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(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—The regulations about the holiness of the sanctuary and the sacrifices, the holiness of the priests and the people, are now followed by statutes about holy seasons.
(2) Speak unto the children of Israel.—As the festivals here discussed were to be solemnly kept by them, Moses is ordered to address these regulations to the people or their representatives.
Concerning the feasts of the Lord . . . Better, the festivals of the Lord which ye shall proclaim as holy convocations, these are my festivals. That is, the following festivals God claims as His, on which solemn assemblies are to be held in the sanctuary.
(3) Six days shall work be done.—Recurring every week, and being the most important as well as the oldest of all festivals, the sabbath introduces the holy seasons. Hence, during the second Temple it was declared that “the sabbath is in importance equal to the whole law; he who profanes the sabbath openly is like him who transgresses the whole law.” The hour at which it began and ended was announced by three blasts of the trumpets.
Ye shall do no work therein.—Better, ye shall do no manner of work, as the Authorised version renders this phrase in Leviticus 23:31 of this very chapter. (See Leviticus 16:29.) Whilst on all other festivals servile work only was forbidden (see Leviticus 23:7-8; Leviticus 23:21; Leviticus 23:25; Leviticus 23:35-36), and work connected with the preparation of the necessary food was permitted (see Exodus 12:16), the sabbath and the day of atonement were the only days on which the Israelites were prohibited to engage in any work whatsoever. (See Leviticus 23:28; Leviticus 23:30; Leviticus 16:29.) Though manual labour on the sabbath was punished with death by lapidation (see Exodus 31:14-15; Exodus 35:2; Numbers 15:35-36), and though the authorities during the second Temple multiplied and registered most minutely the things which constitute labour, yet these administrators of the Law have enacted that in cases of illness and of any danger work is permitted. They laid down the principle that “the sabbath is delivered into your hand, but not you into the hand of the sabbath.” Similar is the declaration of Christ (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:27-28).
(4) These are the feasts of the Lord.—Because the following are the festivals proper as distinguished from the sabbath (see Leviticus 23:37-38), and because they are now enumerated in their regular order, the introductory heading is here repeated.
Ye shall proclaim in their seasons.—By the blast of trumpets on the day of the month on which they are to be observed.
(5) In the fourteenth day of the first month.—This month is called Abib in the Pentateuch (Exodus 13:4; Exodus 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:1), and Nisan in the later books of Scripture (Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7). The fourteenth day of this month is about the beginning of April. On this day, which was called both “the preparation for the Passover” (John 19:14), and “the first day of Passover,” all handicraftsmen, with the exception of tailors, barbers, and laundresses, were obliged to relinquish work either from morning or from noon, according to the custom of the different places in Palestine. Leaven was only eaten till midday, and it had to be burned in the afternoon. The time for desisting from and burning the leaven was thus indicated: “Two desecrated cakes of thanksgiving offerings were placed on a bench in the Temple; as long as they were thus exposed all the people ate leaven. When one of them was removed they abstained from eating, but did not burn it; but when the other was taken away all the people began burning the leaven.” It was on this day that every Israelite who was not infirm, ceremonially defiled, uncircumcised, or beyond fifteen miles from the walls of Jerusalem, had to appear before the Lord in the holy city, with an offering in proportion to his means (Exodus 23:5; Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Those who came from the country were gratuitously accommodated by the inhabitants with the necessary apartments (Luke 22:10-12; Matthew 26:18), and the guests in acknowledgment of the hospitality they received left to their hosts the skins of the paschal lambs, and the vessels which they used in their religious ceremonies. Josephus, who was an eye-witness to the fact, tells us that at the Passover, in the reign of Nero, there were 2,700,000 people, when 256,500 lambs were sacrificed. Most of the Jews must therefore have encamped in tents without the walls of the city, as the Mohammedan pilgrims now do at Mecca. It was for this reason that the Romans took great precaution, using both force and conciliatory measures, during the festivals (Matthew 26:5; Luke 13:1).
