The Three Annual National Conventions
“Three times in the year every male of yours should appear before Jehovah your God in the place that he will choose.”—Deut. 16:16.
1. What national conventions were held yearly in ancient Israel?
BESIDES the festivals that the Jews celebrated locally, in their hometowns and villages, there were provisions made for three great national conventions. They were holy conventions to Jehovah, and the law commanded: “Three times in the year every male of yours should appear before Jehovah your God in the place that he will choose.” Thus it was Jehovah’s desire to have the whole nation assembled together at one place three times a year, at a place of His own choice. From the days of King Solomon this place was the temple in Jerusalem. Jehovah also set the time and outlined the program for these annual gatherings. The first convention was to be held in early spring and lasted eight days, from Nisan 14 to 21, to celebrate the Passover and the festival of unfermented cakes. Late in spring, on Sivan 6, a one-day convention was held, to keep the festival of weeks or Pentecost. The third and last convention was scheduled for the fall, Ethanim 15 to 21, and was dedicated to the festival of booths, with a solemn final convention day on Ethanim 22.—Deut. 16:16; Lev. 23:4-22, 33-36; Ex. 23:14-17.
2. How did the people benefit from these conventions?
2 These conventions were “seasonal festivals of Jehovah” and “none should appear before Jehovah empty-handed. The gift of each one’s hand should be in proportion to the blessing of Jehovah your God that he has given you.” But this does not mean that those attending these conventions would not benefit themselves greatly from the gathering. The fellowship made them appreciate the fact that they were one people, one holy nation, unitedly serving Jehovah, the only true God. The daily worship at the temple, the praise and thanksgiving publicly offered to Jehovah for his goodness and his blessings, the counsel given by the priests, all this strengthened the conventioners to continue faithfully serving Jehovah. The festivals were an encouragement for all, especially for those coming from faraway or isolated places. They were occasions of great rejoicing before Jehovah and happy fellowship, joyful, upbuilding reunions of the entire nation.—Lev. 23:4; Deut. 16:16, 17; Lev. 23:40; Deut. 14:24-27.
3. (a) How did Jehovah show that he considered the three “seasonal festivals” important? (b) How did many family heads view the conventions?
3 Jehovah knew well how vital these annual national assemblies were for the unity of the nation and the purity of his worship throughout the entire country. That is why he commanded attendance of all the males and, as to the Passover, he decreed the death penalty upon every male Israelite who was qualified to attend, being ceremonially clean and who “did not happen to be off on a journey,” if he should deliberately fail to observe it. (Num. 9:13) Many of the Israelite family heads esteemed the educational, upbuilding and social value of these conventions so highly that they did not go alone up to Jerusalem, but took their wives and children along with them. What an exciting and interesting trip for a family and what a lasting impression upon those young minds! And many families heeded the counsel in the law to put some money aside each month to attend these annual conventions, and so these trips were not too great a financial burden. Joseph the foster father of Jesus was such a considerate and loving family head. His household was “accustomed to go from year to year to Jerusalem for the festival of the passover.”—Luke 2:41-50.
4. Why was faith required for all the male population to go up to Jerusalem three times a year?
4 This going up to Jerusalem of all male Israelites three times a year to attend the conventions, either alone or with the whole family, was a test of strong faith in Jehovah’s protection. Why? The historic account in the Hebrew Scriptures shows that the Jews were surrounded by enemies and had to fight constantly for their independence. There were the Philistines, the Syrians, the Amalekites, the Amorites, the Ammonites and Moabites, the Egyptians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians, all with a greedy eye on the land of Palestine. What an opportunity, it would appear, for these enemies to attack the land with all the men at the festivals in Jerusalem! Only a few women and children were left at home. Would an entire nation put faith in Jehovah to protect the country, the vacant cities and homes according to his promise that “nobody will desire your land while you are going up to see the face of Jehovah your God three times in the year”? (Ex. 34:24) But let us turn our attention again to the stage set in Jerusalem and watch the Jews at their annual gatherings; it will be for our encouragement and upbuilding.
