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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 23

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-3


Leviticus 23:1-3

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, The set feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My set feasts. Six days shall work be done: but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of work: it is a sabbath unto the Lord in all your dwellings."

The first verse of this chapter announces the purpose of the section as not to give a complete calendar of sacred times or of seasons of worship, -for the new moons and the sabbatic year and the jubilee are not mentioned, - but to enumerate such sacred times as are to be kept as "holy convocations." The reference in this phrase cannot be to an assembling of the people at the central sanctuary which is elsewhere ordered {Exodus 34:23} only for the three feasts of passover, weeks, and atonement; but rather, doubtless, to local gatherings for purposes of worship, such as, at a later day, took form in the institution of the synagogues.

The enumeration of these "set times" begins with the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3), as was natural; for, as we have seen, the whole series of sacred times was sabbatic in character. The sanctity of the day is emphasised in the strongest terms, as a shabbath shabbathon, a "sabbath of sabbatism,"-a sabbath of solemn rest, as it is rendered by the Revisers. While on some other sacred seasons the usual occupations of the household were permitted, on the Sabbath "no manner of work" was to be done; not even was it lawful to gather wood or to light a fire.

For this sanctity of the Sabbath two reasons are elsewhere given. The first of these, which is assigned in the fourth commandment, makes it a memorial of the rest of God, when having created man in Eden, He saw His work which He had finished, that it was very good, and rested from all His work. As created, man was participant in this rest of God. He was indeed to work in tilling the garden in which he had been placed; but from such labour as involves unremunerative toil and exhaustion he was exempt. But this sabbatic rest of the creation was interrupted by sin; God’s work, which He had declared "good," was marred; man fell into a condition of wearying toil and unrest of body and soul, and with him the whole creation also was "subjected to vanity". {Genesis 3:17-18 Romans 8:20} But in this state of things the God of love could not rest; it thus involved for Him a work of new creation, which should have for its object the complete restoration, both as regards man and nature, of that sabbatic state of things on earth which had been broken up by sin. And thus it came to pass that the weekly Sabbath looked not only backward, but forward; and spoke not only of the rest that was, but of the great sabbatism of the future, to be brought in through a promised redemption. Hence, as a second reason for the observance of the Sabbath, it is said {; Exodus 31:13} to be a sign between God and Israel through all their generations, that they might know that He was Jehovah which sanctified them, i.e., who had set them apart for deliverance from the curse, that through them the world might be saved.

These are thus the two sabbatic ideas; rest and redemption. They everywhere appear, in one form or another, in all this sabbatic series of sacred times. Some of them emphasise one phase of the rest and redemption, and some another; the weekly Sabbath, as the unit of the series, presents both. For in Deuteronomy {Deuteronomy 5:15} Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath in commemoration of the exodus, as the time when God undertook to bring them into His rest; a rest of which the beginning and the pledge was their deliverance from Egyptian bondage; a rest brought in through a redemption.

Verses 1-44


Leviticus 23:1-44

IT is ever an instinct of natural religion to observe certain set times for special public and united worship. As we should therefore anticipate, such observances are in this chapter enjoined as a part of the requirement of the law of holiness for Israel.

It is of consequence to observe that the Revisers have corrected the error of the Authorised Version, which renders two perfectly distinct words alike as "feasts"; and have distinguished the one by the translation. "set feasts," the other by the one word, "feasts." The precise sense of the former word is given in the margin "appointed seasons." and it is naturally applied to all the set times of special religious solemnity which are ordained in this chapter. But the other word translated "feast,"-derived from a root meaning "to dance," whence "feast" or "festival,"-is applied to only three of the former six "appointed seasons," namely, the feasts of Unleavened Bread, of Pentecost, and of Tabernacles; as intended to be, in a special degree, seasons of gladness and festivity.

The indication of this distinction is of importance, as completely meeting the allegation that there is in this chapter evidence of a later development than in the account of the feasts given in Exodus 34:1-35, where the number of the "feasts," besides the weekly Sabbath, is given as three, while here, as it is asserted, their number has been increased to six. In reality, however, there is nothing here which suggests a later period. For the object of the former law in Exodus was only to name the "feasts" (haggim); while that of the chapter before us is to indicate not only these, -which here, as there, are three, -but, in addition to these, all "appointed seasons" for "holy convocations," which, although all mo’adim, were not all haggim.

