THE FEASTS - ISRAEL'S GPS
Updated: Jul 1, 2022
GOD’S PLAN of SALVATION
I tend to use Apple Maps, many people prefer Google, but all would agree that one of the most useful tools at our fingertips today is the GPS Navigation system. Many of us still remember the days when we would have to study a map and write notes for directions and we would have to stop often to ask directions as we made our way to our destinations. Now we have the most precise guidance information available complete with visual & audible cues.
Spiritually, the Bible could be considered the most trusted and true GPS, for it directs all who read it to God’s Plan of Salvation.
Dr Tommy Ice and Ed Hindson in their excellent book Charting the Bible Chronologically speak to the uniqueness of the Bible, that it is “the only religious work rooted in past history that also predicts future history.” They go on…
“Many religions and worldviews believe history is an endless cycle of events continually repeating themselves and thus they conclude that life is meaningless because from their perspective it is going nowhere. By contrast the biblical view of history is linear and not circular. That is, history has a beginning and an ending. It is going somewhere and has purpose and meaning. It began in a garden and is moving toward a city with a cross in between.”
Did you catch that? “It is going somewhere”. There is a destiny and a destination in focus and nowhere is that idea more apparent than in the unfolding drama of the Jewish people. Imagine yourself for a moment in Israels sandals, the people God chose to reveal and fulfil His wonderful plan of salvation. Israel didn’t have a Bible when they fled Egypt, they had no laws, they simply acted in faith on Gods instructions as spoken through His elected intercessor Moses. Only after Israel escaped the land of Egypt and arrived at Mt Sinai did they receive God’s instructions to begin living in full relationship with Him. Intertwined with all the regulations Israel received were 7 feasts, each acting like divine markers, each pointing Israel to God and His plan for their salvation.
We see these 7 divine markers outlined in Leviticus chapter 23. An annual calendar of festive events, each with its own unique set of instructions, each one unique for the season in which it fell. Bruce Scott in his book The feasts of Israel speaks to the unique characteristics of these annual feasts.
The feasts of Israel are unequivocally unique, they are unique because they were established by the word of God, they are unique because they belong to a unique people–the Jewish people. They are unique because they picture and foreshadow the person and work of the promised Messiah. A study of the feast or Holidays of Israel helps to understand the biblical and historical underpinnings of modern-day Jewish culture. It also helps bring to light an intricate spiritual tapestry woven by the hand of God, a tapestry illustrating the marvellous plan of Salvation that he designed.
I mentioned, the feasts are like markers throughout Israels journey. They build a picture of God’s plan of salvation and equally they point Israel directly to God. In other words, as God is pointing Israel to the final destination, He is also pointing them to Himself, for only in relationship with God can salvation be realised.
In the balance of this article I want to provide 3 distinct ways the 7 feasts are designed to point Israel to God and ultimately to His plan for salvation.
1. They Point to THE WORD OF GOD as seen in His Creation
In Leviticus 23 we read…““Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these:” (Leviticus 23:2, NASB95)
These feasts are Gods idea just as all creation is His idea, they are spoken to Israel in the manner for which God spoke creation into being, that is to say it was God’s WORD that Prepared the Feasts–as seen in the creation of the seasons.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of how the world was created. with these words. “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3)
And in Genesis we are reminded of how creation was ordered in such a way for specific divisions of time. “Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years;” (Genesis 1:14)
And so we see that the feasts are synchronised with Gods creation; the word “seasons” is the Hebrew word “Mo’ed” meaning fixed, or appointed times. God placed the elements for day and night but also for seasons. That is to say that when God placed the moon, the sun and the stars relative to the earth, time and events would be measurable by their activity. When the sun rose and the sun set, when the moon waxed and waned, all were observable and measurable events and were defined as seasons, days, months, years.
The Psalmist wrote… “He [God] made the moon for the seasons; The sun knows the place of its setting.” (Psalm 104:19)
The writer of Ecclesiastes said “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
The Jewish calendar is distinct from the calendar we use today. We use a solar calendar known as the Gregorian calendar established by Pope Gregory 13th in 1582. Our calendar is relative to the movement of the sun. The Hebrew calendar is both a lunar and solar calendar where the months are determined by the moon, but the years by the sun. Based on the creation account the Jewish day begins at sunset with 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of daylight. So, a Jewish day will begin the day before our day at sunset and will finish at sunset the day after. There is 12 months consisting of 29 or 30 days and so every second or third year is a leap year where a month is added to ensure the feasts always fall on the same day and remain in the same seasons. So we see the feasts are synchronised with Gods calendar as directed by the words He spoke at creation.
