The Israelite Festivals of Ancient Times

Of what significance are they to present-day Christians?

by Lorraine day, M.D.

“When Israel came out of Egypt, God told them they were to commemorate their main experiences in certain ceremonies conducted upon specific holidays, or festivals.  The three main celebrations were Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.  These are also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest (or Feast of Weeks), and the Feast of Ingathering.  God’s basic instructions were given in Exodus 23:14-17.” Creation’s Jubilee by Stephen Jones, pg 52

Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me.  You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt.  And none shall appear before Me empty-handed.

Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field.  Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.

“The feast of Passover and the seven days of Unleavened Bread, is first.  It commemorates the day Israel left Egypt under Moses on their way to the Promised Land.  The second feast, Pentecost, or Harvest, commemorates the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, the day the fire of God came down upon the mount, and God spoke to all the people.  The third feast, Tabernacles, or Ingathering, commemorates two things:  (1) the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness; and (2) the time Israel was supposed to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.

“These experiences were set up to remember certain key experiences in the life of the nation.  But they also have other levels of meaning.  On the personal side, Passover signifies our Justification from the bondage of sin (‘Egypt’).  Pentecost signifies our Sanctification by the infilling of the Holy Spirit (God’s spirit or disposition of holiness).  Tabernacles signifies our Glorification at “the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23) when we inherit our ‘Promised Land.’

The Three Harvests:  Barley, Wheat, and Grapes


“A particular harvest is associated with each of these three feast days.  Passover is associated with the harvest of barley: Pentecost is associated with the harvest of wheat; and Tabernacles is associated specifically with the grape harvest.  Because this is so little-known, most do not understand Paul’s teaching on the three harvests.”  Ibid 

How do we know these associations of the particular harvest with these three feast days?  The Bible tells us.

The Ripening of the Barley

When Moses was attempting to get Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, ten plagues were brought on the Egyptians before Pharaoh was convinced to let them leave.  This came to be celebrated as the feast of Passover.

The seventh plague that fell upon Egypt shortly before the Passover was the hail.  The Bible tells us that the hail ruined the barley, because it had already ripened (eared out), but the wheat was not destroyed, because it had not ripened yet.  Exodus 9:29-32 tells us:

“And Moses said unto him (Pharaoh),  As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the Lord; and the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth is the Lord’s.

But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the Lord God.

And the flax and the barley was smitten; for the barley was in the ear, and the flax was in bud.

But the wheat and the spelt were not smitten: for they were not grown up.

A footnote in the New American Standard Version of the Bible says “The wheat and spelt (an inferior kind of wheat) were not harmed at this time because they ripen a month or so later.”

The wheat ripened later, around the time of Pentecost.




In Lev 23:4-14 we read:

These are the feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations, that ye shall proclaim in their seasons.  In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s Passover.  And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the Lord: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread.

In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile (laborious) work therein.  But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.

And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying.  Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow of (literal translation is “of” NOT “after”) the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.

The only “sheaf” (“first fruits”) of grain that was ripe enough to be harvested to be  waved before the Lord at the time of Passover, was barley.  The wheat had not yet ripened.

The Ripening of the Wheat

The wheat ripened later, around the time of Pentecost.  Just as barley was offered to God at Passover, the wheat was offered on Pentecost seven weeks later, as we read in Exodus 34:22.

And you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end (the Israelite “year’s end” NOT the year as we now know it).

The Grape Harvest

The grapes ripened at the end of the growing season, in late summer.  The grapes were trodden down in the winepress and the grape juice was collected.  On each of the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles a pitcher of grape juice from this harvest was poured out before the Lord as a drink offering in the temple.  Lev. 23:39,42-44 says:

Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: . . . Ye shall dwell in booths (tabernacles – shelters made of boughs) seven days, all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths; that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

           And Moses declared unto the children of Israel the feasts of the Lord.

So we see that there were three main festivals of Israel:  Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.  Each of these called for temple ceremonies involving a different product of the harvest: barley, wheat, and grapes.  The first two are grains; the last is a fruit.

