Make your ways known to me, O Lord, and teach me your paths. (Psalms 25:4)
The biblical Hebrew word mo’adim means ‘appointed times’. The Scripture verse in which the majority of these appointments are listed reads literally: “These are the Lord’s appointed times (mo’adim), callings of holiness (mikrei kodesh) which you shall call in their appointed times” (Leviticus 23:4). A more general rendering in English reads: “These are the Feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times” (NKJV).
It is clear that these appointed times have been set in place by God and we are somehow to proclaim them for His particular purposes. The appellations “from generation to generation” (le’dor ve’dor) and “forever” (le’olam va’ed) often are used in conjunction with the Feasts. We see in Leviticus 23:4 that they also are referred to as callings of, or to, holiness (mikrei kodesh) – they are God’s way of calling us to holiness. The more one learns of them and begins to celebrate them, the more one realizes that they are clear calls we can respond to and, through our participation, can proclaim them in and through our lives to the benefit, also, of the next generation.
“I know that my father didn’t think that God was a mathematician but he knew that God could count. And that it was only by picking up God’s rhythms that we regain power and beauty.”
(A River Runs Through It – Norman McClean)
He makes the date… let’s keep it!
Each festal celebration has its own particular emphasis. It is an occasion to remember God’s intervention in history and to anticipate the future fulfilment of His promises. In addition, a wonderful aspect of each of God’s appointed times is that He offers us, His children, the opportunity to meet with Him now in a uniquely special way. Every meeting is a celebration, an opportunity to bless our Father and to give thanks. This includes meaningful rituals and symbols, such as joyous music, dance, prayer, reflection, special foods, fragrance and light – all a magnificent combination of the spiritual and physical, solemnity and rejoicing, seriousness and mirth. We also come to appreciate that serious preparation precedes greater festal joy!
Most importantly, the whole annual cycle is infused with a focus on God Himself. We are reminded on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis of Who He is, and we are encouraged to reflect upon who we are as His children – those ‘born again’ by His Spirit in Messiah Jesus, Yeshua ha’Mashiach. We are kept aware of the inner values of life and the reasons for living. We are exhorted, as those walking after Yeshua, to grow spiritually as we learn the lessons the Festivals offer and as we take the time to nurture our relationships with our Father God and with one another.
God has put in place His Ancient Path that leads to Himself, the Ancient of Days. Our choice is to hear His “callings to holiness” and willingly and joyfully respond, or to deafen our ears and harden our hearts and follow our own paths. The prophet Jeremiah cautions:
Because My people have forgotten [turned against and rejected] Me, they have caused themselves to stumble in their ways [away] from the Ancient path, to walk in side paths and not on the highway (18:15).
Cycles, Cycles, Cycles
Round… like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel…
(Windmills of Your Mind – A. & M. Bergman, Michel Legrand)
As we journey forward with the Lord on His ‘highway of holiness’ we are aware that sacred time is an ongoing series of cycles… the daily, weekly, monthly and annual cycles. This Cycle of Appointed Times was set in place by the great Creator and Designer of all, in harmony with the other cycles of His Creation; for example, the cycle of time and seasons, the cycle of dormancy and growth in the vegetable world, the cycle of birth, life and death. We are given the ability and privilege of working with God in these cycles. We can find motivation, inspiration, and be most creative as we participate with our Creator. It is wise to remember that we cannot change and “improve on” what He has ordained to be eternal and constant.
He leads me in paths [cycles] of righteousness, for His Name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3).
As we walk in His cycles we do not find ourselves spinning giddily round in circles getting nowhere. Rather, we discover that we gradually spiral upward, ever higher and stronger. Our spirits grow according to our Father’s design and draw closer and closer to His Presence.
At the conclusion of each annual cycle we should not be where we were, or even who we were, at the start. On a spiritual journey it is the person who changes, not necessarily the scenery. When we have accepted His invitation, kept the appointment, and met with the Beloved of our soul, we should be moving steadily nearer to our destination of becoming the unique and precious person He created us to be. We will then shine forth more of His image, for His Name’s sake.
His Time Frame
Time is precious! It needs to be planned and used wisely. As the Psalmist prays: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
He did not intend that the saints (tzaddikim – righteous ones)
be ignorant of the times or seasons (1 Thessalonians 5:4).
The Feasts are linked together like the inner workings of a perfectly designed and balanced clock. To move through and record accurately the passage of time and to discover how it all works together in the purposes of the Designer, we need to align ourselves with His time-frame. And be “on time” for His scheduled appointments!
The natural daily cycle is signaled by the sunrise and sunset. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Our response should be one of gratitude, praise and prayer.
Yeshua regularly turned to the Father in prayer. We can safely assume that he prayed three times a day, as does every Orthodox Jew, morning (Shacharit), afternoon (Mincha) and evening (Ma’ariv). Many instances of personal prayer (hitbodedut) are also recorded, e.g. in Mark 1:35, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he [Yeshua] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
In her thoughtful little book, Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh describes the noisy and demanding pace of modern, achievement-driven Western culture and her means of searching for “inner harmony”. She found that many people with similar hungry hearts, “…were often trying to evolve another rhythm with more creative pauses in it, more adjusted to their individual needs [for peace of mind and serenity of soul] and for new and more alive relationships to themselves as well as others.” She correctly observed:
Modern life does not foster simplicity. The constant, blaring demands of the media lead not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring grace, it destroys the soul.
People turn away from the Giver of life, peace and harmony and bewail the resulting fragmentation of their lives. We are encouraged to be those who pursue His shalom, peace, and bring restoration, who walk in His ways of pleasantness. (See Isaiah 58:11-14).