But also, Gods Word preserves the feasts–as seen in the continuation of His chosen people, Israel.
There is recurring blessing recited by Jews around the world as they continue to observe the feasts in various ways. It goes… “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us in life, and hast preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season.”
The fact that the Jewish people and the nation of Israel exists today is a testament to Gods faithful Word. It goes all the way back to Sinai when God brought Israel out of the land of Egypt. They are camped at a mountain where God reveals Himself to them. Everything God does at Mt Sinai is for the purpose of setting up Israel to be a nation belonging to Him. The feasts cannot operate in isolation to the people and the nation and these feasts are given exclusively to Israel. Nowhere in the Bible does it say they are for the Church. These were Israel’s divine appointments with God. Like a divine diary system, Israel would meet with God in what are described as “Holy convocations”.
In Leviticus 23 “Holy convocations” are mentioned 10 times, the Hebrew word is “Mik’rah” meaning “called out” for the purpose of a meeting, as in a “dress rehearsal”. The nation of Israel was to present themselves before the Lord. When God set in motion these feasts, they were a perpetual reminder that He would oversee their attendance as a people, it was a reminder that God was the One who sovereignly overruled in the affairs of this special group of people.
These occasions continually reminded Israel their very existence was tied to Gods Word.
In fact God guaranteed it, listen to the words of Jeremiah the prophet… “Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the Lord, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever.”” (Jeremiah 31:35–36, NASB95)
So we can see through the order of God’s creation as spoken by His word, the seasons form the calendar of the feasts where God will meet with His people. And the seasons remain a sign of Gods intentions for the nation He created and through which Salvation will come to the whole world.
Secondly, the feasts …
2. Point to the WORSHIP OF GOD as seen through His consecration
If there was one thing you remember from the events that took place at Mt Sinai, it would surely be the sad and sorry state of Israel when Moses returned to the camp having come down from the mountain where he received the commandments. Israel were out of control and the curse of sin was on full display revealing the barrier that existed between man and God. How could such a sin stained world meet with a Holy God unless the terms and conditions were handed down from God Himself.
Indeed God had said to Israel, “‘For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy...” (Leviticus 11:44, NASB95) The only way Israel could meet with God to worship Him was for them to be a holy people before Him.
The Hebrew word for Holy is Kadosh and means consecrated or sanctified (that is separate) from anything that is common or unclean. God is holy in that He is separate from anything unclean or evil, conversely, God is pure and distinct from all other things. So everything connected to God must be Kadosh. Why? Because He is Kadosh.
Well, what does a Holy God do when he wants to have relationship with an unholy people? He makes them Holy. He does this firstly by consecrating Israel in Covenant. God said to Israel in Deuteronomy 7…
““For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6)
So we see that Israel were to worship God as a people who belong to God.
God’s covenant with Moses found in Exodus chapters 20-23 is a conditional covenant (to obedience) exclusively given to Israel and was for a limited time only (until Christ fulfilled it). It was a covenant that didn’t supersede or change the covenant God had made with Abraham in Genesis 15. Israel are God’s people in covenant relationship through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This covenant from Mt Sinai bound Israel to God through the law. It spoke to every aspect of life for Israel: spiritual, moral, social, religious, and civil. The law became the stick which all aspects of life were measured in the eyes of God and a failure would result in consequences. The feasts formed part of the requirements of Gods law and were punishable if not performed according to those requirements.
We see that Israel were a people God consecrated through covenant, and they were also to be a people whom God consecrates through cleansing.
Israel were made Holy through a system of cleansing as prescribed by God in His law and it is at the feasts we see this clearly illustrated when Israel present themselves before the Lord with their gifts and offerings. Everything brought before the Lord however would need to be acceptable to Him.
Israel were a people set apart for worship as a people who belong to God, and they were also to present as a people who bring to God.
Well what were they to bring to God? They firstly were to bring themselves. Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.” (Deuteronomy 16:16) Also in Exodus chapters 23 & 34. Secondly they were to bring offerings (National and Personal)
Everything brought before the Lord as part of their worship would need to be brought to the right place, that is the place “Of Gods choosing” Jerusalem. In 2nd Samuel chapter 7, Nathan spoke to King David saying “He [Davids Descendant] will build a House for my name.” So it would in time the Temple in Jerusalem where the centre of worship for Israel would be. They need bring them at the right times (feasts & days), in the right manner (specifications), through the right channels (Priesthood) and lastly in the right state (Clean).