God commanded all the males of Israel to celebrate these three harvests festivals by “standing before the presence (‘face’) of God”.  These three festivals prophesy of the “harvest of souls” where the divine command goes forth for men to stand before God.

What is the Significance of Barley in the Bible?

Let’s Bible passages that mention “barley.”  We have already seen that the “barley”, because it matures early, represents the “first fruits”, a symbolic representation of the first people to mature spiritually to bring forth the fruits of the kingdom that God requires.In the Old Testament (2 Kings 4:42), Elish

In the New Testament (John 6), Jesus fed the five thousand at the time of Passover (John 6:4) with five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:9). Later, Jesus told His disciples to:

 “gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” (John 6:12)

Later on in the same chapter, Jesus uses essentially the same words that He used for the fragments of bread when He speaks of those He will save:

All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me: and him that comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.  For I came down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.

And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of ALL which He has given Me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.

In John 3:35 we are told that

            “The Father loves the Son, and has given ALL things into His hand.”

Therefore, we can be assured that God WILL save ALL mankind.  The Barley Company will just be the first group.

“Just as the twelve baskets of barley fragments were gathered so that nothing would be lost, so also the barley company, which was broken to feed the people, will be raised up at the last day of this present age.  Twelve is the Biblical number of divine government.  The barley people will be taken to heaven to rule and reign with Christ.”  Ibid. page 55

Another example is found in Judges 7:13 where Gideon and his army were called “a loaf of barley bread.”  God is raising an army of overcomers who will rule with Christ. 

“Their weapons are a trumpet and a clay pitcher with a torch inside.  Gideon gave his army instructions that they were to remain quiet until the trumpet sounded.  Then they were to smash the earthen jars and reveal the torches inside.

“The trumpet signifies resurrection, for Paul tells us that the dead will be raised ‘at the last trump,’ (1 Cor 15:52) that is, the seventh trumpet.  As for the clay pitcher and the torch inside, Paul says that the glory of God is hidden within us for a time, and that ‘we have this treasure in earthen vessels’ (2 Cor 4:7).  A time is coming when the last trumpet will sound, and these bodies of death, the ‘earthen vessels,’ will be broken to reveal the light of the glory of God.  This will occur at the first resurrection.”  Ibid.

What is the Significance of Wheat in the Bible?

Pentecost occurred fifty days after Passover. The wheat harvest ripened at Pentecost.  (Exodus 34:22) On that day the high priest was to offer to God two loaves (of wheat bread) baked with leaven.

A significant Old Testament passage dealing with the wheat harvest is found in the story of Saul’s coronation as the first king of Israel (1 Sam 9-12).  The people had demanded a king before David was born, so God gave them Saul to reign over them.  The kingdom was flawed because it was mixed with leaven.  Saul was crowned on the day of Pentecost, for in Samuel’s coronation speech he says in 1 Sam 12:17 

            “Is it not the wheat harvest today?”

That is, it was the day the two loaves of wheat bread were being offered to God, denoting the beginning of wheat harvest.

“Saul started out doing what was right, but in the second year of his reign he disobeyed God, and as a result he became disqualified to rule Israel.   (Se1 Sam 13:1,13,14).  Nevertheless, God allowed him to continue ruling Israel for another 38 1/2 years.

“This followed the pattern of Israel under Moses precisely.  Recall that under Moses the people refused to cross the Jordan in their second year as well, and as a consequence, God made the nation wander in the wilderness for another 38 1/2 years.”  Ibid. pg 56

When Saul was crowned on Pentecost, Samuel prophesied “thunder and rain” that day.  Rain on Pentecost was very unusual and would have been regarded by the people as “judgment”, even as Samuel obviously intended because of the wickedness of the Israelites in asking for a king.

1 Sam 12:17 tells us:

Is it not the wheat harvest today?  I will call to the Lord, that He may send thunder and rain.  Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done n the sight of the Lord by asking for yourselves a king.

