Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 23

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Verses 1-2


In the previous chapters we read about holy persons, holy things and holy places. In this chapter we read about seven holy times or feast times. The feasts are presented in this chapter in their context, through which the feasts give a prophetic description. Three feasts are called a feast: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths (Exodus 23:14-Nehemiah :; Deuteronomy 16:16).

The seven feasts – seven is the number of perfection or of a full period – describe the way through which God will bring His people from the cross, to the peace of the great sabbath that will dawn before creation: the millennial kingdom of peace. This is the time when everything that God has planned for the earth has come to fulfillment. The chapter begins and ends with the sabbath (Leviticus 23:3; Leviticus 23:39).

If we want to study the prophecy in Scripture, we find many indications in the so-called “three great sevens”: the seven feasts here, the seven parables about the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13, and the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.

An overview of the feasts and their prophetic meaning:

1. The Passover (Leviticus 23:5) – The death of the Lord Jesus.
2. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-Ruth :) – The sanctified life of the redeemed.
3. The sheaf of the first fruits (Leviticus 23:9-2 Chronicles :) – The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
4. The Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-Ecclesiastes :) – The coming of the Holy Spirit on earth, through which the church came into existence.

Interim (Leviticus 23:22) – The time that the church is on earth is the time that Israel is scattered among the nations. When the time of the church on earth is over, a remnant of Israel will be saved, that will be new Israel (Romans 11:25-Ezekiel :). They will receive the promised blessing, in which the Gentiles will also have a share through them.

5. The Feast of the trumpet (Leviticus 23:23-Lamentations :) – There is a spiritual awakening of a remnant in Israel. The scattered Israelites return to their country.
6. The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-Jonah :) – Repentance and conversion and acceptance of the remnant by the LORD.
7. The Feast of Booths (Leviticus 23:33-John :) – The remnant, which is the whole of the new Israel of God, enjoys the promised blessing of the millennial kingdom of peace.

The Appointed Times Are the LORD’s

God has His appointed times, He destined them for Himself. God has determined them in this way and in that order because in those feasts He shows His ways with His people.

Numbers 28-29 also mentions these feasts, but there the emphasis is more on the offerings that have to be brought. Here the emphasis is on the holy convocations that must take place on those days. This indicates that these feasts are not experienced individually, but as a people. The application for us does not lie in keeping Christian holidays, but in the one gathering that the church knows: “our own assembling together” (Hebrews 10:25), the gathering of the church, which we will not forsake. In the meeting of the church, the aspects of all appointed times are dealt with in a spiritual sense.

The appointed times or feasts are those of the LORD. He calls them here “My appointed times” because they are determined or intended by Him. On those days the people must come together and it is especially important what the LORD gets. For that purpose, these feasts must be ‘proclaimed’ and on those days God’s people are called together. It goes out from the LORD and He is the center of it. What Jeroboam does, who organizes a feast for Israel “in the month which he had devised in his own heart” (1 Kings 12:33), is therefore rebellion against God.

Verse 3

The Sabbath Command

The sabbath is separate from the feasts (Leviticus 23:37-Zechariah :). The chapter begins with it and ends with it. World history also begins and ends with it: at creation God rests on the seventh day; this world closes its history with the sabbath of the millennial kingdom of peace, the sabbath rest that remains for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9). Sin soon disturbed the peace of the beginning. This is why the situation that the Lord Jesus speaks of now still applies when He says: “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17). The seven feasts indicate the way God goes to come to the rest of the end.

In a spiritual sense, the life of the believer begins with rest. Only when he has found rest in the work of the Lord Jesus does he have rest for his conscience. Then, with that rest in his heart, he can go his way and work for the Lord Jesus in a world where that rest is not present. In that respect, he may look forward to the coming rest of the kingdom of peace. When the believer dies, he may enter into the rest of God in heaven and rest from all his works of faith he has done on earth (Hebrews 4:10).

The sabbath is the day on which God has rested. It is the rest of God. He wants His people to share in it. The people are obliged to keep that day, as laid down in the law: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The sabbath is also a day of remembrance in relation with the redemption of the people from the power of Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:14-Ezra :), which is a picture of the world and sin.

The kingdom of peace shows both aspects: God rests, and the curse is removed and the sin restricted. Another meaning of the sabbath is that of a covenant between God and His people (Ezekiel 20:12; Exodus 31:12-Esther :). It is a special feature in the distinction between Jew and Gentile.

