Feast Days & Holidays in the Bible

Holidays! Don't we all look forward to them? They are a time of rest and relaxation, of fun and enjoyment - a time to spend on ourselves.

But how many of you know that the origin of the word holiday is 'holy day'?

Holidays, or 'holy days', were originally days set apart for the worship of God. They were days in which men and women stopped doing everyday things for themselves and instead concentrated on what God had done for them.

Importantly for the Israelites, one day out of every seven had to be set aside for God. It was called the Sabbath and was the seventh day of the week. The pattern of six days of work and one day of rest can be traced right back to the very beginning when God created everything in six days and 'rested' on the seventh. The Sabbath belonged to God and the Israelites had to use the day to worship Him and remember all that He had done.

Other important 'holy days' were kept by the Israelites and one of the most important was the Passover. Indeed, it is still a very important festival in Israel today.

It began when the Israelites were captives in Egypt. On the night God delivered them from captivity each Israelite family had to sacrifice a lamb and paint some of the blood on the outside of their door posts and lintels. When the angel of God went through Egypt to kill all the firstborn (the eldest of each family) he "passed over" the Israelites' houses that were marked with the blood and so spared them. The Egyptians were not so fortunate!

Bread made quickly without yeast - unleavened bread - was eaten at the Passover meal and all through the following week. This served to remind the Israelites of the hurried preparations made the night they left Egypt when Pharaoh finally allowed them to go.

When the Israelites were in their own land a special ceremony was held at the end of the week after Passover. This was the ceremony of the Firstfruits when the first sheaf of the barley harvest was presented to God.

The main harvest festival, however, came fifty days later. It was the Feast of Weeks and it was a time of great rejoicing and thanksgiving for God's gifts at harvest. It later came to be known as Pentecost from the Greek word for 'fiftieth' and it was during that festival, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, that the disciples were given special powers to perform miracles and to heal people.

The beginning of every festival was signalled by a blast of trumpets but on the first day of the seventh month the trumpets were sounded for a very special celebration. The Feast of Trumpets was a very solemn day of rest and worship and it later became known as Rosh Hashanah - the New Year festival.

The most popular and joyful of all the celebrations, however, was the Feast of Tabernacles, which was held in the autumn after all the fruit crops had been harvested. The celebrations included camping out in tents (or 'tabernacles') as a reminder to the Israelites of the time when they had lived in tents in the wilderness.

There were other festivals too, including Hanukkah (Festival of Lights) and Purim, but although they were times of rejoicing and feasting, they were primarily times of thanksgiving to God and occasions to remember outstanding events in the history of Israel. God wanted His people to have times of rest and rejoicing, but they were not to be holidays as we think of them today. No. They were to be 'holy days'.

So, when we have a party or a holiday let us enjoy it as God would like us to. Let us remember that it is God who has given us all things and let us thank Him for all His blessings.

[You can read about the Passover, the Sabbath and the different feasts in the following Bible passages: - Exodus 12Exodus 20:8-11Leviticus 23Numbers 29;  Deuteronomy 16:1-15]

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