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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
God appointed several festivals among the Jews.
1. To perpetuate the memory of great events; so, the Sabbath commemorated the creation of the world; the passover, the departure out of Egypt; the pentecost, the law given at Sinai, &c.
2. To keep them under the influence of religion, and by the majesty of that service which he instituted among them, and which abounded in mystical symbols or types of evangelical things, to convey spiritual instruction, and to keep alive the expectation of the Messiah, and his more perfect dispensation.
3. To secure to them certain times of rest and rejoicings.
4. To render them familiar with the law; for, in their religious assemblies, the law of God was read and explained.
5. To renew the acquaintance, correspondence, and friendship of their tribes and families, coming from the several towns in the country, and meeting three times a year in the holy city.
The first and most ancient festival, the Sabbath, or seventh day, commemorated the creation. "The Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it," says Moses, "because that in it he had rested from all his work," Genesis 2:3 . See .
The passover was instituted in memory of the Israelites' departure out of Egypt, and of the favour which God showed his people in sparing their first-born, when he destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians, Exodus 12:14 , &c. See .
The feast of pentecost was celebrated on the fiftieth day after the passover, in memory of the law being given to Moses on Mount Sinai, fifty days after the departure out of Egypt. They reckoned seven weeks from the passover to pentecost, beginning at the day after the passover. The Hebrews call it the feast of weeks, and the Christians, pentecost, which signifies the fiftieth day.
The feast of trumpets was celebrated on the first day of the civil year; on which the trumpets sounded, proclaiming the beginning of the year, which was in the month Tisri, answering to our September, O. S. We know no religious cause of its establishment. Moses commands it to be observed as a day of rest, and that particular sacrifices should be offered at that time.
The new moons, or first days of every month, were, in some sort, a consequence of the feasts of trumpets. The law did not oblige people to rest upon this day, but ordained only some particular sacrifices. It appears that, on these days, also, the trumpet was sounded, and entertainments were made, 1 Samuel 20:5-18 .
The feast of expiation or atonement was celebrated on the tenth day of Tisri, which was the first day of the civil year. It was instituted for a general expiation of sins, irreverences, and pollutions of all the Israelites, from the high priest to the lowest of the people, committed by them throughout the year, Leviticus 23:27-28; Numbers 29:7 . See , Day of. The feast of tents, or tabernacle, on which all Israel were obliged to attend the temple, and to dwell eight days under tents of branches, in memory of their fathers dwelling forty years in tents, as travellers in the wilderness. It was kept on the fifteenth of the month Tisri, the first of the civil year. The first and seventh day of this feast were very solemn. But during the other days of the octave they might work, Leviticus 23:34-35; Numbers 29:12-13 . At the beginning of the feast, two vessels of silver were carried in a ceremonious manner to the temple, one full of water, the other of wine, which were poured at the foot of the altar of burnt offerings, always on the seventh day of this festival.
Of the three great feasts of the year, the passover, pentecost, and that of the tabernacles, the octave, or seventh day after these feasts, was a day of rest as much as the festival itself; and all the males of the nation were obliged to visit the temple at these three feasts. But the law did not require them to continue there during the whole octave, except in the feast of tabernacles, when they seem obliged to be present for the whole seven days.
Beside these feasts, we find the feast of lots, or purim, instituted on occasion of the deliverance of the Jews from Haman's plot, in the reign of Ahasuerus. See.
The feast of the dedication of the temple, or rather of the restoration of the temple, which had been profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes, 1Ma_4:52 , &c, was celebrated in winter, and is supposed to be the feast of dedication mentioned in John 10:22 . Josephus says, that it was called the feast of lights, probably because this happiness befel them when least expected, and they considered it as a new light risen on them.
In the Christian church, no festival appears to have been expressly instituted by Jesus Christ, or his Apostles. Yet, as we commemorate the passion of Christ as often as we celebrate his Supper, he seems by this to have instituted a perpetual feast. Christians have always celebrated the memory of his resurrection, and observe this feast on every Sunday, which was commonly called the Lord's day, Revelation 1:10 . By inference we may conclude this festival to have been instituted by Apostolic authority.
The birth-day of Christ, commonly called Christmas-day, has been generally observed by his disciples with gratitude and joy. His birth was the greatest blessing ever bestowed on mankind. The angels from heaven celebrated it with a joyful hymn; and every man, who has any feeling of his own lost state without a Redeemer, must rejoice and be glad in it. "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6 . For this festival, however, there is no authority in Scripture, nor do we know that it was observed in the age of the Apostles.
On Easter Sunday we celebrate our Saviour's victory over death and hell, when, having on the cross made an atonement for the sin of the world, he rose again from the grave, brought life and immortality to light, and opened to all his faithful servants the way to heaven. On this great event rest all our hopes. "If Christ be not risen," says St. Paul, "then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept," 1 Corinthians 15:14; 1 Corinthians 15:20 .
Forty days after his resurrection, our Lord ascended into heaven, in the sight of his disciples. This is celebrated on what is called Ascension-day, or Holy Thursday. Ten days after his ascension, our Lord sent the Holy Spirit to be the comforter and guide of his disciples. This blessing is commemorated on Whit-Sunday, which is a very great festival, and may be profitably observed; for the assistance of the Holy Spirit can alone support us through all temptations, and guide us into all truth.
The pretended success of some in discovering the remains of certain holy men, called "relics," multiplied in the fourth century of the Christian church the festivals and commemorations of the martyrs in a most extravagant manner. These days, instead of being set apart for pious exercises, were spent in indolence, voluptuousness, and criminal pursuits; and were less consecrated to the service of God, than employed in the indulgence of sinful passions. Many of these festivals were instituted on a Pagan model, and perverted to similar purposes.
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Feasts'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/f/feasts.html. 1831-2.