At 2:00 that Friday afternoon, the train was full. Surrounding me were young moms and dads, strollers laden with toddlers and groceries, knapsacks on handles. The air was charged with excitement, and as travelers disembarked, the hurried pushes and shoves were not rude, just time-pressured since in only a matter of hours, Shabbat would begin and duties must cease for the weekend. We were greeted at the station by a friend who quickly shuttled us home in time for a change into nicer, fresh clothing. The warm kitchen smelled wonderful, with wafts of roast, vegetables, and 'Haman's Pockets.' Soon, the mother of the house called out, "It's time!!" as she lit the candles and covered her eyes in prayer. It would be a weekend I would never forget.
Through the feasts of the Lord, God established a beautiful map of man's existence and that of His redemptive Messiah. By nature of God's proclamation of them in Exodus, these feasts are owned by Him. Their presence spring to fall showcases His relationship with the nation of Israel, from its beginning deliverance as a nation at the original Passover, to its ultimate fate in the prophetic timeline of God at Sukkot, or Tabernacles, when He will dwell with His family. Coming out of the long human winter (Creation to Noah, Abraham, & the Patriarchs), Spring arrives with new life and redemption's reminders in Passover, feast of freedom from foreign servitude, a celebration also honored by believers in Yeshua, called Lamb of God by Prophet John the Baptist.
Unleavened Bread and Pentecost, Shavuot, in the intricate relationship of 50 days marked in time, were also spring fulfillment in the first fruits of the plan of God...the advent of the New Man, the removal of sin and of enjoying early rains of the Holy Spirit, as well as one's place in God through the risen Lord, a first fruit from the dead. A cleansed, holy place with the Father now existed in circumcised hearts, while specific details of Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, cleansing of His apostles, and sending of the Holy Spirit at Shavuot, were exquisitely matched in these feasts. Hundreds of witnesses seeing other formerly dead in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:51-53) spoke of the first fruits from the righteous dead as well.
Just as the summer follows spring, a summer gap of time exists to the fall season, when more harvest & fulfillment come. Genesis records that "as long as the earth remains, seed time and harvest would not cease," (Gen. 8:22) so we shouldn't be surprised by the object lesson God would use in the seasons of creation mapped in His plan. Fall feasts arrive with the time of harvest, of ingathering, and of the celebration accompanying that. Since a harvest of humanity would have eternal (and for some, dire) consequences, it is understandable that Rosh Hashana (Head of the Year) heralded with trumpets, and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) exist with days of awe to reflect the final season of repentance before the rest of harvest comes. At some point, each feast is no longer a rehearsal but a divine fulfillment. Can we feel yet the bridge of an age we've approached?
Reading Feasts of the Lord (Howard, Rosenthal; Thomas Nelson, 1997) I am struck by detailed fulfilling from the Prophets and the Writings, of the perfection of Messiah, and the awesome thought and planning of the Divine. I am also profoundly saddened at the loss of power and understanding we have today, having fallen so far from the feasts and their meaning for uniting families to God and each other. In the years I spent in a particular denomination, I felt the futility of man-made traditions, and had no idea how some religion got where it was. It bore no resemblance to first century believers in Yeshua as Savior, had completely departed from feasts as given in Scripture, and messed with our ability to understand anything he said or did. His revelation of the Father & His word have to be seen through the lens of its Jewish setting, history, language, geography, and context.
Worse yet is the fall for families, who at least until the mid-twentieth century still raised children in a society that honored some form of Sabbath. What happened to spending hours at a table together in a meal honoring, remembering God? What happened to the dad's role in blessing his children, blessing the bread, serving the meal, giving his family the pleasure and memory of his voice in prayer? God, the father all fatherhood comes from (Ephesians 3:15), wonderfully used the meals of the feasts as an important way to teach children about Him. And I love how often feasts include the father or rabbi reading whole books of the Bible. When we are learning a few memory verses, Jewish children are annually hearing and learning whole books of the Bible.
