when the Lord God has  blessed you: Then turn it into money, and bind  up  the money  in your hand, and go to the place where the Lord your  God shall choose" (vs.24-25).

"And you shall use that money for whatever your soul seeks after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or  for whatever  your soul desires: and you shall eat there before  the Lord your  God and rejoice, you, and your household,  And  don't forget  the Levite that is within your gates; for he has no  part nor inheritance with you" (vs.26-27).

The Tenth for the Poor

Every  third year, a tenth of the increase was to be  brought  and given for the support of widows, orphans,  and strangers in need:

"And  at  the end of three years you shall bring  forth  all  the    tenth  of  your increase    the same year, and shall  lay  it  up within  your gates: And the Levite, (because he has no  part nor inheritance with you), and the stranger, and the fatherless,  and the widow, which are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work  of your hand which you do" (Deut.14:28-29 Para.). See also Deut.ch.12 & 14.

The Freewill Offerings

"Three  times  in a year shall all your males appear  before  the Lord   your 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 shelters; and they shall not appear before the Lord empty: but each  with a gift in his hand, according to the blessing  of  the Lord your God which he has given you" (Deut.16:16-17 Para.). See also Ex.23:15.

In  addition to the tenth of their increase, the festival  tenth, and  the tenth for the poor, God required all Israelite males  to come  before him to present him with a freewill offering to  show their appreciation for his blessings.

Blessings for Obedience

If the Israelites were faithful in their observance of the annual festivals  and in bringing the required tithes and  offerings  to God at the place where he placed his name and presence, he  promised to give them unimaginable physical blessings:

"Bring you all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may  be food in my house, and prove me now, says the Lord of hosts, if  I will  not  open  you the windows of heaven, and pour  you out  a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.  And I  will  rebuke  the devourer for your sakes, and  he  shall  not destroy  the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine  cast her  fruit before the time in the field, says the Lord of  hosts" (Mal.3:10-11 Para.).

Learn to Worship the Lord

"And  you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place  which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of your grain, of  your wine, and of your oil, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear [revere/respect] the Lord your God always" (Deut.14:23 KJV).

In order to be at peace with God and to perform his will in their lives,  the Israelites had to learn to love, revere, and  respect God. A major part of this learning process concerned contact with God through the formal worship system at the place he  chose  to place his name and presence. There, the people would fulfill their obligations for tithes, tribute, offerings, and freewill gifts to God.  And they were to remember, speak of, and meditate on  the great things that God had done and was doing for them individually and as a nation.

Through  the repetition of the annual observances and  festivals and practicing God's law and way of life, the Israelites were   constantly  reminded of God's greatness and his  love  and concern for them.

UNDER THE NEW AGREEMENT

With  the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and  the  establishment of the new agreement between God and his people, many of the  literal,  symbolic, and prophetic meanings   of  the  annual festivals were fulfilled. However, there are still many that have not yet been fulfilled, and there is  still much  to be learned and understood about the plan of God as  pictured  by these annual observances and festivals. Under  the  new agreement,  these festivals must be observed in light of their present meaning and purpose as we wait for the return of  Jesus Christ as King of kings at the end of this age.

The Place of Worship

While  the  temple in Jerusalem existed and was attended  by  the priesthood,  anyone who wanted to perform certain acts  of  worship could do so at Jerusalem. However, after the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., there was no place for the priesthood to officiate  or perform sacrifices.

Today, the Father's name rests upon his children, and his presence dwells within their flesh through the power of  his  holy spirit. Anyone who has the name and presence  of  the Father dwelling within them is a temple of God on earth. See 1.Cor.3:16-17; 6:19-20; Eph.2:19-22.

Within  this  temple of flesh, the law of God is written  in  the hearts  of  his children (Jer.31:31-34; Heb.8:7-11). As  long  as they live within this temple of flesh, they have the authority to communicate, serve, and worship the Father wherever they are and receive daily spiritual nourishment to sustain them  as  they journey through life.

Within the children of God is the most holy place on earth; it is where  the spirit of God resides and where God the  Father  and Jesus Christ meet with those who are called to salvation.

A worshiper of God no  longer has to go to a  physical  temple  to offer  sacrifices  or to keep the annual observances:  all  annual observances  can  now  be observed anywhere a child  of  God  is or  wherever  one desires to fellowship with other children of God  and worship  God  the Father.

Assemble Together

Although assembling together is not a requirement for  salvation, it  should  be a highly desirable and profitable  part  of  one's spiritual growth process. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts those who  are called to salvation and are serious about their  calling and spiritual growth to meet together:

"Let  us hold fast the profession of our faith without  wavering; (for  he  is  faithful that promised;) And let  us  consider  one another  to provoke to love and to good works: Not forsaking  the assembling  of ourselves together, as the manner of some is;  but exhorting one another:  and so much the more, as you see the  day approaching" (Heb.10:23-25 KJV).

SUMMARY

There is no doubt that the commanded observances and festivals must be observed by the elect of God, and that an understanding and proper observance of these special days is an important part of one's spiritual growth process and walk with God. The following is a list of the major things that can be learned through the observance and study of these special days:

The  Father wants his children to be happy. He is not  the  stern harsh  God that he has so often been pictured to be. One  of  the ways  that he has provided for our happiness and our spiritual growth  and  development in  righteous character is through his special observances. These observances and  festivals are specifically set apart for our physical and spiritual rejuvenation as we live our lives in anticipation of the rewards  that he  has  promised for faithful obedience to his law and  way  of life.

Hopefully, the following study into each of  the annual  festivals will give you a greater understanding and appreciation for  God's plan for your personal salvation and the salvation of humanity.

By B. L. Cocherell, file b5w45