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Reference: Feasts


God appointed several festivals, or days of rest and worship, among the Jews, to perpetuate the memory of great events wrought in favor of them: the Sabbath commemorated the creation of the world; the Passover, the departure out of Egypt; the Pentecost, the law given at Sinai, etc. At the three great feasts of the year, the Passover, Pentecost, and that of Tabernacles, all the males of the nation were required to visit the temple, Ex 23:14-17; De 16:16-17; and to protect their borders from invasion during their absence, the shield of a special providence was always interposed, Ex 34:23-24. The other festivals were the Feast of Trumpets, or New Moon, Purim, Dedication, the Sabbath year, and the year of Jubilee. These are described elsewhere. The observance of these sacred festivals was adapted not merely to freshen the remembrance of their early history as a nation, but to keep alive the influence of religion and the expectation of the Messiah, to deepen their joy in God, to dispel animosities and jealousies, and to form new associations between the different tribes and families. See also Day of EXPIATION.

In the Christian church, we have no festival that clearly appears to have been instituted by our Savior, or his apostles; but as we commemorate his death as often as we celebrate his supper, he has hereby seemed to institute a perpetual feast. Christians have always celebrated the memory of his resurrection by regarding the Sabbath, which we see, from Re 1:10, was in John's time commonly called "the Lord's day." Feasts of love, Jude 1:12, were public banquets of a frugal kind, instituted by the primitive Christians, and connected by them with the celebration of the Lord's supper. The provisions were contributed by the more wealthy, and were common to all Christians, whether rich or poor, who chose to partake. Portions were also sent to the sick and absent members. These love-feasts were intended as an exhibition of mutual Christian affection; but they became subject to abuses, and were afterwards generally discontinued, 1Co 11:17-34.

The Hebrews were a hospitable people, and were wont to welcome their guests with a feast, and dismiss them with another, Ge 19:3; 31:27; Jg 6:19; 2Sa 3:20; 2Ki 6:23. The returning prodigal was thus welcomed, Lu 15:23. Many joyful domestic events were observed with feasting: birthdays, etc., Ge 21:8; 40:20; Job 1:4; Mt 14:6; marriages, Ge 29:22; Jg 14:10; Joh 2:1-10; sheep shearing and harvesting, Jg 9:27; 1Sa 25:2,36; 2Sa 13:23. A feast was also provided at funerals, 2Sa 3:35; Jer 16:7. Those who brought sacrifices and offerings to the temple were wont to feast upon them there, with joy and praise to God, De 12:6-7; 1Sa 16:5; 2Sa 6:19. They were taught to invite all the needy to partake with them, De 16:11; and even to make special feasts for the poor, De 12:17-19; 14:28; 26:12-15; a custom which the Savior specially commended, Lu 14:12-14.

The manner of holding a feast was anciently marked with great simplicity. But at the time of Christ many Roman customs had been introduced. The feast or "supper" usually took place at five or six in the afternoon, and often continued to a late hour. The guests were invited some time in advance; and those who accepted the invitation were again notified by servants when the hour arrived, Mt 22:4-8; Lu 14:16-24. The door was guarded against uninvited persons; and was at length closed for the day by the hand of the master of the house, Mt 25:10; Lu 13:24. Sometimes very large numbers were present, Es 1:3,5; Lu 14:16-24; and on such occasions a "governor of the feast" was appointed, whose social qualities, tact, firmness, and temperance fitted him to preside, Joh 2:8. The guests were arranged with a careful regard to their claims to honor, Ge 43:33; 1Sa 9:22; Pr 25:6-7; Mt 23:6; Lu 14:7; in which matter the laws of etiquette are still jealously enforced in the East. Sometimes the host provided light, rich, loose robes for the company; and if so, the refusing to wear one was a gross insult, Ec 9:8; Mt 22:11; Re 3:4-5. The guests reclined around the tables; water and perfumes were served to them, Mr 7:2; Lu 7:44-46; and after eating, the hands were again washed, a servant pouring water over them. During the repast and after it various entertainments were provided; enigmas were proposed, Jg 14:12; eastern tales were told; music and hired dancers, and often excessive drinking, etc., occupied the time, Isa 5:12; 24:7-9; Am 6:5. See EATING, FOOD.

