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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 23

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



Time, as a priceless gift of God, is subject to his claims. In addition to the seventh day he set apart other times to be observed by the Israelites for the threefold purpose of preserving a knowledge of the great facts on which their religion was based, of the maintenance of the feeling of national unity, and of developing their religious sentiments. These are the passover, in memory of the miraculous deliverance from Egypt; and two festivals which plainly have an agricultural significance the feast of firstfruits, variously styled the feast of wheat-harvest, of weeks, or pentecost, and the feast of ingathering, called also the feast of tabernacles. It is supposed that the feast of pentecost commemorates the giving of the law, which was given just fifty days after the exode; but no Scripture proof can be cited for this opinion. Great wisdom is manifest in the times selected for the three great national gatherings. The passover was just before the harvest, pentecost between the grain harvest and the vintage, and the feast of tabernacles was called the ingathering because, like the national thanksgiving in the United States, it occurred after all the products of the soil were garnered. Two important events subsequent to the Mosaic era gave rise to two additional feasts, namely, Purim, (Esther 9:20,) celebrating the providential deliverance of the Jews from the massacre plotted by Haman, and the Dedication, ( 1Ma 4:56 ), commemorating the renewal of the temple worship after the three years’ profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes.


(1.) In the celebration of three of these festivals, called the great feasts, all the males were to appear before the Lord at the tabernacle or in Jerusalem. Deuteronomy 16:16. This requirement, together with the prohibition of sacrifices, except in the one place chosen by Jehovah, is a key to the whole dispensation of Judaism. It shows that it was designed to be a purely local religion, confined to limits so narrow that its adherents could easily perform the great offices of the worship in person in the holy city thrice every year. Hence the system must be strictly conservative, and not aggressive and all conquering. In perfect accord with this is the absence, in the Old Testament, of all commands of a missionary character, like the great commission given by Jesus Christ to disciple all nations. The conservative character of Judaism would not of itself, if Jehovah were a mere national divinity, betoken that it was a preparation for a future world-wide system. But when we find Him styling himself “the Most High,” who hath divided to the nations their inheritance, (Deuteronomy 32:8,) and solemnly affirming that there is no respect of persons with him, (2 Chronicles 19:7,) we have sufficient ground for the expectation that a universal scheme of religion will, in due time, spring up from the germ of the Jewish Church, affording to the whole human family the opportunity of acceptable worship, not in Jerusalem only, but everywhere, where men “worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23.

(2.) The great difficulty which arises from interpreting the sabbath in Leviticus 23:11 to signify the decalogue sabbath is this it requires the year to begin invariably on the seventh day of the week in order to make the fifteenth and twenty-first of the first month fall on the sabbath. But since three hundred and sixty-five is not an exact multiple of seven, we have an odd day to dispose of. There are only two ways out of this difficulty, either to make one week contain eight days, in violation of the decalogue and of the deep-seated respect for the seventh day in the bosom of every pious Jew, or the year must begin one day earlier every year, which in a century would carry the harvest month back to the month of seed-time, and completely confound and destroy the agricultural significance of the festivals, and their appropriateness as anniversaries of historical events. Hence the great majority of writers consider the beginnings of the festivals as movable, so that pentecost would one year in seven fall on Sunday, as it probably did in the year of the ascension of our Lord Jesus. See Alford on Acts 2:1.

(3.) Besides their religious purpose, the great festivals must have had an important bearing on the maintenance of a feeling of national unity. This may be traced in the apprehensions of Jeroboam, (1 Kings 12:26-27,) and in the attempt at reformation by Hezekiah, (2 Chronicles 30:1,) as well as in the necessity which, in later times, was felt by the Roman government of mustering a considerable military force at Jerusalem during the festivals. (Josephus, Antiquities, Leviticus 17:9 ; Leviticus 17:3; Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 17:2. Compare Matthew 26:5; Luke 13:1.) Another effect of these festivals Michaelis has found in the furtherance of internal commerce. They would give rise to something resembling our modern fairs. Among the Mohammedans similar festivals have had this effect.

Verses 1-2

THE FEASTS OF THE LORD, Leviticus 23:1-2.