The observance of public religious festivals has been common to all the chief religions of the world, both ancient and modern. Very often, though not in all cases, these have been determined by the phases of the moon; or by the apparent motion of the sun in the heavens, as in many instances of religious celebrations connected with the period of the spring and autumnal equinoxes; and thus, very naturally, also with the times of harvest and ingathering. It is at once evident that of these appointed seasons of holy convocation, the three feasts (haggim) of the Hebrews also fell at certain points in the harvest season; and with each of these, ceremonies were observed connected with harvest and ingathering; while two, the feast of weeks and that of tabernacles, take alternate names, directly referring to this their connection with the harvest; namely, the feast of first fruits and that of ingathering. Thus we have, first, the feast of unleavened bread, following passover, which was distinguished by the presentation of a sheaf of the first fruits of the barley harvest, in the latter part of March, or early in April; then, the feast of weeks, or first fruits, seven weeks later, marking the completion of the grain harvest with the ingathering of the wheat; and, finally, the feast of tabernacles or ingathering, in the seventh month, marking the harvesting of the fruits, especially the oil and the wine, and therewith the completed ingathering of the whole product of the year.

From these facts it is argued that in these Hebrew feasts we have simply a natural development, with modifications, of the ancient and widespread system of harvest feasts among the heathen; to which the historical element which appears in some of them was only added as an afterthought, in a later period of history. From this point of view, the idea that these feasts were a matter of supernatural revelation disappears; what religious character they have belongs originally to the universal religion of nature.

But it is to be remarked, first, that even if we admit that in their original character these were simply and only harvest feasts, it would not follow that therefore their observance, with certain prescribed ceremonies, could not have been matter of Divine revelation. There is a religion of nature; God has not left Himself without a witness, in that He has given men "rains and fruitful seasons," filling their hearts with food and gladness. And, as already remarked in regard to sacrifice, it is no part of the method of God in revelation to ignore or reject what in this religion of nature may be true and right; but rather to use it, and build on this foundation.

But, again, the mere fact that the feast of unleavened bread fell at the beginning of barley harvest, and that one-though only one-ceremony appointed for that festive week had explicit reference to the then beginning harvest, is not sufficient to disprove the uniform declaration of Scripture that, as observed in Israel, its original ground was not natural, but historical; namely, in the circumstances attending the birth of the nation in their exodus from Egypt.

But we may say more than this. If the contrary were true, and the introduction of the historical element was an afterthought, as insisted by some, then we should expect to find that in accounts belonging to successive periods, the reference to the harvest would certainly be more prominent in the earlier, and the reference of the feast to a historical origin more prominent in the later, accounts of the feasts. Most singular it is then, upon this hypothesis, to find that even accepting the analysis, e.g., of Wellhausen, the facts are the exact reverse. For the only brief reference to the harvest in connection with this feast of unleavened bread is found in this chapter 23, of Leviticus, composed, it is alleged, about the time of Ezekiel; while, on the other hand, the narrative in Exodus 12:1-51, regarded by all the critics of this school as the earliest account of the origin of the feast of unleavened bread, refers only to the historical event of the exodus, as the occasion of its institution. If we grant the asserted difference in age of these two parts of the Pentateuch, one would thus more naturally conclude that the historical events were the original occasion of the institution of the festival, and that the reference to the harvest, in the presentation of the sheaf of first fruits, was the later introduction into the ceremonies of the week.

But the truth is that this naturalistic identification of these Hebrew feasts with the harvest feasts of other nations is a mistake. In order to make it out, it is necessary to ignore or pervert most patent facts. These so-called harvest feasts in fact form part of an elaborate system of sacred times, -a system which is based upon the Sabbath, and into which the sacred number seven, the number of the covenant, enters throughout as a formative element. The weekly Sabbath, first of all, was the seventh day; the length of the great festivals of unleavened bread and of tabernacles was also, in each case, seven days. Not only so, but the entire series of sacred times mentioned in this chapter and in chapter 25 constitutes an ascending series of sacred septenaries, in which the ruling thought is this: that the seventh is holy unto the Lord, as the number symbolic of rest and redemption; and that the eighth, as the first of a new week, is symbolic of the new creation. Thus we have the seventh day, the weekly Sabbath, constantly recurring, the type of each of the series; then, counting from the feast of unleavened bread, -the first of the sacred year, -the fiftieth day, at the end of the seventh week, is signalised as sacred by the feast of first fruits or of "weeks"; the seventh month, again, is the sabbatic month, of special sanctity, containing as it does three of the annual seasons of holy convocation, -the feast of trumpets on its first day, the great day of atonement on the tenth, and the last of the three great annual feasts, that of tabernacles or ingathering, for seven days from the fifteenth day of the month. Beyond this series of sacred festivals recurring annually, in chapter 25, the seventh year is appointed to be a sabbatic year of rest to the land, and the series at last culminates at the expiration of seven sevens of years, in the fiftieth year, -the eighth following the seventh seven, -the great year of jubilee, the supreme year of rest, restoration, and release. All these sacred times, differing in the details of their observance, are alike distinguished by their connection with the sacred number seven, by the informing presence of the idea of the Sabbath, and therewith always a new and fuller revelation of God as in covenant with Israel for their redemption.

