I was reading a book set in the Middle Ages recently. I actually quit reading it because I had so much trouble keeping track of the characters – there were too many name changes, official and unofficial titles, nicknames, and unclear pronoun references!
Sometimes the holidays and celebrations established in the Laws of Moses feel similar – a little hard for us to keep track of. See if this helps:
There are Five Feasts established in the Law of Moses:
1. Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread – Passover memorializes the freeing of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt and recalls the night that death passed over the land and killed the firstborn of all but the Israelites. Passover is a meal with lamb representing the lamb that was slain and whose blood was put on the door frames; unleavened bread representing purity and recalling the night of their flight; and bitter herbs representing the horrors of bondage. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is the week after Passover. This is a “pilgrim” feast which required all males to travel to a designated spot to offer sacrifices. It normally occurred in March-April. (Ex 23,34; Deut 16, Num 9,28; Lev 23)
2. Feast of Weeks (or Harvest or Firstfruits, later Pentecost) – originally called the Festival of Weeks, it falls at the time of the wheat harvest in Israel and came to be called the Harvest Feast instead. It was to be 50 days after the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and eventually came to be called Pentecost (meaning 50)! This too was a pilgrim feast that required freewill offerings from the grain harvest, in proportion to the blessings the Lord had given you that year. It normally occurred in May-June. (Deut 16; Lev 23; Num 28)
3. Feast of Trumpets (later Rosh Hashanah) – This is a minor feast, an occassion for the blowing of the trumpets. It was celebrated on the first day of the seventh month on the religious calendar, which happened to be New Years on the civilian calendar and is currently celebrated as Rosh Hashanah in September-October. (Num 29, Lev 23)
4. Day of Atonement (later Yom Kippur) – The great significance of the Day of Atonement lies in the confession of sins and the purification of the people. The high priest laid his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed all the wickedness and rebellion of the people over it. Bearing the sins of the people, the goat was sent out into the desert. It is the only day when the Israelites were commanded to fast. It normally occurred in September-October. (Lev 16, 23)
5. Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths or Ingathering) – Following the Day of Atonement there was the Feast of Tabernacles. It was a week-long remembrance of Israel’s years of wandering in the desert as punishment for rebellion and the sin of disbelief. For one week they were to live in booths made of tree branches and rejoice that they were no longer wandering in the desert. It fell during a period of harvest or ingathering and was a joyful celebration of the Lord’s goodness, a reminder of all the blessings the Lord had given them. It normally occurred in September-October. (Lev 23, Num 29, Deut 16)
So… Five Feasts – all occasions for remembering and celebrating the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness to His people, in spite of their sin and rebellion. There were other feasts and festivals added to the Jewish calendar later, but these are the feasts from the Laws of Moses.
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” – Deut 7:9
* This format of the Law of Moses is found in The Daily Bible (Chronological) by Harvest House Publishers, commentary by F. LaGard Smith. I am so glad that someone grouped all the laws together and made sense of them for me!!