Chap 6. Name and Structure of the Seven Annual Feasts
Let’s summarize the seven feasts as belows, focusing on Leviticus 23.
The seven feasts are organized into three times in a yaer, the first are the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the second are the Feast of First-fruits and the Feast of Weeks, the third are the Feast of Trumpet, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.
Although there are seven feasts, the Israelites went up to Jerusalem three times in a year to keep those feasts. They went up to the temple in Jerusalem once to keep the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and they went up to Jerusalem again to keep the Feast of Weeks. For last time they went up to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Trumpet, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
【Exod. 23:14-16】 “Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. “No one is to appear before me empty-handed. “Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. “Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.
【Exod. 34:18, 22-23】 “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt ……. “Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel.
【Deut. 16:16】 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed:
There are seven annual appointed feasts, so why did God says you should go to the temple only three times a year? Even until Jesus’ coming, the Jews continued this tradition. To know the meaning of such a Jewish tradition, we need to take a closer look at the system of God’s law.
As we have seen before, the sanctuary, the sacrifices, and the feasts are one law. To keep the feast, the Israelites had to travel to Jerusalem, where the temple was. Traveling to Jerusalem with relatives to keep the feasts was expensive and time consuming.
Therefore, if the Israelites went up to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, they stayed in Jerusalem by keeping all the feasts from the Feast of Trumpet to the end of the Feast of Tabernacles. Therefore, they had to stay in Jerusalem for a considerable period of time. It was a completely different situation than our attending a church nearby today. For example, it was impossible for the Israelites to go to Jerusalem twice to keep the Feast of the Trumpet and the Day of Atonement.
It was customary to call all of the feasts to be observed at once as a representative feast name. For example, when they went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they said, “We are going to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread.” When they went to celebrate the third time feasts, the Feast of Trumpet, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles, they just said, “I’m going to observe the Feast of Tabernacles.”
“Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose”(Deut. 16:16) The above verse is an expression of the custom of the Israelites at the time. It was expressed in terms of three major times that include seven annual feasts. And these customs were followed even in the age of New Testament.
【Luke 2:41-43】 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over(And when they had fulfilled the days/KJV), while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.
It is clear that the men of Israel went to the temple in Jerusalem to keep the feast as adults when they turned 12 years old. The expression “when they had fulfilled the days” shows that they stayed in Jerusalem for the entire duration of the feasts. And women were accompanied by men to serve their travel as follows.
【Matt. 27:55】 And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
【Luke 23:55】 And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.
In Jesus’ day, it was a common practice to call the Feast of Unleavened Bread as the representative feast name of the first time feasts.
【Matt. 26:17】 Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?
The Passover is the 14th day of the first month by the sacred calendar, which was called the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is the point that the entire period, including the Passover, was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The same examples are found in many places in the Gospels.
【Mark 14:12】 And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?
【Luke 22:1, 7】 Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover ……. Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed.
Likewise, when calling the third time feasts, it was a common use to call the Feast of Tabernacles as a representative name. There is a record in John 7 that Jesus went up to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles. According to the record in John 7, Jesus stayed in Jerusalem for long period, which period was called the Feast of Tabernacles.
【John 7:2-37】 But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near(2) …… However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also(10) …… Now at the Feast the Jews were watching for him and asking, “Where is that man?”(11) …… Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach(14) …… On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice(37)
As we have seen above, there are seven annual feasts, but the Israelites had to go to Jerusalem three times a year. That is why we sometimes call the annual feasts as “the seven feasts of three time.”