Which are the Biblical feasts?

In the Bible several feasts are prescribed. Remembrance moments commanded by God. Believers have added other feasts; half-feasts. Judaism has at least ten [1] feast moments. The three [2] main Christian feasts are only about the Lord Jesus. It’s remarkable that the most important ‘Christian’ feasts are connected with bringing ‘light’ in the Wintertime. But what is actually written about the feasts in the Bible?

By Marco van Putten

For most people a feast has to do with a celebration of some sort, like having achieved something or having a moment of spare time. In the Bible however they solely celebrate something that has to do with God, like remembering His acts or reminding the sinfulness of the believers towards God. They are thus fundamentally different from ‘normal’ celebrations of humans.

Biblical feasts
The reasons mentioned in the Bible for having a feast are:
1. The day of the New Moon
2. The weekly day of rest
3. The commemoration of the exodus from Egypt
4. The days of fulfillment

The markers of these feasts are the moon and the sun (Gn 1:14). They start at sunset and last until sunset (Gn 1:5). The feasts bring daily life into the sphere of religion. After God made His Covenant and established the official place for His service (the Temple) these also came to determine the feasts. They were enriched with the special offerings, prayers, customs and songs which are described in the Bible.

1. The day of the New Moon
The calendar of the Bible is based upon the moon which is corrected by the movements of the sun so that every year the feasts fall in the same period. The appearance of the crescent of the new moon marks a new period on God’s calendar (Nm 28:11-15). This feast is ‘forward working’; God is asked to bless the coming new month. It’s an eternal feast for God’s people (Js 66:23). Still, celestial bodies, like the moon, should not be worshipped in themselves. That is idolatry (Jr 8:2).

The moon determines the ‘rhythm’ of the Biblical calendar. The new moon represents the beginning of:
• The month
Period of almost 30 days from new moon to new moon. In the Bible there is a cycle determined of 12 months (2 K 25:27).
• The year (Ex 12:2)
• The worship service (Temple) (Ex 40:1)
• The feasts
The start of most Biblical feasts is determined by the moon. They either start at the new moon or two weeks later (full moon).

2. The weekly day of rest
The most fundamental and eternal feast is the weekly day of rest (Gn 2:3; Hb 4:9). This is not just a day of resting, but first of all it closes the week of working; the seventh day. The number 7 represents fulfillment in the Bible. Sjabbat is derived from the Hebrew verb sjavat – stopping with/ending of (works).

Commemorating Sjabbat sanctifies the preceding workdays. Not only by making the difference – stopping normal work/activities –, but also to consecrate it (the week of work/activities) unto God in prayer. Sjabbat thus has a ‘backward working’ meaning. The words ‘sanctifying’ and ‘consecrating’ are activities. This seems contradicting since on the day of rest one explicitly doesn’t work. This asks for a definition of ‘working’ and ‘resting’. A good guideline is that ‘working’ is an activity in any form of which one derives gain. Nowadays that is most of all earning money, but it actually means having use of something on short or long term. The day of rest must be beneficial for the whole of Creation, therefore also for the unbelievers, (domesticated) animals and what is sown in the field.

Sjabbat represents also ‘taking rest’, like relaxation, being together with family & friends, eating, singing worship songs to God , music and simple (Bible)study. However, this is secondary. Resting and stopping work shows that believers consciously and explicitly refrain from making a profit and from any strivings of the world. They regard these as less important and seek out things that are better (Hb 11:16). Since they are free of obligations they can attend communal worship services. Some regard these as the ‘forward working’ and future oriented meanings of the day of rest; the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In Christianity traditionally this day of rest is bound to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Although this resurrection is historically bound to the feast of Pésach and also with the first and not the last day of the week (Mt 28:1). Thus the weekly commemoration of His resurrection has no connection with the Biblical day of rest and is also not prescribed in the Bible.

Sjabbat also has a special application. Most Biblical feasts are also ‘resting days’. When a feast has several days then the 1st and the last day are a Sjabbat. These resting days are not always on the last day of the week (the 7th day). However, when the feast day is also a Sjabbat then that day is determined by that feast and not by the preceding week of work. Thus, these special Sjabbetot have a different character then the weekly resting day.
Sjabbat yet has another application, namely in the 7th month (the Sjabbat month), in the 7th year (the Sjabbat year (Lv 25:3-4)) and its special fullness (7*10 Sjabbat years (2 Kr 36:21)).

Sjabbat month
The 7th month is the most earnest month of the Biblical year. It has eighteen (!)days of commemoration and added to that are the weekly resting days:
1) Day of sounding the horns (Lv 23:24)
The day of the new moon is announced by sounding the horns. This is a resting day. On this day the new moon day feast is also a resting day. It announces the Sjabbat month.
2) The fearsome days
From the new moon day until the 10th day are fasting days and days of self-evaluation, repentance and conversion as preparation for the Reconciliation day.
3) Repentance resting day
The Sjabbat between the Day of sounding the horns and Reconciliation day is less joyous than normal, but it also is marked by the preparation for the Reconciliation day.
4) Reconciliation day (Ex 30:10; Lv 25:9)
The 10th day is announced by sounding the horns. This is a resting day, but even more so a day of self-oppression. This seems a forbidden activity on a resting day, but the emphasis is on full and undisturbed concentration of God. This is the most important day of the Biblical calendar, since on this day the covenant faithfulness is renewed.
5) Feast of the tabernacles (Lv 23:34, 42)
The is a Pésach commemoration feast starting at sunset with a resting day at full moon. It lasts seven days. It is concluded with an extra resting dag following the last day of the feast (the 8th day; Lv 23:39). When Israel is restored from its banishment this feast day will be obligatory for the whole of God’s people (Zach 14:16-19). It has a Messianic fulfillment when the harvest is again brought before God in the new Temple which will be build in Jerusalem.

