Festivals during that time were marked by periods (some lasting a whole day, week, or even a year) of rest from ordinary work, pilgrimages, feasting, celebration, and worship. The exception being, of course, of “Day of Atonement”. However, for the most part, the term “festival” in ancient Israel would generally bring to mind a joyful gathering of large crowds of people from every family, tribe, and city of Israel all anticipating a rich time of fellowship with one another and their God.
However, equally present throughout the Old Testament descriptions of these Festivals (or “holy convocations” or “holy days” or ” appointed feasts”), is the detailed description of numerous types of sacrifices (animal, grain, bread, oil, wine, etc.) ordained by God to be offered during these festivals. Even though these sacrifices in the Pentateuch are referred to as the “food of God” (Lev 21.6, 21; 22.7), elsewhere in Scripture God reveals that He was not seeking a source of food from these sacrifices:
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?“-Psalm 50.7-13
If God was not desiring to be fed by the sacrifices during the festivals, then why did He ordain them in the first place? What was He really seeking?
“*Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.“-Psalm 50.14-15
This passage is incredibly enlightening because it reveals God’s heart behind the sacrificial system: His own glory by means of our thanksgiving, faithfulness to Him, and humbled reliance upon Him.
With this enlightened understanding of the term “sacrifice,” it would seem as though the term “festival sacrifice” is not such a contradiction after all! It is in the heart of every believer (through the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit) to offer praise, adoration and thanksgiving to God. Even our faithfulness to God is really a gift from Him as well (Rom 12.3). Since God is the source of these things, it would also follow that the believer would rely upon the Lord for them as well (Prov 3.5-7). Therefore, the sacrifice that God is seeking should naturally flow out of the believer anyway (i.e. a “free will offering” of sorts), which would be fitting in a “festival” setting.
Oh, that we would offer God the right sacrifice of thanksgiving, faithfulness and reliance upon Him in all things that He may be glorified!
*Or: Make thanksgiving your sacrifice to God.