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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
Leviticus 23



Verse 1-2

This chapter does not contain a “calendar of feasts,” or a summary and completion of the directions previously given in a scattered form concerning the festal times of Israel, but simply a list of those festal days and periods of the year at which holy meetings were to be held. This is most clearly stated in the heading (Leviticus 23:2): “ the festal times of Jehovah, which ye shall call out as holy meetings, these are they, My feasts, ” i.e., those which are to be regarded as My feasts, sanctified to Me. The festal seasons and days were called “feasts of Jehovah,” times appointed and fixed by Jehovah (see Genesis 1:14), not because the feasts belonged to fixed times regulated by the course of the moon ( Knobel ), but because Jehovah had appointed them as days, or times, which were to be sanctified to Him. Hence the expression is not only used with reference to the Sabbath, the new moon, and the other yearly feasts; but in Numbers 28:2 and Numbers 29:39 it is extended so as to include the times of the daily morning and evening sacrifice. (On the “holy convocation” see Exodus 12:16.)

Verse 3

At the head of these moadim stood the Sabbath , as the day which God had already sanctified as a day of rest for His people, by His own rest on the seventh creation-day (Genesis 2:3, cf. Exodus 20:8-11). On שׁבּתון שׁבּת , see at Exodus 31:15 and Exodus 16:33. As a weekly returning day of rest, the observance of which had its foundation in the creative work of God, the Sabbath was distinguished from the yearly feasts, in which Israel commemorated the facts connected with its elevation into a people of God, and which were generally called “feasts of Jehovah” in the stricter sense, and as such were distinguished from the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:37, Leviticus 23:38; Isaiah 1:13-14; 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 31:3; Nehemiah 10:34). This distinction is pointed out in the heading, “ these are the feasts of Jehovah ” (Leviticus 23:4).

(Note: Partly on account of his repetition, and partly because of the supposed discrepancy observable in the fact, that holy meetings are not prescribed for the Sabbath in the list of festal sacrifices in Num 28 and 29, Hupfield and Knobel maintain that the words of Leviticus 23:2 and Leviticus 23:3, from יהוה to מושׁבתיכם , notwithstanding their Elohistic expression, were not written by the Elohist, but are an interpolation of the later editor. The repetition of the heading, however, cannot prove anything at all with the constant repetitions that occur in the so-called Elohistic groundwork, especially as it can be fully explained by the reason mentioned in the text. And the pretended discrepancy rests upon the perfectly arbitrary assumption, that Num 28 and 29 contain a complete codex of all the laws relating to all the feasts. How totally this assumption is at variance with the calendar of feasts, is clear enough from the fact, that no rule is laid down there for the observance of the Sabbath, with the exception of the sacrifices to be offered upon it, and that even rest from labour is not commanded. Moreover Knobel is wrong in identifying the “holy convocation” with a journey to the sanctuary, whereas appearance at the tabernacle to hold the holy convocations (for worship) was not regarded as necessary either in the law itself or according to the later orthodox custom, but, on the contrary, holy meetings for edification were held on the Sabbath in every place in the land, and it was out of this that the synagogues arose.)

In Numbers 28:11 the feast of new moon follows the Sabbath; but this is passed over here, because the new moon was not to be observed either with sabbatical rest or a holy meeting.

Verses 4-14

Leviticus 23:4 contains the special heading for the yearly feasts. בּמועדם at their appointed time.

