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So we learned that the Psalms of Ascent were most likely psalms that were sung by pilgrims on the Pilgrim Road to Jerusalem. We’ll learn more about the Pilgrim Road in another one of whatever these are, a little later on.

Right now, we’ll answer a simpler question: Why were they making the pilgrimage?

Because God told them to.

Okay, seriously though, there were three times a year when the Nation of Israel was commanded to go up to the temple and make sacrifice. The Shalosh Regalim (pilgrimage festivals) were: Pessah (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks or Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles).

Passover is the most famous because it celebrates that dramatic moment that is the breaking point for Pharaoh and the beginning of Israel as a nation. It is also the festival during which Jesus is crucified and during which Jesus gets left at the temple when He is twelve. It also celebrates the barley harvest.

Weeks or Pentecost is a festival that is specifically pointed to the wheat harvest, but it is also when we celebrate God giving The Torah to Moses. This would be a prime example of wanting to celebrate a thing, but not having a specific season of remembrance for that thing, so you pick something based on what is best for everyone. Like Christians did with Christmas.

Tabernacles celebrates the wandering in the wilderness when all the people were entirely dependent on God for every meal they ate. They were living in the presence of The Lord every day and they were without a land of their own. This festival is celebrated at the end of the annual harvest and is similar to fall festivals in other cultures. Think Thanksgiving, but without turkey, ham or football.

Now, in order to understand the importance of these festivals, you have to understand that before the Passover event, the Jews were a genetically linked people group, but they were not a nation. During their slavery in Egypt, they had grown into a vast people, but they didn’t really share any traditions or beliefs as such. This is pretty evident in all the trouble they have once they are out on their own. These festivals celebrate the three most significant events in the history of Israel. It is these things that turned many people into one nation. Without these three things, the whole world would look considerably different now. So God commands Israel to honor these three events. Because God is gracious and wise, He times the events to significant moments in the harvest so offerings can be brought when they have the least possible detriment to the people, and also so that each event is tied to something reminding the people of the abundant goodness of God.

When all the people essentially lived next to the Temple as it travelled in tent form through the desert with them, then they were expected to go to the celebrations. You don’t come late or leave early. We’re meeting by the big tent marked by the pillar of fire, so don’t try saying you got lost or didn’t know about it. As the people spread out a bit when settling in Israel and then a bit more as they were taken captive to lands that were a super inconvenient long way away, the requirement eased up a bit. It became more of a goal to get to Jerusalem once a year, for one of the festivals.

Luke 2:41-52 tells us that Jesus’ parents were faithful-once-a-year folks and their chosen festival was Passover. It doesn’t say they didn’t go to every festival, every year; it’s just this is the only one mentioned, and traveling from Galilee on foot was a bit of an event.

Nowadays, it’s more of a once-in-a-lifetime thing as it is quite a walk from New York. But the spirit of the pilgrimage is embodied in some of the traditions of the Jewish people, such as when concluding the Passover Seder, the group looks at each other and say, “next year in Jerusalem.”

Football is catching on in Israel, but there is still no ham.