These festivals of Jehovah were by no means secular banquets, but religions assemblies convened at an appointed time and place.

Verse 2

2. Holy convocations The people were required to convene for no worldly end, but to worship Jehovah in the manner which he appointed. The term “convocation” is invariably applied to meetings of a religious character. With one exception (Isaiah 1:13) the term is peculiar to the Pentateuch.

Verse 3


3. The seventh day is the sabbath See notes on Exodus 16:23; Exodus 20:8-11.

Ye shall do no work Except in obedience to the higher law of brotherly kindness, (Exodus 23:4; Deuteronomy 22:1-4,) and of compassion to the brute creature, (Matthew 12:11,) commonly called works of necessity and of mercy.

Verse 5

THE PASSOVER, Leviticus 23:4-8.

5. First month This was called Abib previous to the Babylonish captivity, and Nisan afterward. The passover and the exode from Egypt were events of so great importance that the Israelites were instructed to reckon the ecclesiastical year from that point of time. Exodus 12:2. The months were lunar, and began at the announcement of the new moon. The cycle of religious feasts, commencing with the passover, depended not simply on the month, but on the moon; the fourteenth of Nisan was coincident with the full moon.

The Lord’s passover Because the Lord passed by the blood-stained doors of the Hebrews when he smote the firstborn of Egypt. Exodus 12:6.

Verse 6

6. The feast of unleavened bread The unleavened bread in this feast was not sacrificial, (Leviticus 2:4,) but monumental. Leaven was not prohibited because it was corrupt in its nature and symbolical of depravity, (Matthew 16:6,) but because it was not in harmony with the historical fact commemorated by this feast the hasty flight from Egypt. See on Exodus 12:34.

Verse 7

7. No servile work Literally, no service of husbandry, no manual toil. The law always speaks of the days of holy convocation as sabbaths. But labour incident to the festivities, such as the building of booths, was lawful. In addition to the fifty-two sabbaths, the day of atonement was the only day when all kinds of labor was forbidden. On the other six days of holy convocation certain acts not called servile labour might be performed. Too many days of absolute rest are detrimental to the moral tone of a people, and are apt to degenerate from holy days to holidays. God made no such mistake.

Verse 8

8. Offering made by fire See note on chap. Leviticus 1:9.

The seventh day This is not the seventh day of the week but of the feast, which, since it must begin on a fixed day of the month, might fall on any day of the week.

Hence there might be three days of holy convocation in the passover week, one of which would be the creation or decalogue sabbath, and the other two the feast sabbaths, the first and seventh days.

Verse 10

SHEAF OF FIRSTFRUITS, Leviticus 23:9-14.

10. When ye… come into the land This verse plainly indicates a state of expectancy suited to a sojourning people looking forward to a permanent home. It shows that the Levitical code was given in the wilderness, and was not a fabrication of a later period.

Ye shall bring a sheaf This command is not addressed to each tiller of the soil, but to the whole nation. It was the custom for a deputation of the Sanhedrim to go forth into some field near Jerusalem on the eve of the festival and tie the standing stalks of grain in bunches, and then cut enough for a sheaf with great formality, and, in the most public manner, carry it to the temple, and give it to the priest to be waved before the Lord. It was threshed, winnowed, bruised, roasted, mixed with oil, sprinkled with frankincense, waved by the priest in all directions, and eaten by ceremonially pure priests, after a handful had been thrown on the altar-fire. Then the harvesting might lawfully be done. Josephus tells us that the sheaf was barley. Barley ripens about the middle of April; wheat ripens in Palestine two or three weeks later. (Robinson’s Palestine, 2: 263, 278.)

Firstfruits… unto the priest The revenue from this source was nearly two per cent. of the entire produce of the field. See note on Leviticus 2:14. The sheaf was only a representative of the forthcoming abundance of firstfruits of all kinds. The pious Hebrew could not relish any thing which he did not share with Jehovah. He was thought of first. His portion was offered first. How this rebukes the hurried Bible-reading, the hasty prayers, the doled-out ministerial support, and the reluctant and niggardly beneficence of many professed Christians with whom self is first and Christ is last!