At even.—Or, in the evening, as the Authorised version renders this phrase in the parallel passage (Exodus 12:6), literally, denotes between the two evenings. The interpretation of this expression constituted one of the differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees during the second Temple, and seriously affected the time for offering up the paschal lamb and the evening sacrifices. According to the Sadducees it denotes the time between the setting of the sun and the moment when the stars become visible, or when darkness sets in, i.e., between six and seven o’clock, a space of about one hour and twenty minutes. According to the Pharisees, however, “between the two evenings” means from the afternoon to the disappearing of the sun. The first evening is from the time when the sun begins to decline towards the west, whilst the second is when it goes down and vanishes out of sight. This is the reason why the paschal lamb in the evening sacrifice began to be killed and the blood sprinkled at 12.30 p.m. This is more in harmony with the fact that the large number of sacrifices on this day could only be offered up in the longer period of time.
The Lord’s passover.—Also called “the feast of unleavened bread.” (See Leviticus 23:6.)
(6) Seven days ye must eat unleavened bread.—See Exodus 12:15; Exodus 12:18-20.
(7) In the first day.—That is, the first of the seven days, or the fifteenth of the month Nisan. (See Exodus 12:16.)
Ye shall do no servile work therein.—Servile work was defined during the second Temple to consist in building, pulling down edifices, weaving, reaping, threshing, winnowing, grinding, &c, whilst needful work which was allowed was killing beasts, kneading dough, baking bread, boiling, roasting, &e. For violating this law the offender was not to be stoned to death, as in the case of violating the sabbath, but to receive forty stripes save one.
(8) But ye shall offer.—Better, and ye shall offer. In addition to the daily ordinary sacrifices, there were offered on this day, and on the following six days, two young bullocks, a ram, and seven lambs of the first year, with meat offerings for a burnt offering, and a goat for a sin offering (Numbers 28:19-23). Be sides these public sacrifices, there were the voluntary offerings which were made by every private individual who appeared before the Lord in Jerusalem (Exodus 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:16), and which, according to the practice during the second Temple, consisted of (1) a burnt offering of not less in value than sixteen grains of corn; (2) a festive offering called chagigah, the minimum value of which was thirty-two grains of corn; and (3) a peace or joyful offering (Deuteronomy 27:7), the value of which was left to be determined by the good will of the offerer in accordance with Deuteronomy 27:7. These victims were offered with the ritual prescribed in Leviticus 3:1-5; Leviticus 7:16-18; Leviticus 7:29-34.
In the seventh day . . . ye shall do no servile work.—This was, in all respects, celebrated like the first, with the exception that it did not commence with the paschal meal. During the intervening days the people indulged in public amusements, as dances, songs, games, &c, to fill up the time in harmony with the joyful and solemn character of the festival. They were also allowed to irrigate dry land, dig watercourses, repair conduits, reservoirs, roads, &c.
(9) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—As the celebration of the sheaf of first-fruits formed no part of the original institution of the Passover (Exodus 12:1-20), and as the omer ritual could not be observed in the wilderness, where there was no sowing of corn, it is here enacted as a prospective part of the feast of unleavened bread, and hence is introduced by a separate formula.
(10) When ye be come into the land.—This is the third of the four instances in Leviticus where a law is given prospectively, having no immediate bearing on the condition of the people of Israel. (See Leviticus 19:23.)
Then ye shall bring a sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest.—Better, ye shall bring the first-fruit omer of your harvest. The omer had to be from the best and ripest standing corn of a field near Jerusalem. The measure of an omer was of the meal obtained from the barley offering. Hence three seahs = one ephah, or ten omers, were at first gathered in the following manner :—“Delegates from the Sanhedrim went into the field nearest to Jerusalem a day before the festival, and tied together the ears in bundles whilst still fastened to the ground.”
(11) And he shall wave the sheaf.—Better, and he shall wave the omer. The priest mixed with the omer of meal a log of oil, put on a handful of frankincense (see Leviticus 2:15), as on other meat-offerings, waved it, took a handful of it and caused it to ascend in smoke (see Leviticus 2:16), and then consumed the residue in company with his fellow-priests. Immediately after this ceremony, bread, parched corn, green ears, &c, of the new crop were exposed for sale in the streets of Jerusalem, as, prior to the offering of the omer, no use whatever was allowed to be made of the new corn.