The sabbath rest that will soon be on earth is already characteristic of the believer. The believers can enjoy this rest together when they come together and have a “holy convocation”. It is the rest of conscience through the accomplished work of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 11:28). God wants to come together with His people especially because He enjoys the peace that the Lord Jesus has brought. God rests in Him and in His work. It is a sabbath for all our dwellings, not only during the meetings. This peace may characterize our whole life.

Verse 4

Order to Proclaim the Appointed Times

Now come the feasts that will lead to the peace of the kingdom of peace. They have already been mentioned once in the introduction in connection with the prophetic meaning. Now it is a matter of “the times appointed for them”:
1. The Passover must be held on the 14th of the first month.
2. The Feast of Unleavened Bread immediately follows the Passover and is held from the 15th to the 22nd of the first month.
3. The sheaf of the first fruits is offered on a sabbath after the beginning of the harvest.
4. The Feast of Weeks, the middle one, is celebrated in the third month, fifty days after the offering of the first fruits; this feast is called the Feast of Weeks because it takes place seven weeks after the previous one.

The fifth feast is the start of the second group of three feasts that take place exactly half a year later:
5. The Feast of new moon is on the 1st of the seventh month.
6. The Day of Atonement is on the 10th of the seventh month.
7. The Feast of Booths is from the 15th to the 22nd of the seventh month.

There is a link between the first group of feasts and the second group of feasts:
1. On 10-1 the Passover lamb must be taken into the house; on 10-7 is the Day of Atonement.
2. On 15-1 the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; on 15-7 the Feast of Booths begins.

Another division of the feasts can be made according to the words “the LORD spoke to Moses”: Leviticus 23:1; Leviticus 23:9Leviticus 23:23; Leviticus 23:26Leviticus 23:33.

The harvest feasts can only be celebrated in the land. There are three harvest feasts:
1. The feast of the sheaf of the first fruits is celebrated when the very first grain comes from the land. That is the barley harvest.
2. Fifty days later the wheat harvest follows (Exodus 9:31; Exodus 9:32; Ruth 1:22; Ruth 2:23) and the wave breads are brought.
3. In the seventh month the last harvest feast, the Feast of Booths, takes place on the occasion of the harvest of grapes and olives.

Verse 5

The Passover

The feasts start with the Passover. The salvation on earth, represented in the sabbath as a picture of the kingdom of peace, begins with what the Passover represents: Christ and His work on the cross (1 Corinthians 5:7). Similarly, the rest that a sinner has for his conscience is to be found in Christ and His work on the cross. In Exodus 12 God declares the Passover to be a new beginning, “the beginning of months … the first month of the year” (Exodus 12:2). There, the seventh month of the year becomes the first month of the year. A sinner who comes to conversion gets and starts a new life.

The first celebration, in Egypt, is in view of the redemption from Egypt. The blood frees them from the judgment of God. It is a unique celebration. It is a picture of the conversion of a sinner. Each subsequent celebration is a reminder of that event (Numbers 9:1-Deuteronomy :). This is reflected in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, that we celebrate every first day of the week. Here in Leviticus the Passover is a feast for the LORD. It is important that we learn what the Passover Lamb means to God as the foundation upon which He will have a new heaven and a new earth, where sin is no longer thought of.

Verses 6-8

Feast of Unleavened Bread

Immediately after the Passover follows the Feast of Unleavened Bread. These two feasts form a unity. In Luke 22 both feasts are identified: “The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover” (Luke 22:1). The Feast of Unleavened Bread is characterized by the absence of leaven. The total absence of leaven, which is a picture of sin, has characterized the walk and nature of Christ on earth and is also fulfilled in us as far as we realize Christ in our lives.

In the pictures of Scripture, dough always represents sin, in which sin manifests itself in various forms:
1. “The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:5-2 Kings :). By this is meant the doctrine of Pharisees, that is, the legalism or adding to God’s Word, and the doctrine of the Sadducees, that is the rationalism or taking away from God’s Word.
2. The “leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15), these are the carnal pleasures.
3. “Old leaven”, “leaven of malice and wickedness” (1 Corinthians 5:8), which is a sinful life practice.
4. “A little leaven” (Galatians 5:9), represents heresy about the work of the Lord Jesus.
5. The “leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour” (Matthew 13:33). This is no exception to the fact that leaven always represents sin. It proposes the introduction of idolatrous principles into the kingdom of heaven (Zechariah 5:5-1 Kings :).

