by Andy White
“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.” — Leviticus 23:2
In the Old Covenant, God gave Israel several yearly feasts. These feasts commemorated important events in Israel’s history, marked significant times in the yearly calendar, and illustrated the truths of God’s grace, mercy and plan of redemption. They were types and shadows of the fulfillment that was to come in Christ. By studying them today, the character of the LORD and the work of Jesus Christ is more fully revealed to us.
In addition to the weekly seventh day sabbath rest, God gave Israel yearly feasts, which provided them opportunities for rest, solemn assembly and celebration. The Old Covenant calendar was different from our calendar today in several respects. For example, the months were marked by lunar cycles and began with the new moon, and the first month (Nisan) of the festival year took place around the beginning of spring. For this reason, Passover, taking place on the 14th day of the month, would have corresponded with a full moon, while Trumpets, on the 1st of the month, was on a new moon. Some of the feasts were closely connected together (like Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread), so depending on how you count them, there are seven observances ordained in Leviticus 23, comprising three festival periods.
The Kindness of God
These festivals demonstrate the lovingkindness of the LORD in many ways. In ordaining these annual commemorations, God gave rhythm to the daily life of his people, and he provided opportunities for rest, remembrance and rejoicing. He revived their strength while revealing his righteousness and plan of redemption.
Rest is a necessity for God’s people. We need opportunity to cease from our labors and renew our strength. God demonstrated his abundant kindness, not only by providing Israel with the weekly seventh day rest, but by numerous additional days throughout the year where they were not allowed to work. Consider the amazing love of God whose law is for the good of his people. In Jesus, this perfect rest is fulfilled. He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Those that believe in Jesus have ceased from their own works and entered into his perfect rest.
The feasts were an opportunity for remembrance of what the LORD had done for them. The Passover began with God’s mighty act of deliverance to bring Israel out of slavery in Egypt. At the first Passover, the blood of the sacrificial lamb was placed on the doorposts of the houses. As God passed through the land of Egypt and smote them with judgment, when he saw the blood on the doorposts of the Israelites’ houses, he passed over them. Year after year when they celebrated the Passover, they remembered how God delivered them from bondage in Egypt and provided a sacrifice whose blood preserved them from destruction.
In the midst of the solemn remembrances, the feasts were an opportunity for the people to greatly rejoice and celebrate. Their timing placed them around key times in the harvest year, where the people could delight in the abundance of harvest that God had and would yet provide them. Sacrifices testified of God’s forgiveness and mercy, and feasting celebrated the abundance of his gifts. During the Feast of Tabernacles, for example, the people would dwell in tabernacles, feast, and rejoice before the LORD seven days.
While God enjoins these feasts for the people, he demonstrates his lovingkindness yet again as he charges the people of God to show mercy and kindness to the poor and the stranger in the land. “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.” He is a generous God of abundance and his people can live their lives with a big-hearted bounteousness, knowing that God will always provide more than enough.
Types and Shadows
The Old Testament feasts pointed back at God’s past deliverance of Israel, and pointed forward to the ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Paul writes of them that they are “a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:17). In Jesus, God’s plan of deliverance, atonement, redemption, celebration, and all other things prefigured by the Old Covenant order are brought to their fullness.
The apostles often made direct and indirect references to the Old Covenant feasts to teach New Covenant spiritual truths as they attain their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The following examples by no means exhaust the ways Christ fulfilled the feasts of the LORD, but they demonstrate how the lessons from the feasts apply to Christ and his disciples today.
Paul exhorted the Corinthians to purge their lives and their church from sin by referencing the Feast of Unleavened Bread: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
When Peter wrote 1 Peter 1:18-19 — “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” — he connected Jesus with the Old Testament sacrifices, like those offered at Trumpets, on the Day of Atonement, or at other times which were all to be “without blemish” (Number 29:2, 13).
The resurrection of Christ is described as “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20), showing that his resurrection held the promise of the greater harvest yet to come. This is all the more significant because his victory over the grave took place on the day of the spring firstfruits offering during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Exactly seven weeks later, “when the day of Pentecost [The Feast of Weeks] was fully come,” God poured out his Holy Spirit upon the people. This began the reaping of a great spiritual harvest, and was the earnest guarantee of the consummation of God’s plan of redemption including the gathering of all the elect, the resurrection of the body, and our eternal inheritance.
The Feasts of the LORD demonstrate the lovingkindness of God for his people and illustrate God’s plan of redemption as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In the Feast of Tabernacles, the children of Israel dwelled in booths and rejoiced before the LORD. Let us rejoice in the LORD in the fulness of the New Covenant revealed in Jesus Christ, where the living God has made his dwelling place in our midst (Ephesians 2:22).
“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3)
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