Leviticus 23:1-44, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.
These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.’
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the LORD.
Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the LORD, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin. You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD.
And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs of the first year, without blemish, one young bull, and two rams. They shall be as a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma to the LORD. Then you shall sacrifice one kid of the goats as a sin offering, and two male lambs of the first year as a sacrifice of a peace offering.
The priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest. And you shall proclaim on the same day that it is a holy convocation to you. You shall do no customary work on it. It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God.’
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.’
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.
You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.’
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the LORD. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it.
These are the feasts of the LORD which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering and a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, everything on its day — besides the Sabbaths of the LORD, besides your gifts, besides all your vows, and besides all your freewill offerings which you give to the LORD.
Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.
You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.’ So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD.” Let’s pray…
In the ordering of His people and the particular crafting of the way in which their society and lives were to function God found it important to structure their week with a Sabbath Day of rest and to have their yearly calendar revolve around seven unique festivals.
As we just read three of these feast were to happen during a two week period in the Spring (Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits), the fourth was to occur 50 days later at the start of summer (this would be the Feast of Weeks or what we also know as Pentecost), with the remaining three taking place in the Fall or in the seventh month (the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles).
Surprisingly you’ll notice Hanukkah is not mentioned in this section dealing with the main festivals of Israel. The reason for this is that, while an important commemoration of events related to the Maccabean Revolt that occurred around 160 BC, the Festival of Lights has zero Scriptural mandate or basis. In fact, the Bible makes no mention of it at all.
According to Deuteronomy 16:16 God was clear to the Nation of Israel that “three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses (initially at the Tabernacle located in Shiloh before later becoming the Temple in Jerusalem): at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles.”
Because Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits all took place within days of each other, one trip in the Spring would suffice. Since the Feast of Weeks followed 50 days later, making another journey before the summer heat was not terribly inconveniencing.
That said… The only Fall festival where your attendance was required by God was the final Feast of Tabernacles which took place on the “fifteenth day of the seventh month” and lasted an entire week. While the Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement occurred in the “seventh month” as well, because both demanded a day of “sabbath-rest” as they largely dictated the activities of the priesthood, they could be observed by the people of Israel anywhere and didn’t necessarily require a pilgrimage to the place of meeting.
Before we get into these things there is one overarching point I want to make about this chapter most overlook… In this new cultural and societal structure God was crafting for His people it’s interesting that in addition to everyone taking a break from their work one day a week, He also required taking three vacations a year to attend five of these festivals, another day off to observe Trumpets, and two more for the Day of Atonement.
While there is no debating the Genesis record established the fact God created man to work (6 days a week) and that sin directly resulted in this work becoming labor, God also knew it was critically important man never forget he worked to live and did not live to work!
Moving beyond the meaning and significance of these feasts it’s clear God knew taking necessary time to rest and play (enjoying this life He created) was of such importance He specifically mandates a work-week with one day off and a calendar filled with festivals that would require both. “You’re going to work a lot, but I want you to take the seventh day to rest and these three weeks to party and have fun with one another!”
You see this ordering to their lives was God’s way of reminding His people four important realities we’ve largely forgotten: (1) As the people of God life should not be a slog we endure, but an experience we enjoy. Isn’t it true the more days you work without a break or the longer you go without a vacation the worse you feel physically and emotionally — that life devolves into a grind? Instead of enjoying the day the Lord has made and rejoicing in it, you’re simply trying to plow through? That’s not the way God wants you to live!
(2) While there is value in hard work, there is equal value in good rest! The irony to all of this is that we’ve convinced ourselves enjoying a lazy day, sleeping in because you’re tired, clocking out early to catch a ballgame, taking an extra day off because the kids are out of school either puts us behind or places us at a disadvantage when the opposite is true.
Data upon data shows a rested and happy person is a much more effective employee or for that matter boss. If you’re tired and miserable, there is no way to keep this from bleeding over into your job. Toxic work environments are largely the result of toxic people.
(3) This structure to life was God’s way of reminding His people their value was not based upon productivity, but His grace! I know this might come across a bit cliché but it’s true… You are a human being not a human doing! A job is important and work a healthy and redeemable exercise, but please always realize your worth has nothing to do with what you accomplish, how productive you are, what you achieve, the deals you close, or the size of your portfolio? Being His is more important than doing anything!
