3 Jewish Feasts of the Old Testament You Should Know

3 Jewish Feasts of the Old Testament You Should Know

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The Old Testament describes three major feasts that became part of the Jewish annual calendar, each having its own unique theological significance for the community. In this article, Jeremiah Garrett summarizes their history and locates them in the Bible’s story.

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The Old Testament describes three major feasts that became part of the Jewish annual calendar, each having its own unique theological significance for the community (2 Chr. 8:13). These three major feasts include the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Pesach/Passover), the Feast of Weeks (Shavout/Pentecost), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkoth). Although other festivals or holy days are mentioned in the Old Testament—e.g. Purim, the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah/New Year), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Day of Assembly (Azaret)—the article here will focus on providing a description of these three major festivals. Included in the description will be a discussion of their biblical origins, the dates on which they are celebrated, the components of each of the festivals, what each one commemorates, and its implications in the New Testament for the Church today.

1) The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Pesach/Passover)

Passover is perhaps the most important of Jewish festivals in the Old Testament. The origins of Passover in Exodus 12-15 are well known from Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments, though the Old Testament text unfortunately is not often as widely read. In Exodus 12, the LORD first gives the instructions for the Passover festival. Passover occurs in the first month of the Jewish religious calendar, the month of Nisan, corresponding to March, April, or sometimes May on our calendar. On the evening before the fifteenth day of the month, Israelites were to sacrifice a lamb and place its blood above their doorposts as a sign that the angel of judgment passed over them when they were in Egypt, sparing their lives. After the Egyptians had received judgment, they admonished Israel to leave immediately. In preparation for this exodus, the people were to make bread without leaven, for it had no time to rise. They were to eat their meal in haste knowing that the following day would be the day of their deliverance. As a memorial, the Feast of Unleavened bread continued to be practiced throughout the Old Testament times and beyond, a memorial of God’s redemptive acts for His people.

Although Exodus 12 has the most detailed instructions for Passover, additional (rather, repeated) instructions also appear in Leviticus 23, Numbers 9, Deuteronomy 16, and—eschatologically—in Ezek 45. In pre-exilic times, the festival is observed by Joshua in Joshua 5, by Josiah in 2 Kings 23 and 2 Chronicles 35, and by Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 30. Ezra 6 also records a post-exilic celebration of Passover by the returnees from exile. Perhaps the most widely known reference to the Passover in the Bible by Christians relates to Jesus being crucified during Passover week in the Gospels (Mark 14-15, Matt. 26-27, Luke 22-23, John 18-19). The synoptic Gospels seem primarily interested in historical accuracy, placing Jesus’ death on the day before Passover, while the Gospel of John—more theologically oriented—places Jesus crucifixion on the day of Passover. It appears John is less interested in relaying the precise historical date and is more interested in likening Jesus to the Passover lamb sacrificed for the redemption of God’s people.

2) The Feast of Weeks (Shavout/Pentecost)

In the same way that the Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrates the origination of the Exodus, the Feast of Weeks—also known as the Feast of Ingathering (Exod. 34:22)—celebrates the culmination of the Exodus at Mount Sinai. The Feast of Weeks occurs seven weeks and one day following Passover, thus the Greek term Pentecost, meaning “the 50th (day),” following the historical account in Exodus 19:1-3 of Israel’s arrival at Sinai fifty days after the Passover. The Feast of Weeks included giving grain offerings to God and included a “holy convocation” (Num. 28:26, NASB), and a day of rest (Num. 28:26, NASB). The phrase “holy convocation” perhaps could better be rendered “a convocation of holiness,” i.e. a “declaration of holiness” or “call to holiness,” reminiscent of the assembly at the foot of Sinai wherein God called His people to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:3-6). During the festival, grain offerings were given as freewill offerings to God in gratitude for redeeming His people and calling them to holiness (Exod. 34:22; Deut. 16:10, 16).

God’s spirit descended upon Sinai at Pentecost in Exodus 19, offering Israel prevenient grace in the form of the Law and a call to holiness. In the same way, the Holy Spirit was sent upon the Church at Pentecost in Acts 2, offering the apostles and all who would follow prevenient grace enabling us to respond to His call to holiness.

