We have done a study before on going up to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage feasts of YHVH. In the previous article, we focused on what is commanded, and how we are to understand it. With time we learn more and that is the reason for this article. In this study, we will look at this commandment in more detail and from an Apostolic writing point of view. We will also see what we can find as far as historical references are concerned.
We will first refresh your memory regarding what we concluded before. We have concluded before that it is commanded to go up to Jerusalem three times a year at the feast of Passover/unleavened bread, Shavuot and at Sukkot. All men are to present themselves to YHVH. The question is, is this really only for the males? Does it mean the wife and children must be left to care for everything at home while the man goes to feast in Jerusalem? It does seem strange…
Who is required to go up?
We usually look at Deuteronomy 16:16 -17, Ex23:17 and Ex34:23 and conclude that only men are required to go up to Jerusalem for these feasts. However, when we carefully read all the related passages, which we ought to do, it is quite clear that the whole family is required to go up for these feasts. Let’s look at the instructions for each of these feasts.
The feast of Unleavened bread
24 “And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. 25 “When you enter the land which YHVH will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. 26 “And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to YHVH who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’ ” And the people bowed low and worshiped.
6 “For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to YHVH. 7 “Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders. 8 “You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what YHVH did for me when I came out of Egypt.’
The instruction is to observe this event – the Passover as an ordinance for you and your children forever. As you observe this, your children will ask “What does this rite mean to you?” they cannot do that if they are not with you. Also in the second reference, you are to tell your children. This again implies that your children would be present.
We are commanded to rejoice with the family, your son and your daughter and even your servants, the Levite, the stranger, orphan and widow. Just a note on this: servants were treated as family in the Hebrew household. We need to consider the culture when we interpret this.
10 “Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to YHVH your Elohim with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as YHVH your Elohim blesses you; 11 and you shall rejoice before YHVH your Elohim, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where YHVH your Elohim chooses to establish His name.
Again, we read that the whole family is to rejoice before YHVH.
13 “You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; 14 and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. 15 “Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to YHVH your Elohim in the place which YHVH chooses, because YHVH your Elohim will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.
We find three more references to the family in this context in Deuteronomy: Deut 12:7; Deut 12:12; Deut 12:18.
YHVH does not require a husband and father to go up to Jerusalem alone for 7 days to celebrate a feast and leave his family behind. These may be the only times he can take time off to spend with his family and now he has to go away and leave them. It is clear from these references that the whole family is to go up. The “all men” is meant to be inclusive, meaning that no man is to be left behind. It states afterwards that YHVH will protect your land when you go up.
24 “For I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your borders, and no man shall covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before YHVH your Elohim.
Another point we didn’t address in detail in the previous article was the purpose of going up.
What is the purpose of going up?
We have touched on this in the previous article, but would like to elaborate here. There is a physical and a spiritual purpose.
The physical purpose
Three times the instruction is given for all men to appear before YHVH. They are to present themselves before YHVH.
Let’s look at the context of when this commandment was given. In Ex 23:17, this instruction is part of the laws given at Sinai. The Israelites would become landowners after having been slaves in Egypt and this brought about the necessity for new instructions. After this, they made a golden calf and worshiped it. YHVH was ready to start over with Moses. Moses interceded for the people and the covenant was renewed. That is the context for Ex 34:23 when this instruction was repeated. They were so close to entering the land, yet the bad report of the spies and their reaction to it caused them to wander the wilderness for forty years. After forty years, they were ready to cross the Jordan and YHVH repeated some of the previously given instructions. The Israelites were entering a new phase, they were becoming land owners. They went from being slaves to being nomads for forty years and will be entering the land and become land owners. This is the context of this passage.
10 “When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security, 11 then it shall come about that the place in which YHVH your Elohim will choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to YHVH. 12 “And you shall rejoice before YHVH your Elohim, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.
As I said, being landowners necessitate instructions to go with it. When they have their own land and produce their own produce, this is what is required of them. This passage sums up the physical purpose for going up to the place where YHVH chose to put His name. All that YHVH commanded is to be brought there: burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, the contribution of your hand (first fruits) and votive offerings.
That’s not all, we are commanded to rejoice before YHVH with our families, servants, Levites, widows, orphans and the poor. The first and third tithe is to be presented to the priest. The second tithe is to be used for the feast to enjoy before YHVH. YHVH, in actual fact, provided for the feast with this second tithe.
Every seventh (sabbatical year) at Sukkot the Torah is to be read in the presence of all.
