When God directed Moses to establish the priesthood he also ordained the sabbath and seven annual feasts (holidays) to be observed. Leviticus 23 specifies each of the feasts and details surrounding them. These instructions were given at the completion of the tabernacle, nearly a year after the exodus from Egypt.
The children of Israel were at that time eating manna since they were on the move and unable to plant crops. Some portions of the feasts were immediately observable, all were to be fully implemented upon entry into the promised land. The feasts are grouped together: Three in the spring during the first month of the religious year; Pentecost, standing alone in early summer; and three in the fall following the civil new year.
Passover: (Pesach, general Hebrew term covering all three spring feasts.)
Leviticus 23:5. Comemorating the original passover. On the day before the children of Israel escaped from Egypt a lamb was slain and its blood painted on the sideposts and lintle of the door of obedient Jewish homes, thereby protecting the inhabitants from the final plague, the death of the firstborn.
Christians recognize the lamb as a picture of Jesus Christ, "The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."
John 1:29, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:18-19.
Firstfruits: Leviticus 23:9-14. Occurs during the week of Unleavened Bread on the first day following the sabbath. Celebrates the beginning of barley harvest and the bounty of the promised land. The term firstfruits is somewhat confusing because it is also used in reference to Pentecost. Examination of the context helps to differentiate: for example, Firstfruits is at the time of barley harvest and the priest waves a sheaf before the Lord (no leaven.). At the feast of weeks (Pentecost) the harvest is wheat and the offering includes two wave loaves containing leaven.
Pentecost: (Shaviot) Leviticus 23:15-17. Known as the feast of harvest because of its association with the wheat harvest. Also known as feast of weeks because it was set at seven weeks plus one day (50 days) after the feast of firstfruits. In New Testament time it was called Pentecost after the Greek word for fifty (pente). While yet another harvest feast does not seem very important in man's eyes (the rabins even added celebration of the giving of the Law through Moses on Mount Sinai as a reason although that reason is not specified in the Bible and the timing is not particularly close), the Feast of Weeks was very important in God's eyes, being one of the three feasts mandatory for all males. In hindsight we now know that it was looking forward to the arrival of the Holy Spirit on earth following Jesus' departure.
Trumpets: (Rosh Hashana) Leviticus 23:23-25. The civil new year. The beginning of ten days of introspection, preparing one's self for the coming day of atonement.
Day of Atonement: (Yom Kippur) Leviticus 23:26-32. The most significant day of the year. Once each year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was permitted to enter into the presence of God, the Holy of Holies, with blood, to make atonement for the corporate nation of Israel. You may find a full description in
Leviticus chapter 16.
Tabernacles: (Sukkot or Succoth) Leviticus 23:33-44.
Beginning five days after the Day of Atonement and continuing for seven days the children of Israel moved out of their homes into temporary booths made of tree branches, palm fronds and so forth to comemmorate the time when they lived in tents during the forty years in the wilderness.
MANDATORY FEASTS: The seven feasts were grouped into three groups and God declared that three times each year, coinciding with the three groups, all of the males should appear before the Lord with sacrifices.
MEAT OFFERINGS: In seventeenth century English the word "meat" was a generic word for food. Flesh, grain and grain products and anything else which one might eat were all described as meat. If it is necessary to determine the exact meaning of a reference one must examine the context. In the case of sacrifices, the term "Meat offering" usually refers to an offering of grain or grain products.
CALENDARS: In New Testament times both the Jewish calendar and the Roman calendar were in common use. On the Jewish calendar a day consists of a night followed by daytime (sunset to sunset) while the Roman calendar counted days as running from midnight to midnight. A given day on the Jewish calendar covers the time period of the nightime hours of one day and the daytime hours of the next day as described by the Roman calendar. There was no attempt at coordinating the two. Both the Jewish and Roman calendars had extra days and months inserted when necessary, as determined by observation, to bring days, months and years into alignment with the actual lunar (29.5 days) and solar (365.25 days) cycles. When authorities determined that such an additional day or month was necessary they published via the current communication technology that the event was scheduled. A given date, say the 25th of Nisan, is always 25 Nisan, but whether or not it is a sabbath depends upon the year. Dates of some feasts which depend upon sabbath or counting from a sabbath, such as Firstfruits or Pentecost, are somewhat fluid. Gradually the inserts became standardized and both the current Jewish calendar and the common Gregorian calendar have become predictable.