On the morrow after the sabbath.—The interpretation of this phrase also constituted one of the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees during the second Temple. According to the Pharisees, the term sabbath here, as elsewhere (see Leviticus 23:24; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 23:39), is not the weekly sabbath, but the next day, or the first day of the holy convocation, the first day of Passover, on which the Israelites had to abstain from all unnecessary work. It is the 16th of Nisan. The Sadducees, however, maintained that it is to be understood in its literal sense as denoting the weekly sab-bath in the Passover week, which might happen to fall within the seven days, and possibly the fifth or sixth day of the festival. But this is against the import of Leviticus 23:15. Here the feast of Pentecost is to be reckoned from this sabbath, and if this sabbath might either be on the second or sixth day of the Passover, not only would the feast of Pentecost have no definite day, but the Passover itself would, in the course of time, be displaced from the fundamental position which it occupies in the order of the annual festivals. Hence the Pharisees, rightly regarding the word sabbath here as an alternative term for the day of holy convocation, took the morrow after the sabbath to denote Nisan 16. On the afternoon of this day, therefore, the inhabitants of the neighbouring towns of Jerusalem assembled together “so that the reaping might take place amidst great tumult.” As soon as it became dark, each of the reapers asked, “Has the sun gone down?” To which the people replied, “Yes.” They asked twice again, “Has the sun gone down?” to which the people each time replied, “Yes.” Each reaper then asked three times, “Is this the scythe? “to which the people each time replied “Yes.” “Is this the box?” they next asked three times. “Yes,” was again thrice the reply of the people. “Is this the Sabbath?” the reaper asked three times; and three times the people replied, “Yes.” “Shall I cut?” he asked three times; and three times the people replied, “Yes.” When cut it was laid in boxes, brought into the court of the Temple, threshed with canes and sticks, that the grains might not be crushed, and laid in a roast with holes, so that the fire might touch each grain. Thereupon it was spread in the court of the sanctuary for the wind to pass over it, and ground in a barley mill which left the hulls unground. The flour thus obtained was sifted through thirteen different sieves, each one finer than its predecessor. In this manner was the prescribed omer or tenth part got from the seah.
(12) And he shall offer.—With the omer of the first-fruits a lamb was offered, besides the sacrifices for the feast enumerated in Leviticus 23:8.
(13) Two tenth deals of fine flour.—Ordinarily only one-tenth deal of fine Hour was required for a meat-offering (Exodus 29:40; Numbers 15:4; Numbers 28:9; Numbers 28:13, &c.), to exhibit the plentiful harvest. With the exception of the handful of flour and oil, and of all the frankincense, this meat-offering was the perquisite of the priests. (See Leviticus 2:2-3.)
(14) And ye shall eat neither bread.—In acknowledgment of the bountiful Giver of the new harvest, it was ordained that the Israelites were not to taste any of it till they had dedicated the first- fruit to the Lord. By bread is meant the unleavened bread which they were now enjoined to eat. The unleavened bread for the first and the second days of Passover was prepared from the last year’s harvest, but the bread for the following days could only be made from the new harvest after the normal dedication of it to the Lord.
Parched corn.—See Leviticus 2:14.
Green ears.—The expression carmel, which the Authorised version renders “full ears” in Lev. 214, the authorities during the second Temple took to denote the five kinds of the new grain, viz., wheat, rye, oats, and two kinds of barley, which were forbidden to be used in any form whatsoever prior to this public dedication of the harvest to the Lord. The same custom of dedicating the first-fruits of the harvest to the divine beings also obtained amongst the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other nations of antiquity.
A statute for ever . . . —See Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:23-25.
(15) Ye shall count . . . from the morrow after the sabbath.—That is, from the day following the first day of holy convocation, which was a rest day. As this was the fifteenth of Nisan, the counting began from the sixteenth (see Leviticus 23:11), the day on which the omer of the first-fruits was presented to the Lord.
Seven sabbaths shall be complete.—Better, seven weeks shall be complete. That is, seven entire weeks, making forty-nine days. The expression sabbath denotes here a week, hence the parallel passage substitutes the word week, viz., “seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee” (Deuteronomy 16:9), The same usage is to be found in the New Testament. Thus the passage rendered in the Authorised version, “the first day of the week,” is “the first day of the sabbath” (Matthew 28:1); and “I fast twice in the week” (Luke 18:12), is, “I fast twice in the sabbath.” In accordance with the injunction here given, the Jews to the present day begin to count the forty-nine days at the conclusion of the evening service on the second day of Passover, and pronounce the following blessing every evening of the forty-nine days: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast sanctified us with thy commandments, and hast enjoined us to count the omer. This is the first day of the omer. May it please thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, to rebuild the sanctuary speedily in our days, and give us our portion in thy Law.