(4) Taking time off was a practical way of helping His people reject the trappings of self-sufficiency by actively placing one’s trust in the provisions of God. “Well, I don’t know if I can afford to take a day off or a week for vacation?” Friend, if God values such things here’s a better question, “Can God yield a greater increase in six days than you can in seven?” Honestly, who’s really holding it all together anyway — You or Him?
One of the interesting things about our society is that we have a 5-day work week with a two-day weekend. (You can thank the fact our founders really couldn’t decided if Saturday or Sunday was the Sabbath so they decided to honor both.) I should also add there are some Christians who reject the two-day weekend claiming God’s ideal is we work 6-days.
Personally, I believe this is completely moronic… In this ancient Jewish culture work and home were completely intertwined. However, in our modern context the two are often separated. What this means is that, while in Israel one day was adequate, our context demands two. You see having two days off of “work” creates a dynamic whereby you can still work one day around the house and set aside a Sabbath Day to rest and play.
Let me add one more thing… Prioritize a vacation! If you can’t afford to go someplace, stay at home. Stats show the majority of American’s actually fail to use the vacation time they’ve been given. There should be no surprise we are a nation of unhappy work-alcoholics.
As we unpack this amazing chapter we’re going to encounter two interesting phrases that establish some important context. God will refer to these various “feasts” as being “holy convocations.” In the Hebrew this word we have translated “holy convocations” is rather straight forward. The word describes a gathering or celebration — it’s a sanctified party.
That said… This word “feasts of the Lord” is a bit more complex and dynamic. In its most simplified meaning the word refers to appointed times or set dates the people were to gather for these various celebrations. And yet, scholars of the ancient Hebrew language believe the word “feast” or “festival” can also be translated as rehearsals.
Not only were these designated gatherings established to commemorate something important God had previously done or was presently doing in that specific moment in time, but these celebrations intended to act as a type of communal rehearsal for something much more significant God was going to do in the future on that appointed date.
What this means is these seven feasts not only commemorated a past work of God in their lives, celebrated God’s present involvement, but they were designed to anticipate a work God was going to bring about in the future. I know this is a crazy thought, but these seven feasts were God’s way of having the people rehearse something to come.
Amazingly, the activities associated with these seven feasts not only illustrated what that future work of God in the Nation of Israel would be, but the timing of the feast actually predicted when that work would be accomplished in their midst!
To this point… In Matthew 16:1-3 we’re read, “Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Jesus asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red; and in the morning, it will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.”
What makes Leviticus 23 so radicle and worthy of our attention is God not only explains to Israel what He’s planning to do, but He tells them when He’s going to do it. These seven feasts present for us the timeline for God’s entire handling of the Jewish people through the person of Jesus. When writing about these feasts in Colossians 2 Paul says they were “a shadow of things to come but the body is of Christ Jesus” (KJV).
As we go through this chapter over the next two weeks I plan to addressed three things about each feast: (1) what past work it commemorated, (2) what current work it celebrated, and (3) what future work it anticipated. If you’re a notetaker… Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits were fulfilled in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost was fulfilled in the birth of the church. And the final three Fall festivals will find their prophetic fulfillment in the Rapture (Trumpets), Great Tribulation (Day of Atonement), and the final gathering in the Millennial Reign of Christ (Tabernacles).
Let’s begin by looking at the first two feasts: Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread… Leviticus 23:4-8, “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.
On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.’”
While the Day of Passover officially took place “at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month” (the Hebrew religious calendar began in the Spring: March or April), according to Exodus 12 the Passover Lamb would have been chosen a few days earlier on the “tenth day of the first month” making it more of a week long celebration culminating in the Seder.
Though the Feast of Unleavened Bread officially began “on the fifteenth day of the same month” (the day after Passover), because the Jews officially marked a day as beginning and ending at “twilight” in many ways Passover initiated the start of this particular feast. Without question the two feasts were unavoidably intertwined simply from a historical context.
In Exodus 12 Moses instructed the Children of Israel to slaughter a lamb and spread its blood upon the doorposts of their homes so that when the Angel of Death came through the land that night to kill all the firstborn sons of Egypt he might passover those covered by the blood. The only thing that would spare the Israelites from this tenth and final plague aimed at breaking Pharaoh’s will was the blood of an innocent lamb.