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Hag (from a root, "to dance") is the Hebrew applied to the Passover, and still more to the feast of tabernacles, as both were celebrated with rejoicings and participation of food (Ex 12:14; Le 23:39; Nu 29:12; De 16:22). But moed is the general term for all sacred assemblies convoked on stated anniversaries; God's people by His appointment meeting before Him in brotherly fellowship for worship. Their communion was primarily with God, then with one another. These national feasts tended to join all in one brotherhood. Hence, arose Jeroboam's measures to counteract the effect on his people (1Ki 12:26-27). Hezekiah made the revival of the national Passover a primary step in his efforts for a reformation (2Ch 30:1). The Roman government felt the feast a time when especial danger of rebellion existed (Mt 26:5; Lu 13:1).

The "congregations," "calling of assemblies," "solemn meetings" (Isa 1:13; Ps 81:3), both on the convocation days of the three great feasts, passover, Pentecost, and tabernacles, and also on the sabbaths, imply assemblies for worship, the forerunners of the synagogue (compare 2Ki 4:23). The septenary number prevails in the great feasts. Pentecost was seven weeks (sevens) after Passover; passover and the feast of tabernacles lasted seven days each; the days of holy convocation were seven in the year, two at Passover, one at pentecost, one at the feast of trumpets, one on the day of atonement (the first day or new moon of the seventh month), and two at the feast of tabernacles. The last two solemn days were in the seventh month, and the cycle of feasts is seven months, from Nisan to Tisri. There was also the sabbatical year, and the year of Jubilee.

The continued observance of the three feasts commemorative of the great facts of Israelite history make it incredible that the belief of those facts could have been introduced at any period subsequent to the supposed time of their occurrence if they never took place. The day, the month, and every incident of Israel's deliverance out of Egypt are embalmed in the anniversary passover. On the three great feasts each Israelite was bound to "appear before the Lord," i.e., attend in the court of the tabernacle or temple and make his offering with gladness (Leviticus 23; De 27:7). Pious women often went up to the Passover: as Lu 2:41, Mary; 1Sa 1:7; 2:19, Hannah. Those men who might happen to be unable to attend at the proper time kept the feast the same day in the succeeding month (Nu 9:10-11). On the days of holy convocation all ordinary work was suspended (Le 23:21-35). The three great feasts had a threefold bearing.

I. They marked the three points of time as to the fruits of the earth.

II. They marked three epochs in Israel's past history.

III. They pointed prophetically to three grand antitypical events of the gospel kingdom.

I. They marked the three points of time as to the fruits of the earth.

(I.) At the Passover in spring, in the month Abib, the first green ears of barley were cut, and were a favorite food, prepared as parched grain, but first of all a handful of green ears was presented to the Lord.

(2) Fifty days (as Pentecost means) after Passover came the feast of weeks, i.e. a week of weeks after Passover. The now ripe wheat, before being cut, was sanctified by its firstfruits, namely two loaves of fine flour, being offered to Jehovah.

(3) At the feast of tabernacles, in the end of the common year and the seventh month of the religious year, there was a feast of ingathering when all the fruits of the field had been gathered in. There was no offering of consecration, for the offerings for sanctifying the whole had been presented long before. It was not a consecration of what was begun, but a joyful thanksgiving for what was completed. See for the spiritual lesson Pr 3:9; Ps 118:15.

II. They marked three epochs in Israel's past history. Each of the three marked a step in the HISTORICAL progress of Israel.

(1) The Passover commemorated the deliverance out of Egypt when Jehovah passed over Israel, protecting them from the destroying angel and sparing them, and so achieving for them the first step of independent national life as God's covenant people.

(2) Pentecost marked the giving of the law on Sinai, the second grand era in the history of the elect nation. God solemnly covenanted, "If ye will obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people, and ye shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:5).

(3) All the nation now wanted was a home. The feast of tabernacles commemorates the establishment of God's people in the land of promise, their pleasant and peaceful home, after the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, living in shifting tents. They took boughs of palm and willows of the brook, and made temporary huts of branches and sat under the booths. So in their fixed home and land of rest their enjoyment was enhanced by the thankful and holy remembrance of past wanderings without a fixed dwelling. Joshua especially observed this feast after the settlement in Canaan (as incidentally comes out in Ne 8:17).