Leviticus 23:5-14

The leading directions for the Passover and feast of Mazzoth are repeated from Exodus 12:6, Exodus 12:11, Exodus 12:15-20. עבדה מלאכת , occupation of a work, signifies labour at some definite occupation, e.g., the building of the tabernacle, Exodus 35:24; Exodus 36:1, Exodus 36:3; hence occupation in connection with trade or one's social calling, such as agriculture, handicraft, and so forth; whilst מלאכה is the performance of any kind of work, e.g., kindling fire for cooking food (Exodus 35:2-3). On the Sabbath and the day of atonement every kind of civil work was prohibited, even to the kindling of fire for the purpose of cooking (Leviticus 23:3, Leviticus 23:30, Leviticus 23:31, cf. Exodus 20:10; Exodus 31:14; Exodus 35:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:14 and Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7); on the other feast-days with a holy convocation, only servile work (Leviticus 23:7, Leviticus 23:8, Leviticus 23:21, Leviticus 23:25, Leviticus 23:35, Leviticus 23:36, cf. Exodus 12:16, and the explanation on Leviticus 12:1-8 :15ff., and Numbers 28:18, Numbers 28:25-26; Numbers 29:1, Numbers 29:12, Numbers 29:35). To this there is appended a fresh regulation in Leviticus 23:9-14, with the repetition of the introductory clause, “ And the Lord spake, ” etc. When the Israelites had come into the land to be given them by the Lord, and had reaped the harvest, they were to bring a sheaf as first-fruits of their harvest to the priest, that he might wave it before Jehovah on the day after the Sabbath, i.e., after the first day of Mazzoth . According to Josephus and Philo , it was a sheaf of barley; but this is not expressly commanded, because it would be taken for granted in Canaan, where the harvest began with the barley. In the warmer parts of Palestine the barley ripens about the middle of April, and is reaped in April or the beginning of May, whereas the wheat ripens two or three weeks later ( Seetzen; Robinson 's Pal. ii. 263, 278). The priest was to wave the sheaf before Jehovah, i.e., to present it symbolically to Jehovah by the ceremony of waving, without burning any of it upon the altar. The rabbinical rule, viz., to dry a portion of the ears by the fire, and then, after rubbing them out, to burn them on the altar, was an ordinance of the later scribes, who knew not the law, and was based upon Leviticus 2:14. For the law in Leviticus 2:14 refers to the offerings of first-fruits made by private persons, which are treated of in Numbers 18:12-13, and Deuteronomy 26:2. The sheaf of first-fruits, on the other hand, which was to be offered before Jehovah as a wave-offering in the name of the congregation, corresponded to the two wave-loaves which were leavened and then baked, and were to be presented to the Lord as first-fruits (Leviticus 23:17). As no portion of these wave-loaves was burned upon the altar, because nothing leavened was to be placed upon it (Leviticus 2:11), but they were assigned entirely to the priests, we have only to assume that the same application was intended by the law in the case of the sheaf of first-fruits, since the text only prescribes the waving, and does not contain a word about roasting, rubbing, or burning the grains upon the altar. השּׁבּת מחרת (the morrow after the Sabbath) signifies the next day after the first day of the feast of Mazzoth, i.e., the 16th Abib ( Nisan ), not the day of the Sabbath which fell in the seven days' feast of Mazzoth, as the Baethoseans supposed, still less the 22nd of Nisan, or the day after the conclusion of the seven days' feast, which always closed with a Sabbath, as Hitzig imagines.

(Note: The view advocated by the Baethoseans, which has been lately supported by W. Schultz , is refuted not only by Joshua 5:11, but by the definite article used, השּׁבּת , which points back to one of the feast-days already mentioned, and still more decisively by the circumstance, that according to Leviticus 23:15 the seven weeks, at the close of which the feast of Pentecost was to be kept, were to be reckoned from this Sabbath; and if the Sabbath was not fixed, but might fall upon any day of the seven days' feast of Mazzoth, and therefore as much as give or six days after the Passover, the feast of Passover itself would be forced out of the fundamental position which it occupied in the series of annual festivals (cf. Ranke , Pentateuch ii. 108). Hitzig's hypothesis has been revived by Hupfeld and Knobel , without any notice of the conclusive refutation given to it by Bδhr and Wieseler ; only Knobel makes “the Sabbath” not the concluding but the opening Sabbath of the feast of Passover, on the ground that “otherwise the festal sheaf would not have been offered till the 22nd of the month, and therefore would have come post festum .” But this hypothesis, which renders it necessary that the commencement of the ecclesiastical year should always be assigned to a Saturday (Sabbath), in order to gain weekly Sabbaths for the 14th and 21st of the month, as the opening and close of the feast of Passover, gives such a form to the Jewish year as would involve its invariably closing with a broken week; a hypothesis which is not only incapable of demonstration, but, from the holiness attached to the Jewish division of weeks, is a priori improbable, and in fact inconceivable. The Mosaic law, which gave such sanctity to the division of time into weeks, as founded upon the history of creation, by the institution of the observance of the Sabbath, that it raised the Sabbath into the groundwork of a magnificent festal cycle, could not possibly have made such an arrangement with regard to the time for the observance of the Passover, as would involve almost invariably the mutilation of the last week of the year, and an interruption of the old and sacred weekly cycle with the Sabbath festival at its close. The arguments by which so forced a hypothesis is defended, must be very conclusive indeed, to meet with any acceptance. But neither Hitzig nor his followers have been able to adduce any such arguments as these. Besides the word “Sabbath” and Joshua 5:11, which prove nothing at all, the only other argument adduced by Knobel is, that “it is impossible to see why precisely the second day of the azyma , when the people went about their ordinary duties, and there was no meeting at the sanctuary, should have been distinguished by the sacrificial gift which was the peculiar characteristic of the feast,” - an argument based upon the fallacious principle, that anything for which I can see no reason, cannot possibly have occurred.)

