The Feasts of the Lord

by Martin Barlow

One of the several "winds of doctrine" that are blowing through Adventism today, is that of the feast keeping. Having had a brush with this doctrine, I have done much study in regard to it. In my studies, I used Luis Munilla's book, "The Seven Feasts of the Lord," and did my best to prove Him right. He, and several others, which believe this doctrine were attending our little church. We had grown to love and appreciate these people as sincere, devout Christians and Adventists, and with the exception of this one doctrine, we found ourselves to be in "one accord" with them. They were and are lovely people.

After months of studying the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy for the answer to this dilemma, I made my decision to denounce this doctrine as error. But I would have the reader to understand that this was a difficult decision to make. When we study the Bible there are many subjects that are very clear. There are other subjects that we must look at more closely and weigh the evidence that we are given. Some times we must "pile up" all the evidence in two piles and see which one outweighs the other. This was the case with feast keeping. It seemed that there was a large "pile" of evidence on either side of the issue, and that the piles were almost identical in size. I finally made my decision based upon the Spirit of Prophecy. My reasoning was that if the Lord had shown Mrs. White the things that will happen to the people of God all the way down to the second coming of Jesus and beyond; that surely He would have shown her this supposed "new light" which was to come just before that time. Also we read in her writings that if the Holy Spirit had not been rejected in 1888, the people of God would have entered the New Jerusalem within a couple of years time. This dispels the myriad of "new light" theories that seem to dwell on the fringes of Adventism. If the people of God were within a couple of years of being ready to experience the climax of the great controversy, surely all the necessary ingredients were then already in place.

This reasoning was sufficient for me to have peace about the issue, and it had been laid to rest in my thinking. Recently, another study directed me to take another look at the feasts of the Lord, and I was amazed to discover something so simple, and yet so profound. While studying Mr. Munilla's book, "The Seven Feasts of the Lord," I guess I was so taken with the technical aspects that I "didn't see the forest, for the trees!" I had always superficially looked at the feast days and saw them as a list of holy days. In fact, I knew right where to find them in Leviticus 23, and as a result of this superficiality, I took for granted that there were indeed seven feast days listed there in Leviticus 23. THERE ARE NOT!

If you study Leviticus 23, you will find that there are seven special "times" that ARE mentioned there. I would invite every reader to open your Bibles and look at the verses very carefully. By the end of this article, I am going to make an appeal to all true Seventh-Day Adventists, and I hope that you will prayerfully consider what we, as a people, should do with the feasts of the Lord. I do not believe that Mr. Munilla and his people are following the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy in this matter. BUT, I do not think that the "traditional" (what we say and do) SDA teaching is correct on the matter either. I do believe that the historic teachings of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy call us to action where these special days are concerned.

The first and most important point we must make about Leviticus 23 is whether the weekly Sabbath of the fourth commandment is one of the "feasts of the Lord." The weekly Sabbath is listed in Leviticus 23, but the Bible is very clear that it is not one of the feasts of the Lord! The idea is that the weekly Sabbath is inseparable from the yearly feast of the Lord, and that if we do away with the feasts we must also do away with the weekly Sabbath.

Why did God choose to list the seventh day Sabbath in Leviticus 23 with the feasts of the Lord? As with many other Bible subjects we find that there are two extremes in belief. Evangelical Christians believe that the Sabbath has been "nailed to the cross" along with the feast days. And on the other extreme, these feast keepers believe that the feasts have been preserved with the weekly Sabbath. Which one is correct? For the answer to this we go to Colossians 2:14-17: "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Surely something was nailed to the cross, but was it the fourth commandment? Absolutely NOT!

The first characteristic of those "ordinances" which were nailed to the cross is that of being "against us" and "contrary to us." Does this fit the Sabbath commandment? NO, Mark 2:27 says "And he said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath:" But why was the Sabbath commandment made for man? Deuteronomy 6:24 "And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day." True Sabbath keeping will exemplify what we are promised in Isaiah 58:13-14 "If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." The Sabbath of the fourth commandment is not presented as "contrary" or "against" us in any way.

Colossians 2:16-17 also makes it clear that the "ordinances" which were nailed to the cross, are those which "are a shadow of things to come" or a symbolic picture of the things that Jesus would do or fulfill in the plan of salvation. While the Sabbath is a sign of our redemption, it does not point forward to anything. On the contrary, it points us back to the creation of the world so that we will view God as our Creator. If we can believe that God is capable of creating something out of nothing, as in the creation, we will have faith to believe that He will RE-create something out of something in our redemption! What a wonderful truth!

For the sake of explaining the differences between the true Bible position on the feasts, and that of the modern day feast keepers, I want to illustrate for you the so called "Seven Feasts of the Lord." Please keep in mind it has been a few years since I studied this material. I do not now own a copy of the book, and I am not trying to disfigure the teachings of the book in any way.