As my train story suggests, I had the privilege of traveling in Israel one year during Purim. Though its celebration is not among the set ones in Torah, it still honors Jewish leaders who stepped up to be used divinely in the saving of their people -- the best kind of 'super hero' to teach. It was also a Sabbath, so by getting off the beaten path of pilgrimage and tourism, I had the enlightening joy of being included in the family Shabbat. There was a precious sense of community where we were. We walked together up the street to the synagogue, giving neighbors a chance to exchange greetings and ask one another how their sons were (among those with sons and daughters in the IDF). Friendly updates were given until we entered the synagogue, where sons parted to follow abbas and daughters followed immas upstairs. Though only an hour long series of prayers and hymns were shared, the time at Synagogue flowed beautifully into the evening's long, peaceful dinner. I had never witnessed such a meal, in which Dad blessed each child, kissing the tops of their heads, and proceeding to each step of the meal not by rote, but worshipfully, and with a sense of fun for the group. The hostess graciously interpreted the Hebrew portions for me, and I couldn't help but think, my, how far our family meals have regressed!
Throughout Israel's history, feasts brought the entire community together, and even when scattered among nations, traveling to worship at Jerusalem kept a centralized sense of worship and reality of their God, their 'place' in Him, reminding of His faithful ownership of them and the land. What a national identity for a people. What might happen in our homes, communities, & nation if we gathered year by year at these times, to read Esther or Ruth as a family, or stay up all night talking about Scripture? The meals and time given to honor and celebrate each feast would, through the passage of time, lay a very different foundation than the one we are laying, for each growing child and young adult as to the goodness and power of God. In the ancient paths to Jerusalem, families quoting Psalms of thanksgiving, helped children commit whole psalms to memory, another spiritual and intellectual height from which we've fallen. Christians can sometimes recite the 23rd Psalm, but feast-honoring Jewish children would recite, by an early age, the Hallel, Psalms 113-118. The fact that so many feasts (and weekly Sabbaths) had family table time would evoke thoughts of God in children and keep families centered in Him. Oh, the impact of God's generational thinking!
"When your son asks you in time to come, saying, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded [instructed] you?' then you shall say to your son, 'We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and the Lord showed signs and wonders before our eyes, great and severe, against Egypt, Pharoah, and all his household, then He brought us out from there that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to observe [remember and guard] all these statutes to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day.'" Deuteronomy 6:20-24
From the children's 'question-answer' time at the Passover seder to the light-hearted search for leaven during Unleavened Bread, even the playful use of noise-makers to drown out the name of Haman in the Purim reading of Esther, all show the tremendous sense of family embedded in Jewish community life, for the sake of generational training and revelation of God and His Salvation. It all points to His understanding of the developing nature in the heart of a child, who is most influenced by his parents, not peers, and gives convincing evidence as to why western family lifestyle and worship lack power and consistency in biblically revealing God and shaping God-centered children. The passage above shows that honoring and rehearsing things given by the Lord brings his blessing, protection, and is good for us.
Children are story-loving creatures born for adventure! How imaginations soared toward God each spring as children listened to the amazing deliverance story of Passover. How beautifully and tenderly early friends and disciples of Yeshua, later called Jesus, told of Him in their seders, after that Passover in which He had been given silver for, pierced, wrapped, buried and hidden, and found. It is no wonder that children had actively participated in Jesus' ministry, since He, too, was an awesome teller of parables, as He grouped midrashim (story examples) into teachings. The celebration I enjoyed in a village in the outskirts of Jerusalem with my Jewish friends, really brought home to me the silly nature of some of our "Constantine-ized" holidays... (Easter Bunny? Seriously?) Sparing the history lesson on how the digressions happened, it was obvious that Jewish culture held to something worth celebrating, so I ask, what are we teaching our children?
Reading The Feasts of the Lord, I felt some disappointment in some of the described modern celebration of the feasts. The lack of temple worship on the actual temple site was a factor, yet I'm sure there are rabbis and synagogues that still teach and await the Messianic day. The manner in which the Apostle Paul, for example, reasoned from Scripture with Jews in synagogues of the time, was effective in persuading men in relationship with Yeshua Ha-Mashiach (later translated as Jesus Christ). Some modern application for the feasts don't have the same reference points enjoyed in the first century, points of context and agreement that kept us closer to our Hebraic roots. Not only have centuries of anti-Semitism taken a great toll, the decline in Hebrew education and the movement away from Hebraic roots in the Christian world have left us orphaned of the witness of seven major pictures on God's amazing timeline, and we raise unfortunate generations without these concepts. May the Spirit of Wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (Ephesians 1:17) whet our appetites and help bridge believers in One True God through the celebrations built in feasts for His Family.
Editorial Note: The above is an abridged version of an academic review by this author, of the book The Feasts of the Lord, Kevin Howard & Marvin Rosenthal. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997.