The “Sabbath” does not mean the seventh day of the week, but the day of rest, although the weekly Sabbath was always the seventh or last day of the week; hence not only the seventh day of the week (Exodus 31:15, etc.), but the day of atonement (the tenth of the seventh month), is called “ Sabbath ,” and “ Shabbath shabbathon ” (Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 16:31). As a day of rest, on which no laborious work was to be performed (Leviticus 23:8), the first day of the feast of Mazzoth is called “ Sabbath ,” irrespectively of the day of the week upon which it fell; and “ the morrow after the Sabbath ” is equivalent to “the morrow after the Passover” mentioned in Joshua 5:11, where “Passover” signifies the day at the beginning of which the paschal meal was held, i.e., the first day of unleavened bread, which commenced on the evening of the 14th, in other words, the 15th Abib. By offering the sheaf of first-fruits of the harvest, the Israelites were to consecrate their daily bread to the Lord their God, and practically to acknowledge that they owed the blessing of the harvest to the grace of God. They were not to eat any bread or roasted grains of the new corn till they had presented the offering of their God (Leviticus 23:14). This offering was fixed for the second day of the feast of the Passover, that the connection between the harvest and the Passover might be kept in subordination to the leading idea of the Passover itself (see at Exodus 12:15.). But as the sheaf was not burned upon the altar, but only presented symbolically to the Lord by waving, and then handed over to the priests, an altar-gift had to be connected with it, - namely, a yearling sheep as a burnt-offering, a meat-offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, and a drink-offering of a quarter of a hin of wine, - to give expression to the obligation and willingness of the congregation not only to enjoy their earthly food, but to strengthen all the members of their body for growth in holiness and diligence in good works. The burnt-offering, for which a yearling lamb was prescribed, as in fact for all the regular festal sacrifices, was of course in addition to the burnt-offerings prescribed in Numbers 28:19-20, for every feast-day. The meat-offering, however, was not to consist of one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour, as on other occasions (Exodus 29:40; Numbers 28:9, Numbers 28:13, etc.), but of two-tenths, that the offering of corn at the harvest-feast might be a more plentiful one than usual.

Verses 15-17

The law for the special observance of the feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16) is added here without any fresh introductory formula, to show at the very outset the close connection between the two feasts. Seven whole weeks, or fifty days, were to be reckoned from the day of the offering of the sheaf, and then the day of first-fruits (Numbers 28:26) or feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10) was to be celebrated. From this reckoning the feast received the name of Pentecost ( ἡ πεντηκοστή , Acts 2:1). That שׁבּתות (Leviticus 23:15) signifies weeks, like שׁבעות in Deuteronomy 16:9, and τὰ σάββατα in the Gospels (e.g., Matthew 28:1), is evident from the predicate תּמימת , “complete,” which would be quite unsuitable if Sabbath-days were intended, as a long period might be reckoned by half weeks instead of whole, but certainly not by half Sabbath-days. Consequently “the morrow after the seventh Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:16) is the day after the seventh week, not after the seventh Sabbath. On this day, i.e., fifty days after the first day of Mazzoth , Israel was to offer a new meat-offering to the Lord, i.e., made of the fruit of the new harvest (Leviticus 26:10), “wave-loaves” from its dwellings, two of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour baked leavened, like the bread which served for their daily food, “as first-fruits unto the Lord,” and of the wheat-harvest (Exodus 34:22), which fell in the second half of May and the first weeks of June (Robinson , Palestine ), and therefore was finished as a whole by the feast of Weeks. The loaves differed from all the other meat-offerings, being made of leavened dough, because in them their daily bread was offered to the Lord, who had blessed the harvest, as a thank-offering for His blessing. They were therefore only given to the Lord symbolically by waving, and were then to belong to the priests (Leviticus 23:20). The injunction “out of your habitations” is not to be understood, as Calvin and others suppose, as signifying that every householder was to present two such loaves; it simply expresses the idea, that they were to be loaves made for the daily food of a household, and not prepared expressly for holy purposes.

