Many of us have heard the story of Squanto, a Patuxet Indian who taught the Plymouth Pilgrims how to grow corn. Less well known is that he also helped them survive by teaching them how to catch a highly nutritious fish—eel. Evidence suggests that Native Americans on the east coast had been trapping and eating eels for thousands of years, and it became a staple of the Pilgrims as well.
Today, the Thanksgiving holiday still commemorates the survival of the Pilgrims and the provision of God—even though traditionally we eat turkey and not eel! For the nation of Israel, holidays were truly holy days. At the heart of the covenant was the recognition that God was Lord over all of life, including their diet, agricultural livelihoods, financial transactions, worship practices, and the rhythms, schedules, and seasons of their social and personal lives.
The “big three” holidays on the Jewish calendar were Passover (vv. 1–8), the Festival of Weeks (vv. 9–12), and the Festival of Tabernacles (vv. 13–15). Passover commemorated the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt, and especially the awesome signs and wonders the Lord had done to free His people. Celebrating these events annually reminded the people that their God was worthy of their love and worship. Jesus Himself ate the Passover meal just before His death—an event we know as the Last Supper and which we ourselves celebrate as the Lord’s Supper. The Festival of Weeks, like Thanksgiving, was a harvest holiday for wheat. The Festival of Tabernacles was also mainly a harvest holiday for dates, grapes, olives, and other crops.
For each of these three festivals, all Israelite men were required to make a pilgrimage and appear before the Lord at the national worship center (vv. 16–17). Covenant holiday seasons were to be filled with gratitude, joy, and worship.