(16) Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath.—That is, the day after the seven complete weeks, or the fiftieth day. Hence its name, “Pentecost, or fiftieth-day” feast in the New Testament (Acts 2:1; Acts 20:16; 1 Corinthians 16:8), and “feast of weeks” in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:12; Deuteronomy 16:10; Deuteronomy 16:16; 2 Chronicles 8:13). The fiftieth day, according to the Jewish canons, may fall on the 5th, 6th, or 7th of Sivan, the third month of the year, i.e., from the new moon of May to the new moon of June.
Shall offer a new meat offering.—That is, of the first-fruits of the wheat-harvest in contradistinction to the omer first-fruits, which was of barley-harvest. Hence this festival is also called “the feast of harvest” (Exodus 23:16), because it concluded the harvest of the later grain.
(17) Ye shall bring out of your habitations.—During the second Temple this clause was taken to be elliptical, and to denote ye shall bring out of, or from, the land of your habitations, that is, from Palestine (Numbers 15:2).
Two wave loaves of two tenth deals.—These two loaves were prepared in the following manner. Three seahs of new wheat were brought into the court of the Temple, were beaten and trodden and ground into flour. Two omers of the flour were respectively obtained from a seah and a half, and after having been sieved in the twelve different sieves, were kneaded separately with leaven into two loaves outside the Temple, but were baked inside the sanctuary on the day preceding the festival. Each loaf was seven hand-breadths long, four hand-breadths broad, and five fingers high. These were offered to the Lord as firstlings (Exodus 34:17), whence this festival is also called “the day of first-fruits” (Numbers 28:26).
(18) And ye shall offer with the bread seven lambs.—The additional sacrifices for the feast day consisted of two bullocks, one ram, and seven lambs, which were a burnt offering, and of a goat as a sin offering (Numbers 28:26-27; Numbers 28:30). Besides these, however, the new meat offering of the two loaves mentioned in the text before us is to be brought, and with it are to be offered one bullock, two rams, and seven lambs, all for burnt offerings.
(19) Then ye shall sacrifice.—Better, and ye shall sacrifice. They were, moreover, to offer a goat for a sin offering, and two lambs for a peace offering. Hence Josephus, who was an eye-witness to the Temple service, in summing up the number of animal sacrifices on this festival, says that there were fourteen lambs, three young bullocks, and three goats, the number two instead of three goats being manifestly a transcriber’s error (Antiq. III., 10:6). The two statements, therefore, viz., the one in the passage before us, and the other in Numbers 28:27, according to the authorities during the second Temple, refer to two distinct sacrifices. The one before us speaks of the sacrifices which are to accompany the wave loaves, whilst the order in Numbers refers to the properly appointed sacrifices for the festival. Those prescribed in Numbers were offered in the wilderness, whilst those prescribed here were only to be offered when the Israelites entered the Promised Land.
(20) And the priest shall wave them . . . with the two lambs.—During the second Temple this was done in the following manner :—The two lambs were brought into the Temple, and waved together or separately by the priest while yet alive. Whereupon they were slain, and the priest took the breast and shoulder of each one (see Leviticus 7:30-32), laid them down by the side of the two loaves, put both his hands under them, and waved them all together or separately towards the east side forwards and backwards, up and down. He then burned the fat of the two lambs, after which the remainder of the flesh, which became the perquisite of the officiating priest, was eaten by him and his fellow-priests. Of the two loaves the high priest took one, and the other was divided between the officiating priests, who had to eat them up within the same day and half the following night, just as the flesh of the most holy things. After these prescribed sacrifices had been offered, each individual brought his free-will offering, which formed the cheerful and hospitable meal of the family, and to which the Levite, the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger, were invited.
(21).And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day.—This proclamation was made to the people by the priest with trumpet blasts.
Ye shall do no servile work.—For what constituted servile work, see Leviticus 23:7.
A statute for ever . . . . —See Leviticus 23:14, Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:23-25. In accordance with this declaration, and with the fact that the Jews during the second Temple regarded it as the day on which the Decalogue was given, the Israelites to this day sacredly keep this festival on the 6th and 7th of Sivan, i.e. between the second half of May and the first half of June. From their circumstances, however, the harvest character of the festival is now subordinate, and more prominence is given to its commemorating the giving of the Law on Sinai. Still the synagogues and the private houses are adorned with flowers and odoriferous herbs. The male members of the community purify themselves for its celebration by immersion and confession of sin, and many of them spend all night in their respective places of worship.