3) The Feast of Booths (Sukkoth) and The Day of Assembly (Azaret)

The Feast of Booths is prescribed in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16. The festival is a weeklong feast that begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month Tishrei, roughly late-September to mid-October on our modern calendar. The feast begins with a collection of palm and willow branches to be used as a symbol of rejoicing before the LORD (Lev 23:40). All of Israel would camp out in tents for the entire week (23:42), offering all types of sacrifices as burnt offerings to the LORD (Lev 23:37-38). The prescription in Deuteronomy extends participation in the festival not only to (male) Israelite citizens but also to priests, orphans, widows, immigrants, and both male and female children and slaves (Deut. 16:14). The purpose of the Feast of Booths was to remember the giving of the Law and to renew the covenant made between Israel and the LORD (Duet. 31:10-13).

The Prophet Zechariah references the Feast of Booths eschatologically, metaphorically describing a time where all nations would come into covenant with the LORD or be wiped out (Zech 14). In Ezra, the scribe notes that the celebration was held during the Second Temple period (Ezra 3:4). In the New Testament, the Gospel of John implies that the disciples participated in the Feast of Booths while stating that Jesus did not, stating His time had not come (John 7:1-9). However, during the Feast of Booths, Jesus secretly went to the Temple and was teaching (John 7:10-24). As the Feast of Booths was a celebration of the giving of the Law, Jesus’ lack of participation in it may signify his refusal to endorse the celebration by those who do not follow the Law, while His teaching in the middle of it may signify His authority to teach God’s true Law.

The Feast of Booths lasted seven days. On the eighth day, a separate but related holiday was celebrated, the Day of Assembly (Azaret). On this day, the people were to “have a holy convocation” (Lev 23:36, NASB), perhaps better rendered “a convocation of holiness,”  i.e. a “declaration of holiness” or “call to holiness.” The eighth day was to be a day of rest (Num 29:35) where the people would solemnly dedicate themselves to the LORD (Neh 8:18). In Chronicles, this is the day on which the altar was to be dedicated (2 Chr 7:9). Ezekiel may have this day in mind when he says it will be the day that the LORD accepts the restoration of offerings in the eschatological temple (Ezek 43:27).

Bonus Feast: The Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah)

According to the Gospel of John, The Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) had become an important festival by the first century CE (John 10:22), though it is not directly mentioned in the Old Testament. The Feast of Dedication celebrates the (re)dedication of the temple and of its altar, and was instituted in approximately 165 BCE following the Seleucid (Greek) desolation of the temple as described apocalyptically in Daniel 9. A description of the Feast of Dedication can be found in 1 Maccabees 4 and 2 Maccabees 2, though the original Hebrew use of the word Hanukkah has been lost to the Greek translation egkainismos, “renewal” or “restoration.” Hanukkah is an 8-day festival in the month of Kislev, usually December on our calendar. It was originally instituted to restore the second temple to its original purpose following Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) sacrificing a pig to Zeus in the temple in approximately 167 BCE. Although Chronicles has a similar account of the dedication of the altar on the Day of Assembly (Azaret) after the Feast of Booths (Sukkoth), this was a separate occurrence (2 Chr 7:9). Chronicles’ dedication was of the original second temple and occurred in late-September to mid-October in the late sixth or early fifth century BCE. Although the word Hanukkah is used for the “dedication” in Chronicles, the meaning of the word in Maccabees and the Gospel of John had come to connote the rededication and renewal of the temple in the second century BCE.

Get help making sense of the Old Testament, get Epic of Eden by Sandy Richter now. Learn about how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, get Timothy Tennent’s Christ the Fulfillment now. Watch the video by Bill Arnold and Ben Witherington explaining the Christian’s relationship to the Old Testament law here.

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14 Responses

  1. Thank you for the information on these feasts. In preparation for a chapel message from the Psalms at our university I’ve been reading up on Old Testament Jewish feasts. Somewhere I got it in my mind that for three of the series of feasts all Jewish citizens were required to assemble in Jerusalem (I’m sorry – I don’t remember my source for this idea). I was wondering if this was really true in Old and New Testament Hebrew culture. From the Gospels and Acts 2 this seems so for Passover and for Pentecost, but I’m not sure about the Feast of Booths. That this done was every year is very interesting. Again, thank you for this article.

