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:
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.
"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.
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).
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