God appointed several festivals, or days of rest and worship, among the Jews, to perpetuate the memory of great events wrought in favor of them: the Sabbath commemorated the creation of the world; the Passover, the departure out of Egypt; the Pentecost, the law given at Sinai, etc. At the three great feasts of the year, the Passover, Pentecost, and that of Tabernacles, all the males of the nation were required to visit the temple, Exodus 23:14-17 Deuteronomy 16:16-17; and to protect their borders from invasion during their absence, the shield of a special providence was always interposed, Exodus 34:23-24. The other festivals were the Feast of Trumpets, or New Moon, Purim, Dedication, the Sabbath year, and the year of Jubilee. These are described elsewhere. The observance of these sacred festivals was adapted not merely to freshen the remembrance of their early history as a nation, but to keep alive the influence of religion and the expectation of the Messiah, to deepen their joy in God, to dispel animosities and jealousies, and to form new associations between the different tribes and families. See also Day of EXPIATION.
In the Christian church, we have no festival that clearly appears to have been instituted by our Savior, or his apostles; but as we commemorate his death as often as we celebrate his supper, he has hereby seemed to institute a perpetual feast. Christians have always celebrated the memory of his resurrection by regarding the Sabbath, which we see, from Revelation 1:10, was in John’s time commonly called "the Lord’s day." Feasts of love, Jude 1:12, were public banquets of a frugal kind, instituted by the primitive Christians, and connected by them with the celebration of the Lord’s supper. The provisions were contributed by the more wealthy, and were common to all Christians, whether rich or poor, who chose to partake. Portions were also sent to the sick and absent members. These love-feasts were intended as an exhibition of mutual Christian affection; but they became subject to abuses, and were afterwards generally discontinued, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
The Hebrews were a hospitable people, and were wont to welcome their guests with a feast, and dismiss them with another, Genesis 19:3 31:27 Judges 6:19 2 Samuel 3:20 2 Kings 6:23. The returning prodigal was thus welcomed, Luke 15:23. Many joyful domestic events were observed with feasting: birthdays, etc., Genesis 21:8 40:20 Job 1:4 Matthew 14:6; marriages, Genesis 29:22 Judges 14:10 John 2:1-10; sheep shearing and harvesting, Judges 9:27 1 Samuel 25:2,36 2 Samuel 13:23. A feast was also provided at funerals, 2 Samuel 3:35 Jeremiah 16:7. Those who brought sacrifices and offerings to the temple were wont to feast upon them there, with joy and praise to God, Deuteronomy 12:6,7 1 Samuel 16:5 2 Samuel 6:19. They were taught to invite all the needy to partake with them, Deuteronomy 16:11; and even to make special feasts for the poor, Deuteronomy 12:17-19 14:28 26:12-15; a custom which the Savior specially commended, Luke 14:12-14.
The manner of holding a feast was anciently marked with great simplicity. But at the time of Christ many Roman customs had been introduced. The feast or "supper" usually took place at five or six in the afternoon, and often continued to a late hour. The guests were invited some time in advance; and those who accepted the invitation were again notified by servants when the hour arrived, Matthew 22:4-8 Luke 14:16-24. The door was guarded against uninvited persons; and was at length closed for the day by the hand of the master of the house, Matthew 25:10 Luke 13:24. Sometimes very large numbers were present, Esther 1:3,5 Luke 14:16-24; and on such occasions a "governor of the feast" was appointed, whose social qualities, tact, firmness, and temperance fitted him to preside, John 2:8. The guests were arranged with a careful regard to their claims to honor, Genesis 43:33 1 Samuel 9:22 Proverbs 25:6,7 Matthew 23:6 Luke 14:7; in which matter the laws of etiquette are still jealously enforced in the East. Sometimes the host provided light, rich, loose robes for the company; and if so, the refusing to wear one was a gross insult, Ecclesiastes 9:8 Matthew 22:11 Revelation 3:4,5. The guests reclined around the tables; water and perfumes were served to them, Mark 7:2 Luke 7:44-46; and after eating, the hands were again washed, a servant pouring water over them. During the repast and after it various entertainments were provided; enigmas were proposed, Judges 14:12; eastern tales were told; music and hired dancers, and often excessive drinking, etc., occupied the time, Isaiah 5:12 24:7-9 Amos 6:5. See EATING, FOOD.
These dictionary topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859. Public Domain, copy freely.
Rand, W. W. "Entry for 'FEASTS'". "American Tract Society Bible Dictionary".