Upon visiting this site, you might wonder why common Jewish holidays like Hanukkah and Purim aren’t considered Feasts of the Lord. Aren’t Hanukkah and Purim Biblical holidays with important lessons as well? Of course they are! So what differentiates a feast of the Lord from other Jewish holidays? The answer is simple- Torah.
The feasts of the Lord are those listed by G-d in Leviticus 23. This includes the Sabbath, Passover, First Fruits, Shavuot (Pentecost), Yom Teruah (Trumpets), Yom Kippur and Sukkot. G-d clearly says in Leviticus 23:2 that these are His holidays that He wants us to celebrate. Sounds like a good reason to celebrate them, right?
So what about the other Jewish holidays? Should we celebrate them too? Well, if you want to, that’s great! Hanukkah, Purim and other Jewish holidays have great significance to all those who love G-d and His word.
We know Yeshua (Jesus) made a point of going to the temple for Hanukkah in John 10:22. But the story behind Hanukkah doesn’t appear in our regular Bibles. The books of Maccabees, which tell the Hanukkah story, are in the apocrypha. Hanukkah is all about rejecting syncretism and idolatry and choosing to worship G-d alone. When we celebrate Hanukkah, we celebrate G-d fighting for his people and winning the battle for them, just like He did throughout scripture (e.g. entering the promised land and stories of Deborah, Gideon, David, Hezekiah, etc.). When we celebrate Hanukkah, we are celebrating G-d preserving His word and His people, so that Yeshua (Jesus) could come and save us from our sins years later.
Another example of God preserving His people is found in the story of Esther (Hadassah). Each year in late winter, on Adar 14th, we celebrate Purim to remember how G-d used Esther and Mordecai to save the Jewish people throughout the Persian Empire from the destruction planned by Haman the Agagite. This festival is named for the Purim (lots) that were thrown to decide the day that the Jews would be attacked (see Esther 9:26-28). Because Esther went to the king to plead for her life and the lives of her people, the Jews were saved. Mordecai proclaimed that Jews everywhere should celebrate Purim every year with “feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor,” (Esther 9:22b NIV). When we celebrate Purim, we remember G-d’s faithfulness and love for His people.
Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av). As referenced in Zechariah 7:3, the fifth month (Av) is a traditional time of fasting and mourning. According to Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6, “Five misfortunes befell our fathers … on the ninth of Av. …On the ninth of Av it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the [Promised] Land, the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Bethar was captured and the city [Jerusalem] was ploughed up.” This day is remembered by fasting and reading the book of Lamentations. We know in the future, G-d says this day of mourning and others “will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals” according to Zechariah 8:19. When we celebrate Tisha B’Av, we remember how easy it is to forget the L-rd our G-d, and we ask Him, “Restore us to Yourself, L-rd, that we may return,” (Lamentations 5:21).
Tu B’Shavat is another Jewish holiday with some relation to the Torah. Leviticus 19:23-25 says that one cannot eat the fruit from a tree for the first three years, and in the fourth year it is a praise offering unto the L-rd. After the fourth year it can be eaten. Each tree is considered to be aged one year as of Tu B’Shevat, which literally translates, the 15th of Shevat. The most common tradition is to plant trees or raise money to plant trees in Israel. Some Jews eat fresh fruit or have a special sedar with the seven species (Deut. 8:8). Tu B’Shevat isn’t mentioned in the Torah and is mentioned only once in the Mishnah, so it may be considered less important than the Leviticus 23 feasts of the Lord.
Even though we are not commanded by Torah to celebrate these extra feasts and fasts, we benefit from remembering G-d’s unfailing love toward us all year long. So, in between celebrating the Feasts of the Lord, we can all learn and grow by remembering how G-d worked in the lives of those who came before us, always remembering that He alone is our G-d and He is faithful.