And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. — Leviticus 23:1-2
I love holidays! Toward the first of September, I start thinking ahead to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Around our house, these are precious times when we get together with our loved ones and look back over the blessings of God in the year past. A great part of the enjoyment is in the anticipation and planning! We discuss who will be invited to Thanksgiving Dinner, where the event will take place, and what will be served (the menu has to include Dad’s special dressing and Mom’s sweet potatoes, but we might be willing to negotiate on the rest of the menu!) Around October, we begin making Christmas cards to send to faraway friends. By early November, a great deal of our “spare” time focuses on finishing handmade gifts. December revolves around baking those special decorated holiday cookies, carefully wrapping the gifts we will be giving, picking out and decorating the perfect Christmas tree, and practicing for special programs at church.
The literal meaning of the word holiday is “holy day.” Israel’s holidays were different from those of the nations around them. They were ordained by God and were times of celebrating and honoring Him, not times of moral depravity as in the heathen nations nearby. God’s intention was for the people to use these special occasions as a time when they would come together for rest, refreshment, and remembering with grateful hearts all that He had done for them.
Obedience to God’s Commandments (among them, that of observing the feasts prescribed by God) ensured future blessings for the Children of Israel. As Christians, we also need to take time to remember what God has done for us. Even though we don’t keep the same annual feasts that Israel did, we can celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas and His Resurrection at Easter. We can participate in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, which Christ told His followers to continue to observe in honor of His death.
Much can be learned about a family or culture by observing the holidays they celebrate and the way they celebrate them. Take note of your personal holiday traditions. What do they say about your values? Do you take these times of remembrance as seriously as the Orthodox Jews take their Jewish festivals? We have so much to be thankful for. Be sure to let God know how much you appreciate His provision for you.
This chapter instructs Israel in the feasts of the Lord, observances that were to be an important part of Israel’s culture and worship. The word feasts means “appointed times.” The words holy convocation appear ten times in our text and mean, “a proclamation or announcement.”
Verses 1-3 deal with the weekly Sabbath Day. This was a day that provided necessary rest for the people, animals, and land, and the Israelites were expected to honor it. By setting one day a week aside for rest and worship, they witnessed to the other nations around them that they belonged to the Lord. To dishonor the Sabbath Day was a serious offense and resulted in being cut off from the people.
The next seven feasts described were annual feasts. The first feast was Passover, which commemorated the time when the blood of a lamb preserved the life of their firstborn, and the Israelites’ deliverance from Egyptian bondage. It started the festival year at the beginning of spring and lasted for one day. God assigned the date as the fourteenth day of the first month based on a lunar calendar that used the phases of the moon. Each month starts with a new moon, reaching a full moon in the middle of a 28-day cycle. Passover always falls on the first full moon of spring, and this is why the date for Easter changes every year — it always coincides with Passover.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread was the second festival of the year. It started on the fifteenth day of the first month and lasted for seven days. Leaven in the Bible symbolizes sin, and the Israelites were not to eat any leaven during this feast. Eating unleavened bread represented a holy walk.
The third festival was the Feast of Firstfruits. This feast lasted one day and was celebrated on the day after the Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Jews were to bring the first crops of their spring planting to the priest at the Temple to be waved before the Lord on their behalf to thank God for the fertility of the land.
The fourth feast was Pentecost. It marked the beginning of the summer harvest and occurred on a Sunday, seven weeks (or fifty days) after the Feast of Firstfruits. This festival was to thank God for a bountiful harvest.
The Feast of Trumpets was the fifth feast of the year. It occurred on the first day of the seventh month (in September) On this day the Jews were to express their thanksgiving to God by blowing trumpets and offering a burnt sacrifice to the Lord. The trumpets were made of ram’s horns and some of the special trumpets were made of silver. On other occasions the high priest would blow a trumpet calling the field workers to come to the Temple for worship services.
The Day of Atonement was the sixth festival to be celebrated. It occurred on the tenth day of the seventh month and represented the removal of sin from the Jews and their nation, and the restoration of their fellowship with God. On this day, the high priest entered the sacred Holy of Holies where God himself dwelt. The high priest would first offer a sacrifice on his own behalf, and then he would make a sacrifice on behalf of all the Israelites. It is still treated as the most sacred of the holy days in Israel today. For the slightest violation like working on this day (lifting something too heavy or walking too far) a person could be cut off and no longer eligible for redemption. This time of confession was to last for twenty-four hours (23:32). During this twenty-four-hour period, the Israelites would confess their sins of the previous year.
The Feast of Tabernacles started on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and lasted for seven days. It celebrated God’s protection and provision in the wilderness. The Israelites were to build “booths” or shelters outside their homes where they would dwell for seven days. These booths were to be made from the boughs of trees. During this feast the Israelites were also instructed to offer a daily burnt offering to the Lord.
All of these feasts were considered holy to the Lord, and Israel was to keep them every year. Today, Orthodox Jews are still careful to keep these feasts.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The way of fellowship with God
B. By observing religious feasts (23:1-44)
1. The weekly Sabbaths (23:1-3)
2. The Passover (23:4-5)
3. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (23:6-8)
4. The firstfruits (23:9-14)
5. The Feast of Pentecost (23:15-21)
6. The Feast of Trumpets (23:22-25)
7. The Day of Atonement (23:26-32)
8. The Feast of Tabernacles (23:33-44)
The feasts God prescribed for the Children of Israel were to be times when they would remember His provision and give Him honor for it. Are you setting aside times in your life when you give God the praise He deserves for providing for your needs?