Now, like to this series of sacred times, in heathenism there is absolutely nothing. It evidently belongs to another realm of thought, ethics, and religion. And so, while it is quite true that in the three great feasts there was a reference to the harvest, and so to fruitful nature, yet the fundamental, unifying idea of the system of sacred times was not the recognition of the fruitful life of nature, as in the heathen festivals, but of Jehovah, as the Author and Sustainer of the life of His covenant people Israel, as also of every individual in the nation. This, we repeat, is the one central thought in all these sacred seasons; not the life of nature, but the life of the holy nation, as created and sustained by a covenant God. The annual processes of nature have indeed a place and a necessary recognition in the system, simply because the personal God is active in all nature; but the place of these is not primary, but secondary and subordinate. They have a recognition because, in the first place, it is through the bounty of God in nature that the life of man is sustained; and, secondly, also because nature in her order is a type and shadow of things spiritual. For in the spiritual world, whether we think of it as made up of nations or individuals, even as in the natural, there is a seedtime and a harvest, a time of first fruits and a time of the joy and rest of the full ingathering of fruit, and oil, and wine. Hence it was most fitting that this inspired rubric, as primarily intended for the celebration of spiritual things, should be so arranged and timed, in all its parts, as that in each returning sacred season, visible nature should present itself to Israel as a manifest parable and eloquent suggestion of those spiritual verities; the more so that thus the Israelite would be reminded that the God of the Exodus and the God of Sinai was also the supreme Lord of nature, the God of the seed time and harvest, the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth, and of all that in them is.

Verses 4-14


Leviticus 23:4-14

"These are the set feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their appointed season. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, is the Lord’s passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the Lord: seven days ye shall eat unleavened bread. In the first day ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work. But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord seven days: in the seventh day is a holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest unto the priest: and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. And in the day when ye wave the sheaf, ye shall offer a he-lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the Lord. And the meal offering thereof shall be two tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the Lord for a sweet savour: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of a hin. And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor fresh ears, until this selfsame day, until ye have brought the oblation of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings."

Leviticus 23:5-8 give the law for the first of the annual feasts, the passover and unleavened bread. The passover lamb was to be slain and eaten on the evening of the fourteenth day; and thereafter, for seven days, they were all to eat unleavened bread. The first and seventh days of unleavened bread were to be kept as a "holy convocation"; in both of which "servile work," i.e., the usual occupations in the field or in one’s handicraft, were forbidden. Further than this the restriction did not extend.

The utter impossibility of making this feast of passover also to have been at first merely a harvest festival is best shown by the signal failure of the many attempts to explain on this theory the name "passover" as applied to the sacrificial victim, and the exclusion of leaven for the whole period. Admit the statements of the Pentateuch on this subject, and all is simple. The feast was a most suitable commemoration by Israel of the solemn circumstances under which they began their national life; their exemption from the plague of the death of the firstborn, through the blood of a slain victim; and their exodus thereafter in such haste that they stopped not to leaven their bread.

