Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
The Hebrew festivals were occasions of public religious observances, recurring at certain set and somewhat distant intervals. In general they may be divided into two kinds:—1. Those of divine institution; 2. Those of human origin. Those which owe their existence to the authority of God are, the seventh day of the week, or the Sabbath; the Passover; Pentecost; the Feast of Trumpets; the Day of Atonement; the Feast of Tabernacles; the New Moon. Festivals which arose under purely human influences are, the Feast of Lots or Purim; the death of Holofernes; the Dedication; the Sacred Fire; the death of Nicanor.
Reserving details for separate articles on such of these as shall seem to require and justify a distinct treatment, we confine ourselves here to a general outline, with some remarks on the origin and tendency of the chief festivals.
We have inserted the Sabbath for the sake of completeness, and, with the same view, we proceed to set down a few brief particulars respecting the daily service, so that we may at once present a general outline of the temple worship.
At the daily service two lambs of the first year were to be offered at the door of the tabernacle; one in the morning, the other in the evening, a continual burnt-offering. With each lamb was to be offered one-tenth of an ephah of flour, mingled with one-fourth of a hin of fresh oil, for a meat-offering, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink-offering. Frankincense was to be placed on the meat-offering, a handful of which, with the frankincense, was to be burnt, and the remainder was to be eaten by the priest in the holy place, without leaven. The priests were to offer daily the tenth of an ephah of fine flour, half in the morning and half in the evening, for themselves. The high-priest was to dress the lamps in the tabernacle every morning, and light them every evening; and at the same time burn incense on the altar of incense. The people provided oil for the lamps which were to burn from evening to morning: the ashes were removed by a priest, dressed in his linen garment and his linen drawers, and then carried by him out of the camp, in his common dress. Great stress was laid on the regular observance of these requirements (;;;;;; ).
Labor was to last not longer than six days. The seventh was a Sabbath, a day of rest, of holy convocation, on which no one, not even strangers or cattle, was allowed to do any servile work. The offender was liable to stoning.
On the Sabbath two lambs of the first year, without blemish, were to be offered for a burnt-offering, morning and evening, with two-tenths of an ephah of flour, mingled with oil, for a meat offering, and one-half of a hin of wine for a drink-offering, thus doubling the offering for ordinary days. Twelve cakes of fine flour were to be placed every Sabbath upon the table in the tabernacle, in two piles, and pure frankincense laid on the uppermost of each pile. These were to be furnished by the people; two were offered to Jehovah, the rest were eaten by the priests in the holy place (;;;;;;;;;;; ).
At the New Moon festival, in the beginning of the month, in addition to the daily sacrifice, two heifers, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year, were to be offered as burnt-offerings, with three-tenths of an ephah of flour, mingled with oil, for each heifer; two-tenths of an ephah of flour, mingled with oil, for the ram; and one-tenth of an ephah of flour, mingled with oil, for every lamb; and a drink-offering of half a hin of wine for a heifer, one-third of a hin for the ram, and one-fourth of a hin for every lamb. One kid of the goats was also to be offered as a sin-offering.
The first day of the seventh month was to be a Sabbath, a holy convocation, accompanied by the blowing of trumpets. In addition to the daily and monthly sacrifices, one ram and seven lambs were to be offered as burnt-offerings, with their respective meat-offerings, as at the usual New Moon festival (;; ).
Three times in the year—at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in the month Abib; at the Feast of Harvest, or of Weeks; and at the Feast of Ingathering, or of Tabernacles—all the males were to appear before Jehovah, at the place which he should choose. None were to come empty-handed, but everyone was to give according as Jehovah had blessed him; and there before Jehovah was everyone to rejoice with his family, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow (;; ).
The first of these three great festivals, that of Unleavened Bread, called also the Passover, was kept in the Month Abib, in commemoration of the rescue of the Israelites by Jehovah out of Egypt, which took place in that month. The ceremonies that were also connected with it will be detailed under the head Passover. In order to make the season more remarkable, it was ordained that henceforward the month in which it took place should be reckoned the first of the national religious year (). From this time, accordingly, the year began in the month Abib, or Nisan (March—April), while the civil year continued to be reckoned from Tishri (September—October) (;;;;;; ). The Passover lasted one week, including two Sabbaths. The first day and the last were holy, that is, devoted to the observances in the public temple, and to rest from all labor (;;; ).
On the day after the Sabbath, on the Feast of Passover, a sheaf of the first-fruits of the barley-harvest was to be brought to the priest to be waved before Jehovah, accompanied by a burnt-offering. Till this sheaf was presented, neither bread nor parched corn, nor full ripe ears of the harvest, could be eaten (;;;; ).
The Feast of Pentecost or of Weeks was kept to Jehovah at the end of seven weeks from the day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, on which the sheaf was presented. On the morrow after the seventh complete week, or on the fiftieth day, two wave loaves were presented as first fruits of the wheat harvest, together with a burnt-offering, a sin-offering, and a peace-offering. etc. The day was a holy convocation, in which no servile work was done. The festival lasted but one day. It is said to have been designed to commemorate the giving of the law on Mount Sinai (;;; ).