Eating unleavened bread is a picture of feeding on the Lord Jesus, in Whom nothing of sin is present. That goes for His life on earth, His existence before that and for His life now in heaven. He has been the true grain offering on earth, in which no dough may be present (Leviticus 2:11).

We can only ‘eat’ of Him when we know the meaning of the Passover. First we must feed ourselves with His death, only then can we feed ourselves with His life. Without repentance and being born again He can only be a good example, but no food.

The feast is celebrated for seven days. Seven is the number of perfection and represents here our whole life. On the first and seventh day there must be a holy convocation. Nothing of human effort or obligation should play a role in this. An offering by fire must be made every day. All honor goes to the LORD; He is praised. In this way we may experience the meetings and our lives may also take place around the meetings as a praise for the Lord.

Verses 9-14

The Sheaf of the First Fruits

Here begins a new feast. The sheaf of the first fruits – literally: the sheaf of the beginning – must be brought “the day after the sabbath”, that is, on the first day of the new week. The Lord Jesus celebrated the Passover on Friday and died on Friday. The next day, the sabbath, is the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and then He lies in the grave. On the first day of the week He rose from the dead and that is the day the sheaf of the first fruits is brought to the priest. The sheaf of the first fruits speaks of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. He is the first fruits of those who are asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:23), the beginning of a new harvest for God.

From a spiritual point of view, the connection with the previous feast is important. In His resurrection the Lord Jesus, after having perfectly glorified God in the realm of sin through His death, has left behind everything that controls that realm. Death, sin, the power of Satan, judgment, have no connection with Him at all anymore. The awareness that I am connected with such a One, Someone Who has risen from the dead, gives me the strength to lead an ‘unleavened life’.

In John 19 it says: “For that Sabbath was a high day” (John 19:31). That sabbath is high for three reasons:
1. it has always been the most important day of the week;
2. it is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast that follows directly on the Passover;
3. it is the sabbath that precedes the feast of the sheaf of the first fruits.

God has made sure that the Lord Jesus died on the day the Passover is celebrated and that He rose up on the day the sheaf of the first fruits is brought to the priest. Thus, the first three feasts, and also the Feast of Weeks, the Pentecost, that follows fifty days later, are fulfilled exactly in the year that the Lord Jesus dies.

The feast of the sheaf of the first fruits can only take place in the land. The sheaf of the first fruits must be brought to the priest. He waves it before the LORD, and that makes him who brings the sheaf acceptable. Through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus we are pleasing to God. As priests, we can tell the Father about the risen Lord.

What other impact could that have than to add a burnt offering and a grain offering? The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is inseparable from His perfect life and death in which He glorified God. It is not possible to think of Him without thinking of the cross. The drink offering of wine is not lacking. It represents the joy that this offering gives to God.

The prohibition “until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your God, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth” (Leviticus 23:14) is the prohibition to eat anything from the new harvest before anything has been brought to “your God”. We can learn from this that we must always begin with God, every day, every meal, every intention, every work (cf. Matthew 6:33). It is important to honor Him “with the first fruits of all your proceeds” (Proverbs 3:9).

As for the spiritual consumption of the food of the land, this precept suggests that it can only be consumed if we connect it with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This has made it possible for us to enjoy all the blessings that the land, the heavenly places, has for us.

Verses 15-21

The Two Wave Breads

The feast of the sheaf of the first fruits is for the dwelling places (Leviticus 23:14). It refers to our being busy at home with the risen Lord. This being busy is a preparation, a spiritual exercise, for the next feast that follows after fifty days. To this feast another holy convocation is linked.

Fifty days after the sheaf of the first fruits, another first fruits is brought (Leviticus 23:17). The sheaf of the first fruits is of barley. The first fruits of the Feast of Weeks is of wheat. This is also called “a new grain offering” (Leviticus 23:16). The sheaf of the first fruits comes directly from the field and is offered directly to the LORD. The first fruits of the Feast of Weeks undergoes a process of grinding and baking to make the wave breads of it. This new grain offering contains leaven. It comes before the LORD, but not on the altar (Leviticus 2:12).