(22) Thou shalt not make a clean riddance.—Better, thou shalt not wholly reap, as the Authorised version translates the same phrase in Leviticus 19:9. In the midst of rejoicing and thankfulness to God for a bountiful harvest, the Lawgiver again inculcates the duty of remembering the poor, and reminds the proprietors of the land that the needy have legally a share in the produce, as has been enacted in Leviticus 19:9.
(23) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—The new festival about which regulations are given in Leviticus 23:24-32, is introduced by a separate formula, which describes the subject matter as a separate and distinct Divine communication.
(24) A memorial of blowing of trumpets.—Literally, remembrance blowing, for which see Numbers 29:1, the only place in the Old Testament where this festival is named as “the day of blessing,” i.e., the trumpets. As the first of Ethanim, as the month is called in the Bible (1 Kings 8:2), or Tishri, as the Jews call it, in which this festival occurs, is the commencement of the civil new year, this festival was called “the Festival of New Year” ever since the time of the second Temple, and has been regarded as preparatory to the great day of Atonement, which is ten days later. The blowing of trumpets, therefore, which was the distinguishing feature of this festival, was designed to summon the Israelites to enter upon the work of sanctification, which will be accounted to them as a merit in the sight of God, and for which they are promised to be especially remembered before the Lord (Numbers 10:9-10). Hence its name, Remembrance blowing—the blowing of trumpets, which will make them to be remembered before the Lord. The synagogue, however, takes the name more in the sense of “reminding” God of the merits of the patriarchs and his covenant with them, and for this reason has appointed Genesis 21:1-34; Genesis 22:1-24, recording the birth and sacrifice of Isaac, as the lesson for this festival.
(25) Ye shall do no servile work.—With the exception of what was absolutely necessary, all handicraft and trade were stopped. (See Leviticus 23:7.)
But ye shall offer.—As the festival is also the new moon, a threefold sacrifice was offered on it, (1) viz. the ordinary daily sacrifice which was offered first; (2) the appointed new moon sacrifice (Numbers 28:11-15); and (3) the sacrifice for this festival, which consisted of a young bullock, a ram, and seven lambs of the first year, with the usual meat offerings, and a kid for a sin offering (Numbers 29:1-6). With the exception, therefore, of there being one bullock instead of two, this sacrifice was simply a repetition of the monthly offering by which it was preceded in the service. During the offering of the drink offering and the burnt offering the Levites engaged in vocal and instrumental music, singing the eighty-first and other psalms, whilst the priests at stated intervals broke forth with awful blasts of the trumpets. After the offering up of the sacrifices, the service was concluded by the priests, who pronounced the benediction (Numbers 6:23-27), which the people received in a prostrate position before the Lord. Having prostrated themselves a second time in the court, the congregation resorted to the adjoining synagogue, where the appointed lessons from the Law and the Prophets were read, consisting of Genesis 21:1-34; Numbers 29:1-6; 1 Samuel 1:1 to 1 Samuel 2:10; Genesis 22:1-24; Jeremiah 31:2-20. Psalms were recited and the festival prayers were offered, beseeching the Lord to pardon the sins of the past year, and to grant the people a happy new year. This concluded the morning service, after which the families resorted to their respective homes, partook of the social and joyous repast, and in the evening went again into the Temple to witness the offering of the evening sacrifices, and to see the candlestick lighted with which the festival concluded, all wishing each other, “May you be written down for a happy new year; may the Creator decree for you a happy new year.” To which was responded, “And you likewise.” With the exception of the sacrifices, the Jews keep this festival to the present day. The trumpet which they use on this occasion consists of the curved horn of a ram, in remembrance of the ram which Abraham sacrificed instead of Isaac. This event, as we have seen, is also commemorated in the lesson of the day.
(26) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—The same formula which introduced the regulations about the feast of trumpets (see Leviticus 23:23), now introduces the laws about the day of Atonement.
(27) Also on the tenth.—See Leviticus 16:29.
And ye shall afflict your souls.—That is, fast. (See Leviticus 16:29.)
And offer an offering.—See Numbers 29:8-11.
(28) And ye shall do no work.—Better, And ye shall do no manner of work, as the Authorised version has it in Leviticus 23:31 of this very chapter. (See Leviticus 16:29.) This is the only day which had to be kept like the sabbath, and on which no manner of work was allowed. (See Leviticus 23:3.)
