Fall is the time of the year when Jewish people and an increasing number of Christians celebrate some special days. The Jews commemorate these festivals as part of their culture which is rooted in their history of release from Egyptian slavery, their journey through the desert, their settlement in Canaan and their religious and agricultural rituals enjoined to them by the Mosaic law. Christians who celebrate these festivals do so for a variety of reasons. Some think that commemorating these is compulsory and a refusal to keep them is a violation of God’s command. Others want to show solidarity with modern Israel as “the people of God” hence the celebrations.
The majority of Christians who celebrate the Jewish festivals as well as those who do not observe them believe that these Old Testament feasts were all part of the Old Covenant agreement that Jesus came to fulfil. Consequently, it is common knowledge among them, that the meaning of these festivals is made clear in the life, mission, sacrifice, resurrection and present work of the triune God.
Interpretations of the meaning of these festivals vary from group to group and from person to person. One group, in particular, have long held traditions and interpretations that bear little resemblance to Scripture.
The writer, of this article, presents his thoughts concerning the meanings of the Jewish fall festivals described in Lev.23:23-44 namely, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles. He is not saying that his ideas are final or even entirely correct. All he is asking is that you read with wisdom, open-mindedness, and discernment.
Feast of Trumpets
This day was observed on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. In ancient Israel, the day included a rest from regular work, a sacred assembly commemorated with the blowing of trumpets and presentation of sacrificial offerings. None of the New Testament writers makes direct reference to this day, so most of the interpretations are based on uninspired connections made by individuals.
Many connect this feast day with the return of Christ. Jesus will return to this earth with the blast of the trumpet as described by Paul in 1Thes.4:16 Also, 1Cor.15:52. Some Christians believe that Jesus will return on this day since Jesus died on Passover, he rose from the dead on first fruits, and the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. I do not think that Christ will return on a feast of Trumpets since that will make the day of his return known to some. Jesus said that no man knows the day of his coming.
In ancient Israel, the trumpet was blown to signify and celebrate significant occasions apart from the day of Trumpets. Much like how the African slaves of the Caribbean used the beating of drums to send messages to slaves on other plantations, the Israelites used the trumpet to message their people. The horn announced significant events (Num.10:1-10).
They blew the trumpet on the Day of Atonement (Lev.25:9), to announce war (Zeph.1:6), to announce the coronation of a new king (1Kings 1:34). Could this Day of Trumpets signify the announcement of good news, the proclamation of the gospel throughout the world? The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet, declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.” Isa.58:1
A significant occasion in Jesus’ ministry was when he stood up in the synagogue and began to read from Isaiah chapter 61. After reading the first two verses, he rolled up the scroll and handed it back to the attendant and he took his seat (Luke 4:18-20).
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
Then, he dropped a bombshell,
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (v.21).
What a transformative announcement! In the writer’s mind, this proclamation by Jesus was indeed part of what the day of Trumpets implied.
Could the feast of Trumpets also be a foretelling of the coming Messiah? Indeed, the promised Messiah, whose coming the Scriptures announced repeatedly, arrived into the world to the joyful praises of angels (Luke 2:13-14). Instead of trumpets, angels brought the happy news of his birth to the shepherds, and wise men from the east followed his star (Luke 2:10; Matt.2:2). Further, Gabriel told Mary that her son would save his people from their sins (Matt.1:21). In ancient Israel, there is no doubt that the trumpet would have announced these momentous occurrences and so the writer believes that the feast of Trumpets alludes to these world-changing events.
The Day of Trumpets whether it signifies the return of Christ, the proclamation of the gospel, or the first coming of Messiah, these constitute essential themes in Christianity that ought to engage our impassioned attention.
Day of Atonement
The day of Atonement was celebrated with fasting and making atonement for sins. The meaning of this day addressed clearly and extensively in New Testament Scripture. Both Old and New Testaments speak of Jesus becoming the substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf (Isa.53:4-6; Heb.10:12). The epistles to the Romans and that to the Hebrews outline the sacrificial work of Jesus without which we would still be in our sins and without hope in the world. The Day of Atonement is about God redeeming the world through his Son Jesus Christ, not by the Old Covenant sacrifices and rituals. The Christian community well understands the meaning of the day of Atonement.
