The most complete summary of the Holy Days given by God and to be observed by His people is found in Leviticus 23. Carefully note how the first two verses introduce these special days:
“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying. ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: “THE FEASTS OF THE LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are MY FEASTS”’” (Leviticus 23:1-2).
In this record, we see that God revealed to Moses the specific feasts, and Moses was to, in turn, teach the nation of Israel about these observances. Earlier, as He began to intervene and deliver Israel from Egyptian captivity, God very specifically established a calendar system to be used by His nation (Compare Exodus 12:1-2). At the same time He also established the observance of the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread as recorded in chapters 12 and 13 of the book of Exodus.
In addition to establishing this unique yearly calendar, God also reminded Israel of the proper way to mark the weekly period by setting apart the seventh day—the Sabbath—as a time in which the nation of Israel was to rest, because the Sabbath was holy to the LORD (Compare Exodus 16, especially verses 23-36). This observance was also subsequently included and re-emphasized in the proclamation of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11).
WHY did God do this with Israel—why were they given knowledge of the Holy Days?
Part of the answer is found in Exodus 19:5-6: “‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’…”
This people of Israel were the descendants of Abraham, and God had chosen Abraham to serve Him for a great purpose. Note this promise given by God to Abraham: “‘In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice’” (Genesis 22:18). The “seed” refers to Jesus Christ–the Savior of mankind (compare Galatians 3:16). This far reaching commitment by God to Abraham provided the key for the rest of mankind to eventually be reconciled to God.
The assurance and knowledge of this plan of God is revealed in the Holy Days given to the nation of Israel. We have written extensively about this and much more detailed information is available on our websites—especially note the following booklets: “God’s Commanded Holy Days“; “The Meaning of God’s Spring Holy Days“; “The Meaning of God’s Fall Holy Days“; and, “The Sacrificial System and the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.”
The Bible reveals that it was to Israel that God revealed His Feasts and commanded the entire nation to observe them from that time forward. However, let us also note what is the FIRST of the “feasts of the LORD” mentioned in the summary found in Leviticus 23:
“‘Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings’” (Leviticus 23:3).
The very first—and only—pre-Moses biblical record of an observance of this particular Feast (or any of the Holy Days) is mentioned in Genesis 2:2-3: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”
What is revealed is that it was God who rested, and it was God who established and set apart the weekly Sabbath for special observance. We may infer that Adam and Eve were taught about the Sabbath, as it is clearly revealed that God’s Ten Commandments were in force and the Sabbath is a part of those commandments. However, it is also evident that following the disobedience of Adam and Eve, their descendants—with only the fewest exceptions—rebelled against God and did not walk in ANY of God’s ways. That disobedience brought on the terrible global destruction of the flood as punishment.
There is no biblical evidence of any other of God’s commanded Holy Days being observed, or, for that matter, even being revealed or established, prior to Moses. After all, God’s annual Holy Days were given to the nation of ancient Israel–the “church in the wilderness”–which came into existence at the time of Moses, when God made covenants with the nation.
Let us also point out that God established the Sabbath as a “Holy Day” in conjunction with the events surrounding His creative work that culminated in the creation of man. Later, He told Israel to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy… For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth… THEREFORE the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8, 11). We see that the weekly Sabbath was to be kept as a MEMORIAL of God’s creation. (Later, God added another reason why Israel was to remember to observe the Sabbath, compare Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
When God first established the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, their purpose was revealed in association with God’s separation of the people of Israel and their deliverance from the bondage of Egyptian servitude (Compare Exodus 12; Exodus 13:9). The Passover season was to be observed by Israel in memory of what God did in Egypt. Exodus 12:26-27, in referring to the Passover service, points out: “And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover service of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households….'” Likewise, Exodus 12:14, 17, in referring to the Days of Unleavened Bread, states: “So this day shall be to you a MEMORIAL; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations… So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, FOR ON THIS SAME DAY I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. THEREFORE you shall observe this day…”
As the weekly Sabbath was to be kept in memory of God’s creation, so Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread were to be kept in memory of what God did in Egypt. The difference is this: While the weekly Sabbath began when God made man (remember that God made the Sabbath for man, Mark 2:27)–and was clearly revealed to be kept from the very beginning–the events surrounding the first Passover did not occur prior to Moses and Israel in Egypt. Therefore, there is no biblical evidence that individuals kept the annual Holy Days prior to Moses.
Likewise, the other Holy Days mentioned in Leviticus 23 have a specific association with events of the time when Israel came out of Egypt to possess the Promised Land God was giving them.
It is for these reasons that the Church of God has taught for many years that the ESTABLISHMENT of the annual Holy Days and their observance by God’s people began at the time of Moses–and not prior to that time. Herbert W. Armstrong, the late human leader of the Worldwide Church of God, wrote in his booklet, “Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days-Which?” (emphasis added):
“The Sabbath is a WEEKLY MEMORIAL OF CREATION…. Now in like manner, when God GAVE HIS CHURCH seven annual Sabbaths, God, in His wisdom, had a great purpose… The [first] day [of unleavened bread] ESTABLISHED as a Sabbath, or holy convocation forever, is the feast day, the selfsame DAY on which they WENT OUT OF EGYPT… This day is a MEMORIAL… A MEMORIAL OF DELIVERANCE FROM EGYPT, which pictures to us deliverance from sin! Observe that the days of unleavened bread are a period, having two high-day Sabbaths. And this period is ESTABLISHED forever WHILE the Israelites were still IN EGYPT.. Why did God ordain these feast days? What was His great purpose? Turn now to Exodus 13, verse 3: ‘And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt. . . .’… Verses 6, 8-10: ‘Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and the seventh day shall be a feast unto the Lord . . . This is done because of that which the Eternal did’ (a MEMORIAL) ‘and it shall be for a sign’… God’s purpose in GIVING HIS CHURCH His annual holy days was to keep His children constantly in true understanding of God’s great plan.”