This points to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, which takes place fifty days after the Lord has risen, on Pentecost on a first day of the week (Acts 2:1-Numbers :). This originates the church. The sheaf of the first fruits represents the Lord Jesus. The wave breads do not represent the Lord Jesus, but the church. The church consists of people who are sinners by nature. But the working of the leaven (sin) is brought to a halt by the judgment that the Lord Jesus has borne. This we see in the picture of the bread that is baked in the fire by which the leaven is deprived of its working.

The bread has to be prepared at home in the time between the first fruits and the Feast of Weeks. That is a time of preparation. It is brought along from the dwelling places. About the fifty days that lie between the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and Pentecost, something is said in the beginning of the book of Acts (Acts 1:1-Deuteronomy :). In those days the Lord spoke with His disciples “of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), that is about God’s testimony on earth during His absence.

The number “two” in the “two [loaves] of bread” indicates that the church consists of believers from two groups of people: Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14-Nehemiah :). The number ‘two’ also indicates an adequate testimony (2 Corinthians 13:1). The two loaves speak of the testimony of God that is given on earth by the church as a result of the work of the Lord Jesus and is founded upon it.

The breads are breads of wheat. The church has the same life as the Lord Jesus. He is the grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died, and produced much fruit (John 12:24). The church bears witness to what the Lord Jesus has been on earth. The members of the church show the new nature, that is the nature of Him Who is now in heaven.

The church is presented here in the first fruits. Thus the New Testament also speaks of the believers as first fruits (James 1:18; Romans 8:23; Hebrews 12:23).

Many offerings are brought with the wave breads. This fits in with the rich fruit of the work of the Lord Jesus. We see this rich fruit in the church. There is now also a sin offering included in the offerings (Leviticus 23:19). This is necessary to provide for the failure of our testimony before God on earth. This sin offering is missing with the sheaf of the first fruits, which is a picture of the Lord Jesus. There is also a peace offering, the offering that represents the fellowship between God and His people and between the members of the people themselves.

The priest waves the loaves before the LORD. The priest may also eat from it. As priests we may, as God’s witness on earth, as “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), wave the truth of the church back and forth before God. We may tell Him how great that is for Him and us. That is also food for us. It gives strength to put this truth into practice. We must remember, however, that it is about Him Who is the truth and Who is presented in the following verse as the mystery of the fear of God: “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).

To the waving of the loaves another holy convocation is linked. The Lord does not want our meetings to be experienced by us as a kind of service work. He wants us to have our services as feasts for Him. Otherwise, “the feasts of the LORD” become “feasts of the Jews” (John 6:4; John 5:1John 7:2) or a feast of brothers and sisters, which means a great degradation of these feasts.

Verse 22

The Needy and the Alien

This verse is important because of the prophetic meaning of the whole chapter. When the harvest of the first fruits has been harvested, not all the harvests have been harvested. When the church is taken from the earth, there remains a testimony for God on earth. The gleaning is for the needy and the alien. The needy belongs to God’s people. In the needy we see a picture of the remnant that will later be in Jerusalem and that will be miserable and poor. In the alien we see a picture of the nations to whom the gospel of the kingdom will come and that they will accept.

Verses 23-25

Feast of the Blowing of Trumpets

Here begins a new speaking of the LORD, a new part. The feasts that follow now take place in the seventh month, which used to be the first month. It is a new beginning that heralds the end – in Exodus 23 we read of “the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year” (Exodus 23:16). The last three feasts follow each other in quick succession. They are celebrated on the first day, the tenth day, and the fifteenth to the twenty-second day.

With Israel, the month always begins with the new moon and the trumpet must be blown: “Blow the trumpet at the new moon, At the full moon, on our feast day” (Psalms 81:3). The moon receives its light from the sun and reflects that. The testimony of Israel is obscured. But there comes a time when it will start to shine again. That is when the church is raptured. God will first deliver His people from the distress of their enemies. Then the people will pass on again the light that comes from God.

The day starts with rest, to come to reflection. That is always the start of something new. The starting signal is given by the trumpet (Numbers 10:3; Numbers 10:10; Isaiah 27:13). The trumpet is a picture of the Word of God. When God’s Word enters into the heart and conscience, it first works humiliation, stopping one’s own efforts, coming to rest. The first signs of the restoration that Israel will experience will be that they humble themselves before the LORD (Zechariah 12:10-2 Chronicles :). We see that in the next feast.