To make an atonement for you.—See Leviticus 16:30.
(29) For whatsoever soul . . . he shall be cut off from among his people.—Better, For whatsoever soul . . . that shall be cut off from his people. (See Note on Leviticus 19:8.) Any member of the community who does not fast on this day God himself will punish with excision, except those who through old age or sickness are unable to endure it.
(30) That doeth any work.—That is, engages in any kind of work whatsoever, since this is the only festival which is to be kept like the sabbath.
Will I destroy.—Whilst in all other instances where God threatens the offender with the penalty of excision the expression “cut off” is used, in the passage before us the word is “destroy.” This stronger term may be owing to the fact that the day of Atonement is the most solemn day in the whole year, and that violating its sanctity will be visited more severely. Hence the severer expression used on this occasion. It is, however, to be remarked that whilst working on the sabbath was punished with death by stoning, he who transgressed the law of labour on the day of Atonement was punished with excision.
(31) Ye shall do no manner of work.—Owing to the great sanctity of the day, the command to abstain from all work is repeated after the enactment of the penalty, in order to impress it more effectually upon the people.
A statute for ever. . . —See Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:23-25.
(32) It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest.—Rather, It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, as the Authorised version renders it in Leviticus 16:31. It is most unaccountable why the translators varied this important formula, when it is exactly the same in the original in both passages. For the import of this phrase see Leviticus 16:31.
And ye shall afflict your souls.—Having set forth in Leviticus 23:30-31, and in the first clause of this verse, the duty of abstaining from all work, and of celebrating this day as a day of solemn rest, the law giver repeats the second feature of the day, which is of equal importance, viz., the fasting, lest some should think that doing the one and leaving the other undone would pass as having kept this law.
In the ninth day of the month at even.—In accordance with the ancient mode of counting the day, the tenth of the month began with the evening of the ninth. (See Leviticus 16:29.)
Celebrate your sabbath.—In Leviticus 25:2, where this phrase occurs again, the Authorised version inconsistently renders it keep . . . sabbath. In both instances, however, the margin has, “Heb., rest.” This alternative rendering of part of the phrase has no meaning. To convey to the English reader an idea of the Hebrew idiom here used, which was the intention of the translators, the whole phrase should have been translated, which is, rest the day of rest, that is, to “keep rest,” to “keep the day of rest.” Just as to “fast a fast” (2 Samuel 12:16; Zechariah 7:5) denotes “to keep a fast.” In 2 Samuel 12:16 the margin has consistently reproduced the Hebraism by remarking “Heb., fasted a fast.”
(33) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—Like the festivals of new year and the day of Atonement (see Leviticus 23:23; Leviticus 23:26), the feast of Tabernacles, which is discussed in Leviticus 23:34-43, is introduced by this special formula, thus indicating that it was a separate communication.
(34) The fifteenth day of this seventh month.—That is, the month Tishri, corresponding to the end of September and the beginning of October, and only four days after the day of Atonement.
Shall be the feast of tabernacles.—How and where these tabernacles are to be erected the law here gives no directions. The details, as in many other enactments, are left to the administrators of the Law. From the account of the first celebration of this festival after the return from Babylon, the Jews, according to the command of Ezra, made themselves booths upon the roofs of houses, in the courts of their dwellings, and of their sanctuary, in the streets of the Water-gate and the gate of Ephraim. These tabernacles they made of olive branches, pine branches, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of thick trees (Nehemiah 8:15-18). The construction of these temporary abodes, however, was more minutely defined by Ezra’s successors. It was ordained during the second Temple that the interior of each tabernacle must not be higher than twenty cubits, and not lower than ten palms, it must at least have three walls, with a thatched roof partially open so as to admit a view of the sky and the stars. It must not be under a tree, nor must it be covered with a cloth, or with any material which contracts defilement. Only branches or shrubs which grow out of the ground are to be used for the covering. These booths the Israelites began to erect on the morrow after the Day of Atonement. On the fourteenth, which was the day of preparation, the pilgrims came up to Jerusalem, and on the eve of this day the priests proclaimed the approach of the holy convocation by the blasts of trumpets. As on the feasts of Passover and Pentecost, the altar of burnt-offering was cleansed in the first night watch, and the gates of the Temple, as well as those of the inner court, were opened immediately after midnight, for the convenience of the priests who resided in the city, and for the people, who filled the court before the cock crew, to have their sacrifices duly examined by the priests.
