Israel had nine appointed festival seasons, of which only three are technically called “feasts.” The Passover (Unleavened Bread), the Feast of Weeks (Harvest, Firstfruits, Pentecost), and Tabernacles (Ingathering) are the only three designated by the Hebrew word for feast. All the males of Israel were required to go up to Jerusalem for these three feasts. All three were memorials to the Exodus, and they all revolved around the agricultural year.
The LORD provided times of feasting and rejoicing (what we call holidays) for His people, and we can find principles in the Old Testament to show us how to use holidays for God’s glory. Let’s observe five primary principles.
First, they reenacted the event to be remembered. For the Passover they sanctified the firstborn of man and beast, ate a sacrificial lamb with unleavened bread, and put the blood on the door posts and lintels (Ex. 12). During the Feast of Weeks they presented the first fruits of the wheat harvest to remind them that they were once slaves in the land of Egypt (Deut. 16:12). The Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated by actually living in make-shift booths for seven days to remind them of the days when they came out of Egypt (Lev. 23:43). Applying this principle to our holidays may lead us to make nativity scenes, participate in a sunrise service, dress up as pilgrims and Indians, or perhaps take part in a reenactment of some past patriotic event. Families and churches can be very creative in producing events that remind us of the historical occasion that we are remembering.
Secondly, they rejoiced before the Lord with all their family and household (Deut. 16:11, 14). This included special meals and social times. Also provision was made for the poor, elderly, etc. As we think about this for our holidays, we should make them a happy family time of rejoicing with planned meals and social gatherings with friends. Perhaps at Christmas we could provide food and gifts for a family in need.
The feasts also provided them opportunity to revere, praise, and worship God (Lev. 23:6-8). We need to go out of our way at holiday times to make them God-centered. We should have special services at church and home, sing appropriate songs of praise, and give offerings (Deut. 16:10). Certainly Thanksgiving is a perfect time for churches to receive special offerings to allow Christians to express their gratitude for God’s great provision.
In all the feasts they remembered the basic principle for having the feast. They were to remember the slavery in Egypt, the miraculous Exodus, and the difficulties of the past. We must not allow the world’s philosophy to rob us of the true meaning of our holidays. Christmas is the greatest time of the year to proclaim the incarnation of the only Savior. Easter reminds us that the only hope of life everlasting is bound up in the risen Christ. Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc. can all provide opportunities for spiritual lessons as we remember the events for which they stand.
Finally, they relaxed. Each feast had sabbath or “no work” days (Lev. 23:7, 21). Humans need rest. Sometimes we are so busy and driven that we feel guilty about resting. We need to work hard and rest “hard.” Holidays should have some “down” time, time to just sit around and enjoy each other, perhaps having games, taking a nap, or some type of recreation.
If we celebrate our holidays in a biblical manner they should cause great gratitude to our God and provide joy and rest in His service. Celebrating holidays like this should cause us to recognize that all of our days, weeks, months, and years revolve around Him. If it is not so, we are missing life as God meant it to be.
John Mincy holds an MA and PhD from Bob Jones University. He served as a missionary pastor in Singapore and is now pastor emeritus of Heritage Baptist Church in Antioch, California.
(Originally published in FrontLine • Nov/Dec 2011. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)