God has provided the perfect rhythm of life, abounding with creative pauses. The keynote of that rhythm is the weekly Shabbat. We all have an inbuilt need for the Shalom that only the Lord’s Shabbat can offer. To quote Robert Benson, from Living Prayer, which is the honest record of his desire and effort to live a life framed and filled by prayer:
To have the rest – for my spirit and my mind and my body – that is needed to live a life that does not eat me alive I am gong to have to plan the way in which I spend my days. I am going to have to make choices about time and attention (e.g. about ending our days with the late local news and weather and sports rather than confession and forgiveness and reconciliation)…I am going to have to learn what Sabbath actually means and how to live it in my life.
The weekly Sabbath, as with the other appointed times, encourages an integration of body, mind and spirit, and a harmonizing of sacred and secular. The biblical Feasts are called Sabbaths as well, and are meaningful celebrations of faith, rich in symbolism and filled with wonder and glory. When we celebrate them with others, at home and in the wider community, they result in healthy integration. They enable one to become more naturally spiritual and joyously holy, as opposed to the modern self- indulgent and narrowly inward-looking techniques for finding meaning in life.
On the day of your gladness, and on your festivals, and on your new moons. (Exodus 10:10)
Of all the set times the monthly awareness and celebration of the new moon, which signals the beginning of the new month, Rosh Chodesh, is perhaps the most mysterious. The moon revolves in a continuous cycle of hiddeness and revelation. The English word mystery is related to the Greek word mysterion, meaning anything hidden or enigmatic. The biblical Greek concept describes a “temporary” secret, i.e. not a secret for which there is no answer but one that gradually is being revealed by God to men through His Spirit. It is close in meaning to apokalypsis, revelation. In the main, Christianity has pursued a rationalistic approach to spiritual truth and, as a result, anything mysterious has been viewed with some suspicion, at times even considered dangerous. The supernatural mysteries of God are often ignored or explained away.
Rosh Chodesh reminds us that there are aspects of God that are far beyond our understanding and remain hidden unless and until He chooses to reveal them. In the meantime, we can celebrate the many gifts of His Presence and the great acts of God in creation and in history, while we retain, in awe and wonder, an awareness of the hidden mysteries.
Yeshua, while he lived on earth, was in communion with his Father and walked in the holiness of His Spirit every day. It is recorded in the Apostolic Writings, the New Testament, that he, Paul and the disciples honored the holy days of the Mo’adim, the annual Festival Cycle set in place from the beginning of time.
The Three Pilgrimage Feasts – Shalosh Regalim
Rabbi Harold Kushner, noted for his excellent book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, records in a more recent work, To Life!, that the twentieth-century Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig observed that God interacts with his world in three ways: 1) as Creator, 2) as Revealer – His relating with humanity through revelation of Himself, summoning people to live according to His will and leading them to understand what that represents, and 3) as Redeemer – when He brings the realm of nature and humanity together into perfect harmony with one another, establishing the ideal state of the Kingdom of God on earth.
On the three pilgrimage festivals, all Jewish males for whom it was possible were called to go up to the Temple in Jerusalem along with whomever from the family could accompany him. For us today, they can represent the three modes of interaction mentioned above:
- At Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, we encounter God our Creator as we celebrate the great harvest of the year. We see Him in the beauty, power, and order of the natural cycle and express our gratitude for His provision and protection.
- At Shavuot, Pentecost, we encounter the God of Revelation. The loving and awesome God, Who gave us His Torah, His eternal Word incarnated in His Son, the Living Word, and freely gives His Holy Spirit to empower and enable us to walk in His ways.
- At Pesach, Passover, we recall the Redemption from Egypt, which was the formation point of the people of God being set apart as a “holy nation.” It marks the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth, when God is recognized and declared as King over a people (Exodus 15:18).
The Gifts of the Nine Feasts
“[God] has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Contrary to the classic song, As Time Goes By, time does not pass us by. In reality, we pass through time. We arrive at the same milestones every year, e.g. a birthday, which we either choose to ignore or mark in a particular way. As we reach the milestone of an annual festival, if we choose not to ignore it, it bestows its own unique gift that sustains us on our journey through time. It offers resources that nurture us on every level – spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally.
Consider the basic gifts inherent in the festivals:
Pesach / Passover – deliverance and freedom
Chag HaMatzot / Week of Unleavened Bread – salvation from bondage and sin
Bikkurim / FirstFruits – new life in the resurrected life of Yeshua the Messiah
Shavuot / Pentecost – covenant relationship, revelation of God and His Word, the outpouring of His Holy Spirit
Rosh HaShana / New Year – honor and service to the King, in thought, word and deed
Yom Kippur / Day of Atonement – repentance, atonement and reconciliation
Sukkot / Feast of Tabernacles – unity, intimacy, and joy
Hanukkah / Festival of Dedication – spiritual redemption, the victory of light over darkness, and purity over adulteration
Purim – physical redemption, the uniqueness and “choseness” of our physical selves
These gifts are presented to us anew every year. We need to open them, however, in order to access the treasures contained within.
Our Father calls us to meet with Him day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. He never slumbers nor sleeps, and the gentle wooing of His Spirit constantly pursues us and lovingly calls us into His Presence. May our spirits respond as we rediscover the awe and mystery of God, and may our hearts answer and turn to Him in love. May we, with our mind and will, choose to yield and to follow Him, and may we walk in His pleasant Ancient paths – His highway of Holiness.
Arise and shine beloved, for the appointed time has come!