Verses 26-32

The Day of Atonement

The day of atonement is discussed in detail in Leviticus 16. Here it is about the prophetic connection with the other feasts. The sacrifices for Aaron and his house are not mentioned here. There is only a fire offering. The emphasis here is on humiliation and renunciation of any work.

The thought of atonement must work humility to us. Atonement is necessary because of our sins. We have not been able to bring about this atonement. To reconcile us with God, it was necessary that the Lord Jesus was made sin and poured out His blood, that is, He died, for the wages of sin is death. Through His blood He has worked atonement. It is not possible in any other way.

The joy of the Feast of Booths – the next and concluding feast – must necessarily be preceded by humiliation. Only after the confession, which the people will pronounce with the words of Isaiah 53 (Isaiah 53:1-2 Kings :), it can become a feast. On the day of atonement the High Priest will come from the sanctuary. Then they will see the One Whom they have pierced, and He will forgive them.

Verses 33-36

The Feast of Booths

The harvest of wine and olives are the reason for the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Booths. Wine is a picture of joy (Psalms 104:15), (ointment) oil is a picture of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27). Both are connected to the kingdom of peace. The Holy Spirit will bring joy to all who live in the kingdom of peace. This is the purpose of God’s ways for the earth in general and Israel in particular.

The offerings brought on this feast are described in detail in Numbers 29 (see the explanation there). Israel will understand in the future that the blessing of the kingdom of peace is based solely on the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross.

To the Feast of Booths an eighth day is linked (Leviticus 23:36). It looks forward to eternity. In John 7 the Lord Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit on this eighth day (John 7:37-Malachi :). He says He will come when He is glorified in heaven. This was on Pentecost, which caused the birth of the church. The church is not a subject of prophecy. Prophecy always has to do with the earth, and the church does not belong to the earth, but to heaven, to eternity.

Verses 37-38

The Offerings at the Feasts

Before a further description of the Feast of Booths takes place, a reminder of the most important elements of the feasts takes place as a kind of summary:
1. The feasts must be proclaimed as “holy convocations”. The people must come together to approach God and have fellowship with Him.
2. This fellowship is expressed in a special way in the bringing of offerings.
3. The priests and the whole people are reminded that all other offerings will also be brought, which is reflected by the word “besides”.

Verses 39-44

Remainder of the Feast of Booths

Here the LORD continues the description of to the Feast of Booths. The entire harvest of the land has been collected. Can it be anything else, but that the whole people, full of gratitude to the LORD, celebrate for Him? If we look at all the blessings that God has blessed us with, can it be anything else, but that our hearts flow over with gratitude and joy?

The feast begins with a sabbath’s rest – which does not mean that the first day of the feast also is on a sabbath – and it ends with it. This feast represents the time called “the administration suitable to the fullness of the times” (Ephesians 1:10). This is the time when God’s purpose is fulfilled of “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Christ will then reign over creation as the true Adam together with His church as His wife.

From the different fruits and branches of trees, booths have to be made. It is all symbolic for knowing oneself placed in the blessings of the promised land. The foliage of beautiful trees speaks of enjoyment for tongue and eye. Everything that is tasted and seen is a benefit for the senses of man. There is nothing that disturbs. The palm branches speak of victory and refreshment (John 12:13; Revelation 7:9; Exodus 15:27). The continuous green of the boughs of leafy trees speaks of permanent youthfulness, while the boughs of willows of the brook show that where once was weeping, there joyous cheers have replaced it.

The whole scene of booths is one great hymn of praise for God’s great deeds. He has done everything for the people to bring it into the blessing promised by Him. He led them out of the slavery of Egypt and finally brought them into eternal peace through His ways. Just as He once freed His people from the power of the enemy and brought them into the promised land, so in the near future He will save His people from distress and bring them into the promised blessing. They have lost the blessing of the land through unfaithfulness. That will not happen again in the future. He will give His laws into their hearts, and His people will serve Him. He is worthy of eternal praise for this – and it will happen.

The joy which will soon be the part of Israel and of creation may now already be the part of the believer every day (John 15:11; John 16:24John 17:13; 1 John 1:4). They may and can enjoy that joy because they have new life, life from God, eternal life. They will soon enjoy this life in perfection when the Lord Jesus comes to take the church to Himself.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Leviticus 23". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/leviticus-23.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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