Solomon (appropriately to his name, which means king of peace) also did so, for his reign was preeminently the period of peaceful possession when every man dwelt under his own vine and figtree (1Ki 4:25); immediately after that the last relic of wilderness life was abolished by the ark being taken from under curtains and deposited in the magnificent temple of stone in the seventh month (2Ch 5:3), the feast of tabernacles was celebrated on the 15th day, and on the 23rd Solomon sent the great congregation away glad in heart for the goodness that the Lord had showed unto David, Solomon, and Israel His people.

The third celebration especially recorded was after the Babylonian captivity, when the Jews were re-established in their home under Ezra and Nehemiah, and all gathered themselves together as one man on the first day of the seventh month, the feast of trumpets. Then followed the reading of the law and renewal of the covenant. Then finding in the law directions as to the feast of tabernacles, they brought branches of olive, pine, myrtle, and palm, and thick trees, and made booths on their roofs and in their courts, and in the courts of God's house, and sat under them with "great gladness" (Nehemiah 8).

III. They pointed prophetically to three grand antitypical events of the gospel kingdom. Prophetically and typically.

(1) The Passover points to the Lord Jesus, the true paschal Lamb sacrificed for us, whose sacrifice brings to us a perpetual feast (1Co 5:7).

(2) Pentecost points to our Whitsuntide (Acts 2) when the Holy Spirit descending on Christ's disciples confirms Christ's covenant of grace in the heart more effectually than the law of Sinai written on stone (2Co 3:3-18).

(3) Two great steps have already been taken toward establishing the kingdom of God. Christ has risen from death as "the firstfruits of them that slept" (1Co 15:20), even as the green ears of barley were offered as firstfruits at Passover. Secondly, the Holy Spirit has not merely once descended but still abides in the church as His temple, giving us a perpetual Whitsun feast, One step more is needed; we have received redemption, also the Holy Spirit; we wait still for our inheritance and abiding home. The feast of tabernacles points on to the antitypical Canaan, the everlasting inheritance, of which the Holy Spirit is the "earnest" (Eph 1:13-14; Heb 4:8-9). The antitypical feast of tabernacles shall be under the antitypical Joshua, Jesus the Captain of our salvation, the antitypical Solomon, the Prince of peace (Isa 9:6; Re 7:9-17).

The zest of the heavenly joy of the palmbearing multitude (antitypical to the palmbearers at the feast of tabernacles), redeemed out of all nations, shall be the remembrance of their tribulations in this wilderness world forever past; for repose is sweetest after toil, and difficulties surmounted add to the delight of triumph. Salvation was the prominent topic at the feast. In later times they used to draw water from the pool of Siloam, repeating from Isaiah 12 "with joy shall ye draw water from the wells of salvation," r

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The feasts of Jehovah, as instituted under the law as given by Moses, partake more of the character of commemorations, or assemblies of the congregation to celebrate special dealings of the Lord, and consequently special seasons in the history of His people, being called 'holy convocations.' A list of the yearly feasts is given in Lev. 23. The first mentioned is the Sabbath, and if this is counted as one, by considering the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread as one there are seven in all

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FEASTS. God appointed several festivals among the Jews.

1. To perpetuate the memory of great events; so, the Sabbath commemorated the creation of the world; the passover, the departure out of Egypt; the pentecost, the law given at Sinai, &c.

2. To keep them under the influence of religion, and by the majesty of that service which he instituted among them, and which abounded in mystical symbols or types of evangelical things, to convey spiritual instruction, and to keep alive the expectation of the Messiah, and his more perfect dispensation.

3. To secure to them certain times of rest and rejoicings.

4. To render them familiar with the law; for, in their religious assemblies, the law of God was read and explained.

5. To renew the acquaintance, correspondence, and friendship of their tribes and families, coming from the several towns in the country, and meeting three times a year in the holy city.

The first and most ancient festival, the Sabbath, or seventh day, commemorated the creation. "The Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it," says Moses, "because that in it he had rested from all his work," Ge 2:3. See SABBATH.

The passover was instituted in memory of the Israelites' departure out of Egypt, and of the favour which God showed his people in sparing their first-born, when he destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians, Ex 12:14, &c. See PASSOVER.

The feast of pentecost was celebrated on the fiftieth day after the passover, in memory of the law being given to Moses on Mount Sinai, fifty days after the departure out of Egypt. They reckoned seven weeks from the passover to pentecost, beginning at the day after the passover. The Hebrews call it the feast of weeks, and the Christians, pentecost, which signifies the fiftieth day.

