Pilgrim Feasts

We are not under the Law of Moses. So, you and I are not commanded to observe pilgrim feasts three times a year. Which is good because who could afford to travel to Jerusalem three times between the months of March and September or April and October? Crazy lunar calendar. But I think we may miss something here as well. What are we willing to give God? I wonder if the Israelites ever decided to skip the whole pilgrim feast thing because it was too inconvenient; because it interfered with fishing; because it cost too much; because they were dissatisfied with the last pilgrim feast they went to. I wonder sometimes if we haven’t made being a Christian too easy. I mean is Christianity really about church shopping until you find the one that suits your personal wants; the one with the music you like; the one with the preacher who doesn’t say anything to get you all riled up; the one that doesn’t expect anything more from you than to show up on a Sunday morning and maybe to give some money?  What are you willing to give God? Are you willing to be inconvenienced? Are you willing to give your best?

Exodus 23:14-19 is about the three pilgrim feasts the Israelites were commanded to observe and sacrifices. But really it is about putting God first; about being thankful to the provider of the feast. So Yahweh lets them know that they are expected to keep three pilgrim feasts for or to God. The first thing we are called upon to understand is that these feasts are for God. We know that the people of Israel enjoyed them, just like we often enjoy going to a party for other people. The first feast is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was to be observed in the month of Abib (March-April), or the month of green growth, referring either to the Barley ready to be harvested or the newly planted wheat and spelt. This is a seven day observance in which all leaven is to be taken out of the house. It is to remember the time they came out of Egypt, but it was also a thankful celebration of the Barley harvest which had been planted in the winter. And notice the command that no one is to appear before God empty. As they celebrate and eat unleavened barley bread, they are to give thank offerings to God. He is the provider of the feast.

The second pilgrim feast is called here Feast of Harvest of the First Fruits. It was observed seven weeks later and is called Feast of Weeks or Pentecost in the New Testament because seven weeks would be about fifty days. This was the wheat and spelt harvest (May-June). It is called the harvest of First Fruits because the bread made from the first of the harvest was to be sacrificed to God. It also involved the sacrifice of seven lambs, one young bull, and two rams (Leviticus 23:18-19). This is again about saying “thank you” to the provider of the feast. The third pilgrim feast is called here “The Feast of Ingathering” (September-October) and is also called the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. This feast was celebrated during the final harvest of the year, which would include grapes and olives. This was an eight day feast that included the offering of 70 bulls. Three times a year between March and October, every male Israelite was commanded to travel to Jerusalem to appear before the face of the Lord Yahweh. No matter where in Israel they lived, the men were to travel to Jerusalem to keep these feast for him before his face.

Verses 18 and 19 give guiding principles concerning blood and fat offerings. Blood and fat were not to be eaten by the Israelites (Leviticus 2:16-17; 7:22-27). They were to be sacrificed to the Lord (Exodus 29:12-13; Numbers 18:17). Don’t mix in leaven with the blood, which would make it unclean. Leaven, not always, but often represented uncleanness. The Fat was to be offered right away. You don’t put off serving Yahweh. We are not sure why the young goat was not to be boiled in the milk of its mother. Many have suggested that this instruction was given in order to avoid what other nations were doing. That seems likely but it may also be true that God did not want them to kill the goat with life giving milk. We cannot be sure why this command was given. You can bet that it is about honoring and thanking God.

Today God wants us to gather together and to worship him. One of the first things we probably should acknowledge is that worship is not about us; it is for and before the face of God. That doesn’t mean we don’t party, because we do. Yahweh gave his son to die for you so that you could live. That kind of calls for a party. But it is his party; for him and before his face. We joyfully observe the Lord’s Supper. We offer up sacrifices of songs and prayers. We praise and celebrate because he is still the provider of the Spiritual Feast. Don’t skimp on your thanks and praise then. Peace, Walter