These feasts are to be used to teach our children about YHVH, His instructions and goodness in providing for us. For this reason, we are commanded to worship and rejoice before YHVH. These are joyous festivals for all to enjoy, thanking our Creator for His provision.
We don’t live in the land and most of us are not landowners. There is no temple presently, so no sacrifices can be made and first fruits and tithes can not be presented to the priests. Why then will we want to go up?
YHVH has provided for us. It may not be in the produce of our own land, but what we have, we have received from Him. We can still use our second tithe and rejoice before YHVH with our families. We can also use the opportunity to teach our children about YHVH’s goodness and His provision for us. It is a privilege to be able to go up to Jerusalem and celebrate His feasts.
There is also a spiritual purpose for going up.
A spiritual purpose
We previously did a study on the spiritual impact of Babel. When you understand this, you will understand this commandment better. I will summarize it here for you. A summary won’t do it justice, so please read the article for better understanding.
YHVH wants to dwell with His people. He created the garden of Eden, where He dwelled with man. It was the place where the physical and spiritual connected. Adam and Eve heard and spoke to YHVH. However, they disobeyed and were cast out of the garden.
Before the flood, spiritual beings wanted to establish this connection again. They defected from the spiritual realm to the physical and had offspring by human women. This resulted in YHVH wiping out mankind with the flood. Only eight people and many animals remained. After this, mankind wanted to reach up to heaven and connect with the spiritual realm. They did this by building the tower of Babel. YHVH confused their languages and different nations were created. YHVH allotted a lesser elohim over each of these. So, first, the spiritual beings wanted to re-establish this connection and later physical beings.
YHVH’s ultimate goal is to re-establish this physical-spiritual realm’s connection. In both cases, created beings tried to fast-track this plan and didn’t succeed. The result of the tower of Babel was a separation of people in seventy nations, each of these under a lesser elohim.
Israel was chosen to be YHVH’s people. They were not included in the seventy nations. During the Exodus, YHVH met with His chosen people at Mount Sinai. Like the garden of Eden, this was the mountain YHVH chose to let the physical and spiritual worlds connect. On this mountain, He gave Moses the instructions to build His dwelling place on earth, the tabernacle. The tabernacle went with the people into the promised land and was kept for many years at Shiloh.
Once King David had conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of the united kingdom (twelve tribes), YHVH allowed David’s son Solomon to build His dwelling place on mount Zion. Thus, like Eden, and Sinai, YHVH again dwelled among His people on top of a mountain. Some people may want to use Ezekiel 10 to prove that YHVH’s glory left the temple. YHVH’s glory did leave the temple, but He placed His name in Jerusalem. YHVH has called Jerusalem the place He chose to put His name, forever.
2 Chronicles 6:6
6 but I have chosen Jerusalem that My name might be there, and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel.’
13 For YHVH has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. 14 “This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
Ezekiel was a prophet before the Babylonian exile and he witnessed YHVH’s Shekinah (glory) depart from the temple before the exile. However, if this then disqualified Jerusalem, why did Y’shua go up to Jerusalem for the feasts?
We know from our previous studies that the name reflects the real essence of who YHVH is. Thus, we know Jerusalem is where YHVH reveals His true essence to His people. Jerusalem is the place where YHVH meets with his people. He has instituted three appointed times where He wants to meet with His people at the place where the physical and spiritual interconnects.
The new Jerusalem will in future be the place where YHVH will dwell with mankind like originally in Eden.
YHVH also wants all seventy nations to return to Him. The other seventy nations need to recognize YHVH as the one true Elohim. Y’shua came to earth to reveal the real essence of YHVH and train the disciples to take this gospel message to all the nations. In the article “The secret mission of Y’shua” you will learn more about this. If all the nations understand the essence of YHVH, they will also come to Jerusalem, which is the mountain where YHVH resides on earth.
We also know from the book of Zechariah that this will indeed be so. It will be required for everybody to go up to Jerusalem. The phrase “in that day” alludes to a future event. You can read the entire passage for the context of when this will be.
16 Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, YHVH of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. 17 And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, YHVH of hosts, there will be no rain on them. 18 If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which YHVH smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. 19 This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.
In Isaiah, we find a related reference.
13 It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship YHVH in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.
We now know who is required to go up and why. We shall now look at references from the Apostolic writings.
References from the Apostolic Writings
Y’shua came to reveal the essence of YHVH to us. He came as our perfect example. Let’s see what we can learn from Him.