Verse 11

11. The morrow after the sabbath After the first day of holy convocation. Hence the waving of the sheaf, according to Josephus, was on the sixteenth of Nisan.

Verse 12

12. A burnt offering Since the sheaf-waving has all the elements of a bread offering, it must be the concomitant of the more important whole burnt offering. The typical cleansing from sin by the blood of the lamb must precede the presentation of that offering which symbolizes the fruits of holiness, the accompaniments of regeneration.

Verse 13

13. Two tenth deals There is no word “deals” in the Hebrew, but simply “two tenths.” The unit of measure is understood to be an ephah, two tenths of which, two omers, was about six quarts. The ordinary bread or meat offering consisted of only half this quantity. Exodus 29:40; Numbers 28:9; Numbers 28:13. It was doubled on this occasion in order to signalize this oblation.

A sweet savour See Leviticus 1:9.

Drink offering This consisted of wine, which was not poured upon the burning victim, as among the Greeks and Romans, but was a libation poured about the altar. (Josephus’ Antiquities, Leviticus 3:9 ; Leviticus 3:4.) Wine is emblematical of joy. When poured out after the whole burnt offering is laid on the altar, it beautifully typifies the abounding gladness of the soul wholly consecrated to Christ in possession of that comforting grace and full assurance inspired by the Holy Spirit, the promised Comforter. St. Paul, on the eve of martyrdom, signifies his joy by the words ηδη σπενδομαι , “I am already being poured out as a drink offering.”

The fourth part of a hin The hin contained five quarts.

Verse 14

14. Parched corn… green ears These, being fried, are still eaten with relish by the Arabs now dwelling in Palestine. See note on Ruth 2:14. Abstinence from the fruits of the earth till thanks have been rendered to the bountiful Giver in the form of an offering of firstfruits was a practice quite prevalent among the pagan nations. Pliny says of the ancient Romans, “They did not so much as taste of their corn and wine till the priests had offered the firstfruits.” A statute for ever. See note on Leviticus 3:17.

Verse 15

THE FEAST OF PENTECOST, Leviticus 23:15-21.

15. From the morrow after the sabbath There are two explanations of this sabbath. “The small minority” of writers, among whom Professor Murphy ranks himself, believe that the sabbath of the decalogue is intended, The majority, with whom we concur, understand it to be the day of holy convocation, the fifteenth of Nisan, irrespective of the day of the week on which it fell. Hence the morrow was the sixteenth. For this opinion we have the testimony of Josephus, ( Antiquities, Leviticus 3:10 ; Leviticus 3:5,) and the fact that the passover was on a fixed day of the month in which the sabbath of the decalogue is movable. If the morrow after the sabbath was the sixteenth, and the day of holy convocation was on the fifteenth, as we infer from Leviticus 23:6-7, the identity of these days is inevitable. Professor Murphy assumes without proof that the first day of Leviticus 23:7 is different from the fifteenth of Leviticus 23:6. That other days than the seventh are called sabbaths is proved by Leviticus 23:32, and Leviticus 16:31, where the day of atonement is so styled. For additional arguments see Concluding Note, (2.) The Seventy, Josephus, Philo, and the Talmud, understand that the first passover day is called a sabbath, and that it is identical with the morrow after the passover in Joshua 5:11. See note.

Seven sabbaths shall be complete The Syriac version has seven weeks, in which the Seventy, Gesenius, Furst, and Kiel concur. The New Testament continues this translation in the Greek, in Matthew 28:1, and Mark 16:2.

Verse 16

16. Morrow after the seventh sabbath This is the morrow after the seventh week. Hence the feast beginning with this day was called the feast of weeks, until the use of the version of the Seventy had familiarized the Jews with the word πεντηκοστη , pentecost, fiftieth. It is called pentecost first in the Apocrypha, ( Tob 2:1 ,) and always in the New Testament. It is to be noticed that it was just fifty days utter the exode that the law was given on Sinai. The Scriptures nowhere say that this feast is in commemoration of that important event. For the opinions of Jewish and Christian writers. see note on Acts 2:1.

