25. Feasts

Lessons from the Law: No.25 : Three Annual Feasts

Ex 23:14-15 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.

If we’ve had a religious upbringing then perhaps a feast simply indicates a particular festival in the church’s calendar. However, a dictionary defines a feast as “to eat sumptuously” and the sense is of a big meal. You have a big meal when you have something to celebrate and that was true of Israel. We have feasts at a wedding or the celebration of a special birthday or wedding anniversary. It is a way of celebrating. In verses 14 to 19 that cover the feasts, the word ‘celebrate’ occurs four times, once in the introductory sentence and then once for each of the three feasts mentioned. A dictionary will tell you that to celebrate something means to make public by rites or ceremonies. Some older versions don’t use the word celebrate and just say “you shall keep….” but the word ‘keep’ doesn’t emphasise so much to us today the sense of honouring by ceremony.

So, says the Lord, three times a year hold a special ceremony based on food, to remember the crucial things that have happened when you came out of Egypt, and then of my provision for you. There is, therefore, a sense whereby these three feasts are all celebrations of God’s provision. The Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrated God’s provision of freedom from slavery. The Feast of Harvest (v.16a) celebrates the arrival of the first crops or fruits – God’s provision of food. The Feast of Ingathering (v.16b) celebrates the completion of bringing in all the harvest – again God’s provision of abundance. These are times of rejoicing in the wonder of God’s provision. Why legislate for these? Because we are notoriously bad at taking things for granted and forgetting the origin of all we have! So let’s look at the law for each of the feasts.

First there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Now the Passover was a one-day celebration but the Feast was a seven day celebration! It reminded them of the hurry with which they had to leave Egypt, not having enough time to use yeast in the usual way to make bread. By spreading it over a week they could fully reflect on the wonder of what had happened when God delivered them from Egypt. If that had not happened then they would not have been able to be constituted a nation at Sinai. They only were a nation because of the Passover. The remembrance of this meant that this was never forgotten for this was no quick one-day memorial but a whole week’s worth of celebrating.

Next we find, Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the first fruits of the crops you sow in your field.” (v.16a) This feast was otherwise known as Pentecost. Then we find, “Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.” (v.16b)  This was otherwise known as the Feast of Tabernacles and we’ll see more details of each of these in later studies.

Verses 17 to 19 are all ‘shorthand’ comments about aspects of these feasts. First comes, “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD,” (v.17) a simple reiteration of the importance of these feasts. Men were the breadwinners and the warriors but nothing was to stop them coming to these feasts of remembrance. Then comes, “Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast.” (v.18a) In the later laws of sacrifice when blood was poured out, it was the sign of life being given and it was often accompanied by flour but, as a continual reminder of the haste of their deliverance, it was never to have yeast mixed with it, especially at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was followed by, “The fat of my festival offerings must not be kept until morning.” (v.18b) The fat, we will see, was to be the Lord’s portion so it would  be disrespectful to feast with the meat in the evening and not bother with the Lord’s part until next day. No, make sure you perform the whole together, especially that which gives respect or reverence to the Lord. Then comes, “Bring the best of the first fruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.” (v.19a) Whenever first fruits were brought (especially at the second Feast here) this is a gentle reminder to give the Lord the best. Sacrifices and offerings should never be from the leftovers, but from the best.

Finally comes what appears at first sight a very strange exhortation: “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”(v.19b) It is only when we realise that this was a pagan practice believed to be carried out both in Egypt and Canaan as an occultic magical charm, that this makes sense. A broth was made in this way and was poured out on their gardens and fields to make them more productive. This injunction which appears in the Law three times (see also Ex 34:26 & Deut 14:21) is a shorthand warning a) not to turn to occult means of blessing on food provision and b) not to let there come any substitute for the second two Feasts mentioned here which are all about proclaiming the Lord’s goodness in providing for them.

These introductions to the laws of the Feasts are here, simply reminders to be kept year by year of the Lord’s provision for them. Thankfulness to the Lord keeps us from the sin of taking Him and His provision for granted. May we too remind ourselves of His constant goodness to us!

17. Generations

Lessons from Israel: No.17 : Teaching the Generations

Ex 12:25-27 When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’

While explaining the Passover, the Lord declared, This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD–a lasting ordinance.” (v.14) He explained the Feast of Unleavened Bread which would commemorate the week following the Passover when they all ate unleavened bread, because they had no time to properly prepare bread with yeast. Indeed He reiterated it: “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD–a lasting ordinance.” (v.17) Having created such a graphic thing to remember, the Lord’s instructions were now that they were to remember it every year. He foresees their children questioning them as to what it means (v.26) and thus He instructs them in our verses today what to say.

Passing on the truth to children, i.e. from one generation to the next, became an important part of their lives and Moses instructed them before they entered the Promised Land, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deut 4:9) When he spoke about all the commands the Lord had given them he told them, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut 6:6,7)

Indeed, later in his instructions to them, he reiterated this: “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut 11:18,19) and speaking later of future generations, “Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deut 31:13).Truth had to be imparted from one generation to the next. It was a vital part of their culture. Again and again these same instructions were given in the books of the Law.

Asaph even wrote in the psalms: He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. (Psa 78:5-7). In the New Testament, Paul notes how this had worked in the life of Timothy: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Tim 1:5). How beautiful! The Gospel had been received by Timothy’s grandmother who conveyed it to her daughter, his mother, and then she to him, from one generation to another.

Very often this came in the form of some graphic memorial, as we saw in the previous meditation. After Israel passed through the Jordan to enter the Promised Land, we find, “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Josh 4:5-7). Thus the future generations would be reminded of how God had brought them into the Land. The Passover reminded them how they were brought out of Egypt and these stones would act as reminders of how they went in to their inheritance.

In the New Testament we find Jesus at the Last Supper: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19). Thus Communion or ‘the Breaking of Bread’ is a reminder for the modern church. Paul expanded on this when he wrote about it: “when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:24-26) This is to be something done regularly until Jesus comes back. It is a constant reminder from one generation to the next. We need such reminders. Do it!