Verse 18-19

In addition to the loaves, they were to offer seven yearling lambs, one young bullock, and two rams, as burnt-offerings, together with their (the appropriate) meat and drink-offerings, one he-goat as a sin-offering, and two yearling lambs as peace-offerings.

Verse 20

The priest shall wave them (the two lambs of the peace-offerings), together with the loaves of the first-fruits, as a wave-offering before Jehovah; with the two lambs (the two just mentioned), they (the loaves) shall be holy to Jehovah for the priest .” In the case of the peace-offerings of private individuals, the flesh belonged for the most part to the offerer; but here, in the case of a thank-offering presented by the congregation, it was set apart for the priest. The circumstance, that not only was a much more bountiful burnt-offering prescribed than in the offerings of the dedicatory sheaf at the commencement of harvest (Leviticus 23:12), but a sin-offering and peace-offering also, is to be attributed to the meaning of the festival itself, as a feast of thanksgiving for the rich blessing of God that had just been gathered in. The sin-offering was to excite the feeling and consciousness of sin on the part of the congregation of Israel, that whilst eating their daily leavened bread they might not serve the leaven of their old nature, but seek and implore from the Lord their God the forgiveness and cleansing away of their sin. Through the increased burnt-offering they were to give practical expression to their gratitude for the blessing of harvest, by a strengthened consecration and sanctification of all the members of the whole man to the service of the Lord; whilst through the peace-offering they entered into that fellowship of peace with the Lord to which they were called, and which they were eventually to enjoy through His blessing in their promised inheritance. In this way the whole of the year's harvest was placed under the gracious blessing of the Lord by the sanctification of its commencement and its close; and the enjoyment of their daily food was also sanctified thereby. For the sake of this inward connection, the laws concerning the wave-sheaf and wave-loaves are bound together into one whole; and by this connection, which was established by reckoning the time for the feast of Weeks from the day of the dedication of the sheaf, the two feasts were linked together into an internal unity. The Jews recognised this unity from the very earliest times, and called the feast of Pentecost Azqereth (Greek, Ἀσαρθά ), because it was the close of the seven weeks (see at Leviticus 23:36; Josephus, Ant. iii. 10).

(Note: A connection between the feast of Pentecost and the giving of the law, which Maimonides (a.d. † 1205) was the first to discover, is not only foreign to the Mosaic law, but to the whole of the Jewish antiquity; and even Abarbanel expressly denies it.)

Verse 21-22

On this day a holy meeting was to be held, and laborious work to be suspended, just as on the first and seventh days of Mazzoth . This was to be maintained as a statute for ever (see Leviticus 23:14). It was not sufficient, however, to thank the Lord for the blessing of harvest by a feast of thanksgiving to the Lord, but they were not to forget the poor and distressed when gathering in their harvest. To indicate this, the law laid down in Leviticus 19:9-10 is repeated in Leviticus 23:22.

Verses 23-25

On the first day of the seventh month there was to be shabbathon , rest, i.e., a day of rest (see Exodus 16:23), a memorial of blowing of trumpets , a holy convocation, the suspension of laborious work, and the offering of a firing for Jehovah, which are still more minutely described in the calendar of festal sacrifices in Numbers 29:2-6. תּרוּעה , a joyful noise, from רוּע to make a noise, is used in Leviticus 23:24 for שׁופר תּרוּעה , a blast of trumpets. On this day the shophar was to be blown, a blast of trumpets to be appointed for a memorial before Jehovah (Numbers 10:10), i.e., to call the congregation into remembrance before Jehovah, that He might turn towards it His favour and grace (see at Exodus 28:12, Exodus 28:29; Exodus 30:16); and from this the feast-day is called the day of the trumpet-blast (Numbers 19:1). Shophar , a trumpet, was a large horn which produced a dull, far-reaching tone. Buccina pastoralis est et cornu recurvo efficitur, unde et proprie hebraice sophar, graece κερατίνη appellatur ( Jerome on Hos. Leviticus 5:8).