And there was a deeper spiritual meaning than this. Whereas, secured by the sprinkling of blood, they then fed in safety on the flesh of the victim, by which they received strength for their flight from Egypt, the same two thoughts were thereby naturally suggested which we have seen represented in the peace offering; namely, friendship and fellowship with God secured through sacrifice, and life sustained by His bounty. And the unleavened bread, also, had more than a historic reference; else it had sufficed to eat it only on the anniversary night, and it had not been commanded also to put away the leaven from their houses. For leaven is the established symbol of moral corruption; and in that the passover lamb having been slain, Israel must abstain for a full septenary period of a week from every use of leaven, it was signified in symbol that the redeemed nation must not live by means of what is evil, but be a holy people, according to their calling. And the inseparable connection of this with full consecration of person and service, and with the expiation of sin, was daily symbolised (Leviticus 23:8) by the "offerings made by fire," burnt offerings, meal offerings, and sin offerings, "offerings made by fire unto the Lord."

On "the morrow after the Sabbath" (Leviticus 23:15) of this sacred week, it was ordered (Leviticus 23:10) that "the sheaf of the first fruits of the (barley) harvest" should be brought "unto the priest"; and (Leviticus 23:11) that he should consecrate it unto the Lord, by the ceremony of waving it before Him. This wave offering of the sheaf of first fruits was to be accompanied (Leviticus 23:2-13) by a burnt offering, a meal offering, and a drink offering of wine. Until all this was done (Leviticus 23:14) they were to "eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor fresh ears" of the new harvest. By the consecration of the first fruits is ever signified the consecration of the whole, of which it is the first part, unto the Lord. By this act, Israel, at the very beginning of their harvest, solemnly consecrated the whole harvest to the Lord; and are only permitted to use it, when they receive it thus as a gift from Him. This ethical reference to the harvest is here expressly taught; but still more was thereby taught in symbol.

For Israel was declared {Exodus 4:22} to be God’s firstborn; that is, in the great redemptive plan of God, which looks forward to the final salvation of all nations, Israel ever comes historically first. "The Jew first, and also the Greek," is the New Testament formula of this fundamental dispensational truth. The offering unto God, therefore, of the sheaf of first fruits, at the very beginning of the harvest, -in fullest harmony with the historic reference of this feast, which commemorated Israel’s deliverance from bondage and separation from the nations, as a first fruits of redemption, -symbolically signified the consecration of Israel unto God as the firstborn unto Him from the nations, the beginning of the world’s great harvest.

But this is not all. For in these various ceremonies of this first of the feasts, all who acknowledge the authority of the New Testament will recognise a yet more profound, and prophetic, spiritual meaning. Passover and unleavened bread not only looked backward, but forward. For the Apostle Paul writes, addressing all believers: {1 Corinthians 7:1-40; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13} "Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ: wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth";-an exposition so plain that comment is scarcely needed. And as following upon the passover, on the morrow after the Sabbath, the first day of the week, the sheaf of first fruits was presented ‘before Jehovah, so in type is brought before us that of which the same Apostle tells us, {; 1 Corinthians 15:20} that Christ, in that He rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, became "the first fruits of them that are asleep"; thus, for the first time, finally and exhaustively fulfilling this type, in full accord also with His own representation of Himself {John 12:24} as "a grain of wheat;” which should "fall into the earth and die, and then, living again, bear much fruit."

Verses 15-21


Leviticus 23:15-21

"And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall there be complete: even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meal offering unto the Lord. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth parts of an ephah: they shall be of fine flour, they shall be baken with leaven, for first fruits unto the Lord. And ye shall present with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be a burnt offering unto the Lord, with their meal offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord. And ye shall offer one he-goat for a sin offering, and two he-lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. And ye shall make proclamation on the selfsame day; there shall be a holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work: it is a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations."

Next in order came the feast of first fruits, or the feast of weeks, which, because celebrated on the fiftieth day after the presentation of the wave sheaf in passover week, has come to be known as Pentecost, from the Greek numeral signifying fifty. It was ordered that the fiftieth day after this presentation of the first sheaf of the harvest should be kept as a day of "holy convocation," with abstinence from all "servile work." The former festival had marked the absolute beginning of the harvest with the first sheaf of barley; this marked the completion of the grain harvest with the reaping of the wheat. In the former, the sheaf was presented as it came from the field; in this case, the offering was of the grain as prepared for food. It was ordered (Leviticus 23:16) that on this day "a new meal offering" should be offered. It should be brought out of their habitations and be baken with leaven. In both particulars, it was unlike the ordinary meal offerings, because the offering was to represent the ordinary food of the people. Accompanied with a sevenfold burnt offering, and a sin offering, and two lambs of peace offerings, these were to be waved before the Lord for their acceptance, after the manner of the wave sheaf (Leviticus 23:18-20). On the altar they could not come, because they were baken with leaven.

