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Written by Roger Waite
The world, at large, is unaware of the festivals that God gave to His people when they came to Mt Sinai after being freed from the Egyptians. Most people are unaware that at the same time He gave His people the Ten Commandments He also gave them seven festivals to celebrate throughout the year.
Mainstream christianity keeps festivals such as Christmas and Easter which were never celebrated by those names until centuries after Jesus Christ had lived and died (For more information request or download our booklet "Holy Days or Holidays").
Jesus and the apostles in the decades following the crucifixion kept the holy days that God gave to ancient Israel. Paul, in writing to the Gentiles at Corinth, encouraged them to keep the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) as they picture Christ's sacrifice and the need for us, in response to that sacrifice, to put sin out of our life which is pictured by putting leaven (yeast) out of our homes for a week. To the Gentiles at Colosse he told them that the feasts (which are all outlined in Leviticus 23) were a shadow of things to come (Colossians 2:16).
Indeed, when properly understood, some of the festivals picture events that have already occurred in God's plan such as the Passover (Christ's sacrifice) and Pentecost (the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church), while the latter festivals which picture future events starting with the second coming of Jesus Christ.
In contrast to the biggest mainstream festival of Christmas which lasts only one day, arguably the biggest of the seven festivals of God's Holy Day calendar found in Leviticus 23 is the Feast of Tabernacles (also called the Feast of Ingathering) and it lasts for a whole week. I eagerly look forward to it, along with thousands of other members of the United Church of God each year. It has been a highlight of most of my 30 years in the church.
It is a time to learn how to better fear and respect God (Deuteronomy 14:23). To this end there are church services each morning with exciting messages followed by a free afternoon and evening to spend with friends who have come together for the festival. Some festival sites are small while others have many hundreds of members, many who have travelled from interstate and even overseas. With the money God asks us to save for this festival thoughout the year (Deuteronomy 14:26) there are wonderful opportunities to travel to other sites interstate and overseas, enjoy ourselves with many great friends and give to others. I eagerly look forward myself to keeping the feast in New Zealand this year.
So what is this great festival all about? God has used the harvest seasons of Israel to teach God's people the proper sequence of events and the key elements of His salvation plan - His "harvest" of human beings to bring them into His family and give them eternal life.
Now there were obvious physical meanings for the feast days as they applied to the history of Israel -their coming out of Egypt and showing gratitude to God each year for the two major harvests they had but it can also be shown that the symbolism of the feasts is dual and each have a spiritual meaning showing step by step God's plan to redeem mankind.
There were two great harvest festivals. The first one was Pentecost and the New Testament refers to God's church, the first small harvest of souls, as His firstfruits in James 1:18.
In Exodus 34:22 we read: "And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering [also called the Feast of Tabernacles] at the year's end."
The Feast of Ingathering represented the great ingathering at the end of the agricultural year – the second and greater of the two harvests. The spiritual meaning of the second harvest is the great harvest of souls that begins with the millennium following the return of Jesus Christ.
The reason it is called the Feast of Ingathering is because the fruit at this time was gathered in. In the millennium God will first spiritually gather in Israel. He will extend the new covenant to the House of Judah and the House of Israel at Christ's return spoken of in Hebrews 8. Then He will set His hand to gather in all nations.
God's joy at gathering in all nations is expressed over in Isaiah 19:24-25 where we read: "In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria— a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, 'Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance." After the millennium is another extension of this great gathering which we celebrate on the "eighth day"(Leviticus 23:39).
There were two harvests in Israel. One was the grain harvest. The Feast of Ingathering celebrated the latter fruit harvest. In ancient Israel this feast is all about the fruit and being thankful for the fruit. From a christian point of view, the term fruit has much symbolism. We talk about the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and Christ in John 15:2 and 5 asks us to bear more and much fruit.
This feast was also time that the fruit of the vine was harvested and wine was made. Jesus said that He is the vine and we are the branches and we must draw our spiritual sustenance from Him (John 15:5).
The other name for the feast is the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34-35). Tabernacles (temporary dwellings) contrasts the limited existence of this world with the greatness of the coming tabernacle – both the New Jerusalem and the new bodies (2 Corinthians 5:1-4) that we will have in the resurrection.
In Isaiah 25:6-7 we read where God compares the millennium with a great fruit harvest which in Israel was known as the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles. Isaiah writes: "And in this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees. And He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations."
We invite you to celebrate this wonderful time of year with us at one of our designated feast sites we have here in Australia. Come and celebrate the wonderful Kingdom of God which will soon be a reality in this world that so desperately needs it!
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