In fact, the events of this evening would end up proving to be the very tipping point by which Pharaoh finally relented allowing the Hebrews to leave Egypt. Anticipating God’s deliverance and the need to move quickly, Moses also instructed the people to bake bread that night without leaven seeing as there would be no time to wait for the bread to rise.
In order to celebrate this past work of God delivering them from their bondage in Egypt Jews would make this yearly pilgrimage again and again to offer an innocent lamb to atone for their sins. In an act of faith a lamb would be sacrificed for a family believing God would spare them an eternal death by passing over their sin on account of the blood.
Then, following God’s forgiveness extended from this sacrifice, all leaven (which was a picture of sin) would be removed from the home. Additionally, the people would only consume unleavened bread for the next week signifying their holiness before the Lord. The power of the blood of the lamb was illustrated in the removing of the leaven or sin.
While both feasts commemorated the previous work of God freeing them from Egypt as well as a present celebration of God’s current provision for sin, the fundamental fulfillment of both Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread would be found in the work Jesus would accomplish on these two days some 1500 years later.
You see as the “Lamb of God” Jesus was sacrificed on the cross of Calvary. In Him and through our faith in the covering of His blood not only are we saved from death — God’s wrath passing over, but most incredibly our sin is completely removed. Jesus died on Passover, but He was removed and laid to rest on the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
In 1 Corinthians 5:6-7 Paul wrote, “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” Christ being our Passover results in our lives being unleavened or sinless! How amazing that in John 1:29 we read how when John the Baptizer saw Jesus coming he declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
Friend, the removing of leaven directly following the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb reveals to us a most glorious reality… Our sanctification must follow our salvation! You can never say, “I’ll clean up my life in order to come to Jesus” for one must come after the other!
The third and final of these Spring festivals was known as The Feast of Firstfruits… Leviticus 23:9-14, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. (In the moment this had a future fulfillment.) He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.
And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord. Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the Lord, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin.
You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God (the LORD wanted the first taste); it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.’”
Regarding the timing of this feast the only solid detail we’re provided is found in verse 11 where we read it was to occur “on the day after the Sabbath.” In context, this would be the Sunday following the first Saturday (normal Sabbath) after the Passover. This explains why a particular date isn’t provided like the initial two feasts — the 14th and 15th of the first month.
Within Israel the first crop to be harvested in the Spring following the winter rains was barley. This would be followed by the wheat harvest in the summer and then grapes and olives in the Fall. In an act of continual gratitude concerning God’s provision of another successful crop the Feast of Firstfruits was just that — a celebration of thanksgiving that God had again proven Himself faithful to provide for their needs.
What makes this feast so incredible is that it would end up being the very day (the Sunday following Passover) Jesus would rise from the dead becoming the firstfruits of the resurrection. It’s not an accident there were no sin or trespass offerings connected with this feast for in His resurrection Jesus fully paid for our indiscretions once and for all.
Amazingly, the only two offerings that are associated with firstfruits were the “burnt offering” which pointed back to God’s ultimate sacrifice, a “grain offering” of “fine flour mixed with oil” (unleavened bread), and a “drink offering” which was to be “wine!” What two elements are we to partake in remembrance of Jesus? Unleavened bread and wine!
In 1 Corinthians 15:20-24 Paul makes this important connection, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.”
Friend, we can be assured Jesus was the accept Lamb and His covering sufficient… We can be confident of our present righteous, sinless state before the throne of God for one reason — Jesus rose from the dead! As the firstfruit of the harvest we can be secure in the knowledge resurrection life awaits all of us. The question you should consider is which resurrection? The one for rewards and a life with Him or judgment and eternal separation?
Next Sunday we’re going to work our was through these final four feasts (Pentecost, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles), but I want to close our time with a much larger reality this passage illustrates… God’s plan for Israel, His plan for humanity, His plan for you has always been and will always be Jesus! The Jews missed it, rejected Him, and as a result have and will suffer tremendous hardship… But God’s plan for them still remains Jesus. There is and never will be another plan or an alternate option.
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