The Feast of In-gathering or of Tabernacles began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, and continued eight days, the first and last being Sabbaths. During the feast all native Israelites dwelt in booths made of the shoots of beautiful trees, palm-branches, boughs of thick-leaved trees, and of the willows of the brook, when they rejoiced with their families, with the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, before Jehovah. Various offerings were made. At the end of every seven years, in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, the law was required to be read by the priests in the hearing of all the Israelites (;;;;; ).
The Feast of Tabernacles was appointed partly to be an occasion of annual thanksgiving after the in-gathering of the harvest (;; ), and partly to remind the Israelites that their fathers had lived in tents in the wilderness (). This feast took place in the end of the year, September or October.
The tenth day of the seventh month was the Day of Atonement—a day of abstinence, a day of holy convocation, in which all were to afflict themselves. Special offerings were made [ATONEMENT] (;;;; ).
Brown, in his Antiquities (vol. 1, p. 520), remarks that the time of the year in which the three great festivals were observed was during the dry season of Judea. The latter rains fell before the Passover, the former rains after the Feast of Tabernacles; so that the country was in the best state for traveling at the time of these festivals.
On these solemn occasions food came partly from hospitality (a splendid instance of which may be found in ), partly from the feasts which accompanied the sacrifices in the temple, and partly also from provision expressly made by the travelers themselves. Lodging too, was afforded by friends, or found in tents erected for the purpose in and around Jerusalem.
The three great festivals have corresponding events (but of far greater importance) in the new dispensation. The Feast of Tabernacles was the time when our Savior was born; he was crucified at the Passover; while at Pentecost the effusion of the Holy Spirit took place.
The rest and recreation enjoyed during these festivals would be the more pleasant, salutary, and beneficial, because of the joyous nature of the religious services in which they were, for the greater part, engaged. These solemn festivals were not only commemorations of great national events, but they were occasions for the reunion of friends, for the enjoyment of hospitality, and for the interchange of kindness. The feasts which accompanied the sacrifices opened the heart of the entire family to joy, and gave a welcome which bore a religious sanction even to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.
How much, too, would these gatherings tend to foster and sustain a spirit of nationality! By intercourse the feelings of tribe and clan would be worn away; men from different parts became acquainted with and attached to each other; partial interests were found to be more imaginary than real; while the predominant idea of a common faith and a common rallying-place at Jerusalem could not fail to fuse into one strong and overpowering emotion of national and brotherly love, all the higher, nay, even the lower feelings, of each Hebrew heart.
Another effect of these festivals Michaelis has found in the furtherance of internal commerce. They would give rise to something resembling our modern fairs. Among the Muhammadans similar festivals have had this effect.
These festivals, in their origin, had an obvious connection with agriculture. Passover saw the harvest upon the soil; at Pentecost it was ripe; and Tabernacles was the festival of gratitude for the fruitage and vintage (Michaelis, art. 197). The first was a natural pause after the labors of the field were completed; the second, after the first-fruits were gathered; and the third, a time of rejoicing in the feeling that the Divine bounty had crowned the year with its goodness. Spring, summer, and autumn, which have moved all nations of men with peculiar and characteristic emotions, had each its natural language and symbols in the great Israelitish festivals, a regard to which may well be supposed to have had an influence in the mind of the legislator, as well as in the consuetudinary practices of the people.
The Feast of Purim or of Lots originated in the gratitude of the Jews in escaping the plot of Haman, designed for their destruction. It took its name from the lots which were cast before Haman by the astrologers, who knew his hatred against Mordecai and his wish to destroy his family and nation (;; ). The feast was suggested by Esther and Mordecai, and was celebrated on the 13th, 14th, and 15th days of the twelfth month (Adar). The 13th was a fast, being the day on which the Jews were to have been destroyed; and the 14th and 15th were a feast held in commemoration of their deliverance. The fast is called the Fast of Esther, and the feast still holds the name of Purim.
The slaughter of Holofernes by the hand of Judith, the consequent defeat of the Assyrians, and the liberation of the Jews, were commemorated by the institution of a festival (Judith 14; Judith 15).
The Feast of Dedication was appointed by Judas Maccabeus, on occasion of the purification of the temple, and reconstruction of the altar, after they had been polluted by Antiochus Epiphanes.
The new dedication took place on the 25th day of the ninth month, called Chisleu, in the year before Christ 170. This would be in December. The day was chosen as being that on which Antiochus, three years before, had polluted the altar by heathen sacrifices.
The joy of the Israelites must have been great on the occasion, and well may they have prolonged the observance of it for eight days. A general illumination formed a part of the festival, whence it obtained the name of the Feast of Lights.
In this festival is alluded to when our Lord is said to have been present at the Feast of Dedication. The historian marks the time by stating 'it was winter.'
The festival 'of the Fire' was instituted by Nehemiah to commemorate the miraculous rekindling of the altar-fire. The circumstances are narrated in .
The defeat by Judas Maccabaeus of the Greeks, when the Jews 'smote off Nicanor's head and his right hand which he stretched out so proudly,' caused the people to 'rejoice greatly, and they kept that day a day of great gladness; moreover, they ordained to keep yearly this day, being the thirteenth day of Adar'—February or March ().
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Festivals'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/f/festivals.html.