A new meat offering This is mentioned before the burnt offering, to give prominence to the agricultural reference of this festival, significantly called “the firstfruits of the wheat-harvest.” Exodus 34:22.

Verse 17

17. Ye shall bring out… two wave loaves The words out of your habitations do not imply that the offering is individual. Two wave loaves were required of the whole nation, and not of each family. The size of these loaves may be inferred from the fact that they consisted of six quarts of flour, and were leavened. Three ordinary loaves were required for a meal for one person. Luke 11:5. For the manner and significance of waving, see note on Leviticus 7:30.

Fine flour See note on Leviticus 2:1.

With leaven Leaven was prohibited only in fire offerings, (Leviticus 2:11,) and in the bread to be eaten during the passover week. Exodus 12:15. It was required in the peace offering. See note on Leviticus 7:13. Hence Amos, in his mention of leaven, does not ironically reproach the character of the sacrifices, but the senseless idols to which they were offered. Amos 4:5.

Verse 18

18. Seven lambs For the significance of this number, see note on Leviticus 4:6. The ten victims for a burnt offering required in this feast is the maximum number in the great festivals, at the new moons, the great day of atonement, and the feast of trumpets. For the whole number annually slain for public offerings, see Concluding Note on chap. 1.

Verse 19

19. Kid of the goats A better rendering is, a shaggy he-goat. The same word describes Esau as hairy, Genesis 27:11; the king of Grecia as a rough goat, Daniel 8:21; and is translated satyr in Isaiah 13:21, and devil in Leviticus 17:7. Its usual rendering in this book is goat.

Sin offering See notes on chaps. 4 and 5.

Peace offerings See notes on chaps. 3, and Leviticus 7:11-21.

Verse 20

20. The priest shall wave them Only the peace offering was waved, the sin offering for the people was burned without the camp. Leviticus 4:21. “The passover represents death; the wave-sheaf and the wave-loaves symbolize life. The Messiah is Priest, King, and Prophet. As Priest, he is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. As King, he is the wave-sheaf, ‘the firstfruits from the dead.’ This has peculiar force when we remember that he rose on the first day of the week, and the very day of the wave-sheaf being offered. As Prophet, when the day of pentecost was fully come, he sent the promise of the Father, the Spirit of truth and of utterance upon the disciples, the full harvest of their waiting and praying, the bread of eternal life for their hungering souls. In this brief period of seven times seven days there is a typical epitome of the history of salvation.” Murphy.

Holy to the Lord The offerings pronounced holy were the perquisites of the priests; those declared most holy must be eaten by them. See Concluding Note (1) on chap. 6.

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Verse 22

THE LAW OF CHARITY, Leviticus 23:22.

22. The corners of thy field This provision for the poor was more ample than the Authorized Version shows. The borders of the field were to be left. How wide a border, was to be determined by the owner, thus affording scope for the exercise of his benevolent affections, or for the manifestation of avarice. In Deuteronomy 24:19, the overlooked sheaf is mercifully set apart for the needy gleaners. Thus the spirit of unselfish love, the very essence of Judaism and Christianity, was carefully enjoined upon the Israelites.

The stranger This term signifies about the same as our expression “naturalized foreigner,” inasmuch as it implies a certain political status in the country in which he resides. The civil rights of the stranger were not very accurately defined. That he was eligible to all civil offices except that of king we infer from Deuteronomy 17:15, on the principle that the prohibition of the greater is not a prohibition of the less. In Leviticus 25:23, Jehovah says to his people, “The land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.” This plainly implies that the stranger could not be a landowner. This fact will account for his poverty. The landless, as a class, must ever be on the borders of starvation. The origin of these “aliens to the covenant” is evident. They were the remnant of the Canaanites, “the mixed multitude” which accompanied Israel from Egypt, captives taken in war, political refugees, fugitive slaves, hired servants, and merchants. The census of them in Solomon’s time gave a return of one hundred and fifty-three thousand six hundred males, about a tenth of the whole population. 2 Chronicles 2:17. They were required not to infringe any fundamental law of the State, such as relates to the sabbath, the hal-lowed Name, food during passover, marriage laws, worship of Moloch, and eating blood. They could offer sin offerings, and enjoy the blessings of the day of atonement. The enactments of the Mosaic law respecting resident aliens were conceived in a spirit of liberality which is not surpassed by any of the most enlightened Christian nations of modern times.

