In Celebrate the Feasts, Martha Zimmerman writes: “Psychologists tell us that traditions build feelings of security into the child.” A child who participates in special events “senses that he belongs to an ongoing tradition that has deep significance.” For many, celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas provide traditions that instill a sense of belonging and meaning.
Leviticus 23 presents Israel’s major feasts, divided into two groups: spring-time feasts (vv. 5–22) and autumn feasts (vv. 23–44). They were to be “sacred assemblies” during which all Israelites joined together before the Lord, for rest, thanksgiving, and worship (vv. 1–2).
Not surprisingly, the first on the list is the weekly Sabbath. Based on Genesis 2:2–3, the nation was commanded to cease from its labors and to enjoy rest in the Lord one day a week (see also Ex. 20:8–11). By abstaining from work, the Israelites affirmed their trust in the Lord’s provision and refreshed themselves in Him.
The first of the spring feasts combined Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which celebrated deliverance from Egypt. Next came the celebration of the first fruits, focusing on God’s faithful provision of the harvest. Finally, the Feast of Weeks praised God for the current harvest and set aside a time of rest (v. 21). Since each of these feasts involved the harvest, they were followed by the command to leave some grain in the fields for the poor (v. 22). We see the connection between praising God and helping others.
The second set of feasts occurred during the fall. The first, Rosh Hashanah, was a day of rest commemorated with trumpets, reminding the nation that the Lord God who battled on their behalf was still present with them. The most solemn day of the year was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which was a time of self-denial and repentance. Finally, the Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the end of the harvest and reminded the nation of God’s care when they wandered in the wilderness.
Bible scholar Roy Gane summarizes Israel’s feasts this way: “The festivals were major milestones in the yearly spiritual journey . . . as the people connected worship of God with His historical and/or agricultural goodness on their behalf.”
As Christmas nears, let’s remember to connect worship of our Lord with all that He has done to redeem and provide for us. Consider setting aside a day of rest specifically to praise the Lord and to enjoy His goodness.