So the feasts point to the the worship of God as prescribed through the law of Moses and made possible through God’s covenant and cleansing.
As already stated, Gods covenant with Moses was a conditional covenant and has been fulfilled through Christ as the once for all atoning sacrifice for sin. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae… “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16–17)
It is in this truth that we come to the final point. We have seen that the feasts point to the Words of God as seen through His creation and they point to the Worship of God as seen through His consecration, finally,
3. They point to the WORKS OF GOD as seen through His plan of Salvation
The works of God in ultimately delivering (saving) Israel and us has two specific themes that I want to end on.
The first is the theme of Redemption.
Exodus 6 is a key passage in the Passover celebration. In Jewish homes all around the world, the “I will” statements God makes regarding Israels deliverance from the land of Egypt will be emphasised especially in the Passover meal.
In verse 6 it reads…
“Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” (Exodus 6:6, NASB95)
Redemption means liberation, Passover is a feast of liberation. But it is liberation on the basis that a payment is made. As Israel were to exit Egypt, God gave them the method of payment in the way of a lamb. Taken on the 10th of the month from each household and kept until the fourteenth of the month when it was to be killed. And the blood of that lamb was then to be applied to the door posts of their homes. a sign to each home that when God came to destroy the firstborn in the land, He would pass over that home and they would be saved. Gods judgment was over all Egypt and only those with the blood covering were spared. The passover lamb was a keystone moment for Israel in their journey with God that is be remembered to this day at Passover for it marks the beginning of the deliverance God is providing that extends well beyond Egypt.
It is also a keystone moment in the journey of faith for those who believe. Gods redemption of Israel prepared the way for the redemption of all who would apply the blood of the Lamb to their hearts by faith.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus these liberating words… “In Him [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7)
And to the church at Colossae Paul put it this way…“For He [Jesus] rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
There is a story within Jewish tradition that depicts the predicament God was facing when Israel was enslaved in Egypt. God is seen as asking Himself the question, “How can I redeem them, but also, how can I leave them there in that unclean place?” His dilemma was finding a way to express his love and mercy, without doing injustice to His Holiness.
The story relates that God settled for this conclusion. “It is better that I defile Myself,” He said, “by going to Egypt and delivering them.”
In effect, this is exactly what God did to redeem us from our bondage of sin. The problem however, was how could God show his love and mercy in forgiving sinful man without contradicting His own holiness and justice?
The solution was found in Jesus Christ, “who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross”. Jesus became flesh, and dwelt among us. The purpose was so that “He who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”.
This is how God purchased your freedom, and mine.
The second theme of Gods salvation plan is seen in His Reconciliation.
Verse 7 of Exodus 6 reads, “‘Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 6:7)
Israel’s journey from redemption to reconciliation with God as a nation is still waiting to be fulfilled. What began with their deliverance from Egypt as we all know ended in the rejection of Gods word, His worship and eventually the wonderful work of salvation He offered through Messiah Jesus. But the Bible offers hope for Israel and riches for the gentile world as a consequence of Israels actions.
The Apostle Paul spoke of Israels rejection in his letter to the Romans concluding that God is not yet finished with her. Look at what he writes
“I say then, they [Israel] did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfilment be!” (Romans 11:11–12, NASB95)
A little later in the same chapter we see that the culminating work of Gods salvation for Israel will only come when Messiah Jesus returns to earth and removes their sins. As Paul writes in Romans 11 “and so all Israel will be saved” because “The Deliverer will come from Zion. He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
So we can conclude that while the feasts of Israel act as clear markers for Israels salvation, the deviation they have made from the path God gave them to follow has resulted in their discipline by God that will not be completed until the return of Christ. Prophetically, the feasts that mark the full restoration and reconciliation of Israel will only be fulfilled at Christ’s return to earth at His second coming.
In the meantime, the riches brought to the gentile world as a consequence of Israels disobedience offers salvation to all who would come to Christ by faith.
The Apostle Paul again when writing to the church in Rome reminds every believer of the position we can now hold as reconciled sinners to God on the basis of what Christ has done at the cross.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:10)
Surely we can say this Easter/Passover season that the riches we have received as a result of Israel’s transgression are worthy of praise and thanksgiving to God for His wonderful plan of salvation.
Charting the Bible Chronologically - Dr Thomas Ice and Ed Hindson
The Feasts of Israel: Seasons of the Messiah - Bruce Scott