By Olivier Melnick
In each of the three Jewish High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) – there are gems hidden by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Beyond a yearly calendar of holy convocations, the Levitical Feasts (Leviticus 23) as a whole point the reader to a deeper understanding of the God of Israel.
Year after year, as we celebrate God’s provision for and preservation of the Jewish people, we are reminded that the same God who promised never to forsake Israel (Jeremiah 31:35-37) has also promised us forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). Here is a list of a few things Christians can learn from the High Holy Days:
1. God has a special plan for the Jewish people
God is not finished with Israel and the Jewish people! On the contrary, He continues to have a special plan for His chosen people. The Jewish calendar found in Leviticus 23 and partially repeated throughout the rest of the Tenach (Old Testament) shows us that God gave the Jewish people “holy convocations” to make us “a light to the Nations” (Leviticus 23:1-3, Deuteronomy 7:6-11, 1 Kings 8:53, 59-61, Isaiah 42:6).
2. God is a God of covenant relationships
From the early chapters of Genesis through the rest of Scriptures, God has always been a God of relationships – with mankind in general and with the Jewish people in particular. It began with the Edenic (Genesis 2:15-17) and Adamic (Genesis 3:14-19) Covenants made with mankind. The Mosaic Covenant, made with the children of Israel, contains the 613 mitzvot (commandments), including the celebration of the Feasts of Israel for all generations. God expressed His deep desire for relationship by teaching Israel how to relate to Him through many ways, including the Fall Feasts as a yearly reminder to bring Jewish people back to focusing on Him. The series of covenants culminates with the New Covenant made with Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-34), which is fulfilled in Messiah.
3. A better understanding of the Jewish people
Genesis 12:1-3 tells us about the Covenant God made with Abraham. In verse 3, God said: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” As Bible-believing Christians who love Israel, blessing the Jewish people is part of what we do. There is no greater blessing than giving Jewish people the gift that never stops giving, which is the Good News (Romans 10:1-5, 11:11). The High Holy Days and their contemporary observance give us a wonderful link to the Jewish community, through which we can share the message of Messiah. As we study the feasts of Leviticus 23, we learn more about the Jewish people and as a result, we are able to deliver our message in a bold yet sensitive way.
4. The redemptive career of the Messiah
Not only will we understand the Jewish people better by knowing the Feasts of Israel, but we will also deepen our understanding of the Jewish Messiah, as each of the Feasts points to a specific event in the redemptive career of Yeshua our Redeemer. In a sense, God’s grand plan is revealed through the Feasts. Many believers agree that each of the Levitical holy convocations has been or will be fulfilled by a specific event, in a specific order, in the prophetic career of the Messiah. As the Spring Festivals were all fulfilled by the First Coming of the Messiah, so the Fall Feasts will be fulfilled by His Second Coming. Incidentally, the order of the feasts on the Jewish calendar might give us a great insight into the sequence of events of the Last Days.
Messiah’s Second Coming
Rosh Hashanah (New Year) – Trumpet Blast heralding End Times
Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) – The Great Tribulation
Sukkot (Feast of Booths or Tabernacles) – The Thousand-Year Messianic Kingdom
5. Rosh Hashanah: The Jewish New Year
Rosh Hashanah means the “head of the year.” It is also known as the Feast of Trumpets, and is the first of three Fall Feasts. The theme of Rosh Hashanah is regathering and repentance in preparation for the other two feasts: Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, the most holy day of the Jewish calendar) and Sukkot (the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles).
With Rosh Hashanah we prepare our hearts for the beautiful season of the High Holy Days (Leviticus 23: 23-25, Numbers 29:1-6, Psalm 81:3-4, Ezra 3:1-6, Nehemiah 8:1-12). Jewish people all over the world blow the shofar (ram’s horn). Prophetically, Rosh Hashanah will be fulfilled by the ultimate regathering of the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58). It is important to note that the rapture does not have to take place on the day of Rosh Hashanah to fulfill it; the Bible is clear that we don’t know the day or the hour (Matthew 24:42-44, 25:13).
6. Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur is the most solemn of the High Holy Days. It is a fast and a day of affliction (Leviticus 16, 23:26-32). As described in Leviticus 16, Yom Kippur was a day for all Israel’s sins to be atoned for by the yearly sacrifices performed by the High Priest. First, he would atone for himself by providing both a sin and a burnt offering (Leviticus 16:3). After offering sacrifices to the Lord for himself and the other priests, he would be ready to make an offering for the atonement of all Israel (Leviticus 16:5-7). Two male goats were used. One goat was slaughtered and the other goat, which was known as azazel or the “scapegoat,” was escorted into the wilderness, and tradition tells us that it was pushed off a cliff to its certain death, taking with it all the sins of Israel to be remembered no more. Yeshua became our azazel 2,000 years ago (Romans 5:8, 8:3).
Three times in Leviticus 23 (vv. 27, 29, 32) Jewish people are told to “humble our souls.” The prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur will come with the Great Tribulation – also known as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” – which is a specific description of the affliction of Israel during the Great Tribulation (Zechariah 13:9, 12:10, Luke 13:35).
7. Sukkot: The Feast of Tabernacles
Sukkot means “booths” in Hebrew (Leviticus 23:33-44, Exodus 23:14-17, Numbers 29:12-38, 1 Kings 8:2, I Kings 12:25-33, Nehemiah 8:13-18). In biblical days as well as in modern days, Jewish people build temporary dwellings or “booths” and eat (sometimes sleep) in them for a week during Sukkot. We do it to remember and celebrate God’s provision and dwelling with the children of Israel in the wilderness wanderings. Based on Leviticus 23:40, Rabbinic laws were developed regarding what is known today as the “four species.” Each year, families must obtain their own lulav or “sprout” and etrog or “one that shines” (terms not found in the Bible) for the celebration. All four species are held and are waved in four directions – up, down and to the sides – symbolizing that God is everywhere.
The prophetic significance of Sukkot should not be overlooked. The Rabbis taught that one day God would pour His Holy Spirit on Israel (Joel 2:28). In John 7:37-39, during the seventh day of Sukkot, Yeshua the Messiah relates the outpouring of water to Himself and the water of eternal life that He gives. His Jewish audience would have made the connection immediately. Furthermore, Yeshua, who is God in the flesh dwelling with us, will be the ultimate fulfillment of Tabernacles, when we all dwell with Him in His future Millennial Kingdom (Zechariah 14:16-19). Peter, at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36), mistakenly thought Yeshua had brought in the Kingdom, and he wanted to build three booths; one each for Messiah, Moses, and Elijah.
8. God’s promises are irrevocable
With each of these festivals comes a future fulfillment of a promise from God to those who have put their trust in the death and resurrection of Messiah for the forgiveness of their sins. God’s promises to Israel are irrevocable (Jeremiah 31:35-37, Romans 9:1-5, 11:26-29) and our God never changes (Hebrews 13:8). Only if God’s promises to Israel are irrevocable can the promises to those who follow Messiah also be unchanged. If God has changed His mind about Israel, then our personal relationship with Him (also based on a covenantal promise) stands on nothing!
9. God’s plan of redemption is not an afterthought.
From the very first Messianic prophecy found in Genesis 3:15, the Creator of the universe introduced the idea of a Redeemer for mankind. The picture progressively painted through the Jewish Scriptures is one of a Jewish man from the tribe of Judah, the line of David, both God and man, born in Bethlehem of a virgin (Genesis 3:15, 49:10, Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7, Micah 5:2), to name just a few. Obviously, only Yeshua of Nazareth fulfills the description perfectly. Images of our Redeemer are also found in all the Levitical Feasts from Passover to Tabernacles, from His death to the Millennial Kingdom. God’s love for us is so great that He planned all along to provide a way for us to be reconciled to Him (John 3:16).
10. A better understanding of God’s Word
As most people read the Bible – which is the story of mankind in general and Israel in particular – it is as if we were watching an old movie in black and white, with some details but not all. Yet if we read the Bible from a Jewish perspective, understanding the authors’ point of view, the audiences and the geographical/historical context, then we understand so much more. The movie instantly turns to color, and details we never knew existed pop up on the screen.
The Levitical calendar is not only a reminder of God’s holy convocations for the children of Israel, but it also renders a vivid picture of God’s love, grace, and provision for the Jewish people and the rest of mankind. It helps us to better understand not only the Jewish people, but the God of the Jewish people, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… our God, and His Word.
Olivier is the author of They Have Conspired Against You, a book on the rebirth of worldwide antisemitism and how to fight it. He is also an accomplished artist and has used his God-given talent in several of Chosen People Ministries’ publications and evangelistic materials. Olivier and his wife Ellen serve in Washington State.