We have seen in Part 1 of the Worship Changes with the Giving of the Law that the liturgy of the children of Israel became increasingly complex with that giving. Part of the law included a series of feasts or festivals there were also become part of the new liturgy.
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col 2:16-17 ESV)
Before proceeding with what the Law says, it’s important to note that these feasts are important to understanding original Christianity because of what the verses above say. They say that all the minutia of the law, including the Sabbath and the festivals, are a shadow of the things to come. The first four festivals relate to events in the first coming of the Savior. The last three feasts relate to the second coming.[i]
Leviticus 23 specifies the following as festivals:
- The Passover
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread
- The Feast of Firstfruits – occurs in the week of the Passover festival
- The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost
- The Feast of Trumpets
- The Day of Atonement
- The Feast of Booths or Tabernacles
All of these feasts are called “holy convocations”, which means they were times set aside as sacred for the people to gather and celebrate. The word feast used in the Biblical references to these events is actually 1 of 2 words.
“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts. (Lev 23:2 ESV)
This word feasts above is the Hebrew word mo’ed which means appointment, or fixed time or season.
And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. (Lev 23:6 ESV)
This word Feast here is the Hebrew word chagag which means to celebrate, to dance, to hold a solemn feast or holy day. See the words celebrate and dance in there. These were festivals!
Even though there were seven feasts, these feasts were divided into three festival seasons. Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits are in the month of Nisan which is in the spring. Pentecost, also called the feast of Weeks, is celebrated in Sivan, two months later. Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles all happen in the month of Tishrei which is in the fall, about four months after Pentecost.
The feasts were to be done at the appointed place:
“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. (Deu 16:16 ESV)
We read in the verse above that the feasts are to be at “the place that he will choose”.
Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts! Your eyes will see Jerusalem, an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up, nor will any of its cords be broken. (Isa 33:20 ESV)
Above we see Jerusalem named as the city which is that appointed place for the feasts.
We read in the law about Passover:
And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exo 12:25-27 ESV)
In the spring Passover occurs on the 14th of Nisan. Unleavened bread comes on the next day, the 15th of Nisan to the 21st:
But you shall present a food offering to the LORD for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.” (Lev 23:8 ESV)
During the week of unleavened bread comes the feast of First Fruits where sheaves of barley are waived:
“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD. And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the LORD with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin. And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. (Lev 23:10-14 ESV)
The first of the feasts, Passover, celebrates the deliverance of the children of Israel from Pharaoh, a type of Satan, who had legal ownership of them. 50 days later, Pentecost, commemorates the day that the Lord gave the law on Mount Sinai. The feast of the Passover isn’t considered over until Pentecost. As said earlier, the feasts were a shadow of things to come. Jesus was the Passover lamb for all time on the 14th of Nisan. He was in the sepulcher on the day of Unleavened Bread, the 15th of Nisan. He was resurrected on the day of the First Fruits, the 17th of Nisan.[ii]
Pentecost, of course, is the day of the outpouring of the holy spirit after Jesus’s resurrection.
Passover celebrates the protection from judgment by the blood of the lamb. During the original Passover, anyone who had the blood of the lamb in the right places on their doorposts was protected from the judgment of the Lord and their firstborn were spared. As a shadow of things to come, the blood of our Savior protects us from that judgment. Just as the Passover lamb had to be without blemish, so did the Savior have to be without blemish or sin. The Passover lamb was to be killed at twilight, as was our Savior. The Passover lamb was to be eaten; our communion service is symbolic that our lives are made alive by the eating and drinking of the body and blood of Jesus as the perfect lamb. These are just some of the correlations between the old covenant and the new.
The fall festival season actually begins with a period of repentance. Just like some people fast during the periods of Advent and Lent in what is called the liturgical year in some Christian churches, the children of Israel have a 40 day period before the second fall festival, the Day of Atonement, called Teshuveh. Thirty days into Teshuveh is the Rosh Hashonah, the Feast of Trumpets, the first fall festival. Rosh Hashanah is about the resurrection of the dead among other things. The day of atonement, also called Yom Kippur, is celebrated on the 10th of Tishri. Yom Kippur is about the second coming of Christ. The third fall festival, the Feast of Tabernacles is observed from the 15th of Tishri two the 21st of Tishri. The Feast of Tabernacles is about the joy of the Messianic Kingdom which some people refer to as the Millennium.
One of the points of this article is to show the increasing sophistication of the liturgy of the children of Israel at this point. We have come from a time in Genesis where heads of families offered sacrifice on altars, and certainly prayers were offered, but there was no detailed, sophisticated liturgy. Now there is.
Besides what is in the bible there appears to be more sophistications of the feasts that developed. These increased details of the services come down in documents. The Haggadah is a document that Jews today used in preparing and reciting during the Seder.[iii]
This Seder meal has examples of an increase in sophisticated liturgy from the Haggadah. Here are some highlights from Edward Chiumney’s book. At one point there are three cakes of unleavened bread placed one on another with a napkin between each cake. The middle cake is broken in two. One piece is eaten by the people present and the other piece is hidden in the napkin. Toward the end of this Seder, the hidden piece is brought out and eaten by those around Passover table. During this Seder there are 4 cups of wine that are served to the people;
- the cup of blessing,
- the cup of wrath,
- the cup of blessing, salvation, or redemption
- the cup of the kingdom.
There is also another cup served called the cup of Elijah, which is poured out at the end of the Seder.[iv]
There is no command in the Law to do these cups. A google search brings up web sites that give possible reasons for this tradition. One site lists a number of places in the Law where the number four is symbolic, the first one being Exodus 6:6-8[v]:
Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. (Exo 6:6-9 ESV)
The four cups symbolize these four truths of redemption from the above verses. They are:
- I will take (bring in the above version) you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians
- I will deliver you from slavery to them
- I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment
- I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob
There are other symbolic fours given: Pharoah’s four evil decrees, four cups of wine in pharaoh’s butler’s dream, and four forces of impurity listed in the Kaballah.[vi]
I bring all of this up to show how liturgy developed. Before the Law liturgy was simple with very little structure. With the coming of the Law, the Law itself institutes numerous practices about the tabernacle, the temple, the priesthood, different kinds of sacrifices, and as we see in this article, a cycle of feasts to be celebrated every year.
Also, beyond what is in the Law, traditions developed and were eventually written down as the example of things from the Haggadah are shown in this post. Now, according to Jewish sources, they believe the Talmud was given orally to Moses at the same time he got the Law. We haven’t even started to look at the effect of the Talmud on these aspects of the liturgy.
And, of course, the reason I include this in the context of originalChristianity.net is Jesus’ charge to the Jews in Jesus time that they were voiding the Law with their traditions:
And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mar 7:5-13 ESV)
These verses appear to contradict that the instructions in the Talmud were given by revelation to Moses as Jewish tradition claims.
But that does not mean that drinking four cups of wine with the seder is evil, or wrong. Or eating 3 cakes. Or celebrating Thanksgiving at a church, for that matter. What is wrong is elevating religious traditions to the status of the Law, or the word of God. That is one of the things that Jesus took issue with on several occasions according to the gospel. And taking a stand against the elevation of the importance of tradition to be seen as important as the word of God was something Original Christianity was very concerned about.
[i] THE SEVEN FESTIVALS OF THE MESSIAH, Edward Chumney, Treasure House, Shippensburg, PA, 1994 P.1-5
[ii] Ibid p.14-16
[iv] THE SEVEN FESTIVALS OF THE MESSIAH p.43-44
[v] Chabad.org, Why four cups of wine by the seder, at https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/658549/jewish/Why-four-cups-of-wine.htm