That great Holy Day PLAN of God is far more encompassing in its intended meaning.
(1) For instance, Jesus Christ came into the world to become the Passover Lamb of God (John 1:29), and His sacrifice paid the penalty of sin for all who would believe and accept His offering by turning to God in humble repentance and obedience. In addressing the keeping of the first of the three seasonal feast periods—Passover and Unleavened Bread—Paul states: “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
(2) In the Book of Hebrews, the significant meaning of the Sabbath is revealed in an even greater scope: “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (NASB Study Bible; Hebrews 4:9). This points to a future fulfillment in a time when Jesus Christ will establish the Kingdom of God on this earth and reign for 1,000 years with the firstfruits–the saints of God and Jesus Christ–who will be the first to be resurrected to immortality (Compare Revelation 20:4-6).
(3) These firstfruits are also pictured by the keeping of the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, as revealed in Leviticus 23:15-22. Again, we see that more than what was then revealed about this Feast occurred following the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this context, it is important to note that Jesus Christ pointedly told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem for a dramatic and very specific purpose: “‘Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high’” (Luke 24:49).
What followed is recorded in the Book of Acts, and it involved the disciples doing exactly what they were commanded to do by Jesus—that was to stay in Jerusalem, and in doing this, they also observed the Day of Pentecost (Feast of Weeks): “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
In addition to the summary of the Holy Days of God described in Leviticus 23, God also describes His Feasts as three seasons within the year (Compare Exodus 23:14; 34:23). We have already seen that for the first two “times” that the Feast Days were observed, there has been additional fulfillments revealing even more about God’s plan of Salvation as contained in the outlined observance of these holy times.
(4) Other elements of God’s plan are revealed through His Fall Holy Days. Symbolically observed in accordance with God’s instructions, these Feasts point to and foreshadow awesome future occurrences that will lead to the completion of God’s great plan—that is, to increase His Family, the God “kind,” by giving eternal life to obedient men and women as sons and daughters of God and members of the spirit-composed and eternal Family of God!
Addressing the question at hand, we again need to focus on what role these Holy Days actually played in the period before Moses.
Perhaps the closest narrative that might hint at some kind of a seasonal observance is found in the account of the offerings that were brought to God by Cain and Abel, as recorded in Genesis 4. However, it would be supposition and unfounded speculation to go beyond what is written and to then try and ascribe this offering as occurring on, and in celebration of, a particular Holy Day.
This is not to say that God did not cause certain events to take place–prior to Moses–which foreshadowed the later observance of the annual Holy Days. It is even possible that some of these events occurred on days which would later be observed as annual Holy Days. It has been speculated, for example–and there exists some Jewish “tradition” to that effect–that events surrounding Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as Abraham’s “sacrifice” of Isaac, might have taken place during the days which would later be known and observed as Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread–but even though this might be interesting conjecture, it cannot, of course, be proven from Scripture.
The Bible simply does not clearly reveal or support the idea of people observing God’s Holy Days in times earlier than Moses—with the notable exception of the weekly Sabbath Day which was kept by Noah, Abraham and other servants of God, as part of the Ten Commandments which were in force and effect prior to Moses (Compare our free booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound“).
Nonetheless, there is evidence that the Holy Days have been a part of God’s intentions and PLANNED FOR even before the creation of the physical realm in which we now exist!
There are Scriptures that clearly reveal that God’s plan—a plan pictured by His Holy Days—was in place even before God created the earth! Even the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was planned for far in advance (Our booklet, “Are You Predestined to be Saved?”, provides insightful explanations about this misunderstood subject). Please note the following Scriptures:
Matthew 25:34: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…”
Ephesians 1:4: “… just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love…”
1 Peter 1:20: “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you…”
Revelation 13:8: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
While it is obvious from the Word of God that an awesome plan of staggering proportions is being carried out by God the Father and Jesus Christ, the fact remains that only certain elements have been revealed! Also, God has revealed information as He deemed it appropriate and necessary for His purposes.
The annual Holy Days were clearly revealed in conjunction with Moses and the establishment of the nation of Israel as God’s people. We don’t read in Scripture that they were revealed or established prior to that time. But it is clear that true Christians–spiritual Israelites–are to keep all of God’s Feasts today–the weekly Sabbath AS WELL AS the annual Holy Days. As has been the case throughout man’s history, knowledge of the annual Feast Days has been lost or simply ignored. Our challenge remains to neither take away from this priceless knowledge nor to add to it, but rather to faithfully observe these very special days set aside by God.
Lead Writers: Dave Harris and Norbert Link