(35) on the first day shall be an holy convocation.—At daybreak of this day one of the priests, accompanied by a jubilant procession and a band of music, went with a golden pitcher to the pool of Siloam, and having filled it with water, returned with it to the Temple in time to join his brother-priests in the morning sacrifices. He entered from the south through the water-gate, when he was welcomed by three blasts of the trumpets. He then ascended the steps of the altar with another priest, who carried a pitcher of wine for the drink offering. The two priests turned to the left of the altar, where two silver basins were fixed with holes at the bottom, and simultaneously poured into their respective basins the water and the wine in such a manner that both were emptied at the same time upon the base of the altar. This ceremony of drawing the water was repeated every morning during the seven days of the festival. Another jubilant multitude, who went outside Jerusalem at the same time to gather willows, now returned. With great rejoicings and amidst blasts of trumpets they carried the willows into the Temple, and placed them at the altar in such a manner that their tops overhung and formed a kind of canopy.
Ye shall do no servile work therein.—For the difference between servile and necessary work see Leviticus 23:7.
(36) Seven days ye shall offer.—The special sacrifices for this day consisted of a burnt offering of thirteen bullocks, two rams, and fourteen lambs, with an appropriate meat and drink offering, and a goat for a sin offering (Numbers 29:12-38). Whereupon were offered the peace offerings, the vows and the free-will offerings which constituted the repasts of the people. Whilst these sacrifices were being offered up the Levites chanted the festive Hallel, as on the feasts of Passover and Pentecost. This was repeated every day during the seven days of the festival, only that the number of animals offered as sacrifices diminished daily during the middle days of the festival, according to the prescription in Numbers 29:12-38. On the eve of the second day, or what is called the lesser festival, and on each of the five succeeding nights, was celebrated the “Rejoicing of the water-drawing” in the court of the Temple. Four huge golden candelabra were lighted in the centre of the court, and the light emanating from them was visible to the whole city. Around these lights pious men danced before the people with lighted flambeaux in their hands, singing hymns and songs of praise, whilst the Levites, who were stationed on the fifteen steps which led into the women’s court, and which corresponded to the fifteen psalms of degrees, i.e., steps (Psalms 120-134), accompanied the songs with instrumental music. It is supposed that on the last evening of the festival, when the splendid light of this grand illumination was to cease, Christ called attention to himself, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), which is to shine for ever, and illuminate not only the Temple and the holy city, but all the world.
On the eighth day shall be an holy convocation.—That is, like the first day, since no servile work is to be done on it. As it is not only the finishing of the feast of Tabernacles, but the conclusion of the whole cycle of festivals, the dwelling in tabernacles is to cease on it.
Ye shall offer.—For this reason the sacrifices offered on this day are to be distinct, and unlike the sacrifices of the preceding days. The burnt sacrifice is to consist of one bullock, one ram, and seven lambs, with the appropriate meat and drink offerings, and one goat for a sin offering. (Numbers 29:36-38.) Being, however, attached to the feast of Tabernacles, the two festivals are often joined together, and spoken of as one festival of eight days.
(37) These are the feasts of the Lord.—That is, the above-named six festivals, viz.—(1) the Passover (Leviticus 23:4-14), (2) Pentecost Leviticus 23:15-22), (3) New Year (Leviticus 23:23-25), (4) Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32), (5) Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-36 a), and (6) the concluding festival (Leviticus 23:36 b). Thus the list of these festivals concludes with the formula by which they were introduced in Leviticus 23:4.
To offer an offering.—On these festivals sacrifices are to be offered as prescribed in Numbers 28:29.
(38) Beside the sabbaths.—By a figure of speech called metonymy, which is frequently used both in the Old and New Testaments, the expression sabbaths stands here for the sacrifices of the sabbaths, just as in Leviticus 25:6 “sabbath of the land” denotes the produce of the sabbath of the land, or of the sabbatic year, and as the phrase “it is written in the prophets” (Mark 1:2) is used for “it is written in the writings of the prophets.” (Comp. also Matthew 5:17; Matthew 7:12; Matthew 22:40, &c.) The meaning, therefore, of the passage before us is that the sacrifices ordered for each of these festivals are to be in addition to the sacrifices appointed to each weekly sabbath in the year; so that when one of these festivals falls on a sabbath, the sacrifices due to the latter are not set aside by the former. Both must be offered in their proper order.