FESTIVAL OF THE PASSOVER
5, 6. Describe the Passover festival.
5 At the observance of this Passover on Nisan 14, when the small Jewish son would ask his father: “What does this service mean to you?” (Ex. 12:26) then the father would answer: “It was on Nisan 14 [1513 B.C.E.], when our forefathers had been dwelling 215 years in Egypt, much of this time as ill-treated slaves under harsh Egyptian rule, that Jehovah delivered his people and proved himself mightier than all the gods of the Egyptians. Four days previously, on the tenth of the month, each family head had to take into the house a sound male lamb or goat, a year old. After sunset of Nisan 14 it was slaughtered without a bone’s being broken and then roasted whole. Meantime the blood was splashed upon the upper part of the doorway and upon the two doorposts, where every passerby could see it. After this no one was permitted to leave the house.
6 “Later in the evening the whole family assembled around the table to eat the passover lamb or goat with unfermented cakes and bitter herbs. They ate in haste, not sitting down at their tables, but standing, with their hips girded, their sandals on their feet and a staff in their hand. They were ready to leave that very night as Jehovah had promised through his prophet Moses. And Jehovah proved himself the true God. At midnight the angel of Jehovah struck down every Egyptian firstborn of man and animal, from Pharaoh down to the lowliest one. But because of the blood on the doors of our forefathers, the angel passed over their houses. That is why the festival is called ‘passover,’ because the angel passed or skipped over the homes of the Israelites and thus all of their firstborn were saved. This tenth plague forced stubborn Pharaoh to let Jehovah’s people go. Six hundred thousand men, besides women and children and a vast mixed company, marched out the next morning as a free people. A marvelous liberation!
7. What ceremonial features were added? Why?
7 “This day is always to be remembered by Israel. Even before the deliverance Jehovah commanded Moses: ‘And this day must serve as a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to Jehovah throughout your generations.’ The eating of the passover lamb with unfermented cakes and bitter greens reminds the Israelites, not only of the afflictions while they were in Egypt and the hasty departure, but also of the miraculous deliverance from cruel slavery under the mighty Pharaoh. This has made Passover a joyous festival. To express this joy, wine was added later to be used during this festival of liberation and songs were sung, such as the ‘Egyptian Hallel’ during the first part of the celebration, that is, Psalms 113 and 114, and at the conclusion of the feast Psalms 115 to 118. Thus you see, my son, the sacrifice of the passover lamb, not only saved the Jewish firstborn, but also brought the great liberation of our people. And celebrating this festival should make the Jews thankful and appreciative toward Jehovah, their great God and Deliverer. It must prove to be a joyous festival to the praise and honor of Jehovah.”—Ex. 12:14, 27-42.
A BETTER DELIVERANCE
8. Who is the true Passover Lamb?
8 Passover not only was a joyous festival commemorating past events, but was also a shadow of better things to come, pointing forward to the real and greater Passover Lamb. The apostle Paul identifies the real Passover Lamb for us: “For, indeed, Christ our passover has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor. 5:7) Yes, Christ Jesus was offered as the perfect Lamb of God exactly on Nisan 14, in the year 33 C.E. By this sacrifice the basis was laid for a far greater deliverance than the release from Egyptian captivity.
9. (a) What was pictured by the sparing of the firstborn ones at the Passover in Egypt? (b) What was celebrated after the Passover festival, and what does it picture?
9 This deliverance is for Jehovah’s spiritual “firstborn” ones and Christ’s spiritual brothers, the 144,000. Jehovah has delivered them from the captivity of sin and death and has made them spiritual sons with prospects of immortal life in heaven. However, at the Passover, the Israelites celebrated the deliverance of the firstborn; but the festival of unleavened bread that followed for seven days corresponded with the time of the deliverance of all Israel, along with the mixed multitude at the Red Sea. The sacrifice of Christ therefore lays the foundation for the great crowd of Jesus’ “other sheep” also to be delivered at Armageddon from this world under the control of the greater Pharaoh Satan the Devil, with opportunity of everlasting life on earth.—Ex. 12:37-39, 42; 1 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 7:9; John 10:16.
