By: William Jackson
As we read through Exodus and Leviticus it appears that the Feast and Festivals* are eternal. This would imply that we are to perform these statutes even now, in our current day Nonetheless, what is perplexing are later statements from God that go “I hate, I reject your festivals, and I will not smell [the sacrifices of] your assemblies” (Amos 5:21) and “Your New Moons and your appointed seasons My soul hates, they are a burden to Me…” (Isaiah 1:14). What gives? Are the Feast and Festivals forever or did God halt them? Well we know one thing, God doesn’t change his mind (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Micah 7:20). So how can both perception by right?
Olam ≠ Forever
Much of the misgivings boils down to a single Hebrew word “olam”. When talking about the Feast and Festivals, it is the one word English translators substitute for forever.
*Verses that “olam” is translated as forever:
- Pesach/Passover: Exodus 12:14
- Chag HaMatzot /Unleavened Bread: Exodus 12:17
- First fruits: Leviticus 23:9-14
- The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost): Leviticus 23:21
- Rosh Hashanah/Feast of Trumpets (doesn’t have this statute)
- Yom Kippur/The Day of Atonement: Leviticus 16:34, 23:31
- Sukkot/Feast of Booths (Tabernacles or Ingathering): Leviticus 23:41
In reality, there is no actual word in the Hebrew language for forever. Olam itself simply means “ancient”, “long duration,” or “until the end of a period of time.”1. For example, olam is used to mean very old in Deuteronomy 32:7, Isaiah 63:9,11; Amos 9:11; Micah 5:1; 7:14; and Malachi 3:4. Conversely, it is used in Deuteronomy 33:15 to mean great distance. So. why such a diverse meaning for just one word? Probably because it implies a great distance whether in space or time, but it does not mean forever. Still English translators change the Hebrew word olam to words like forever, ever or even the phrase “generation to generation”. We need to remember that even Jewish sources have determined that the word “olam” did not mean eternity, but rather a limited period of time2. A couple of examples of these are Moreh Nevuchim 2:28 (The Guide for the Perplexed) by Moses Maimonides (Rambam), and Sefer ha-Ikkarim (“Book of Principles”), 3:16, by rabbi Joseph Albo 15th century.
Covenant of the Promise Land:
A good example of the use of the word olam is Genesis 17:8 and Joshua 14:9. Here God states that Canaan would be an olam, or everlasting possession of Israel. This was an ordinance given by God. Yet, the Tanakh and History shows us between famines and exiles3 the Jews have spent more time outside of Israel than in it. Importantly, as we know, God’s chosen people have returned to Israel and in the end, Israel will belong to the them. Another point to ponder is that although God gave Israel to His people, those Israelites that were disobedient to God were not allow to participate in this covenant (Numbers 14:28-30, 32:11, Deuteronomy 1:35, 2:14-15). Two points to take away from this argument are that one can fall out of favor in this “forever” promise, and that although in the end the promise will be fulfilled it can temporarily be halted. So, olam does not mean a continues possession of the land when it comes to Israel.
Continuation of the Levitical Priesthood:
Still, another good example regarding olam, would be the Levitical Priesthood. In Exodus 29:9, 40:15, Numbers 25:13 and 1 Samuel 2:30 God states that the priesthood would belong to Aaron and his sons “forever” (olam). Yet, a year later Nadab and Abihu (Aaron’s sons) in Leviticus 10:1-2 were neglect in their duties and lost their priestly status. Also, about four centuries later, God removes Eli and his sons as priest for their disobedience (1 Samuel 3:11-14). So we can determine from this, as with the land, forever can be challenged by those that are disobedient to the covenant. Adding to this, on a national level, this forever promise was tested by Israel. This happened during the Babylonian captivity (597 – 538 BCE)4. As a byproduct of Israel’s disobedience, the Levitical priesthood did not perform its duties for at least 70 years (Jeremiah 25:2, 29:10 and Daniel 9:2). After the exile, we see that Nehemiah restored all the priest to their original duties (Nehemiah 13:11). Nonetheless, God said through His last prophet Malachi that the Levitical priest have corrupted the covenant with Him (Malachi 2:1-9). Later on in Malachi, the prophet states that in the future, God will purify and reestablish the Levitical priesthood (Malachi 3:3). This is further supported by Ezekiel. In his Second Temple Vision (Ezekiel 40-48), Ezekiel talks about the restoration of the Levitical priesthood and the Temple. This is still to come. As we know, currently, the Levitical priesthood is not performing it’s duties. So again we see the “forever” concept challenged by disobedience and halted for periods of times.