Y’shua and His parents
We know from scripture that Joseph and Mary were obedient to YHVH’s instructions. We know this from many clues we are given in scripture. Y’shua was circumcised on the eighth day, He was their firstborn and was redeemed in the temple at the required time and the purification offering was made for Mary at the prescribed time.
21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Y’shua, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to YHVH 23 (as it is written in the Law of YHVH, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to YHVH”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of YHVH, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
We do not know if they went up for all three pilgrimage festivals but definitely went up for Passover every year. We read about it in Luke.
41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast;
Later on, we read of Y’shua’s brothers going up for the feast of Tabernacles. Y’shua went later.
10 But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as if, in secret.
There are other references that prove that Y’shua went up for the feasts.
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Y’shua went up to Jerusalem.
A more correct translation would be the feasts of the Judeans not Jews.
2681 Ἰουδαῖος (Ioudaios), αία (aia), αῖον (aion): adj.pr.g [see Ἰουδαῖος (Ioudaios), ου (ou), ὁ (ho), just below]; ≡ DBLHebr 3374; Str 2453; TDNT 3.356—LN 93.487 Judean, concerning Judea (Mk 1:5)2
There are a few references of His last Passover in Jerusalem.
55 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 So they were seeking for Y’shua, and were saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?”
Y’shua was expected to be there and He was.
12 On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Y’shua was coming to Jerusalem,
In the book of Matthew, we read that Y’shua foretold His death to His disciples before He went up with them to Jerusalem. We know from scripture that they were with Him as they had a meal together the night before and prayed together in the garden of Gethsemane.
17 As Y’shua was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, 18 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,
This is also recorded in Mark 10:32-34 and Luke 18:31-33.
There are no references of Y’shua going up for Shavuot, but not everything He did was recorded. Y’shua was sinless, this meant He kept YHVH’s commandments perfectly.
Let’s see if His disciples and apostles followed His example, after His ascension.
Y’shua instructed His disciples not to leave Jerusalem. This was close to Shavuot.
4 Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
They obeyed, and on the day the Holy Spirit was given the disciples and many other believers were in the temple for it was Shavuot (Pentecost).
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
There is another reference of Peter being in Jerusalem during the Feast of Unleavened bread.
1 Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. 2 And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.
From these references, we learn that Y’shua was brought up observant to YHVH’s instructions. His parents went up to Jerusalem for Passover every year. There are many references that prove that He also went up to Jerusalem for the feasts and we have a reference that proves that He instructed His disciples to be in Jerusalem for Shavuot. Let’s now study what Paul did.
The apostle Paul
We know from scripture that Paul kept YHVH’s commandments. He called himself a Pharisee of Pharisees meaning he was learned in the law and kept it. When we follow what was written about and by him, we sometimes find references to time. This was often given in the context of the feasts.
After Paul’s conversion, he went to Damascus and it is written that he spent three years in Arabia. After the three years, he briefly went to Jerusalem for two weeks and met Peter. We do not know if this was during a feast.
15 But when Elohim, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. 18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.
Paul is telling this to prove that the revelations he was sharing were from YHVH, not from men. He didn’t go to Jerusalem after his conversion to learn from the disciples, he went away and was taught by YHVH.
After this, we read that there was an interval of fourteen years that he did not go up to Jerusalem.
1 Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.
We will need to do a proper study on the chronology of Pauls’ ministry and the development of his theology to be able to come to a proper conclusion on this. What we do need to remember is that Paul continued to keep the commandments, including the feasts. There are many references that attest to that, but that is not the scope of this study. It is on our list to do a proper study on this.
There are a few other references for us to consider. From Acts 20:6, we know that he spent the feast of Unleavened bread in Philippi.
6 We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days.
However, we also read after this that he hurried to be in Jerusalem for Shavuot (Pentecost)
16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.
There is another reference of Paul not going up to Jerusalem for Shavuot in the first letter to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 16:8
8 But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost;
In the Blue Letter Bible, we find a table that harmonizes the book of Acts with Paul’s writings3.
From this chronology, we see that this reference in Corinthians took place after what was written in Acts 20.
What does this mean? We know Paul kept YHVH’s commandments and taught others to do the same. During these times he didn’t go to Jerusalem for the feasts, he was on a missionary journey outside of Israel, spreading the gospel of Y’shua, a task given him by Y’shua. We can make three possible conclusions from this.
1. First is that Paul’s mission took precedence over YHVH’s commandments. This is possible, but there is a problem with this. If we believe it is so, then it becomes acceptable for people to say YHVH instructed them by His Spirit to do things contrary to His Word. They could say YHVH told them not to keep the Sabbath for example. So, this is, in my opinion, not a plausible reason.