This festival, as one of the sabbatic series, celebrated the rest after the labours of the grain harvest, a symbol of the great sabbatism to follow that harvest which is "the end of the age". {Matthew 13:39} As a consecration, it dedicated unto God the daily food of the nation for the coming year. As passover reminded them that God was the Creator of Israel, so herein, receiving their daily bread from Him, they were reminded that He was also the Sustainer of Israel; while the full accompaniment of burnt offerings and peace offerings expressed their full consecration and happy state of friendship with Jehovah, secured through the expiation of the sin offering.

Was this feast also, like passover, prophetic? The New Testament is scarcely less clear than in the former case. For after that Christ, first having been slain as "our Passover," had then risen from the dead as the "Firstfruits," fulfilling the type of the wave sheaf on the morning of the Sabbath, fifty days passed; "and when the day of Pentecost was fully come," came that great outpouring of the Holy Ghost, the conversion of three thousand out of many lands, {Acts 2:1-47} and therewith the formation of that Church Of the New Testament whose members the Apostle James declares {; James 1:18} to be "a kind of first fruits of God’s creatures." Thus, as the sheaf had typified Christ as "the Firstborn from the dead," the presentation on the day of Pentecost of the two wave loaves, the product of the sheaf of grain, no less evidently typified the presentation unto God of the Church of the firstborn, the first fruits of Christ’s death and resurrection, as constituted on that sacred day. This then was the complete fulfilment of the feast of weeks regarded as a redemptive type, showing how, not only rest, but also redemption was comprehended in the significance of the sabbatic idea. And yet, that complete redemption was not therewith attained by that Church of the firstborn on Pentecost was presignified in that the two wave loaves were to be baken with leaven. The feast of unleavened bread had exhibited the ideal of the Christian life; that of first fruits, the imperfection of the earthly attainment. On earth the leaven of sin still abides.

Verses 23-25


Leviticus 23:23-25

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work: and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord."

By a very natural association of thought, in Leviticus 23:22 the direction to leave the gleaning of the harvest for the poor and the stranger is repeated verbally from Leviticus 19:9-10. Thereupon we pass from the feast of the seventh week to the solemnities of the seventh month, in which the series of annual sabbatic seasons ended. It was thus, by eminence the sabbatic season of the year. Of the "set times" of this chapter, three fell in this month, and of these, two-the day of atonement and tabernacles-were of supreme significance: the former being distinguished by the most august religious solemnity of the year, the entrance of the high priest into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the sins of the nation; the latter marking the completion of the ingathering of the products of the year, with the fruit, the oil, and the wine. Of this sabbatic month, it is directed (Leviticus 23:25) that the first day be kept as a shabbathon, " a solemn rest," marked by abstinence from all the ordinary business of life, and a holy convocation. The special ceremony of the day, which gave it its name, is described as a "memorial of blowing of trumpets." This "blowing of trumpets" was a reminder, not from Israel to God, as some have fancied, but from God to Israel. It was an announcement from the King of Israel to His people that the glad sabbatic month had begun, and that the great day of atonement, and the supreme festivity of the feast of tabernacles; was now at hand.

That the first day of this sabbatic month should be thus sanctified was but according to the Mosaic principle that the consecration of anything signifies the consecration unto God of the whole. "If the first fruit is holy, so also the lump"; in like manner, if the first day, so is the month. Trumpets - though not the same probably as used on this occasion-were also blown on other occasions, and, in particular, at the time of each new moon; but, according to tradition, these only by the priests and at the central sanctuary; while in this feast of trumpets everyone blew who would, and throughout the whole land.

Verses 26-32


Leviticus 23:26-32

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Howbeit on the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement: it shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls: and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. And ye shall do no manner of work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any manner of work in that same day, that soul will I destroy from among his people. Ye shall do no manner of work: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a sabbath of solemn rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even shall ye keep your sabbath."

After this festival of annunciation, followed, on the tenth day of the month, the great annual day of atonement. This has already come before us (chapter 13) in its relation to the sacrificial system, of which the sin offering of this day was the culmination. But this chapter brings it before us in another aspect, namely, in its relation to the annual septenary series of sacred seasons, the final festival of which it preceded and introduced.