A simple list of the seven feasts that are perceived in Leviticus 23 are:

1] the Feast of Passover

2] the Feast of Unleavened Bread

3] the Feast of Firstfruits

4] the Feast of Weeks

5] the Feast of Trumpets

6] the Day of Atonement

7] the Feast of Tabernacles

There are indeed seven special times that are listed for us in Leviticus 23, but there are NOT seven feasts listed there. So how many feasts of the Lord are there? Exodus 23:14 "Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year." Exodus 23:17 "Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD." Exodus 23 is very plain that there are three feasts of the Lord and verses 15 and 16 name these feasts for us: "Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:) And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field." For the sake of our study, I would ask you to set aside the labels that are put on these feasts. There are three different Bible texts that we will be considering, and there are different ways of labeling the feasts in each of these texts. The important thing we want to notice at this time is that there are three feasts that are mentioned here, and it is more than obvious that we are dealing with the same feasts in each passage.

It is also important to notice that the feasts listed in Exodus 23 take place in three seasons of the year. At the beginning of the Jewish year (Spring), at the beginning of the harvest and continuing for seven weeks (Summer), and at the end of the year (Fall or possibly Winter). This is important because we are told in Leviticus 23:4 "These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons." (NOTICE -- The weekly Sabbath transcends the seasons. It takes place every week and in EVERY season.) Leviticus 23 does not teach that there are seven feasts of the Lord, but it is consistent with Exodus 23 in teaching that the feasts take place in their separate seasons.

As you go down the list of the feasts of Leviticus 23, you will see:

*Verse 5 -- the Passover day

*Verse 6 -- the Feast of Unleavened Bread

Notice that these two take place only one day apart, and therefore they are happening during the same season. The Passover is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is plainly stated in the story of the Lord's supper. Matthew 26:17-18 "Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples." In other words, these are not two feasts, but one. The Passover day is part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is made plain from the Bible texts, all we need to do is follow through with this formula, and we will see the same thing work for the other two feasts of the Lord.

The second feast of the Lord is called by different names. It is called the Feast of Firstfruits (Exodus 23); the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16); and even the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2). In Leviticus 23 we see the wave sheaf offering which was to take place on the first day of the week after the Sabbath, after the gathering of the firstfruits of the harvest of corn or wheat. Notice that this feast of "weeks" is not counted by the first day of the week, but by the Sabbath. From that first Sabbath, (the day before the wave sheaf offering) they were to count seven weekly Sabbath days, or weeks (hence the name Feast of Weeks), when they were to offer the other sacrifices that are listed in verses 16-20. Again, these are not two feasts of the Lord, but one. The firstfruits or wave sheaf offering was a part of the Feast of Weeks, which is called the Feast of Pentecost in the New Testament. Even though these two times are seven weeks apart, they still happen during the same season of the year, the Summer.

The third feast of the Lord happens in just the same manner as the first two (see Leviticus 23:23-44). On the first day of the seventh month there was a special yearly Sabbath day for the blowing of the trumpets. We know that the trumpet represents a message of warning in the Scriptures, and this blowing of the trumpets was a warning that the day of atonement, or judgment was coming. On the tenth day of the same month, came the Day of Atonement in which God would judge His people of their sins. On this day the people were told to afflict their souls and offer a sacrifice by fire unto the Lord. On that day, all the sins of the people for the entire year would be atoned for, or paid for. The people were to make sure that their sins had gone before them into the sanctuary to be forgiven by God's plan of atonement. If they did not do this, they were to be cut off from among the congregation. We are now living in the anti typical Day of Atonement, and Jesus is now ministering in the heavenly sanctuary for the sins of His people. Let us make sure that we are sending our sins ahead of us, that they may be atoned for. Then on the fifteenth day of this same month was the Feast of Tabernacles which lasted for another week. During this feast, the people were to dwell in booths, or tents, to remind them of the wilderness journey, and that God had delivered them from the bondage of Egypt. We too have been delivered from bondage, and are traveling through the wilderness to the heavenly Canaan. All three of these special times took place during the same month, in the same season of the year. They are not three feasts but one.

There is another place in God's Word where we are shown the feasts of the Lord. Deuteronomy 16:16 says "Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty:" Although the males were to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem (see Exodus 23:17) verse 14 of this chapter makes it plain that the women and children and even the stranger (servant or guest) was to "rejoice" in the feast as well. This is the plainest of the texts which name the feasts of the Lord. There are three feasts: the Feast of Unleavened Bread; the Feast of Weeks; and the Feast of Tabernacles. All of the other yearly holy days listed for us in Leviticus 23 are parts of these three feasts.