Beside your gifts.—Nor are they to interfere with the voluntary offerings which each individual brought privately (Deuteronomy 16:10; Deuteronomy 16:17; 2 Chronicles 25:7-8), or with the performance of vows (Deuteronomy 12:6-12).
(39) Also in the fifteenth day.—After the list of festivals discussed in this chapter has been summed up in Leviticus 23:37-38, the next five verses recur to the feast of Tabernacles. The regulations are supplementary to those given before, and embody a separate enactment.
When ye have gathered in the fruit of the land.—That is, those productions which ripen in the autumnal season, as wheat, barley, oil, wine, &c.
Ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord.—The Israelites are then to keep a festival in which they are to acknowledge the bounties of the Lord and express their gratitude to the Giver of all good things. For this reason this festival is also called “the Feast of Ingathering” (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22).
On the first day shall be a sabbath.—Both on the first and last days of this festival there is to be abstention from all servile work. (See Leviticus 23:35-36.)
(40) And ye shall take you on the first day.—The four species of vegetable production here ordered are a distinctive feature of this festival. They have been most minutely defined during the second Temple.
Boughs of goodly trees.—Better, the fruit of goodly trees, as the margin rightly renders it. As this phrase is too indefinite, and may simply denote the fruit of any choice fruit-tree, there can hardly be any doubt that in this instance, as in many other cases, the lawgiver left it to the administrators of the Law to define its precise kind. Basing it therefore upon one of the significations of the term here translated “goodly,” which is to dwell, to rest, the authorities during the second Temple decreed that it means the fruit winch permanently rests upon the tree—i.e., the citron, the paradise-apple. If it came from an uncircumcised tree (see Leviticus 19:23), from an unclean heave-offering (comp. Numbers 18:11-12), or exhibited the slightest defect, it was ritually illegal.
Branches of palm trees.—During the second Temple this was defined as the shoot of the palm-tree when budding, before the leaves are spread abroad, and whilst it is yet like a rod. It is technically called lulab, which is the expression whereby it is rendered in the ancient Chaldee version. The lulab must at least be three hands tall, and must be tied together with its own kind.
The boughs of thick trees.—This, according to the same authorities, denotes the myrtle branch, whose leaves thickly cover the wood. To make it ritually legal it must have three or more shoots round the stem, and on the same level with it. If it is in any way damaged it is illegal. This accounts for the ancient Chaldee version rendering it by “myrtle branch.”
Willows of the brook.—That species, the distinguishing marks of which are dark wood and long leaves with smooth margin. The palm, the myrtle, and the willow, when tied together into one bundle, constitute the Lulab. Whilst the psalms are chanted by the Levites during the sacrifices, the pilgrims, who held the Lulabs or palms, shook them thrice, viz., at the singing of Psalms 118:1, then again at Leviticus 23:25, and at Leviticus 23:29. When the chant was finished, the priests in procession went round the altar once, exclaiming, “Hosanna, O Lord, give us help, O Lord! give prosperity !” (Psalms 118:25). Whereupon the solemn benediction was pronounced by the priests, and the people dispersed amidst the repeated exclamations, “How beautiful art thou, O altar !” It is this part of the ritual which explains the welcome that the multitude gave Christ when they went to meet Him with palm-branches and shouts of hosanna (Matthew 21:8-9; Matthew 21:15; John 12:12-13).
(41) Seven days in the year.—These seven days denote the feast of Tabernacles proper, whilst the eight days in Leviticus 23:39 include the concluding festival of the last day. (See Leviticus 23:36.)
In your generations.—Better, throughout your generations, as the Authorised version renders it in Leviticus 23:14; Leviticus 23:21; Leviticus 23:31 of this very chapter. (See Leviticus 3:17.)
(42) Dwell in booths seven days.—Because the eighth day was a separate festival, when the booths were no more used. (See Leviticus 23:36.)
(43) That your generations may know.—When their posterity are securely occupying the land of Canaan, the temporary dwelling in booths once a year may remind them of the goodness of God vouchsafed to their fathers in delivering them from the land of bondage, and sheltering them in booths in the wilderness.
(44) And Moses declared.—In accordance with the command which Moses received (see Leviticus 23:2), he explained to the children of Israel the number and motive of these festivals. This verse therefore forms an appropriate conclusion to the whole chapter.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Leviticus 23". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30