Its significance, as thus coming in this final seventh and sabbatic month of the ecclesiastical year. lay not merely in the strictness of the rest which was commanded (Leviticus 23:28-30) from every manner of work, but, still more, in that it expressed in a far higher degree than any other festival the other sabbatic idea of complete restoration brought in through expiation for sin. This was indeed the central thought of the whole ceremonial of the day, -the complete removal of all those sins of the nation which stood between them and God, and hindered complete restoration to God’s favour. And while this restoration was symbolised by the sacrifice of the sin offering, and its presentation and acceptance before Jehovah in the Holy of Holies; yet, that none might hence argue from the fact of atonement to license to sin, it was ordained (Leviticus 23:27) that the people should "afflict their souls," namely, by fasting, in token of their penitence for the sins for which atonement was made; and the absolute necessity of this condition of repentance in order to any benefit from the high priestly sacrifice and intercession was further emphasised by the solemn threat (Leviticus 23:29): "Whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from his people."

These then were the lessons-lessons of transcendent moment for all people and all ages-which were set forth in the great atonement of the sabbatic month, -the complete removal of sin by an expiatory offering, conditioned on the part of the worshipper by the obedience of faith and sincere repentance for the sin, and issuing in rest and full establishment in God’s loving favour.

Verses 33-43


Leviticus 23:33-43

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord. On the first day shall be a holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work. Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: on the eighth day shall be a holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: it is a solemn assembly; ye shall do no servile work. These are the set feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord, a burnt offering, and a meal offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, each on its own day: beside the sabbaths of the Lord, and beside your gifts, and beside all your vows, and beside all your freewill offerings, which ye give unto the Lord. Howbeit on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruits of the land, ye shall keep the feast of the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. And ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year: it is a statute forever in your generations: ye shall keep it in the seventh month. Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are homeborn in Israel shall dwell in booths: that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."

The sin of Israel having been thus removed, the last and the greatest of all the feasts followed the feast of tabernacles or ingathering. It occupied a full week (Leviticus 23:34), from the fifteenth to the twenty-second of the month, the first day being signalised by a holy convocation and abstinence from all servile work (Leviticus 23:35). Two reasons are indicated, here and elsewhere, for the observance: the one, natural (Leviticus 23:39), the completed ingathering of the products of the year; the other, historical (Leviticus 23:42-43), -it was to be a memorial of the days when Israel dwelt in booths in the wilderness. Both ideas were represented in the direction (Leviticus 23:40) that they should take on the first day "the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook," fitly symbolising the product of the vine and the fruit trees which were harvested in this month; and, making booths of these, all were to dwell in these tabernacles, and "rejoice before the Lord their God seven days." And to this the historical reason is added, "that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt."

No one need feel any difficulty in seeing in this a connection with similar harvest and vintage customs among other peoples of that time. That other nations had festivities of this kind at that time, was surely no reason why God should not order these to be taken up into the Mosaic law, elevated in their significance, and sanctified to higher ends. Nothing could be more fitting than that the completion of the ingathering of the products of the year should be celebrated as a time of rejoicing and a thanksgiving day before Jehovah. Indeed, so natural is such a festivity to religious minds, that-as is well known-in the first instance, New England, and then, afterward, the whole United States, and also the Dominion of Canada, have established the observance of an annual "Thanksgiving Day" in the latter part of the autumn, which is observed by public religious services, by suspension of public business, and as a glad day of reunion of kindred and friends. It is interesting to observe how this last feature of the day is also mentioned in the case of this Hebrew feast, in the later form of the law: {Deuteronomy 16:13-15} "After that thou hast gathered in from thy threshing floor and from thy winepress thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates, and thou shalt be altogether joyful."

The chief sentiment of the feast was thus joy and thanksgiving to God as the Giver of all good. Yet the joy was not to be merely natural and earthly, but spiritual; they were to rejoice (Leviticus 23:40) "before the Lord." And the thanksgiving was not to be expressed merely in words, but in deeds. The week, we are elsewhere told, was signalised by the largest burnt offerings of any of the feasts, consisting of a total of seventy bullocks, beginning with thirteen on the first day, and diminishing by one each day; while these again were accompanied daily by burnt offerings of fourteen lambs and two rams, the double of what was enjoined even for the week of unleavened bread, with meal offerings and drink offerrings in proportion. Nor was this outward ritual expression of thanksgiving enough; for their gratitude was to be further attested by taking into their glad festivities the Levite who had no portion, the fatherless and the widow, and even. the stranger.