In the New Testament, John the Baptist makes reference to the “wheat” harvest in Matthew 3:11,12:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit (God’s spirit or disposition of holiness) and with fire.

Whose winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with fire that cannot be put out.  (The same “fiery” law that He baptizes us with – a fire that cannot be put out until it burns all the sin out of our life.)

The baptism of fire on the wheat represents a purification process that is judgment upon sin in order to bless the individual.  It is often painful but acceptable when one knows that God is working all things out for our good. 

God sits as a  “refiner and purifier of silver, and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.”  Malachi 3:3

What is the Significance of Grapes in the Bible?

“The winepress with the treading of the grapes in the winepresses, depicts God’s wrath, judgment, and the lake of fire.  The purpose of the grain harvests of spring (barley and wheat) is to provide bread for God’s great communion table. 

“The purpose of the feast of Tabernacles with its celebration of the winepress is to provide the wine for God’s table.  Without this wine, His communion table would have only bread and would be incomplete.  God will have His wine, but it must come by means of the winepress, which speaks of the judgments of God.

“God harvests His barley, wheat, and grapes in different manners, even as nature teaches us.  The chaff from the barley falls away very easily, so barley is said to be winnowed.  That is, the action of the wind itself (by means of fans) are sufficient to get rid of the chaff.  This speaks of the barley company, who so quickly respond to the wind of the Spirit.

“To remove the chaff from the wheat requires threshing.  This is a more severe action, but it does the job.  It depicts the fact that this group will be harvested by means of judgment, or tribulation.  The Latin word, tribulum, is a threshing instrument.

“Finally, to obtain the juice the grapes must be trodden under foot.  Grapes do not have chaff, but they do have “flesh” that must be pressed severely in order to obtain the wine.  This represents the most severe form of judgment upon the unbelievers.  Yet the result is that God obtains wine for His communion table.”  Ibid. pg 58

Fulfillment of the Feast Days Prophecy

The three Feast Days of Israel prophesy on more than one level.  The first is the individual personal level.  The Feast of Passover is fulfilled in us by our justification by faith in the blood of the Lamb symbolized by the people killing a lamb and putting its blood on the doorposts and lintel.

The Feast of Pentecost, where God begins to write His law upon our hearts, represents our sanctification.  The disciples in the upper room received God’s Spirit on Pentecost.

The Feast of Tabernacles is the final step in our walk with God.  This feast gives us the fullness of the Spirit and brings us fully into the promise of perfection in our relationship with Him. 

These are the three main steps in our spiritual growth and maturity as we grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ.

Another Level of Fulfillment:  The Whole World Will Be Saved – but NOT All at Once!  There will be Three Groups!

In 1 Cor 15:22-26,28, Paul says:

For as in Adam ALL die (the whole human race), even so in Christ shall ALL (the same ALL – the whole human race) be made alive (zoe) in the Greek – the word for “life” used in the term “eonian life – the life of Christ that He puts in us to make us ready for eventual immortality – what Christians refer to as “eternal life!”)

But every man in his own order:  (Not everyone will be saved together.  They will be saved in three groups)  (Group #1) Christ the first fruits; (Group #2) afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming

Then cometh the end, (when Group #3 will be saved) when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign, till He has put all enemies under His feet (as in pressing the grapes for wine).

The last enemy that shall be abolished is death. . .  (Death is not abolished until AFTER the “Great White Throne Judgment” so this time period is AFTER the millennium – NOT at the Second Coming!)

And when ALL shall be subdued unto Him (Christ), then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him (God) that put all under Him (Christ), that God may be ALL in ALL!

Group # 3 is saved AFTER the Great White Throne Judgment – AFTER the Millennium, because only THEN will death be abolished.  In addition, when death is abolished, then, by definition, no one will be dead.  Everyone will have to be alive!  And  “God will be ALL in ALL!”  1 Cor 15:28

Over the next several months, we will study the Three Harvests individually, and in more detail. 

© Lorraine Day, M.D. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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