Many have regarded the feast days merely as Old Testament customs — archaic curiosities from way back in "Bible times." But God's festival celebrations are always up to date. Here's how to keep them in the 20th century.
Sometimes it's hard for certain people to see the Bible as up to date. To many, the Bible seems so old-fashioned — so "long ago." Take, for example, the Feast of Tabernacles. Most people in the professing Christian world have never even heard of the Feast of Tabernacles. Those who have heard of it associate it only with ancient Jewish traditions. Few have realized what a marvelous celebration, with deep spiritual meaning, the Feast of Tabernacles is. Yet those who keep it today have found it the highlight of the year. It is a time of family togetherness, a time of learning, of joy, a time to understand more fully the plan God is working out on this earth. Other articles in this special Fall Feast edition of The Good News explain why God's feast days should be kept today, and what the feast days picture. In this article we would like to show how the feast days were kept in ancient times and how they are kept today. There is no greater joy than the Feast of Tabernacles, and we want our readers to understand.
A time to rejoice
When God first instructed the nation of Israel to observe the annual feast days, He gave special instructions on financing the festivals so every family could properly rejoice. There were to be seven feast days observed in three festival seasons. Notice God's instruction: "You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstlings of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. "But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. "And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household" (Deuteronomy 14:22-26). Some professing Christian ministers have actually said that keeping the feast days is a curse, a yoke of bondage. But from reading the law God gave Moses, it certainly doesn't sound like God intended the feasts to be a yoke of bondage. It is evident God gave Israel His feasts to be times of family joy. He instructed every head of household to save for the feasts, take the family and rejoice. And that is exactly what God wants us to do today! Read further what God instructed in Deuteronomy 16:13-15: "You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress; and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates. "Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice."
Feast-keeping in the Old Testament
As we just read, the Israelites of old were told to keep the feasts where God instructed. At that time the feasts were observed in Jerusalem. Families would save for the feast seasons, and those who lived in other areas would travel to Jerusalem. The spring Feast of Passover, the early summer Feast of Firstfruits and the fall Feast of Tabernacles would find Jerusalem filled with families from all over the nation. The autumn Feast, which the Jewish people called Succoth, was the most special. By Jesus' time, the Jewish historian Josephus describes Jerusalem swelling to three times its normal size at the feast season. In order to stay for the festival week, people would make out of palm fronds temporary housing units on the flat roofs of Jerusalem's houses. Here families would sleep at night; during the day they attended Temple services and visited with their friends and relatives. It was at the Feast of Tabernacles season that Joseph and Mary came to Jerusalem, in the days of the Roman taxation. There was no room at any of the inns, so when it was time for Mary to deliver the baby, Jesus was born in a nearby stable and placed in a manger for the first few days (Luke 2:1-7). Later, when Jesus was 12 years old, He came to Jerusalem for the spring Passover Feast, as the family custom was every year (verse 41). Even though only 12, the young Jesus spent the days "in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions" (verse 46). Thus we see the feasts were a time for family trips, hearing the way of God and rejoicing in song, meals and fellowship.
But what about today?
Up to the time of Jesus, the feast days were observed in Jerusalem. But that was not the only place where God would choose to place His name. Later in His ministry, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, "Believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain [where the Samaritans held worship services], nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father" (John 4:21). The time would come when Jerusalem would not be the only place to worship God and observe His festivals. The New Testament Church would grow and spread throughout the world and observe God's feasts in other geographic regions. Many have falsely concluded the Holy Days are not to be observed by the New Testament Church. This concept is utterly false. True Christians are to be keeping God's festivals today — they were instituted forever. Be sure to read the article "Are the Holy Days to Be Kept Today?" beginning on page 8 of this issue. But how are God's feasts to be kept today? In the Old Testament, sacrificial rituals were an important part of Holy Day observance. But since Christ was the Passover lamb and the sacrifices were a picture of His sacrifice for our sins, we do not continue to offer animal sacrifices today. The Holy Days, however, did not picture Christ's sacrifice (except the Passover, which is still observed as a memorial of His death). The festival seasons picture something altogether different — the plan of salvation God is working out on this earth through humans. And that is the primary reason to keep the feasts. Without an understanding of the annual Holy Days, one cannot understand what man is nor the reason for human life.
One of life's greatest joys
The first and most important part of festival observance today is the spiritual understanding of God's plan. God's ministers give in-depth sermons of understanding and inspiration to help keep God's people motivated to the high calling we have in Christ Jesus. But we have also seen how God designed the festival seasons as times of family togetherness — of fun and relaxation. That's the way they should be kept today. God showed that His feasts would be kept in the place where He would place His name (Deuteronomy 14:23-24). Today God has led His Church to some of the most beautiful and educational resorts and convention centers in the world. In such environments God's people can live apart from their everyday world and work. Thousands can assemble to hear inspiring sermons, and in periods of free time visit cultural and educational sites, enjoy fine food, relax on beautiful beaches or hike through alpine meadows. Satan the devil has attempted to counterfeit God's festivals by instituting a whole system of pagan celebrations and calling them Christian. Yet at Satan's so-called holiday seasons more traffic deaths, murders, suicides, sicknesses and heartaches occur than at any other times of the year. There is more crime, drunkenness and going into debt, as well. Yet if one today chooses not to observe these pagan holidays and to instead observe the Holy Days that God commands he is viewed as weird, odd and maybe a little bit crazy. But once someone has stepped out in faith, set his mind to obey God and keep His feasts and saved a tithe of his income for these wonderful occasions, he will wonder how he ever made it without observing the Holy Days. My children have been reared all their lives with a knowledge of God's festivals. Now that some are grown, many of their fondest memories are of keeping the Holy Days. We have saved for trips to England and Australia. By observing the Holy Days with God's people, we have traveled as a family throughout most of the United States and Canada. And through it all, we have never been in debt purchasing excess gifts we couldn't afford. We have grown each year in spiritual understanding and have profited from the education of travel. No one can ever tell me keeping God's feasts is a yoke of bondage and a burden. Many of our new readers may not have known much about these Holy Days before reading this issue of The Good News. But we have tried to show the plan and purpose of God as revealed in the Holy Days. Keeping the Holy Days is one of life's greatest joys. If you would like to know more about the festivals and what they mean, read our free booklet Pagan Holidays — or God's Holy Days — Which?