In honor of the High Holy Days, here is a lesson about the fall “feasts” of the Lord. We call them “feasts” in English, but in Hebrew they are called “Appointed Times”; times to spend with God. These special days are filled with symbolism and significance, and are especially fun to celebrate with children. My own children grew up loving this time of year, and celebrating these holy days of God was a big part of our lives.
God is really big on having celebrations and parties. He wants us to remember all the things He has done for us, and He knows the best way for us to remember is to have a special feast for it. God calls these special days “Sabbaths”. Sabbath means “Rest”, because these days are times when the people were not to work. God wanted them to take the day off in order to spend the day with Him. God really wants to spend time with us, but He knows we get really busy and won’t make the time to spend with Him if He doesn’t tell us to!
Once a week God told His people to celebrate the Sabbath day and keep it holy. What day was that? It was Saturday. Now, for the Jewish people, even today, a day doesn’t start when you wake up in the morning, or even at midnight in the middle of the night. Their days start at sundown of one day and end at sundown the next. So the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday evening and lasts until Saturday evening. This is a day for spending with family, reading scripture, eating a special meal, praying special prayers, and resting and being still with God. Isn’t that a wonderful idea? Christians have gotten away from this idea of keeping one special day just for family and God and for resting. We go to church on Sunday, but otherwise it’s usually just a normal, busy day, isn’t it? I think that’s really sad. God never told us we could stop having a special day once a week to spend with Him, and I think He still expects us to. It is one of the ten commandments, after all.
There were also many special celebrations or feasts throughout the year. There were three in the springtime and three in the autumn. With these feasts, God is the telling a story, the story of how He is dealing with His people. Those first three feasts of springtime have already been fulfilled. They were fulfilled on the very days they are celebrated. We can discuss them another day. The three fall feasts have not been fulfilled yet. They tell of things that will happen in the future. And since we are in the middle of celebrating these appointed times, we’ll talk about them today.
The first of the fall feasts is called “Rosh Hashanah”, which means “head of the year”. It is also called the feast of trumpets, since the shofar, or ram’s horn, is to be blown many, many times on that day. This feast takes place on the first day of the seventh month of the year. In fact, all three of the fall feasts take place during the seventh month of the year. Because this is the seventh month and has so many important days in it, this month considered the beginning of the Jewish year. This is confusing, but think about it. We in America also have two beginnings to our year! The calendar year begins with January, but the school year begins in August or September! Most businesses begin their year with July! So the Jews also have two beginnings to their year: the month of Nisan in the spring begins their spiritual year, and the seventh month, Tishri, begins their secular year.
Another reason for considering the seventh month to be the beginning of the year is that, traditionally, Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world. The Jews believe that God created the earth on that day over 6,000 years ago. I would not be surprised if this were true, as the Jews have a reputation for keeping track of important dates! At any rate, the seventh month in the Jewish calendar is their most important month. Just as they spend the sixth day of the week getting ready for the seventh day, the Sabbath day, they Jews spend the sixth month of the year getting ready for the seventh month. Every morning of the sixth month, except for the day before Rosh Hashanah, the shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown to remind the people that the time for repentance is now. On Rosh Hashanah, the last trumpet is sounded, and the priest cries out “You who are asleep, wake up! Search yourselves and repent! Remember your creator!” To Christians, this day is an important reminder that Jesus is coming again. Paul says in I Corinthians 15:52 that the last trumpet shall sound, the dead in Christ shall be raised, and we shall all be changed and taken up to meet our Lord in the air.
The ten days after Rosh Hashanah are solemn days of repentance, getting ready for the next feast, the Day of Judgement, or Yom Kippur. This day is actually a fast day, for no one eats or drinks anything that day, but prays that God accepts the sacrifices that are to atone for the sins of the people for the whole year. For Christians, we know that this holy day will be fulfilled on the day of the Last Judgement, when God will open the Lamb’s Book of Life. All those who have accepted Jesus’ death as atonement for their sins will go on to live with Him for eternity. Those who have not accepted Jesus will not be able to live with God, but must go to hell.
The third fall feast is called “Sukkot”, or the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. This week-long feast begins five days after Yom Kippur, and it is the origin of our own Thanksgiving day. This feast is a celebration of the final harvest. The Jews build booths, or tabernacles, outside and live in them for a week-long family camp-out. People who live in cities and who don’t have yards might build their booth, or sukkah, on their apartment balcony or on the roof! The booths are to remind the Jews of the 40 years their people lived in the wilderness, before reaching the Promised Land. It reminds them that God takes care of His people and provides all their needs. The booths, or sukkahs, must be flimsy in structure to remind us that our lives here on earth are temporary and that we are on our way to the ultimate Promised Land, our home in heaven with God. We as Christians know that this feast will not be fulfilled until the end of time, when we all get home to live with Jesus forever. Here’s a strange fact about this feast: it is to be a week long, but it is celebrated for 8 days! Have you ever heard of an 8 day week? Seven is the number of completion, and this feast completes the year and points to the completion of all time. Eight is the number of eternity. Seven plus one equals completion and beyond! This is the most fun of all the feasts, with camping out and bonfires and lots of good food and fun. It reminds us of how wonderful eternity living with God will be! It reminds of how much God wants to live with us forever: He wants to be our Emmanuel, “God with us”.