09 October 2014

Bringing The Old Testament To Life

A Personal Reflection On Experiencing The Feasts Of Israel


Living in Israel for a number of years was amazing, inspiring, stretching, and so much more, in so many ways and I thank God for the privilege of that adventure. 

One of the unique experiences of spending extended times in this nation was the opportunity to see the Old Testament Feasts lived out in normal everyday life. God intrinsically flowing through the yearly rhythm of life: preparing, guiding, fulfilling. His very presence at the centre of each seasonal celebration. It is almost impossible to live in Israel without the subject of God coming up because he is still, even today, the focus of so much of the culture and of every traditional family get together. On Friday evenings, in many Jewish homes the grown up children return home for Mama’s cooking as they join together to welcome the beginning of the Sabbath. Even in secular homes, everyone knows the biblical origins of the Shabbat. Toddlers in Kindergarten act out the traditional lighting of candles and bless and share out the sweet, plaited Shabbat bread. God is woven into every aspect of the culture. Nowhere else in the world, can you witness a whole nation coming to a standstill to honour a Holy day as happens on Yom Kipur (The Day of Atonement). Not one car moves on the street, no TV, no radio, all the shops shut, and the would be silence is broken only by the excited shrieks of children enjoying the freedom of a car- free city. The Feast of Tabernacles, a harvest festival (Ingathering) at the end of the farming year, demonstrates not only God’s provision of food but also of shelter as home-made ‘tabernacles’ are built to remember the journey from Egypt through the desert - when God miraculously provided for all the needs of a whole nation. Passover, probably the most well known Feast of the Lord, tells the spectacular story of the deliverance from slavery to freedom and the significance of the Passover Lamb. The whole script is acted out by the entire family centred around a family meal. The celebrations are mostly fun, loud and enthusiastically celebrated. 

The Weekly Sabbath (Shabbat) Table
I have often found there is a great chasm between reading about something and experiencing it for yourself. The complicated instruction manual that comes with some flat pack furniture can make a simple table look like a kitset house! It is only as you follow the instructions step by step that in the midst of doing, it all begins to makes sense. I had of course, read about the Feasts of the Lord in the Bible, but in their Old Testament framework they seem ancient and strange. I had even read up on the expressions of these feast in modern Judaism, when I first prepared to go to live in Israel, but the explanations were complicated and confusing. It was only as I lived through them and experienced the traditions in their normal family settings that I realised they were not complicated at all and the ancientness of their institution was a beautiful thread that flowed through history, linking the past to the present and reminding each generation of their roots in the Almighty God’s ancient plan for the salvation of mankind. 

Passover Celebration
Celebrating with Messianic Jews who have found their Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth, these time-honoured celebrations take on a new dimension as they not only focus attention on the plan of God, but on the Saviour himself who came to fulfil them. 

Although, as believers we are not obligated to celebrate these Feasts, I have continued to include them in my own spiritual experience. I suppose partly because Jesus himself celebrated them, and what a great way to identify a little with his walk as he experienced life here on earth. It is a reminder of the Jewish roots of our faith and the commonwealth of Israel into which we have been adopted. And as each Feast acts as a prophetic signpost pointing towards him, they can be used as an act of worship and reminder of all he has done for us.

One of the valuable purposes for instituting the Feasts was to enable parents to teach their children about God’s love, care and will for them and their nation. Through listening to the stories and participating in the actions, faith was passed down to the next generation and the generations that followed. Celebrating these feasts was never to be a legalistic set of rules to earn God’s favour, but were available as teaching aids to help our families honour God. What a great tool to educate the ones that follow! 

Blowing the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah
There is much talk these days about developing a rhythm of prayer, in a similar way the monasteries of old used to. The Feasts of the Lord also follow a rhythm; an order; appointed times; an annual pattern taking you through the agricultural cycle of the land: a reminder that God is the one who is the source of all life and controls the times and seasons - past, present and future. 

And, if you like an expression for creativity, the Feasts are a deep well of creative resource. The symbolism and prophetic significance of each Feast is rich and inspiring. 

The Feast of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), or the ‘Day of Sounding the Trumpet’, starts off the Autumn Feasts of the Lord. You may not have a silver trumpet or a shofar to blow but this Holy Day marks the beginning of the 10 Days of Awe, that lead up to the most holiest day of the year, The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Rosh Hashanah, is an opportunity to search your heart and put things right between you and your creator and also reconcile any broken human relationships in preparation for Yom Kippur. Despite the solemnity of the occasion, the Feast begins with a celebratory meal when all the family gathers to rejoice and thank God for another New Year and dips apple slices in honey to wish each other a good and sweet year to come. L’Chaim! (to life).

There is so much more I could say, but perhaps to summarize my love of these special days, I can say that they are all about God, his Kingdom and the community of believers celebrating his Kingship. What could be better than a Feast for a King!