It is not hard to see the connection of all this with the historical reference to the days of their wilderness journeyings. Lest they might forget God in nature, they were to recall to mind, by their dwelling in booths, the days when they had no houses, and no fields nor crops, when, notwithstanding, none the less easily the Almighty God of Israel fed them with manna which they knew not, that He might make them to "know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every thing that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Deuteronomy 8:3." There is, indeed, no better illustration of the intention of this part of the feast than those words with their context as they occur in Deuteronomy.

The ceremonies of the feast of tabernacles having been completed with the appointed seven days, there followed an eighth day, -an holy convocation, a festival of solemn rest (Leviticus 23:36, Leviticus 23:39). This last day of holy solemnity and joy, to which a special name is given, is properly to be regarded, not as a part of the feast of tabernacles merely, but as celebrating the termination of the whole series of sabbatic times from the first to the seventh month. No ceremonial is here enjoined except the holy convocation, and the offering of "an offering made by fire unto the Lord," with abstinence from all servile work.


We have already seen that the earlier feasts of the year were also prophetic; that Passover and Unleavened Bread pointed forward to Christ, our Passover, slain for us; Pentecost, to the spiritual ingathering of the first fruits of the world’s harvest, fifty days after the presentation of our Lord in resurrection, as the wave sheaf of the first fruits. We may therefore safely infer that these remaining feasts of the seventh month must be typical also. But, if so, typical of what? Two things may be safely said in this matter. The significance of the three festivals of this seventh month must be interpreted in harmony with what has already passed into fulfilment; and, in the second place, inasmuch as the feast of trumpets, the day of atonement, and the feast of tabernacles all belong to the seventh and last month of the ecclesiastical year, they must find their fulfilment in connection with what Scripture calls "the last times."

Keeping the first point in view, we may then safely say that if Pentecost typified the first fruits of the world’s harvest in the ingathering of an election from all nations, the feast of tabernacles must then typify the completion of that harvest in a spiritual ingathering, final and universal. Not only so, but, inasmuch as in the antitypical fulfilment of the wave sheaf in the resurrection of our Lord, we were reminded that the consummation of the new creation is in resurrection from the dead, and that in regeneration is therefore involved resurrection, hence the feast of tabernacles, as celebrating the absolute completion of the year’s harvest, must typify also the resurrection season, when all that are Christ’s shall rise from the dead at His coming. And, finally, whereas this means for the now burdened earth permanent deliverance from the curse, and the beginning of a new age thus signalised by glorious life in resurrection, in which are enjoyed the blessed fruits of life’s labours and pains for Christ, this was shadowed forth by the ordinance that immediately upon the seven days of tabernacles should follow a feast of the eighth day, the first day of a new week, in celebration of the beginning season of rest from all the labours of the field.

Most beautifully, thus regarded, does all else connected with the feast of tabernacles correspond, as type to antitype, to the revelation of the last things, and therein reveal its truest and deepest spiritual significance: the joy, the reunion, the rejoicing with son and with daughter, the fulness of gladness also for the widow and the fatherless; and this, not only for those in Israel, but also for the stranger, not of Israel, -for Gentile as well as Israelite was to have part in the festivity of that day; and, again, the full attainment of the most complete consecration, signified in the tenfold burnt offering-all finds its place here. And so now we can see why it was that our Saviour declared {Matthew 13:39} that the end of this present age should be the time of harvest; and how Paul, looking at the future spiritual ingathering, places the ingathering of the Gentiles {; Romans 11:25} as one of the last things. In full accord with this interpretation of the typical significance of this feast it is that in Zechariah 14:1-21 we find it written that in the predicted day of the Lord, when (Zechariah 14:5) the Lord "shall come, and all the holy ones" with Him, and (Zechariah 14:9) "the Lord shall be King over all the earth; the Lord one, and His name one," then (Zechariah 14:16) "everyone that is left of all the nations shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles"; and, moreover, that so completely shall consecration be realised in that day that (Zechariah 14:20) even upon the bells of the horses shall the words be inscribed, "HOLY UNTO THE LORD!" But before the joyful feast of tabernacles could be celebrated, the great, sorrowful day of atonement must be kept, -a season marked, on the one hand, by affliction of soul throughout all Israel; on the other, by the complete putting away of the sin of the nation for the whole year, through the presentation of the blood of the sin offering by the high priest, within the veil before the mercy seat. Now, if the feast of tabernacles has been correctly interpreted, as presignifying in symbol the completion of the great world harvest in the end of the age, does the prophetic word reveal anything in connection with the last things as preceding that great harvest, and, in some sense, preparing for and ushering in that day, which should be the antitype of the great day of atonement?

