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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 16

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter gives a brief summary of the three great national feasts of the Jews, each of which required the general assembly of the people at the central sanctuary. Two other great occasions of the year, i.e., the Feast of Trumpets, and the Day of Atonement are not mentioned here because they did not require the assembly of the whole nation. We have the Feast of the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:1-7), The Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16:9-12), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:13-15). Anticipating the scattering of the people in the occupation of Canaan, and discerning the need for more judges, “Moses here enacts that judges and officers were to be appointed by the people in all their gates, that is, in all of their various cities.”(F1) (Deuteronomy 16:16-20). There is a special warning to judges in the last two verses (Deuteronomy 16:21-22) against being tainted in any manner with idolatry, that being one of the greatest dangers to the judges, for idolatry was treason against the supreme authority, God Himself.

Some commentators try to make a big thing out of what they call the resemblance of these three great national feasts of the Jews to the agricultural feasts of the pagan nations throughout antiquity, but the truth is that there is no connection whatever between the religious feasts of Israel and the pagan celebrations of the heathen, with one little exception. It is true that they coincided time-wise with the agricultural festivals of antiquity.

However, take the Passover. There is nothing in any pagan celebration of all history that even resembles the Jewish Passover. Martin Noth alleged that pagan feasts were taken over by the Jews and adopted into their worship,(F2) but the Holy Scriptures deny this categorically. In all history, there is absolutely NO record of unleavened bread being considered anything special in pagan religions, but it is the foundation and cornerstone of the Passover. And where did the unleavened bread become associated with Passover? It was in that hasty departure of Israel from the land of Egypt, when they left so hurriedly that there was no time to wait for bread to be leavened and allowed to rise. Also, the elaborate ritual of the sprinkling of the blood of the Passover lamb is not merely historical in forty particulars, every one of which pertains to the deliverance of Israel, but it is prophetic of the central events of the atonement in the blood of Christ for all men. (See our introduction to Exodus (Vol. 2 in my series on the Pentateuch) for literally dozens of the most minute and significant details in which this is so abundantly true of the Passover.)

The same may be said for Pentecost, called also, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of the Firstfruits, and throughout the Christian ages, Whitsunday! There appears to be good reason for receiving the tradition that this feast originated in the giving of the Law at Sinai, such a view being confirmed by the fact that in the Great Antitype, Pentecost was the occasion of the giving of the law of the New Dispensation on the birthday of the Church!

Regarding the Feast of Tabernacles, there is no suggestion whatever of any pagan connections with this great Jewish festival, the feature of which was the requirement that the Jews live in rudely-constructed arbors, brush shelters, or boothes, as they were called. Why? Because some pagans did such things? Of course not. This was because, that is the type of shelters the children of Israel had at first when they came out of slavery in Egypt, a poverty and hardship that were commemorated historically in the ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles.

There is not any indication whatever that the Jews ever paid the slightest attention to pagan festivals. The Jews never accepted any kind of a national festival unless it tied squarely into some significant historical delivery of the JEWISH people. The Feast of Purim celebrated the salvation outlined in the Book of Esther. The Feast of Lights celebrated the reopening of the Temple following its closing and desecration under Antiochus Epiphanes. All of the allegations to the effect that “all of the great festivals were originally connected with agriculture and recognized God’s bountifulness in the fruits of the earth,”(F3) are backed up by nothing except the imaginative guesses of commentators.

It is in the great significance which those Three Great Feasts have for Christians that we find our principal interest today. “Each was a type of some far greater event to come.”(F4)

The Passover was a type of the Christian’s deliverance from sin via the blood of our Passover, who is Jesus Christ. It is not merely in a few scattered particulars, but in literally scores of them, that this amazing Type bears such eloquent testimony to the Greater Antitype!

The Pentecost was a type of the giving of the Law of Moses. The Antitype, of course, is the Christian Pentecost. In the old Pentecost, three thousand souls sinned and were put to death. When the new Pentecost came, the gospel was preached and “three thousand souls gladly heard the Word of God, believed, repented, and were baptized into Christ”.