This day has absolutely nothing to do with the placing of sin on Satan’s head as some erroneously teach. Attributing the work of God to Satan is to snuggle up close to the offence of blasphemy. See my article, The Meaning of the Azazel Goat. Instead, it has everything to do with the payment Jesus Christ made on the cross for our sins. He is our atoning sacrifice and the scapegoat that took our place at Calvary.
The Feast of Tabernacles
The Feast of Tabernacles was an eight-day feast celebrated at the end of the agricultural harvest in ancient Israel. All Hebrew males were expected to attend this feast, Passover and Pentecost in Jerusalem. The first and eight days of this feast were rest days and convocations. Celebration on the first day also included collecting preferred fruits along with palm fronds and branches of other trees. The Israelites used these throughout the time in their joyful celebration before God (Lev.23:39-41).
Living in booths
The festival had a unique feature where all native Hebrews had to live in booths for seven days. The practice of living in tents for the duration of the feast was to remind the Israelites that they lived in tents when they came out of Egypt.
On the surface, the Scripture does not seem to give us a specific meaning for the feast of tabernacles as it does for the day of Atonement and Passover. However, working from the premise that the realities of these days are found in Christ (Col.2:17) one must look for their fulfilment in Jesus.
It is interesting that John 1:14 states that,
“The word became flesh and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Young’s Literal Translation).
The Feast of Tabernacles looks like a prefigurement of Jesus’ first coming inclusive of all the benefits his coming brought humanity. One has to ask whether the command to Israel to use choice fruits and tree branches in their feast was not a foreshadowing of the gifts Jesus brought. His coming brought the choicest fruits of love, peace, rest, salvation, forgiveness, eternal life.
Israel was told to rejoice before the Lord during the feast (Lev.23:41). Paul encourages Christians to exult in the Lord always (Phil.4:4). We rejoice in the One depicted by all these Jewish feasts.
During the feast of Tabernacles, the Israelites were told to build booths and live in them. Is this too much of a stretch to think that this practice was a forerunner of the time when God would dwell in his people through his Holy Spirit? (1Cor.3:16; 2Cor.6:16)
Living in booths during the feast served to remind the Israelites that when they came out of Egypt (slavery), they lived in tents. The Christian, after deliverance from the world’s slavery, is required to live a life that is no longer controlled by the ways of the world. We are to live like strangers and sojourners (temporary dwellers) here (1Pet.2:11). The world is our booth so to speak. It is not our home for we are citizens of another domain (Phil.3:20).
The water libation ritual
Jesus gave us a remarkable understanding of the routine of water libation practised by the Jews of his time during the feast of Tabernacles. The Jewish encyclopaedia gives this information about the practice.
“At the morning service on each of the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) a libation of water was made together with the pouring out of wine (Suk. iv. 1; Yoma 26b), the water being drawn from the Pool of Siloam in a golden ewer of the capacity of three logs. It was borne in solemn procession to the water-gate of the Temple, where the train halted while on the Shofar was blown “teḳi’ah, teru’ah, teḳi’ah.” The procession then ascended the “kebesh,” or slanting bridge to the altar, toward the left, where stood on the east side of the altar a silver bowl for the water and on the west another for the wine, both having snout-like openings, that in the vessel for the wine being somewhat the larger. Both libations were poured out simultaneously” (Suk. iv. 9). (Eisenstein)
Eisenstein, Judah David. “http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14794-water-drawing-feast-of.” n.d. 15 09 2018.
About this water-pouring ceremony, Jesus declared,
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” John 7:37-38
John further explained that Jesus was speaking about the coming Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit with all his fruits and gifts has been lavished on the church to enable believers to live holy lives, encourage and strengthen each other and to preach the gospel.
Jesus made it plain to the feast attendees that the reality of the feast is in him.
There is no need to exhaust oneself taking time off from work, pulling the children out of school and driving hundreds of miles to keep a Jewish feast, when accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour is the answer to all of that unnecessary burden and toil.
The feast days given to ancient Israel were never intended for all times. Like the sacrificial, ceremonial and legal system given by God, they were the vehicle for bringing the people to faith in Christ (Gal.3:23-25). They were not an end in themselves.
All the feasts of Israel have embodied within them the glorious work of God which he unfolds through Jesus Christ for the salvation of humanity. We have much reason to rejoice in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who has redeemed us and will keep us to the day of his triumphant appearing.