Monday, March 05, 2007

Leviticus 23

Leviticus 23: Special Days

Synopsis

This chapter outlines some of the special days the Israelites were to observe; the Sabbath, and various feasts and festivals.

  • The Sabbath
    • The Israelites were to work six days, and rest on the seventh. They were not to do any work on that seventh day, because it was a “Sabbath to the LORD” (verse 3).
See my Sabbath post, for thoughts on the Sabbath. (Not that I have anything that deep or insightful to say.) Other than that—whether or how the Sabbath applies to Christians—the rule is pretty straightforward. Work six days of the week, and don’t work the seventh; what could be easier?

Except that God will be rebuking the Israelites for the rest of the Old Testament about not keeping the Sabbath sacred, so I guess it’s not as easy as you’d think…

  • The Passover
    • The Passover was to begin at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month of the Israelites’ calendar, and last for seven days.
    • On the fifteenth day—the first full day of the celebration—they were to begin the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days, they were not to eat any bread with yeast in it.
    • Also on the fifteenth, they were to hold a sacred assembly and take a day of rest.
    • Verse 8 says that they were to “present an offering made to the LORD,” but they were to do it “[f]or seven days,” so I don’t know if that means seven sacrifices, one per day. Probably does, I guess.
There’s not much to say about this one. This is obviously commemorating the tenth plague in Egypt, when the LORD passed over the Israelites, and took the firstborn male from every Egyptian household. It’s not insignificant that the “last supper” Jesus had with his disciples was Passover, since Passover is really a form of prophecy, of what Jesus would do once and for all.

  • Firstfruits
    • When the Israelites reached the new land, that God was giving them, and they had reaped its harvest, they were to bring a sheaf of their first grain harvest to the priest. On the day after the Sabbath, the priest was to wave these sheaves before the LORD, as a wave offering.
    • The same day that the sheaves were waved, the Israelites were to sacrifice a burnt offering: a year-old lamb, without defect; a grain offering, of 4.5 litres of fine flour mixed with oil; and a drink offering, of a litre of wine.
    • They [the Israelites] were not to eat any bread, or any other grain, until they had done so.
    • This was to be “a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever [they lived]” (verse 14).
The only part I’m not quite sure about, in this one, is how often this was to be done. The beginning of the passage says it was to be done when they entered the Promised Land, while the last part says that it was to be a “lasting ordinance.” I think this means that they were to do it every year—when they had a new gran harvest to reap—and that the first time it would happen would be when they entered the Promised Land.

  • Feast of Weeks
    • After the celebration of Firstfruits, the Israelites were to count off seven weeks, and then celebrate the Feast of Weeks.
      • It actually gives two ways to count it; “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath…” (verses 15–16). I think these are two different ways to measure the same passage of time.
    • At this time, they were to bring an offering of new grain: two loaves of bread—made with specifically 4.5 litres of fine flour—baked with yeast, as a wave offering; seven lambs, without defect; one bull; and two rams.
    • In addition to this, they were to sacrifice a male goat, for a sin offering, and to year-old lambs, for a fellowship offering. The priest was to wave the two lambs before the LORD as a wave offering, along with the bread of the firstfruits. The lambs and the bread were to belong to the priests—they weren’t to be offered on the altar, this time.
    • They were to proclaim a sacred assembly that day, and do no work.
I find it interesting that they are to actually bake the bread with yeast, this time. Of course, since they’re not offering it on the altar, it doesn’t break the previous rules, that no bread presented on the altar was to have yeast in it.

I’m also not sure, for the seven lambs, bull, and two rams, whether this was to be one big communal sacrifice, for the whole community, or if every household was to offer all of these. I tend to think it is the former, simply because of the sheer size of the offering, but that’s my only evidence.

  • There is an interruption, at this point in the chapter, for God to reiterate the rule that they were not to reap to the very edges of their fields, or gather the gleanings of the harvest—they were to be left for the poor and the alien.
Although this isn’t a rule for a feast or an offering, it fits in well with the rest of this chapter, I think. All of the feasts and celebrations mentioned so far would serve to remind the Israelites that they depended on God for everything they had; remembering that everything you have comes from the LORD seems to go hand in hand with remembering to give to the poor and less fortunate, in the Bible.

  • Feast of Trumpets
    • On the first day of the seventh month, the Israelites were to have a day of rest, and hold a sacred assembly—“commemorated with trumpet blasts” (verse 24).
    • Since this was to be a day of rest, they were do to no regular work, but they were to present an offering to the LORD by fire.
In this case, it doesn’t mention what the Israelites were to offer to the LORD by fire. I think that means that it was a “fellowship offering,” and, if memory serves, the rules about fellowship offerings were less stringent. (In other words, I think the Israelites would offer to the LORD whatever they were moved to offer to Him.) Either that, or the offering(s) to present at the Feast of Trumpets will be described in a future chapter. (I looked back, and didn’t see a mention of it in previous blog entries.)

  • The Day of Atonement
    • On the tenth day of the seventh month—verse 32 says, specifically, “the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening”—the Israelites were to observe the Day of Atonement.
    • They were to do no work, on this day, and were to “deny” themselves (verse 27; the footnote indicates that “deny yourselves” could also be translated “fast”).
      • Anyone who did not “deny himself”—or fast—was to be cut off from his people.
      • Anyone who did any work would be destroyed from among his people, by the LORD.
    • They were also to present an offering to the LORD by fire (as described in Leviticus 16).
This is another one of those interesting cases where one sin demands punishment by the people (if a person didn’t fast on the Day of Atonement), whereas another sin would be punished directly by the LORD (if a person did work on the Day of Atonement).

  • Feast of Tabernacles
    • Starting on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, and lasting for seven days, was the Feast of Tabernacles.
    • On the first day, they were to have a sacred assembly, and do no work.
    • For the next seven days, they were to present offerings to the LORD by fire—again, it doesn’t specify what offerings to make.
    • On the eighth day they were to hold another sacred assembly—and, of course, do no regular work—and present another offering to the LORD by fire.
    • This festival took place after the crops of the land had been gathered, and was intended to celebrate this event.
    • On the first day of the celebration, they were also to “take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD [their] God for seven days” (verse 40), although it’s not specified what they were to do with these items.
    • During these seven days, the Israelites were to live in booths so that their descendants would know that God had had the Israelites live in booths when He brought them out of Egypt.
That last point is why this was called the “Feast of Tabernacles;” the word “tabernacle,” in addition to referring to the Tabernacle, can also simply mean a tent, or temporary dwelling. (In fact, this is why the Tabernacle was called a “tabernacle”—it was intended to be a temporary place of worship, for the Israelites, until they could get to the Promised Land, and build a permanent temple.)

Thoughts

I have a couple of thoughts, about these feasts and celebrations and observances. First is that they all mandate “days of rest” or “sabbaths.” This means that God puts a lot of value on the Israelites stopping from their work, so that they can not just celebrate these things, but actually take time to think about them. He didn’t just mandate a feast to celebrate, say, the Passover, so that the Israelites could come in after a hard day’s work, and have a slightly different dinner than usual; instead, He prescribed an entire week of observance, including days when they were forbidden from working. Stopping yourself from working is a great way to be able to focus your mind on what the observance is all about.

I noticed that all of the feasts/special occasions listed above also included “sacred assemblies,” but I’m not sure what was involved in one of these assemblies. Did all of the Israelites gather at a central place? Well, I’m assuming that that would probably be the core of it… But what else—if anything—was involved? Unless a subsequent chapter answers that, I won’t know.

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