Deuteronomy 16:9-17 – Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles: The Three Feasts 


Deuteronomy 16:9-17


In addition to Passover, two other pilgrimage holidays are commanded for the Israelites. 


Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, better known to Christians as Pentecost, was to be celebrated seven weeks after the beginning of the grain harvest (that was the month of Aviv). Like Passover, Shavuot/Pentecost/Weeks celebrated both agricultural and religious meanings. The Festival of Weeks celebrated the wheat harvest, just as Passover celebrated the barley harvest. But just as Passover celebrated also the passing over of the households in Egypt that smeared blood on their door, Pentecost celebrated the day that God spoke in the hearing of all those gathered at the foot of Horeb/Sinai (rabbis calculate the weeks based on Exodus 12:1-3, 16:1 & 19:1, 10-11, 16). Interestingly, if the theophany at Sinai/Horeb was the first Pentecost, it was characterized by “voices” (kolot) frequently euphemistically translated as “thunders,” and little lights or lanterns (lapidim) frequently translated [poorly] as “flashes of lightning” (Exodus 20:18). At the Jerusalem celebration of Pentecost hundreds of years later, participants would hear multiple voices speaking their own language and see little flames on the heads of the apostles. 

The Festival of Weeks is also a first fruit festival (Numbers 28:26), when the first fruits of seven species (barley, wheat, grapes, olives, dates, pomegranates and figs) would be presented in Jerusalem. The instructions here in Deuteronomy describe entire households, including children, slaves, Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to share in the rejoicing over the harvest. 

Similarly, the festival of Tabernacles/Booths/Sukkot, described here, celebrates an agricultural and religious event. At the end of threshing and wine-pressing, the Israelites were to have another harvest festival. Again, they were to bring their entire household to the place where God would choose to reside for a time of celebration, including family, slaves, Levites, widows, orphans, and foreigners. The rationale for why people would reside in booths for a week is not here in Deuteronomy, but can be found in Leviticus 23:42-43. The Israelites lived in tents/booths during their wilderness sojourn, and future generations of Israelites were to recreate that experience each year. 

By commanding the three pilgrimage festivals each year, God instructs the Israelite community to tie communal celebration of land-owning families with sharing meals with the poor and those without land resources. They were to thank God at the central shrine for their harvests. And the Israelites of future generations were called to live, for at least a few weeks, as if they were the Exodus and wilderness generations – something that Deuteronomy repeatedly insists that all future generations of Israelites practice.