One can hardly miss of the answer. For precisely that which the prophets and apostles both represent as the event which shall usher in that great day of final ingathering and of blessed resurrection rest and joy in consummated redemption, is the national repentance of Israel, and the final cleansing of their age-long sin. In the type, two things are conspicuous: the great sorrowing of the nation and the great atonement putting away all Israel’s sin. And two things, in like manner, are conspicuous in the prophetic pictures of the antitype, namely, Israel’s heartbroken repentance, and the removal thereupon of Israel’s sin; their cleansing in the "fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." As Zechariah puts it, {Zechariah 12:10; Zechariah 13:1} "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced: and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son"; and "in that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness." And the relation of this cleansing of Israel to the days of blessing which follow is most explicitly set forth by the Apostle Paul, in these words concerning Israel, {; Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15} "If their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? If the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?"

So far, then, all seems clear. But the feast of trumpets yet remains to be explained. Has Holy Scripture predicted anything falling in the period between Pentecost and the repentance of Israel, but specially belonging to the last things, which might with reason be regarded as the antitype of this joyful feast of trumpets? Here, again, it is not easy to go far astray: For the essential idea of the trumpet call is announcement, proclamation. From time to time all through the year the trumpet call was heard in Israel; but on this occasion it became the feature of the day, and was universal throughout their land. And as we have seen, its special significance for that time was to announce that the day of atonement and the feast of ingathering, which typified the full consummation of the kingdom of God, were now at hand. One can thus hardly fail to think at once of that other event which, according to our Lord’s express word, {Matthew 24:14} is immediately to precede "the end," namely, the universal proclamation of the Gospel: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come." As throughout the year, from time to time, the trumpet call was heard in Israel, but only in connection with the central sanctuary; but now in all the land, as the chief thing in the celebration of the day which ushered in the final sabbatic month, precisely so in the antitype. All through the ages has the Gospel been sounded forth, but in a partial and limited way; but at "the time of the end" the proclamation shall become universal. And thus and then shall the feast of trumpets also, like Passover and Pentecost, pass into complete fulfilment, and be swiftly followed by Israel’s repentance and restoration, and the consequent reappearing, as Peter predicts, {; Acts 3:19-21 R.V} of Israel’s High Priest from within the veil, and thereupon the harvest of the world, the resurrection of the just, and the consummation upon earth of the glorified kingdom of God.

Of many thoughts of a practical kind which this chapter suggests, we may perhaps well dwell especially on one. The ideal of religious life, which these set times of the Lord kept before Israel, was a religion of joy. Again and again is this spoken of in the accounts of these feasts. This is true even of Passover, with which we oftener, though mistakenly, connect thoughts of sadness and gloom. Yet Passover was a feast of joy; it celebrated the birthday of the nation, and a deliverance unparalleled in history. The only exception to this joyful character in all these sacred times is found in the day of atonement; but it is itself instructive on the same point, teaching most clearly that in the Divine order, as in the necessity of the case, the joy in the Lord, of which the feast of ingathering was the supreme expression, must be preceded by and grounded in an accepted expiation and true penitence for sin.

So it is still with the religion of the Bible: it is a religion of joy. God does not wish us to be gloomy and sad. He desires that we should ever be joyful before Him, and thus find by blessed experience that "the joy of the Lord is our strength." Also, in particular, we do well to observe further that, inasmuch as all these set times were sabbatic seasons, joyfulness is inseparably connected with the Biblical conception of the Sabbath. This has been too often forgotten; and the weekly day of sabbatic rest has sometimes been made a day of stern repression and forbidding gloom. How utterly astray are such conceptions from the Divine ideal, we shall perhaps the more clearly see when we call to mind the thought which appears more or less distinctly in all these sabbatic seasons, that every Sabbath points forward to the eternal joy of the consummated kingdom, the sabbath rest which remaineth for the people of God. {Hebrews 4:9}

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Leviticus 23". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/leviticus-23.html.
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