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23:1-27:34 SPECIAL OCCASIONS
God’s holy days (23:1-3)
There were three main feasts, or festivals, of the Israelite religious year: Passover-Unleavened Bread and Pentecost-Harvest Firstfruits at the beginning of the year, and Tabernacles-Ingathering half way through the year. On these three occasions all the men of Israel were to assemble at the central place of worship (Exodus 23:14-17). People participated in these feasts with a mixture of solemnity and joy. They were humbled before God, yet thankful to him for his merciful salvation and never-failing provision (23:1-2).
Before God gave his people the details of these festivals, he reminded them that the most basic of all their special religious days was the weekly Sabbath of holy rest. In the excitement of the annual festivals, the people were not to forget their regular weekly obligations (3).
Feasts at the beginning of the year (23:4-22)
The Israelite religious year began with the month that celebrated the Passover and the escape from Egypt (Exodus 12:2). This was the season of spring in Israel and corresponds with March-April on our calendar. (It seems that Israelites also had a secular calendar, which differed from the religious calendar by six months. This means that the first month of the religious calendar was the seventh month of the secular calendar, and the beginning of the seventh month of the religious calendar was New Year on the secular calendar.)
On the fourteenth day of the first month was the Passover, which commemorated God’s act of ‘passing over’ the houses of Israel when the firstborn throughout Egypt were killed (4-5; see notes on Exodus 12:1-14). Immediately after the Passover was the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was in remembrance of the people’s hurried departure from Egypt, when they had no time to bake their bread leavened but carried their dough and baking pans with them, baking as they went (6-8; see notes on Exodus 12:15-36).
At this time the barley was ripe and ready to harvest. (The wheat was not ready till a few weeks later.) Therefore, on the day after the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a sheaf of the firstfruits of the barley harvest was presented to the priests and waved up and down in offering to God. This was the people’s acknowledgment to God that he had given the harvest that they were about to reap (9-11).
On the same day as they presented the sheaf offering, the people also presented animal sacrifices. They sought forgiveness for their sins through a sin offering, and in gratitude to God for his gifts they consecrated themselves to him afresh through a burnt offering. They also acknowledged his care and provision in general by presenting a cereal offering and a wine offering taken from their daily household food (12-13; Numbers 28:16-25). Only after they acknowledged the whole harvest as belonging to God were they allowed to gain benefit from it for themselves (14).
During the next six weeks people were busy harvesting, first the barley and then the wheat. At the end of the wheat harvest they offered to God two loaves of bread such as they ate in their normal meals, as an expression of gratitude to him for their daily food. They also sacrificed a sin offering and a burnt offering as at the time of the barley firstfruits, and, in addition, a peace offering. Because this was a harvest festival, the holy worship was accompanied by much rejoicing (15-21; Numbers 28:26-31).
This festival was known by different names. Falling as it did on the fiftieth day after Passover, it was sometimes called the Feast of Pentecost (‘pentecost’ meaning ‘fiftieth’). It was also called the Feast of Weeks (being a week of weeks after the offering of the barley firstfruits), the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Harvest.
Since this festival marked the end of the harvest season, a reminder was given not to be selfish when reaping, but to leave some grain for the poor (22; cf. Deuteronomy 16:9-12).
Mid-year festival season (23:23-44)
The first day of the seventh month (somewhere during September-October on our calendar) was the Day of Trumpets. On this occasion the people were called together for a religious ceremony by the blowing of trumpets, the purpose of the ceremony being to prepare the people for the solemn cleansing of sin that followed ten days later on the Day of Atonement (23-32; see notes on 16:1-34).
A further five days later, on the fifteenth day of the month, was the start of the week-long Feast of Tabernacles (RSV: Feast of Booths; GNB: Festival of Shelters). On this occasion the people lived in booths (huts or shelters) made of branches of trees and palm leaves in memory of their time in the wilderness. This feast was also called the Feast of Ingathering, for it marked the end of the agricultural year, when all the grapes, olives, dates, figs and other produce of the land had been gathered in. It was a joyous festival, as all Israel rejoiced in thanksgiving before God for his blessing on all their farming activity (33-44; Deuteronomy 16:13-15; for details see Numbers 29:12-38).
The people were now well stocked with food for the winter months that lay ahead. During winter the rains came, and soon the people began sowing and planting for the next annual cycle.
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Leviticus 23". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11