FESTIVAL OF UNFERMENTED CAKES
10. Of what were the Jews reminded at the festival of unfermented cakes?
10 The day following Passover marked the beginning of the festival of unfermented cakes, which ran for seven days, from Nisan 15 to 21. During these seven days the Israelites continued to eat unfermented cakes; in fact, no fermentation was to be found in their homes. This law was very strict; anyone found eating what was leavened was to be cut off from the people, put to death. The removing of all fermentation and old leavened bread indicated that the Jews had left behind the bad Egyptian influences religiously, politically and morally, and had started to live as a cleansed, free people, wholly devoted to Jehovah their God and Protector. Therefore, the festival would remind them, not only of the deliverance from the afflictions of Egypt and their hasty exodus, but also that they were to stay free from all pagan practices, free from the leaven of Satan’s world. The unfermented cakes were to impress upon their minds that they should serve Jehovah in sincerity and in truth.—Ex. 12:39; Deut. 16:3.
11. What offering was made on Nisan 16? Why?
11 The next day of the convention, Nisan 16, was another featured day. It was the second day of the festival of unfermented cakes, the official opening of the harvest. The Jews were not allowed to eat from the product of the new harvest before this day, when the firstfruits were offered to Jehovah. On this day the high priest was required to wave a sheaf of the barley firstfruits to and fro before Jehovah at the sanctuary. (Lev. 23:10-14) During the seven-day festival, in addition to the regular sacrifices, two bullocks, one ram and seven male lambs were offered day by day as burnt offerings and a he-goat as a sin offering, besides the many voluntary offerings by individuals. The festival climaxed with a final general assembly on the seventh day, Nisan 21.—Lev. 23:8; Num. 28:19-24; Ex. 23:15.
12. What do we learn from 2 Chronicles 30:21, 22?
12 Those attending the convention felt much like those Jews who went up to Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s day: “So the sons of Israel that were found in Jerusalem held the festival of the unfermented cakes seven days with great rejoicing; and the Levites and the priests were offering praise to Jehovah day by day with loud instruments, even to Jehovah . . . And they proceeded to eat the appointed feast for seven days, sacrificing communion sacrifices and making confession to Jehovah the God of their forefathers.” (2 Chron. 30:21, 22) It was a joyous and edifying convention, reminding the whole nation of their deliverance from Egypt, their obligation to stay clean and loyal in Jehovah’s service and worship. The whole nation was strengthened, and each individual was spiritually uplifted.
“LET US KEEP THE FEAST”
13. How do Christians keep the festival today?
13 In 1 Corinthians 5:7, 8 the apostle Paul instructs Christians, even of our twentieth century, to keep the festival of unfermented cakes, with these words: “Clear away the old leaven [as the Jews did], that you may be a new lump, according as you are free from ferment. For, indeed, Christ our passover has been sacrificed. Consequently let us keep the festival, not with old leaven, neither with leaven of injuriousness and wickedness, but with unfermented cakes of sincerity and truth.” On the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice the 144,000 spiritual Israelites have been freed from the world under Satan and from its condemnation. They have been pronounced “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession” for Jehovah. (1 Pet. 2:9) As long as they are on earth they must remain in this holy condition, as foreshadowed by the unfermented cakes. They must keep free from the leaven of the old system of things, its false religion and moral degeneration. No spiritual or moral uncleanness is permitted among them. They must celebrate a continuous feast of praise and joy, in sincerity and truth, publishing the purposes of Jehovah world wide with gladness. Those of the “great crowd” of “other sheep” associating today with them must have the same mental attitude.
14. What is pictured by the waving of the sheaf of barley firstfruits by the high priest?
14 By the waving of the sheaf of the firstfruits of the barley harvest, another important point was foreshadowed. Again it is the apostle Paul who gives us the correct understanding: “However, now Christ has been raised up from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . Christ the first fruits.” No ferment or leaven, representing sin, was associated with the presentation of the barley firstfruits, for Jesus Christ was “loyal, guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners.” As the sheaf was waved on Nisan 16 Jesus was raised as the “first fruits,” or the firstborn from the dead, on Nisan 16, 33 C.E. Since Jesus is called the “first fruits” or “first-born from the dead,” there must be more “fruit” following him. This is foreshadowed by the next festival.—1 Cor. 15:20-23; Heb. 7:26; Acts 26:23; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5.