Verse 24

THE FEAST OF TRUMPETS, Leviticus 23:23-25.

24. Seventh month The beginning of this month must be signalized in order to accord with that symbolism of number which distinguishes the seventh day and the seventh year. Hence we have a sabbatical month as well as a sabbatical year. The seventh month closed the cycle of the annual festivals. It also contained the most important day of the year the day of atonement in which all the sins and uncleanness of the people were typically wiped away in the access of the high priest to the mercyseat with the blood of atonement. This month also contained the feast of tabernacles, which commenced five days afterwards, affording an antepast of the blessedness of communion with Christ and his saints.

The first day… a sabbath This was a day of rest, a holy convocation, as also was the tenth. Neither was necessarily a decalogue sabbath, and one of them could not be, since they were ten days apart.

A memorial of blowing of trumpets Literally, a memorial of shouts of joy. According to Numbers 10:10, the straight trumpet was to be sounded in the day of gladness; but tradition says that the shophar, cornet, or crooked trumpet, was also used. See wood-cut Joshua 6:4. The latter produced a dull, far-reaching tone. There are various opinions respecting the significance of this trumpet-blast as that it was designed to be an alarm-signal to call the people to prepare for the coming day of atonement, as we have intimation in Joel 2:15; or to emphasize the coming in of the sabbatical month; or to commemorate the giving of the law; or to re-echo the shout of the sons of God over the newborn world; or, as is the common opinion of Jews and Christians, to hail the beginning of the civil year, the feast of Tisri. In the year of jubilee it was the prelude to that glad sound which, on the day of atonement of the fiftieth year, announced the advent of “that great year of grace under the old covenant.” The rabbies fancied that on this new year’s day all men passed before God in judgment, as a flock of sheep pass, one by one, before their shepherd.

Verse 25

25. An offering In addition to the daily sacrifices and the eleven victims which signalized every new moon, (Numbers 28:11-15,) ten other victims were offered a repetition of the ordinary monthly offering, excepting one bullock. Numbers 29:1-6. Thus twenty-three animals were offered on this day.

Verses 26-27

DAY OF EXPIATIONS, Leviticus 23:26-32.

27. A day of atonement The Yom Kopher, as it is called by Jews to day, is fully described in chap. 16. It is mentioned here in order to make an exhaustive enumeration of the annual religious ceremonies and assemblies. There is added in Leviticus 23:32 that the period during which they should afflict their souls, or fast, was twenty-four hours, from the evening of the ninth to the evening of the tenth day. The modern Jew, on the day of atonement, fasts from sunset to sunset.

Verse 29

29. He shall be cut off He shall be destroyed. Impenitence is a capital offence. When persisted in beyond a certain point there is no expiation possible.

“There is a time, we know not when,

A point, we know not where,

That marks the destiny of men

For glory or despair.”

Verse 34

THE FEAST OF INGATHERING, Leviticus 23:33-44.

34. The fifteenth day of this seventh month This was the seventh month of the ecclesiastical, and the first of the civil, year. It corresponds to a part of our September and a part of October. This feast was at the full moon next the autumnal equinox.

The feast of tabernacles Its name indicates its historical significance, impressively setting forth the fact that Israel dwelt in temporary abodes in the wilderness forty years. It is probable that in the first part of the wilderness sojourn, before tents could be provided, the people lodged in booths. But their abodes are called tents when they are referred to. Leviticus 14:8. From its agricultural reference this feast was called the feast of the ingathering, or thanksgiving for the garnered harvest. Deuteronomy 16:13-15. The sacrifices pertaining to this festival are enumerated in Leviticus 29:12-38. In the sabbatical year the public reading of the law by the priests was enjoined as a part of this festival. Deuteronomy 31:9-13. The last reference shows that women and children were expected to be present, and not the males only. Huts or booths formed of boards, and covered with the boughs of trees tied with willows, were afterward constructed on the annual return of this feast in every nook and corner of Jerusalem, in the courts and on the roofs of houses, in the court of the temple, in the street of the Water Gate, and in the street of the Gate of Ephraim, other streets being left open for the convenience of the public. The entire suburbs must have been one vast camp of joyful sojourners. The occasion was adapted to a cultivation of the social nature, to strengthen the bond of national unity, and to quicken the devotional feelings. Though Christianity requires no such vast assemblies of believers, yet it is found that a wonderful spiritual momentum comes from the massing together of a great multitude for several days of continuous religious worship.