As a consequence of the destruction of the Temple this month can no longer be executed as it is intended. In Christianity this month is regarded as either fully fulfilled or as being obsolete. However, the Lord Jesus is High priest in the Temple in Heaven and executes the service of this month each year. Therefore believers are required to commemorate it. When He returns to the earth this month will be fully instituted for God’s people.

3. The commemoration of the exodus from Egypt
The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is one of the most important acts of salvation of God. The Israelites became God’s own possession, which was confirmed by making His Covenant with their collective. Since Pésach commemorates a historic fact the moon calendar is corrected so that the feast always is set in the historic exodus period. Through the exodus the nation of Israel was established. The feast has the following parts/characteristics:

a) The Pésach meal on the evening at the full moon of the first month of the Biblical year.
The Pésach sacrifice was made and the roasted flesh of it is eaten together with special food. The first day of Pésach is a resting day (Ex 12).
b) The week of eating unleavened bread [3] (Ex 23:15) to commemorate that God sanctified them from oppression. The first day en last day of Pésach are resting days.
c) Commemoration of the sacrifice of the male firstborn (Ex 13).
d) The counting of the 49 days between Pésach and Pentecost (Lv 23:15-16). After the week of eating unleavened bread the time of fasting starts during 43 days [4].
e) The feast of the Weeks (Pentecost)
The concluding feast after 7 * 7 weeks since the beginning of Pésach. It is a resting day at which the first fruits of the harvest are being dedicated to God. To this feast a ‘Christian’ element is added; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on believers.
f) The feast of the Tabernacles
During one week believers live in a tabernacle. It commemorates that the Israelites lived for 40 years in tabernacles during their journey through the Sinai desert towards the Promised Land. This was their punishment for being disobedient to God.

God has put the height of the first coming of the Lord Jesus during Pésach; the crucifixion and resurrection. In that way the exodus was repeated in spiritual sense; deliverance from slavery of satan and the making of the New Covenant. It however doesn’t mean that Pésach is replaced by it or that it became obsolete. This ‘Christian’ element was added to it.

4. The days of fulfillment
These are feasts at the end of a period of 7 * 7 weeks or years. The Bible prescribes two days of fulfillment:
a) Feast of the Weeks (50th day after Pésach; Pentecost (Dt 16:10-12)); this feast closes the commemoration period of Pésach.
b) Year of jubilee (50th year (Lv 25:10)); this feast closes the fullness of Sjabbat years.

Half feasts
People have added religious feasts of which most are not mentioned in the Bible. These are ‘half feasts’, because they are not commanded in Torah and some are even conflicting with it.
In the Bible are mentioned:
• Inauguration feast (Chanoekah (Jh 10:22)); A feast of eight days to commemorate the purification of the Temple.
• Feast of Hadassah/Ester and the feast of the lots (Purim (Es 9:31)).

Biblical versus Christian feasts
Biblical feasts are not just moments of feasting, but in Biblical sense they are part of the comprehensive act of Torah observance to which the Biblical calendar contributes. The Torah became connected with the Temple service in Jerusalem, parallel to the Temple service in Heaven. Christian feasts however are not an act of Torah observance, but commemorations of events in the life of the Lord Jesus. They are often difficult to distinguish from paganism from which they often originate and have that as basis or are being connected with it. For the world outside of Christianity these feasts therefore confirm paganism. The Bible however is anti-pagan (Ps 2:5, 8; Rm 2:24). Christian feasts appear to be Biblical, are deducted from them, but cannot replace them. Many Christian feasts are man-made, since they lack a Biblical command for them. They have been developed only after Christian Theology for them was developed and later became part of dogmas. Christian feasts are therefore mostly determined by church history and not so much by the Bible. Because Christianity became diversified, each branch of Christianity developed their own feasts. Feasts that are shared by the whole of Christianity, like Easter and Pentecost, still deviate from each other (different meanings, customs and dating’s on the calendar).

But the New Covenant must mean rejecting paganism and the renewal of the Biblical feasts. Especially the new meaning that the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit gave them. The consequences of these are too fundamental and have given them a whole new setting. To the Hebrew and Israelite origin of the Biblical feast is, without a doubt, added a Christian dimension. This is not only construed, but also commanded in the Bible, like the commemoration of the last Pésach meal of the Lord Jesus (1 Kor 11:24). Other new commemoration moments are evident, like that of Ascension Day. Also, the Temple is destroyed, so some feasts can no longer be held in the way the Bible prescribes them. But is shows some nerve to prohibit existing Biblical feasts, replacing them or changing them based on dogmas of specific views of the Lord Jesus. Even more so, in the New Testament all Biblical feasts are taken as a given. This also applies to Half feasts which sometimes are given the same or even greater meaning [5] then Biblical feasts.

Having more attention for the Biblical feasts as part of observance of the whole Torah will on the other hand be nothing else than the just worship of God and therefore the building up of God’s people. Although the proper execution of them will have as a consequence the disruption of the current system. But should God not be feared more than humans?

[1] Seven Biblical: Rosj Chodesj, Sjabbat, Pesach, Sjawoe‘ot, Soekot, Rosj Hasjanah and Jom Kippoer. Three half-feasts: Chanoekah, Poeriem and Lag Ba’omer.
[2] Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
[3] Bread of slavery and made in a hurry. It also represents the poverty during the years of wandering in the desert (eating manna and quails).
[4] The only exception is the 33th day since Pésach began (Lag Ba’omer) when the fast is ended one day.
[5] Christmas is the best example.