FESTIVAL OF WEEKS
15. (a) When was the festival of weeks held? (b) What special offering was made?
15 Fifty days after Nisan 16, on Sivan 6, the second national convention was held, the festival of weeks, also called Pentecost, meaning the fiftieth day. It was a one-day convention. Many conventioners stayed in Jerusalem from Passover till Pentecost. Pentecost was a very joyful gathering; it was “the festival of harvest of the first ripe fruits of your labors, of what you sow in the field.” (Ex. 23:16) In most districts the wheat harvest had ended and now, at the sanctuary, the firstfruits were offered to Jehovah. “Out of your dwelling places you should bring two loaves as a wave offering. . . . They should be baked leavened, as first ripe fruits to Jehovah.” It is interesting to notice the use of leaven during this festival. Many additional sacrifices were offered and the people made personal voluntary offering just as Jehovah their God had blessed them. All were to rejoice, including slaves, foreigners, orphans and widows.—Lev. 23:17-21; Deut. 16:10-12.
16. What do the two loaves picture? Why two?
16 The most notable festival of weeks ever held was the one celebrated after Jesus’ resurrection in the year 33 C.E. The historian Dr. Luke has recorded the events of this memorable Pentecost in detail. (See Acts, chapter 2.) It was on this day that the waving of the two fermented loaves began to have fulfillment. The two loaves symbolically represented the entire body of 144,000 spirit-begotten members of Christ’s body as being waved or presented by Christ Jesus, the greater High Priest, before Jehovah as holy unto Him. The 120 disciples who were gathered in the upper room were the first members presented and the ingathering of the remaining ones has continued from Pentecost 33 C.E. until our day, with a remnant yet living on earth. The first ones were taken from the natural Jews, as foreshadowed by one of the loaves, and then others were taken from the Gentile nations, beginning in 36 C.E., when Peter preached to Cornelius, as represented by the second “loaf.”—Acts 10:1-48.
17. (a) What was pictured by the loaves’ being baked with leaven? (b) In what way are those pictured by the wheat loaves “first fruits”?
17 The fact that the two loaves were fermented pictured that they all were by inheritance sinful creatures, needing Jesus’ sacrifice to become holy to Jehovah. Just as the two loaves were the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, so also these 144,000 are the first ones taken out from sinful mankind and declared justified and holy to Jehovah, as we read: “Because he willed it, he brought us forth by the word of truth, for us to be a certain first fruits of his creatures.” “These are the ones . . . bought from among mankind as a first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” They are “a first fruits,” “a certain first fruits.” Just as the barley, not the wheat, was THE firstfruits, so Jesus Christ is the primary firstfruits to God. In turn, since these 144,000 are called a firstfruits from among mankind, there must be a much larger number of mankind who will be saved to everlasting life, not in heaven, but on earth. Interestingly this is foreshadowed by the third and last convention.—Jas. 1:18; Rev. 14:4.
FESTIVAL OF BOOTHS
18. How did the Jews celebrate the festival of booths?
18 In the fall, at the close of the year, the third and last national convention was held. It was scheduled for Ethanim or Tishri 15 to 21, with a final assembly on the 22d. Again all the male Israelites had to appear before Jehovah at the sanctuary in Jerusalem, this time to celebrate the festival of booths. During this festival the conventioners had to dwell for seven days in booths or tabernacles, made out of the “fronds of palm trees and the boughs of branchy trees.” The booths were erected on the roofs and in the courtyards of the houses, in the streets and the temple courtyard, and even in the open country up to the distance of a sabbath-day’s journey outside the city wall. The festival reminded the Israelites of their nomadic life, when Jehovah made them dwell in booths during their forty-year trek through the wilderness, and especially of God’s care for them after delivering them from Egypt. They could think back with joy and thankfulness over Jehovah’s fatherly loving-kindness to them when he provided them shelter and nourishment, “who caused [them] to walk through the great and fear-inspiring wilderness, with poisonous serpents and scorpions and with thirsty ground that has no water; who brought forth water for you out of the flinty rock; who fed you with manna in the wilderness, which your fathers had not known.”—Lev. 23:40-43; Deut. 8:15, 16; 16:16; Neh. 8:16.