The Feast of Tabernacles is a type of the Harvest Home, when the saints of all ages shall be welcomed into the home of the soul. As Ackland said, “This awaits fulfillment when the redeemed are gathered home.”(F5) Unger and other scholars find what they believe to be “millennial suggestions” in this Feast of Tabernacles, but we believe it refers to eternal blessings following the probation of the Christian life.

Verses 1-8


“Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover unto Jehovah thy God; for in the month of Abib Jehovah thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night. And thou shalt sacrifice the Passover unto Jehovah thy God, of the flock and of the herd, in the place which Jehovah shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there. Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt with haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life. And there shall be no leaven seen with thee in all thy borders seven days; neither shall any of the flesh, which thou sacrificest the first day at even, remain all night until the morning. Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which Jehovah thy God giveth thee; but at the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell in, there shalt thou sacrifice the Passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt. And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place that Jehovah thy God shall choose: and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents. Six days thou shalt eat unleavened bread; and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to Jehovah thy God; thou shalt do no work therein.”

The omission of the particular “day” in Abib when the Passover was to be celebrated clearly distinguishes this as supplementary material to the instructions already given. A very great many of the particulars regarding the Passover are here omitted because they were not needed by Moses in the purpose of his speech at this point. In all of these great festivals, as Cook noted, “Nothing is added to the rules given in Leviticus and Numbers, except that oft-recurring clause restricting the sacrifices and celebrations to the central Sanctuary and that enjoined the inclusion of the Levites, widows, orphans, and the poor in the festivities.”(F6)

“Bread of affliction” (Deuteronomy 16:3). The unleavened bread was called “the bread of affliction,” because, “It was made in circumstances of trial and pressure, when there was no time for the making of bread of a higher quality.”(F7)

“Six days thou shalt eat unleavened bread” (Deuteronomy 16:8) It is a mistake to read this “ONLY six days.” The unleavened bread was to be eaten for seven complete days, and the language here only means that the seventh day of unleavened bread was to be a holy convocation to the Lord.

The Passover lamb, of course, came only from the flock (either of sheep or of goats), and thus the mention of “the flock and the herd” in Deuteronomy 16:2 might seem a little confusing. Kline pointed out that, “The word Passover in this passage refers not only to the Passover proper, but also to the seven days feast of unleavened bread that accompanied it.”(F8) That extended feast after the Passover would have been the occasion when sacrifices from the herd would have been made.

There is no problem deriving from the fact that the very first Passover was slain individually by each head of a family in his own residence, whereas the commandment here requires that it be slain “in the place which the Lord should choose in which his name was to dwell.” At the FIRST Passover, there was no central sanctuary, not even the tabernacle, thus there was nowhere else to slay the Passover except in their residences. “During the wilderness wanderings only one Passover was kept, and that is recorded in Numbers 9.”(F9) Thus, it was very necessary for Moses here to impress upon the people the necessity of killing the Passover only at the central Sanctuary. If the Passover had been kept during the forty years in the wilderness, the tabernacle would have served as the central sanctuary, for, although moved frequently, it was still “one sanctuary.” It was to meet the new situation that Moses delivered the instructions in Deuteronomy.

Verses 9-12


“Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: from the time thou beginnest to put the sickle to the standing grain shalt thou begin to number seven weeks. And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto Jehovah thy God with a tribute of a freewill-offering of thy hand, which thou shalt give, according as Jehovah thy God blesseth thee: and thou shalt rejoice before Jehovah thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the sojourner, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are in the midst of thee, in the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt: and thou shalt observe and do these statutes.”

The exact time for beginning of the calculation of the seven weeks was already given in Leviticus 23:16, where the exact day of beginning was tied to the Passover celebration. There have been many disputes about the exact manner of calculating the Pentecost. (For those who would like to explore the matter thoroughly, reference is made to Vol. 5 in our N.T. series of commentaries, pp. 31-34.) We agree with Kline that the reason for the very indefinite indication here as to when the counting should begin was due to there being “no necessity for specific instructions, because the exact day had already been indicated.”(F10)


[@Pentecost] is a Greek word, meaning “fiftieth”; and thus the counting always ended on the day of the week that marked the beginning. If the counting began on Saturday it ended on Saturday. If it began on Sunday, it ended on Sunday, etc., because the number was counted inclusively for those first and last days.

