What was the purpose of the Jewish pilgrimage festivals?
Three times a year Israelite families travelled to the temple in Jerusalem for a religious festival (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:23-24; Dt. 16:16). The first of these was the Passover in spring, when they remembered how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. The second was the Harvest Festival in summer (Ex. 23:16), when they thanked God for providing an abundant wheat harvest in Canaan. And the third was the Festival (or feast) of Shelters (or tabernacles) in autumn when they remembered God’s care and provision during the 40-year exodus journey. The purpose of these festivals was to remind them of the story of their deliverance and God’s abundant provision.
The Passover Festival
At the Passover they were to kill and eat a lamb together with unleaven bread (without yeast) and bitter herbs (Num. 9:1-14; Dt. 16:1-8). The symbols were taken from the exodus. In the final plague on the Egyptians, to be protected from the death of the firstborn son, the Israelites had to kill a lamb and put its blood around their front doorframe. The lamb died so they could escape death of the firstborn and escape from Egypt. And because they had to leave in haste, they didn’t have time to add yeast to cause their bread to rise. And yeast is also a symbol of sin. The bitter herbs symbolized their bitter slavery in Egypt (Ex. 1:14). Straight after the death of the Egyptian firstborn, Pharaoh told the Israelites to leave Egypt and they escaped (Ex. 12:31-33). One of the greatest Passover celebrations was when king Hezekiah repaired the temple and resumed re-established sacrifices (2 Chr. 30:26). There was also a great celebration when king Josiah reformed Judah (2 Chr. 35:18-19). Ezekiel taught that the Passover Festival will be celebrated in the Millennial reign of Christ (Ezek. 45:21-24). And “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover” (Lk. 2:41NIV). (more…)