The Jews celebrated 8-9 major feasts that are mentioned in the Bible. (“8” or “9” depends on if you put Passover together with the Feast of Unleavened Bread.) They still do today with the addition of a few more minor feasts. The modern nation of Israel has added several national days of remembrance too. However, most of the major feasts come out of the Old Testament.
Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread
Passover: Ex. 12:1-14; Lev. 23:5; Num. 9:1-14; Num. 28:16; Deut. 16:1-7
Unleavened Bread: Ex. 12:15-20; Ex. 13:3-10; Lev. 23:6-8; Num. 28:17-25; Deut. 16:3,4,8
Passover: Commemorated God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt. Jews still observe the Passover meal.
Unleavened Bread: Ate unleavened bread for 7 days as a symbol of holiness – yeast was OK to use in general, but it was also a symbol for sin. (Yeast spores are in the air – Satan is the “prince of the power of the air;” a tiny bit will leaven the lump of bread; it grows unbelievably fast and spreads through the whole piece of bread, fruit, etc.) No work on 1st day. Marked the beginning of the barley harvest. 1st of three annual trips to Jerusalem.
Modern: Jews still celebrate Passover.
Christian: Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus is referred to as the Bread of Life and the Paschal Lamb.
Feast of Firstfruits
Lev. 23:9-14; Num. 28:26
Happened immediately after Unleavened Bread, which occurs at the beginning of the barley harvest. It was a “wave” offering where the priest physically waved the shaft of barley. It was a peace offering, a sign of the relationship between God and His people.
Christian: Jesus was raised on or around the Feast of Firstfruits, which follows immediately after Passover. Paul referred to Christ as the Firstfruits in 1 Cor. 15:23. He is our peace offering, the first of God’s harvest, enabler of our relationship with God.
Feast of Weeks (“Pentecost” from Hellenistic Jews; Hebrew name was Shavuot)
Ex. 23:16; Ex 34:22; Lev. 23:15-21; Num. 28:26; Deut. 16:9-12
Marked the end of the early-summer wheat harvest. The Hebrew word for “week” is also translated “seven.” Exactly 50 days after Passover; 7 weeks after the Feast of Firstfruits. 2nd of three annual trips to Jerusalem.
Modern Jews: Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. No work, holiday meals. Book of Ruth.
Christian: 7 weeks after Jesus’ Resurrection, and shortly after He ascended to heaven, the Eleven and other disciples were back in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks. (The Ascension happened on the Mount of Olives, a day’s walk from Jerusalem.) Jesus had told them to go back to Jerusalem and wait there.
Feast of Booths (Tents)
Ex. 23:16; Ex. 34:22; Lev. 23:33-36, 39-43; Num. 29:12-38; Deut. 16:13-15
Also called the Feast of Ingathering. Marked the beginning of a new agricultural year. Symbolized by the construction of booths decorated with greenery, which symbolized the tents that Israel was using in its journey through the desert. They received the command to hold the Feast while they were still in the desert (Leviticus), which would serve to remind “future generations” of God leading Israel out of Egypt. 3rd of three annual trips to Jerusalem.
Modern Jews: 7-day holiday, building booths decorated with greenery.
Christian: John 7:1-52 – Jesus attended the Feast and the Pharisees tried to arrest him there. “37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” Remember that there were several times during the desert journey that Israel was desperate for water, which God miraculously provided through Moses. Now Jesus is saying that He Himself is the living water, not just a prophet and miracle worker.
Feast of Trumpets (“Rosh-Hashanah”)
Lev. 23:23-25; Num. 29:1-6
Celebration of Jewish New Year. Special trumpet blasts. No work performed. Special offerings made. Reference to Judgment Day. 163 days after Passover. 1-day celebration.
Modern: “Rosh Hashanah” term not found in the Bible, means “new year.” Jews celebrate 4 “new years” during the year; Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of humankind, animals – and legal contracts, since the Feast of Trumpets is connected with the Day of Judgment.
Christian parallel: The 2nd Coming of Christ, when the trumpets shall sound. (Mt. 24:31, 1 Cor. 15:52, 1 Thess. 4:16, references in Revelation).
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)
Lev. 16; 23:26-32; Num. 29:7-11
Day of fasting. Special offerings by High Priest to atone sins of Israel for a full year. No work performed. The High Priest (nobody else) may enter the Holy of Holies, and meet there the glory of the LORD (the Shekinah). The High Priest makes a blood sacrifice to atone for Israel’s sins.
Modern Jews: Most holy day of the Jewish year. Atonement and repentance. Last day of the High Holy Days. Many secular Jews will attend synagogue during this time. Jews can atone by doing these 3 things: 1) Pray. 2) Repent (including fasting on the actual day.) 3) Give to charity.
Christian: “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:37-38) We essentially observe a Day of Atonement on Good Friday, the day of the death of Christ. However, Jews must repeat the Day of Atonement once a year but our Atonement has been completed for all time.
Feast of Dedication (Lights or Hanukkah)
Not in the OT; a reference to it is found in John 10:22 as the “Festival of Dedication.”
It existed by then since it was founded around 164 B.C. after the death of Antiochus Epiphanes. Syria’s Seleucid Empire was a rival to Rome at that time and Antiochus IV was the Seleucid emperor. Israel was one of its captive nations. The Hellenized or Greek Jews who had settled in Jerusalem worshipped the Greek gods. The emperor agreed and decided to force Jerusalem to worship the Greek gods (Zeus, etc.) instead of God. He had statues brought into the temple and instructed his soldiers to corrupt the main altar with unclean body parts and filth. Jewish religious practices were outlawed. The subsequent revolt of the Maccabees was as much a civil war between religious and secular Jews, as it was against the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus died of disease while on a military campaign and the Maccabbees eventually won the war. The Temple cleansing from the desecration is commemorated over an 8-day period of lighting candles on a 9-candle lamp. There are several legends about the Manorrah, but rabbis disagree over the interpretation.
Feast of Purim (Lots)
Commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai against the clueless King King Ahasuerus and the evil Haman.
Modern Jews: Not really religious, more of a national celebration. 1) Listening to a public reading of the Esther in the evening and again in the following morning, 2) sending food gifts to friends, 3) giving charity to the poor, and 4) eating a festive meal including wine.