The feast of trumpets was celebrated on the first day of the civil year; on which the trumpets sounded, proclaiming the beginning of the year, which was in the month Tisri, answering to our September, O. S. We know no religious cause of its establishment. Moses commands it to be observed as a day of rest, and that particular sacrifices should be offered at that time.

The new moons, or first days of every month, were, in some sort, a consequence of the feasts of trumpets. The law did not oblige people to rest upon this day, but ordained only some particular sacrifices. It appears that, on these days, also, the trumpet was sounded, and entertainments were made, 1Sa 20:5-18.

The feast of expiation or atonement was celebrated on the tenth day of Tisri, which was the first day of the civil year. It was instituted for a general expiation of sins, irreverences, and pollutions of all the Israelites, from the high priest to the lowest of the people, committed by them throughout the year, Le 23:27-28; Nu 29:7. See EXPIATION, Day of.

The feast of tents, or tabernacle, on which all Israel were obliged to attend the temple, and to dwell eight days under tents of branches, in memory of their fathers dwelling forty years in tents, as travellers in the wilderness. It was kept on the fifteenth of the month Tisri, the first of the civil year. The first and seventh day of this feast were very solemn. But during the other days of the octave they might work, Le 23:34-35; Nu 29:12-13. At the beginning of the feast, two vessels of silver were carried in a ceremonious manner to the temple, one full of water, the other of wine, which were poured at the foot of the altar of burnt offerings, always on the seventh day of this festival.

Of the three great feasts of the year, the passover, pentecost, and that of the tabernacles, the octave, or seventh day after these feasts, was a day of rest as much as the festival itself; and all the males of the nation were obliged to visit the temple at these three feasts. But the law did not require them to continue there during the whole octave, except in the feast of tabernacles, when they seem obliged to be present for the whole seven days.

Beside these feasts, we find the feast of lots, or purim, instituted on occasion of the deliverance of the Jews from Haman's plot, in the reign of Ahasuerus. See PURIM.

The feast of the dedication of the temple, or rather of the restoration of the temple, which had been profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes, 1 Mac. 4:52, &c, was celebrated in winter, and is supposed to be the feast of dedication mentioned in Joh 10:22. Josephus says, that it was called the feast of lights, probably because this happiness befel them when least expected, and they considered it as a new light risen on them.

In the Christian church, no festival appears to have been expressly instituted by Jesus Christ, or his Apostles. Yet, as we commemorate the passion of Christ as often as we celebrate his Supper, he seems by this to have instituted a perpetual feast. Christians have always celebrated the memory of his resurrection, and observe this feast on every Sunday, which was commonly called the Lord's day, Re 1:10. By inference we may conclude this festival to have been instituted by Apostolic authority.

The birth-day of Christ, commonly called Christmas-day, has been generally observed by his disciples with gratitude and joy. His birth was the greatest blessing ever bestowed on mankind. The angels from heaven celebrated it with a joyful hymn; and every man, who has any feeling of his own lost state without a Redeemer, must rejoice and be glad in it. "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, Isa 9:6. For this festival, however, there is no authority in Scripture, nor do we know that it was observed in the age of the Apostles.

On Easter Sunday we celebrate our Saviour's victory over death and hell, when, having on the cross made an atonement for the sin of the world, he rose again from the grave, brought life and immortality to light, and opened to all his faithful servants the way to heaven. On this great event rest all our hopes. "If Christ be not risen," says St. Paul, "then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept," 1Co 15:14,20.

Forty days after his resurrection, our Lord ascended into heaven, in the sight of his disciples. This is celebrated on what is called Ascension-day, or Holy Thursday. Ten days after his ascension, our Lord sent the Holy Spirit to be the comforter and guide of his disciples. This blessing is commemorated on Whit-Sunday, which is a very great festival, and may be profitably observed; for the assistance of the Holy Spirit can alone support us through all temptations, and guide us into all truth.

The pretended success of some in discovering the remains of certain holy men, called "relics," multiplied in the fourth century of the Christian church the festivals and commemorations of the martyrs in a most extravagant manner. These days, instead of being set apart for pious exercises, were spent in indolence, voluptuousness, and criminal pursuits; and were less consecrated to the service of God, than employed in the indulgence of sinful passions. Many of these festivals were instituted on a Pagan model, and perverted to similar purposes.

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