Verse 36

36. The eighth day Since this feast was to continue seven days, and since no mention is made of an eighth day in Deuteronomy 16:13-15, we conclude that it formed no part of the festival, but was a day of rest, as is declared in Leviticus 23:37.

Ye shall offer an offering The number of public sacrifices offered on the first day exceeded those of any other day of the year, while private peace offerings were also more abundant. There is ground for the opinion that the number of sacrifices equalled the total number of victims offered at all the other festivals.

Verse 37

37. Burnt offering See notes on chap. 1.

Meat offering See notes on chap. 2.

A sacrifice This stands here for the peace offering. See notes on chap. 3.

Drink offerings See note on Leviticus 23:13.

Verse 38

38. Gifts Sacrificial gifts, especially heave offerings for the priests, are intended. See note on Leviticus 7:14.

Vows… freewill offerings The second and third kinds of peace offerings. See notes on Leviticus 7:11; Leviticus 7:16.

Verse 39

39. The first… and… eighth day a sabbath This is a day of rest, not necessarily the creation or decalogue sabbath on the seventh day. There was no need of a special command to hallow this day of the feast. There might be three days of rest in the eight days, two by special enactment and one by the primal sabbatic law. When the latter coincided with one of the former there were but two.

Verse 40

40. The boughs of goodly trees Here the Authorized Version is incorrect, but the marginal reading of fruit, usually citron, instead of boughs, is a proper translation of the Hebrew.

Branches of palm trees This tree was very abundant in the Holy Land. It is remarkable for its fruitfulness and the perpetual greenness of its foliage, making it an appropriate symbol of victory and peace. John 12:13; Revelation 7:9. The modern Jews probably reflect the custom of their ancestors in the time of Christ, in marching in procession around the reading desk in their synagogues, bearing palm branches and intoning the Hosanna:

“For thy sake, O our Creator, Hosanna, (save now.)

For thy sake, O our Redeemer, Hosanna,

For thy sake, O our Seeker, Hosanna.”

This chant, like the priests’ threefold blessing, (Numbers 6:22-27,) is strikingly suggestive of the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in human redemption.

Willows It was customary for each man to bring a sprig for the adorning of the altar.

Ye shall rejoice Rejoicing was to continue seven days, while affliction of soul was required during only one day in the year, the day of atonement. Judaism, though a dispensation in which the law was predominant, was by no means destitute of grace. How much more joyful should Christians be who, though under the law as the rule of life, are not under it as the ground of salvation, nor as the motive to obedience, but under the delightful constraint of love to the Lawgiver, awakened in their hearts by the Holy Ghost. Romans 5:5; Romans 14:17. The Israelite was commanded to rejoice seven days; the believer in Jesus Christ is commanded to “rejoice evermore.” A sad servant betokens a severe master.

Verse 42

42. Ye shall dwell in booths This command excludes a cloth or skin covering, according to the decisions of Jewish expounders, and every thing pertaining to the animal and mineral kingdoms. Every thing withered, or faded, or of ill savour, or unclean, was also prohibited. The booths must be fresh and fragrant, in correspondence with the gladness of their tenants.

The first part of October, when this feast was celebrated, the weather in Palestine is neither hot nor cold, nor subject to storms, but admirably adapted to outdoor life.

All… Israelites… shall dwell The word “shall” is here altogether too strong a translation of the Hebrew future, which is often rendered by may or can. “To insist on the absolute universality is to become a bond-slave to the letter.”

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 23". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/leviticus-23.html. 1874-1909.
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