19. Why was the feast also called “festival of ingathering”?
19 The feast was also called the “festival of ingathering” because it was celebrated at the end of the ingathering of the products of the land, the grainfields, olive yard and vineyard. It was a harvest festival, with all the people assembled to offer thanksgiving to Jehovah for his goodness and to show their appreciation by offering many sacrifices. The special burnt offering amounted to seventy bullocks for the seven days, besides many other offerings.—Num. 29:12-34.
20. Why was it the most joyous festival of the year?
20 The festival of ingathering was held only five days after their ceremonial cleansing from their sinfulness on the day of atonement. Thus the people had a feeling of cleanness, a standing before Jehovah as his people, and could therefore celebrate this last feast with great joy and gladness. It was the most joyful convention of the year. Every seven years, when there was no harvest because of the Sabbath year, and again on the fiftieth or Jubilee year, the people assembled during this festival of the booths to hear the reading of the law.—Deut. 16:16; 31:10-13.
21. Describe the additions later brought in at the festival of booths.
21 In course of time other features were added. The Jews began to carry palm branches as a sign of joy and victory. Each morning a priest filled a golden vessel with water from the pool of Siloam and carried it to the temple, where trumpets were blown and the words of Isaiah 12:3 were spoken: “With exultation you people will be certain to draw water out of the springs of salvation.” In the evenings it was customary to illuminate the Court of Women at the temple with great golden lamps. The whole cycle of three national conventions was concluded with a fitting general assembly of the entire nation on the eighth day, without various features of the preceding seven days. This was the climax of the joyous feasting and an expression of praise and honor to Jehovah their God. Each and every one returned to his home with a thankful heart, spiritually strengthened and encouraged.
22. What relation is there between John 10:16 and the festival of ingathering?
22 Jesus said: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring.” (John 10:16) The ingathering of these “other sheep” in our day was also marvelously pictured by the festival of ingathering. The remnant of spiritual Israel are busy since 1919 preaching the good news of God’s kingdom. As a result of this preaching work “a great crowd, which no man was able to number,” has come to join them, “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” (Rev. 7:9) They are harvested, gathered to Jehovah’s temple class, as represented by the remnant, to be protected during the coming war of Armageddon. Just as Jehovah blessed the ingathering of the Jews in ancient times, so he blesses the ingathering of the “other sheep” today.
23. (a) What does the dwelling in booths foreshadow? (b) The seventy bullocks offered? (c) The carrying of palm branches?
23 The Jews’ dwelling in booths during the festival pictured that the remnant and the “other sheep” consider their sojourn here in this old system of things as but a temporary abode, as they look forward to a permanent dwelling place, in heaven for the remnant and in a paradise on earth for the “other sheep.” Those booths were not elaborately furnished; likewise today, Jehovah’s people, along with godly devotion, have “self-sufficiency . . . having sustenance and covering” with which they are content. (1 Tim. 6:6-8) They are happy and full of joy in having a share in this greater ingathering work and in helping people now to accept Jesus as the ransom. They know that Jesus’ sacrifice alone will bring real forgiveness of sin. The seventy bullocks sacrificed during the seven days of the festival indicate that Jesus’ sacrifice is complete, from a human and heavenly standpoint, and is for all mankind typified by the seventy generations named in Genesis, chapter ten. As a token of joy the Jews back there carried palm branches, and it is interesting that in Revelation 7, verse 9, the great crowd of people have palm branches in their hands. Certainly they have good reason to express their joy as they shout with a loud voice: “Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.”—Re 7 Vs. 10.
