“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons.” (Leviticus 23:1-4)
God designated certain holidays that Israel was to celebrate. Each one was a specific reminder of what God had done for them, and the way of celebrating it was designed to remind them of what happened. Each one was to be a day reserved solely for remembering what God had done.
The first one was the Sabbath or Saturday. It was to be a day or rest and worship, and no servile work was to be done, although it was specified that animals could be taken to water or the sick cared for. It was a reminder that God rested when his work was finished, and that man needed time to rest as well. In Mark 2:27, Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” It was for man’s spiritual, emotional and physical health. Unfortunately, over time it became solely about ritual observance rather than man’s benefit.
Each of the holidays were to be a holy convocation or time of assembling together specifically to worship.
“In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord's passover.” (Leviticus 23:5)
The Jewish calendar is based on the movement of the moon around the earth. Each month starts with the new moon. Since the lunar movements do not exactly coincide with the movement of the sun around the earth, the exact date of the new moon varies from year to year, although it can be readily calculated. To compensate the Jews used a complex combinations of twelve and thirteen month years. The month Nissan thus starts shortly after the spring equinox which occurs on March twenty first. Fourteen days later, they were to celebrate the Passover. As a result Passover nearly always falls in April.
A similar method is used to determine Easter, but since it is celebrated on the Sunday after the first new moon the spring equinox, Easter‘s date varies far more. Thanks to the different ways of calculating, Easter can fall the same week, or up to a month before Passover.
Instructions for the celebration of Passover are found in Exodus 12. It is celebrating the death angel passing over and sparing the Jews when he killed the firstborn of Egypt. The instructions are a re-enactment of what the Jews did that night. Passover is still celebrated, although in a modified form.
Feast Of Unleavened Bread
“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. In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.” (Leviticus 23:6-8)
Immediately after the death angel passed through Egypt, Pharaoh ordered the Jews out of the land, but after thinking about it changed his mind and ordered the army to bring them back. For six days, the Jews fled across the Sinai peninsula to escape Pharaoh’s army, only stopping to prepare a quick meal of unleavened bread similar to a corn tortilla but made of wheat. On the seventh day, they crossed the Gulf of Aqaba, a branch of the Red Sea, at Baalzephon, where the Egyptian army drowned.
The feast of unleavened bread was to commemorate that seven days of flight from the Egyptians culminating on the seventh day with the crossing the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army. They were to assemble on the seventh day to celebrate their deliverance from Egypt.
Feast of Ingathering or First Fruits
“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)
When they began to harvest their crops, they were to take the first bundle or sheaf to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord as an appreciation for what he was going to provide. It was to be offered on the first day of the week, on the first day of harvest. Along with the first fruits, they were to offer a yearling lamb for a burnt offering, a food offering of flour mixed with olive oil, and a drink offering. None of the crop was to be eaten until the sacrifices had been offered. God commanded them practice this forever, but it in seldom practiced today.
Feast Of Weeks
“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.” (Leviticus 23:15-21)
Seven weeks after they offered the first fruits of their harvest the Jews were to come before the Lord with a new food offering to thank God for what he was providing. It was to consist of two leavened loaves of bread as the first fruits of what was produced from the crops. Along with them they were to offer seven yearling lambs, a young bull and two rams as a burnt offering, along with the specified food and drink offerings as a sweet smell of thanksgiving. This was to be followed with a sin offering and peace offerings which were waved before the Lord along with the two loaves of leavened bread before being given to the priest. This also was to be performed forever.
By Jesus’ day the feast of weeks was known as Pentecost, and was dated from Passover, rather than the first day of harvest. Today it is called Shavuot, and is celebrated as a commemoration of the giving of the Torah or law on Mount Sinai, rather than as a thanksgiving for the food God provides.
“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 23:22)
No effort was to be made to get every bit of the crop. Anything that was missed or hard to get was to be left behind for those who might need it. They were to trust God to provide enough without worrying.