As we discussed, the concept of olam being forever can be halted if challenged with insubordination. The Temple falls into this category. Through Israel’s disobedience it was destroyed5. Isaiah warned Israel bout their behavior in around 740 BCE. He stated that God no longer honored their Temple sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11-12, 66:3). As we see below the Feast and Festivals are tied into the Temple sacrifices. So God did not honor them either (Isaiah 1:13-14). This was again echoed over two centuries later before the Babylonian captivity by Jeremiah in Lamentations 2:6. The Temples destruction led consequently to the Levitical Priesthood and sacrifices being paused. As Torah tells us, sacrifices are crucial to the Feasts and Festivals:
- Pesach/Passover: “you are to provide a burnt offering to the God of two young bulls, one ram, and seven lambs in the first year they shall be unblemished for you” (Leviticus 23:8, Numbers 28:19).
- Chag HaMatzot /Unleavened Bread: “…they (Israel) shall not appear before Me empty handed.” (Exodus 23:15).
- First fruits, “…you shall offer up an unblemished lamb in its [first] year as a burnt offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:12) …” You shall not eat bread or [flour made from] parched grain or fresh grain, until this very day, until you bring your God’s sacrifice…” (Leviticus 23:14).
- Feast of Weeks (Pentecost): In Leviticus 23, during this feast you are to offer up a loaves of bread (v. 17), several animals for burnt offerings (v. 18-19) and wine (v. 19) to God through a priest at the Temple.
- Rosh Hashanah/The Feast of Trumpets: “ you shall offer up a fire offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:25).
- Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement: “… you shall offer up a fire offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:27).
- Sukkot/Feast of Booths (Tabernacles or Ingathering): For a seven-day period, you are to bring a fire offering to the Lord and on the eighth day you present a fire offering to the Lord (Leviticus 23:36).
Without a Temple we do not have sacrifices. This means that no one can truly do the Feast and Festivals to standard. Regardless of how you grade it you will never be 100% successful in doing them until the Temple is reestablished.
As God said the Feast and Festivals offend Him (Amos 5:21 and Isaiah 1:14) because of Israel’s disobedience. So, He halted them by taking away a critical piece, the ability to do sacrifices, the Temple. Thus our ability to perform these Feast and Festivals has been halted. Yet, although we cannot perform them, hope is not lost. All the world will perform them in a future day (Isaiah 66:23 and Psalm 86:9). Ezekiel also confirms this through a re-establishment of the Feast and Festivals in the end days, when the Temple is restored (Ezekiel 45:21 – 46:15). Even Zechariah 14:16 speaks of a future time when all people will participate in the Feast and Festivals.
- “Strong’s Hebrew: 5769. עוֹלָם (olam) — Long Duration, Antiquity, Futurity.” Strong’s Hebrew: 5769. עוֹלָם (olam) — Long Duration, Antiquity, Futurity. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2016.
- Balashon – Hebrew Language Detective: Olam.” Balashon – Hebrew Language Detective: Olam. N.p., 2 Sept. 2010. Web. 23 July 2016
- Spiro, Ken, Rabbi. “History Crash Course #68: Timeline: From Abraham to the State of Israel.” Aishcom. N.p., 16 Mar. 2002. Web. 18 July 2016.
- Hooker, Richard. “The Jewish Temples: The Babylonian Exile.” The Babylonian Exile. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.