You may be asking yourself why this is so important. Why does it matter, whether we say there are three feasts or seven feasts? Consider this statement from the Spirit of Prophecy: "Anciently the Lord instructed His people to assemble three times a year for His worship. . . . If the children of Israel needed the benefit of these holy convocations in their time, how much more do we need them in these last days of peril and conflict! And if the people of the world then needed the light which God had committed to His church, how much more do they need it now!" 6T 39-40. This is a statement quoted in the book "The Seven Feasts of the Lord" It is used to try and prove to us that we should keep the feasts of the Lord as they are written in the book of Leviticus; but do you know the context of the statement? It is part of an appeal Mrs. White made for our people to attend the camp meeting. It is grossly taken out of context to say that we should keep the feasts of Leviticus 23; BUT it DOES have something to say to us today.

I believe that the ancient ceremonial feasts of the Lord as given in Leviticus 23, Exodus 23, and Deuteronomy 16, have been nailed to the cross as we are told in Colossians 2:14-17. But I also believe that the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy have replaced these three Old Testament feasts with New Testament instruction for God's people.

We have always understood that the Passover was replaced by the Lord's Supper. "When the Saviour yielded up His life on Calvary, the significance of the Passover ceased, and the ordinance of the Lord's Supper was instituted as a memorial of the same event of which the Passover had been a type." PP 539. We are told that the Passover was given to remind the children of Israel of what God had done in their deliverance, and that the communion service now reminds us of what He has done in our deliverance. Therefore, the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, whenever we take part in it, is the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is very easy for us to see.

I would then submit to the reader that if this is true of the first feast of the Lord, it is only logical that there would be New Testament fulfillments for the other two feasts of the Lord. I am not trying to find some new wind of doctrine to be swept away with, and I don't believe that this is really calling us to anything new. BUT we should be faithfully following what we have always been taught.

Are there New Testament counterparts to these other two feasts? It is easy to see that there are! The Feast of Tabernacles has been replaced by the camp meeting. Did Ellen White teach us to attend the camp meeting? We have already seen that she did in Testimonies volume six, but consider this statement "At these yearly assemblies the hearts of old and young would be encouraged in the service of God, while the association of the people from the different quarters of the land would strengthen the ties that bound them to God and to one another. Well would it be for the people of God at the present time to have a Feast of Tabernacles -- a joyous commemoration of the blessings of God to them. As the children of Israel celebrated the deliverance that God had wrought for their fathers, and His miraculous preservation of them during their journeyings from Egypt, so should we gratefully call to mind the various ways He has devised for bringing us out from the world, and from the darkness of error, into the precious light of His grace and truth." PP 540

What then is the New Testament replacement for the Feast of Weeks? We have only to examine the feast to see what its original purpose was for ancient Israel. This feast was a feast of sacrifice and thanksgiving for the bounties of the harvest that God provided. There was an offering at the beginning of this festival, and many offerings at its close. Do we have a modern fulfillment of this ceremony? We certainly should! It is commonly called Thanksgiving Day, and it is commonly misused by even God's people. Did our church pioneers observe Thanksgiving? In the Review and Herald of 1-15-1884, Ellen White describes Thanksgiving day, Thursday, November 29, 1883. "Nearly the whole of Thanksgiving day, Nov. 29, was spent in church. Our morning meeting was one of special interest. In a cheerful testimony every one had a thank-offering to present to God. In the forenoon we had a Bible-reading on the subject of thanksgiving, and it was clearly shown from the Scriptures that it is our duty to glorify God by offering thanks and praise. . . . It is a great cause of gratitude that we understand the nature of this day better than we once did. It is not designed to minister to our selfish gratification in the enjoyment of every luxury because God has bestowed upon us the rich bounties of his providence; on the contrary, we are to recall his mercies, and to meditate upon his favors with thankful hearts. To devote this day to gluttony, and our time and strength to the preparation of rich and expensive dishes, thus tempting our families and friends to gorge themselves, instead of offering thanksgiving to God, is the basest idolatry of self; for it is perverting the very best gifts of Heaven to the indulgence of appetite. Many thus lay the foundation for disease and premature death, and furnish Satan an occasion for hellish exultation. . . . Our meeting closed about two o'clock, and we then took ample refreshments; but we had no time to devote to the preparation of extra dishes. We were having a feast of fat things; we were eating of the Bread of Heaven, and drinking rich draughts from the well of Bethlehem. Jesus graced the feast with his royal presence, and our hearts were joyful in him. The testimonies borne by our brethren and sisters were full of courage and gratitude to God; and their verdict was, "Oh, what a Thanksgiving day this has been! It is the best Thanksgiving day I ever experienced!"

I pray that our people will study this subject for themselves so that they will not be deceived by fanaticism on this subject. But I also pray that we will not be complacent about it either. Let us take seriously the New Testament feasts of the Lord. Let us take solemnly the role that the Lord's Supper; the Thanksgiving, and the Camp Meeting are to take in our lives today!

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