2. The second explanation would be to conclude that Paul was disobedient. We cannot say that Paul was sinless, but neither can we say that he was willfully disobedient. As we said before, he called himself the Pharisee of Pharisees and we know from scripture how meticulously they kept the commandments.
3. The third is to conclude that believers outside of Israel are not required to go up to Jerusalem, but could if it was possible for them. This is probably the most feasible explanation.
Other historical information
I was going to cite Acts 2 as a historical reference to prove that Jews from all over the diaspora went up for Shavuot. Interestingly, when I read the reference I realized that these men were actually living in Jerusalem.
5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.
The word translated as “living” is normally used to imply residence
85.69 κατοικέω: to live or dwell in a place in an established or settled manner—‘to live, to dwell, to reside.’ μὴ ἔστω ὁ κατοικῶν ἐν αὐτῇ ‘may no one live in his house’ Ac 1:20.4
From this, it seems that these men were foreigners who made Jerusalem their home. However, we also know from historical references and archaeological finds that people through the ages did go up to Jerusalem for these pilgrimage feasts. There are many references in The Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus that attest to the pilgrimage to Jerusalem taking place at Passover in his time.
We once went to the Jerusalem Archeological Park and Davidson Centre next to the Temple Mount. There we saw an exhibition of coins from all over the world that was found at the base of the temple mount. Here is what they wrote about it:
The Israel Antiquities Authority has created a new exhibit in the Davidson Center in Jerusalem that showcases a collection of coins discovered during excavations at the base of the Temple Mount. The presentation of the coins, many of which date back over 2,000 years, illuminates the expansive history of Jerusalem over the millennia as a location of pilgrimages and religious quests.5
It was customary at the time to change other currencies brought to the temple to the temple shekel, this was then given as temple tax. We read about the money changers in the apostolic writings.
12 And Y’shua entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.
Interestingly, this was just before Y’shua was crucified at the time of Passover. Pilgrims were coming from all over and were changing their money to the temple shekel to pay the temple tax. However, we do not need historical references or archaeological finds to tell us what we are to do. On the other hand, it does show us that people have been going up to Jerusalem through the ages.
The Jewish view is that the pilgrimage is no longer obligatory due to the absence of the temple. However, many Jewish people do go up to Jerusalem for these three feasts. Many people have through the ages made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Some three times a year, some once a year and others once a lifetime.
YHVH commanded us to go up three times a year, to the place where He chose to put His name, Jerusalem. These are the pilgrimage festivals: the feast of Unleavened bread, Shavuot (Feast of Weeks or Pentecost) and Sukkot (the feast of tabernacles). These are feasts for the whole family to enjoy. There is a purpose to this. The physical purpose is to make sacrifices, present first fruits and tithes to the priest, but also to rejoice before YHVH. YHVH has provided and we are to be thankful. He even made provision in the second tithe to be able to afford this. The second tithe is to be used to buy whatever our heart desires and to enjoy it before YHVH. Apart from rejoicing before YHVH, we cannot keep the requirements for these feasts due to the absence of the Temple. There is, however, a spiritual reason for going to Jerusalem.
The spiritual reason is that YHVH, wants us to experience and get to know Him. He placed His name in Jerusalem, His name is His character, His essence. YHVH wants to reveal His essence to us. Jerusalem has become quite secular, however, nowhere in the world can you experience the quietness in a city on the Sabbath like in Jerusalem. On a Friday evening just before the Sabbath, a signal is given throughout the city that the Sabbath is about to begin. Almost everything stops, the shops and most restaurants close and you see many families in their best clothes walking to the old city. The Kotel (western wall) is considered the closest place to where the ancient temple once stood and people go there to pray. If you have ever experienced Jerusalem on the Sabbath and feasts, it will change you.
We have been going to Jerusalem regularly and I can say that this is true. What we have experienced and learned in Jerusalem at feast times, we would never have learned staying at home. I have heard people say that you can actually experience YHVH in Jerusalem, you know your prayers are heard, it’s like having an open heaven. This too is true. To be there is an unforgettable experience. It is, however, not always possible to go up three times a year. For some, it may be once a year; for some once in a lifetime. Whether we go up to Jerusalem or celebrate somewhere else, let this be true.
21 Let them give thanks to YHVH for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! 22 Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, And tell of His works with joyful singing.
- All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD and Y’shua for Jesus.
- Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 730). New York: United Bible Societies.
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