The word "celebrate" and its derivatives are used only three times in the KJV, but the NIV uses them eighty-three times. The word "celebrate" is the translation of the Hebrew verb hagag, which means to prepare, keep, or observe a feast or festival; the noun hag, which indicates a feast or festival; and the verb asaa which means to do, make, or celebrate. These words are used to describe the celebration of the three main pilgrimage feasts-the Passover, the Feast of Firstfruits, and the Feast of Tabernacles-and other special events in the life of Israel.
Passover was first instituted by Moses. He asked for Pharaoh's permission to go into the desert "to celebrate a festival to the Lord" ( Exod 10:9 ). The celebration of Passover is spelled out fully in Exodus 12:3-40. God sent a plague that took the lives of the firstborn children in the Egyptian homes but passed over the homes of the Israelites. Passover marks the passing from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land. Exodus 12:14 gives the guidelines: "This is a day you are to commemorate, for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord-a lasting ordinance." It is also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because "it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come" ( Exod 12:17 ).
The celebration of the Passover was for a perpetual remembrance, to keep alive for future generations what God had done for the Israelites in redeeming them from bondage in Egypt and guaranteeing freedom for subsequent generations. Passover was an important aspect of the instruction of the children. When they asked, "What does this ceremony mean to you?" they were taught that "It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites ... when he struck down the Egyptians" ( Exod 12:26-27 ). When the Israelites heard this, they worshiped. This celebration has been passed on from generation to generation, and the Haggada, the telling of the story, has become a vital part of the celebration. It is a constant reminder of what God has done in order to encourage religious devotion. It bonds people to God and to each other in the family unit.
Celebration is centered around a feast or festival, with eating, singing, and the playing of instruments. When Jerusalem became the capital and the temple had been built, then celebration took place in and around the temple, which was the center of worship. But celebration took place more often than at the appointed times of the religious observances. When the walls of Jerusalem were finished under Nehemiah's supervision, the Levites were brought to Jerusalem to lead in the celebration and to dedicate the completed walls. It was a time of joyful celebration ( Neh 12:27-28 ).
Jesus celebrated the Passover many times in Jerusalem. But when he celebrated the Passover for the last time, he gave it a new content. It is now called the Lord's Supper or communion, and is celebrated at various times in Christian churches.
William J. Woodruff
See also Feasts and Festivals of Israel
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Celebrate, Celebration'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".