Now the Leviticus instructions (Leviticus 23:15 ff) indicated that the counting was to begin “on the morrow after the sabbath.” The next day after the sabbath is Sunday, therefore the Pentecost was a Sunday! So far, it is simple enough, but here is what complicates the problem. There were always TWO sabbaths in every full week of a feast, and since the first and last days of the holy week were always counted sabbaths, that would make THREE sabbaths, if the last day was counted. Those “extra” sabbaths were counted to be especially holy and were called “high sabbaths.” Now John tells us that the sabbath before which Jesus was crucified was one of those “high days” (John 19:31). All such high days could come on any given day of the week, as is true with all days numbered by the calendar (Christmas can come on any day of the week). The year Jesus was crucified (April 6, 30 A.D.), the high day (sabbath) of the Passover week came on Friday, and because Christ was crucified on the day of the “preparation,” that is, the day before the sabbath, therefore he was most certainly crucified on THURSDAY. There were back-to-back sabbaths on Friday and Saturday while Jesus was in the tomb as attested by the Greek text of Matthew 28:1. It is easy to see that if the counting began “on the morrow after” that first sabbath (which would have been a Saturday), then we would have had Pentecost on another Saturday fifty days later, as the Sabbatarians have always insisted. On the other hand, if the counting began on the “morrow after” the first ordinary, weekly sabbath, then it would have given a Sunday Pentecost, which we believe is the correct reckoning. (In addition to the reference to our Vol. 5 in the N.T. series, above, reference is also made to Vol. 2 in the same series, under Mark 15:42, where eight pages are given on this subject.)

The freewill-offerings mentioned in this paragraph were outlined in Leviticus and Numbers, and there was no need for Moses to add anything here. Such gifts and sacrifices were appropriate to be brought at any time, “according as Jehovah had blessed” the offerer. Specifically, Moses reminded the people over and over of the necessity of including the Levite, sojourners, widows, fatherless, etc. in the festivities of joy which were such a vital part of their religion. The reason, of course, was simply that the Israelites themselves had once been oppressed in the land of bondage.

“Tribute” (Deuteronomy 16:10). This word appears nowhere else in the Bible,(F11) and it is of very doubtful meaning. The margin in our Cross-Reference Version gives an alternate reading of, “after the measure of.”(F12) The Septuagint (LXX) gives Deuteronomy 16:10 as follows: “And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks before the Lord thy God, according as thy hand has power, in as many things as the Lord thy God shall give thee.”(F13)

Verses 13-17


“Thou shalt keep the feast of tabernacles seven days, after thou hast gathered in from thy threshing-floor and from thy winepress: and thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, and the Levite, and the sojourner, and the fatherless, and the widow that are within thy gates. Seven days shall thou keep a feast unto Jehovah thy God in the place which Jehovah shall choose; because Jehovah thy God will bless thee, in all thine increase, and in all the work of thy hands, and thou shalt be altogether joyful. Three times in the year shall all thy males appear before Jehovah thy God in the place which he shall choose: in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles; and they shall not appear before Jehovah empty: every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of Jehovah thy God which he hath given thee.”

In addition to the requirement regarding the central Sanctuary, another thing that dominates these chapters is the commandment to “REJOICE!” It was evidently intended by the Lord that a great portion of Hebrew wealth and prosperity was designed to be spent in the celebration of God’s rich and overflowing blessings upon the people. This same quality of “rejoicing” is also one of the cardinal principles of the New Covenant. When the Jewish people turned away from this central admonition to “rejoice” and adopted instead all kinds of fasts and days of MOURNING, they made the most fundamental departure from God’s will. The most familiar picture of Judaism today is that mournful scene at the “WAILING WALL.” (For a full discussion of this preoccupation of the Jews with fasting and mourning see in Vol. 4 of our series of commentaries on the minor prophets, pp. 100-102,122.)