    Bill Anderson
    Hokusei Gakuen University
    Sapporo, Japan

  2. Shalom Jeremiah K. Garrett…I am a Jew from the first bourn of Israel…Then thanks to our kinsman Redeemer Yeshua Meshiach, I became born again. I enjoyed your letters about the Hebrew Festivals which we Messianic Jews still keep, as our Messiah did also! and Hanukkah! when His light outshone that of the religious robes of Rabbis Pastors and ministers today also! I am grateful also for my tallit which Elohim told Yeshua and all the sons of Israel, to tie a blue cord onto each corner and wear it in service to Elohim-God! As you know already Jeremiah it was not the tallit’s which were burned at Hanukkah! sadly many Gentile Christian assume I should not wear my tallit when at their Sunday meetings, unknown to them I always thank Elohim for the privilege of putting the righteousness of His Son Yeshua Meshiach on, and dwelling in this Jews circumcised heart! The tallit is to remember the Law of God! putting Yeshua on is having the authority to fulfil them in love of my God neighbour and myself! I want to say shalom to you Jeremiah I love you also for reminding the Gentiles that the original Jewish festivals including Hanukkah are the true ones. I and other Jews first born only! and born again also! thank Elohim for Hanukkah as Yeshua did! For the Maccabees who stopped the Greeks slaughtering pigs on the alter, in the temple were Jewish people worshipped the only true God the God of Israel…Jeremiah we Jews love it when we here you Gentiles telling others about the true gospels, like treating replacement theologies today! as those pigs the Greeks slaughtered in the name of their gods yesterday! Shalom Howard Shergold.

  3. Each of the main feasts described are a natural feast that points to the spiritual feasts of God.
    The Spiritual feasts are 3 separate experiences in the life of a believer of God. Salvation, Baptism of the Holy Spirit and Resurrection from the dead. Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles…

    1. Hello Miss Bonnie,

      I take issue with your lack of telling and sharing the truth: Salvation is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. When we are born again, we are immersed in fire. The only ‘thing’ that can arise from being dunked in fire is pure gold. We are pure, spiritual gold to God, when we are purified by fire. Then we live this out by faith… this which is already true of us in the spiritual realm. And, the flesh (the earthly) counts for nothing. Earthly experience is nothing in which to trust.

      Thank you for trying though,

      Mr. Peck

  4. Thank you for the article. There was some confusion however with the sentence about “phentermine”. I assume this was unintended. You may want to edit this.

  5. Thank you so muchy for this clarification on the issue of the three feast,I have been helped a lot through my studies with this information. With lots of love from Mercy

  6. Brother s Sisters, all us alike sure supposed be observing these feasts and annual sabbaths or holidays
    If you are new Israel or spiritual Jews!!!! Binding on uswards yet this day…weekly sabbath…do the research my dear Brethren, for yourself then turn to the God of the Bible the LORD OF SABBATH, JEHOVAH GOD – – -by all means the world christianity continue saying Its for the JEWs – – -that is your ignorance of ELOHIM.

  7. I have one question concerning the Passover at Christ’s death. Is it not possible that the Passover was Thursday when Jesus ate with His disciples and that Day of Preparation referred to the day before the Sabbath and not necessarily the Passover? Is not the whole week during The Feast sometimes considered “Passover”. Maybe John had it accurately pinned and the Synoptics mention a generalization?

  8. Correction: The Feast of Ingathering (Exod 34:22; 23:16), which occurs in the Autumn Fall of the year, is actually related to the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles (Sukkot) and NOT the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot). And the purpose of the Feast of Booths (Sukkot) is to recall their days in tents in the wilderness (Lev 23:42-43) and not about the giving of the Law at Sinai (i.e., Deut 31:10 is speaking about when or the occasion to “read” the Law and not about commemorating the receiving of the Law). Later rabbinic tradition viewed the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) as an anticipation of the revelation of the Law/Torah and Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah.

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