Since the evening of September 28, the observant Jewish community has entered a 21 day holy-holiday season that encompasses the last three of the seven annual feasts given by God to Israel through Moses (Leviticus 23:4-44).
Once again it’s important to remember that everything in life has a story. That’s true of the Fall Feasts. They find their meaning in the light of the back story of the the four annual Spring feasts that precede them.
The first three, Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and a somewhat mysterious Feast of First Fruits, are all part of a Passover celebration that finds special significance on the the 14th, 15th, and 16th days of the same week.
According to Moses, the third of these first three feasts was to be celebrated only after Israel had entered their promised land. It was then that the priest was to wave a sheaf of the first harvest (barley) of the season, “on the day after the sabbath”(23:10-11, 15).
For important reasons, some of which will become clearer as this unfolds, there has been a lot of discussion about what Moses meant by “on the day after the sabbath.” Moses, himself forced this discussion when he went on to use very specific language in linking the fourth feast to the third.
According to Moses the fourth feast of “Weeks/Pentecost” was to take place exactly 7 weeks (50 days) after the third feast day (i.e. 50 days after the priest had waved the first sheaf offering before the Lord (v 15).
Thousands of years later, the observant Jewish community considers these details important and refers to the process as “the counting of the Omer”.
According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “Counting of the Omer (or Sefirat Ha’omer) is a verbal counting of each of the forty-nine days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot. This mitzvah derives from the Torah commandment to count forty-nine days beginning from the day on which the Omer, a sacrifice containing an omer-measure of barley, was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, up until the day before an offering of wheat was brought to the Temple on Shavuot. The Counting of the Omer begins on the second day of Passover (the 16th of Nisan) for Rabbinic Jews.”
The reason that explaining “the counting of the Omer” is important is that it not only shows that the relationship of the festivals, but that Rabbinic Israel sees the first three festivals as falling within the week of Passover.
According to the New Testament each of these first four feasts, Passover (1Cor 5:7; unleavened bread (1Cor 5:8); first fruits (1Cor 15:20); and Pentecost (Acts 1:6-9; 2:1-4) all find fullness of meaning in the events of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and the gift of his Spirit on Pentecost.
These Spring festivals are then followed by a lengthy period of the summer growing season. Several months pass before the last three Fall harvest festivals that Moses called for.
One reason for taking the time to give this backstory to the fall feasts is that for some time Israel has been calling Rosh Hashana (the first of the fall feasts) the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Yet God, through Moses calls the month of Passover “the first month”. If we don’t remember where the story of the holiday-holy days starts it’s harder to recognize the real meaning and story of the annual cycle of feasts that Moses called for.
Seems to me in this story we find examples of the subtle ways in which the patterns of Israel’s national and religious history find fullness of meaning and fulfillment in Jesus. Who but God could have anticipated or orchestrated such compelling reasons to see his presence in the life, death, and resurrection of his long awaited Messiah?
And what could give us more reason than to look for more meaning and eventual fulfillment in the Fall Festivals of the nation God has chosen to reveal himself, and his offer of complete pardon, and immortality to all– through faith in his Messiah/Son.