The parallel Scriptures with instructions on these three great feasts are:

Passover: Exodus 12; Leviticus 23:4-8; Numbers 28:16-25

Pentecost: Leviticus 23:15-21; Numbers 28:26-31

Tabernacles: Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-38

“Shall not appear before Jehovah empty” (Deuteronomy 16:16). This has reference to appearing before Jehovah to worship him without any kind of gift or sacrifice. How many Christians are put to shame by this? How many are there who exercise no care whatever to give of their substance to the support of the gospel of Christ! And, if no Israelite was permitted to appear before God without an offering, what kind of conceit is it that makes an “alleged Christian” suppose that he may worship continually without giving anything at all, or at most a mere pittance which he throws in as it may please him?

Even in this matter of the pilgrimages three times a year to the central Sanctuary, Cousins found a reminder of the suzerainty treaties, which “required vassals to report periodically to renew their oath of allegiance.”(F14) Kline also stressed this: “These verses bring into relief the character of the pilgrimages as tributary trips to the throne of the God-King (Deuteronomy 16:16 b).”(F15)

Verses 18-20

“Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, according to thy tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. Thou shalt not wrest justice: thou shalt not respect persons; neither shalt thou take a bribe; for a bribe doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee.”

Although, acting upon the advice of Jethro, Moses had indeed appointed assistants to help him in the administration of justice,. Moses still remained as the final court of appeals and continued to handle many problems up until the very hour of this speech, but all that was shortly to change, as soon as the people entered Canaan and settled down in many places, separated by considerable distances. The proper dispensation of justice required the appointment of the officers here mentioned.

“Judge the people with righteous judgment” (Deuteronomy 16:18). What a noble ideal for judges to follow. The restrictions here, throughout history, have proved to be precisely in those areas where the judiciary most needs them - partiality, bribe-taking, and the rendering of unjust decisions. This very day in America, our judiciary needs these instructions as sorely as any of the judges of Israel ever needed them!

“That thou mayest live and inherit the land” (Deuteronomy 16:20). When the judiciary of Northern Israel was completely perverted, and precisely for that reason, God removed the whole kingdom from their inheritance, never to return. Thus, this was no empty threat. The minor prophets, especially Amos, have much material that bears on the condition of the judiciary. Zephaniah’s evaluation of Israel’s judiciary was brief but clear: “Her judges are evening wolves; they leave nothing till the morrow!” (Zephaniah 3:3).

Verses 21-22

“Thou shalt not plant thee an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of Jehovah thy God, which thou shalt make thee. Neither shalt thou set up a pillar; which Jehovah thy God hateth.”

“An Asherah” (Deuteronomy 16:21). “She was a false deity whose name was often mistranslated in the KJV, following the Septuagint (LXX) “groves.” She was the goddess of Tyre, the bride of Anu (heaven), the consort of El, and the mother of 70 gods, including Baal. She was worshipped with animal sacrifices.”(F16) In this light, therefore, “plant thee” does not refer to the planting of a tree in an ordinary sense, but means to install, set up, arrange. Many of the old commentators thought that the Septuagint (LXX) was correct here, as did Adam Clarke:

“The groves were planted around idol temples for the purposes of the obscene worship performed in them. On this account, God would have no groves or thickets about his altar, that there might be no room for suspicion that anything contrary to the strictest purity was transacted there.(F17)

We have included Clarke’s view here despite the opinion so firmly stated in the Encyclopedias. One thing that favors Clarke’s view here is the use of the word “plant,” allegedly meaning, “to set up.” However, the sacred author knew that word, using it in the very next sentence, and the choice of another word (plant) in connection with the Asherah leaves some uncertainty as to what exactly is meant. After all, the Septuagint (LXX) could be correct here.

“A pillar” (Deuteronomy 16:22). A pillar was a column of wood or of stone, or a carved object of veneration, such as a statue or a device resembling a totem pole, installed as an object of worship. It is not usually mentioned, but it is certain that some of these “pillars” were phallic symbols of a very repulsive kind.

Now and then one encounters a complaint that Deuteronomy 16:18-22 “do not fit in” to the chapter on the three great festivals! Well, so what? Some of the commentators seem never to have heard about “a shotgun sermon,” and that is certainly the kind that Moses delivered on this occasion. Incidentally, that is a sure mark of its authenticity. If the priests of any particular era had done these chapters, we may be certain that they would have been organized in a far different manner from that encountered in this Farewell Address by the Great Lawgiver of Israel.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 16". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-16.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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