24. What did Jesus do at the feast, and with what significance to us?
24 During the festival of booths the people were instructed in the Law, and Jesus himself followed this custom, as we read: “When by now the festival was half over, Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.” The same is true of the remnant today; they are preaching and teaching the law of God throughout the whole earth, supported by about a million “other sheep” already gathered. This teaching points to something more refreshing than the waters from the well of Siloam. That is why Jesus said to his listeners in the temple on the last or seventh day of the feast: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He that puts faith in me, just as the Scripture has said, ‘Out from his inmost part streams of living water will flow.’”
25. What reference may Jesus have made to the celebration carried on during evenings of this festival?
25 This teaching is also more enlightening than the four golden lamps that lightened up the Court of the Women at the temple on evenings of the feast. That is what Jesus may have had reference to when he said, possibly the day after this festival in 32 C.E.: “I am the light of the world. He that follows me will by no means walk in darkness, but will possess the light of life.” The great festival of ingathering is under way, thousands of “other sheep” have already been brought into Jehovah’s organization and thousands will yet come, to the vindication of Jehovah and to His praise and honor.—John 7:14-16, 37, 38; 8:12.
26. Why are assemblies and conventions necessary for Christians today?
26 With great appreciation we have watched the Jews celebrating their festivals. During the study of these festivals you may have felt a strong desire to be with your family among the conventioners in Jerusalem, to share with them in the companionship, the worship, the offerings of sacrifices and praises to Jehovah, and have a part in this joy and gladness. Your desire may be gratified in an enlarged way today. As Jehovah made provision for his ancient people to celebrate festivals and assemblies in holy convention, in the same way he provides for his people today. As in the days of the Jews, the same need exists today for Christians to come together in joyous and upbuilding conventions. And the historic record of modern-day Christians proves that such conventions are of great benefit.
27. What provisions are made by Jehovah’s organization for assemblies, and how should one view them?
27 Besides assembling locally at five congregational meetings each week, Jehovah’s witnesses usually gather together three times a year in circuit and district assemblies, national or international conventions. They take these gatherings seriously by being present at them. Like the ancient Israelites they are thankful for such a provision and they appreciate the educational and encouraging value of such assemblies. They heed the counsel of Paul by “not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, . . . but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.”—Heb. 10:25.
28. How is it that Jehovah’s modern-day servants do not appear “empty-handed” at their weekly meetings?
28 Just as the Israelites, when attending the seasonal festivals of Jehovah, were not to appear before Jehovah empty-handed, so Jehovah’s witnesses today rejoice to contribute something to assemblies they attend, whether they be weekly meetings or large conventions. They are joyful and their joy finds expression. They manifest it by preparing well for whatever parts they may have on the program. They prepare in advance to comment at the Bible-study meetings. They do not let their personal difficulties cause them to appear at the meetings with a sad and mournful appearance, but come with happiness on their countenances, glad to see and associate with their brothers in friendliness and kindness, welcoming the stranger at the meetings. In this way they carry out Paul’s counsel to encourage one another in a very practical way.
29. How is this same principle true at larger assemblies?
29 At the larger assemblies they are happy to volunteer their services in the various convention departments, whether it be serving as an attendant, in the cleaning crew, on the program or any place where they can use their talents and abilities as a contribution to Jehovah’s service. Some open their homes to convention delegates. Others volunteer use of their equipment. Some contribute from their private funds toward convention expenses. Thus moved by Jehovah’s spirit, conventions are a joyful success and a praise to His name, which conventions people on the outside see as a model and are thereby impelled toward greater respect for Jehovah, his Word and his organization.
30. How do Jehovah’s witnesses view assemblies, and what effect have they had?
30 And just as the Israelites of old set aside the products of their fields and herds in advance for their seasonal festivals, so today Jehovah’s witnesses prepare in advance by arranging their vacations and by saving their money so that their entire families can come to the assemblies. This has resulted in a great witness to Jehovah’s name and an encouragement to one another, as during the recent assemblies held in Latin America, where hundreds of fellow Witnesses from the United States, Canada and other lands were able to attend, forming a stronger bond of unity among their Christian brothers and increasing their understanding and love for one another.—Deut. 14:22-27.