(Note: The word תּרוּעה is also used in Numbers 10:5-6 to denote the blowing with the silver trumpets; but there seems to be no ground for supposing these trumpets to be intended here, not only because of the analogy between the seventh day of the new moon as a jubilee day and the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:9-10), but also because the silver trumpets are assigned to a different purpose in Numbers 10:2-10, and their use is restricted to the blowing at the offering of the burnt-offerings on the feast-days and new moons. To this we have to add the Jewish tradition, which favours with perfect unanimity the practice of blowing with horns (the horns of animals).)

The seventh month of the year, like the seventh day of the week, was consecrated as a Sabbath or sabbatical month, by a holy convocation and the suspension of labour, which were to distinguish the first day of the seventh month from the beginning of the other months or the other new moon days throughout the year. For the whole month was sanctified in the first day, as the beginning or head of the month; and by the sabbatical observance of the commencement, the whole course of the month was raised to a Sabbath. This was enjoined, not merely because it was the seventh month, but because the seventh month was to secure to the congregation the complete atonement for all its sins, and the wiping away of all the uncleannesses which separated it from its God, viz., on the day of atonement, which fell within this month, and to bring it a foretaste of the blessedness of life in fellowship with the Lord, viz., in the feast of Tabernacles, which commenced five days afterwards. This significant character of the seventh month was indicated by the trumpet-blast, by which the congregation presented the memorial of itself loudly and strongly before Jehovah on the first day of the month, that He might bestow upon them the promised blessings of His grace, for the realization of His covenant. The trumpet-blast on this day was a prelude of the trumpet-blast with which the commencement of the year of jubilee was proclaimed to the whole nation, on the day of atonement of every seventh sabbatical year, that great year of grace under the old covenant (Leviticus 25:9); just as the seventh month in general formed the link between the weekly Sabbath and the sabbatical and jubilee years, and corresponded as a Sabbath month to the year of jubilee rather than the sabbatical year, which had its prelude in the weekly Sabbath-day.

Verses 26-31

On the tenth day of the seventh month the day of atonement was to be observed by a holy meeting, by fasting from the evening of the ninth till the evening of the tenth, by resting from all work on pain of death, and with sacrifices, of which the great expiatory sacrifice peculiar to this day had already been appointed in ch. 16, and the general festal sacrifices are described in Numbers 29:8-11. (For fuller particulars, see at ch. 16.) By the restrictive אך , the observance of the day of atonement is represented a priori as a peculiar one. The אך refers less to “the tenth day,” than to the leading directions respecting this feast: “only on the tenth of this seventh month...there shall be a holy meeting to you, and ye shall afflict your souls,” etc.

Verse 32

“Ye shall rest your rest,” i.e., observe the rest that is binding upon you from all laborious work.

Verses 33-37

On the fifteenth of the same month the feast of Tabernacles was to be kept to the Lord for seven days: on the first day with a holy meeting and rest from all laborious work, and for seven days with sacrifices, as appointed for every day in Num 29:13-33. Moreover, on the eighth day, i.e., the 22nd of the month, the closing feast was to be observed in the same manner as on the first day (Leviticus 23:34-36). The name, “feast of Tabernacles” (booths), is to be explained from the fact, that the Israelites were to dwell in booths made of boughs for the seven days that this festival lasted (Leviticus 23:42). עצרת , which is used in Leviticus 23:36 and Numbers 29:35 for the eighth day, which terminated the feast of Tabernacles, and in Deuteronomy 16:8 for the seventh day of the feast of Mazzoth , signifies the solemn close of a feast of several days, clausula festi , from עצר to shut in, or close (Genesis 16:2; Deuteronomy 11:17, etc.), not a coagendo, congregando populo ad festum , nor a cohibitione laboris, ab interdicto opere , because the word is only applied to the last day of the feasts of Mazzoth and Tabernacles, and not to the first, although this was also kept with a national assembly and suspension of work. But as these clausaulae festi were holidays with a holy convocation and suspension of work, it was very natural that the word should be transferred at a later period to feasts generally, on which the people suspended work and met for worship and edification (Joel 1:14; Isaiah 1:13; 2 Kings 10:20). The azareth , as the eighth day, did not strictly belong to the feast of Tabernacles, which was only to last seven days; and it was distinguished, moreover, from these seven days by a smaller number of offerings (Numbers 29:35.). The eighth day was rather the solemn close of the whole circle of yearly feasts, and therefore was appended to the close of the last of these feasts as the eighth day of the feast itself (see at Num 28 seq.). - With Leviticus 23:36 the enumeration of all the yearly feasts on which holy meetings were to be convened is brought to an end. This is stated in the concluding formula (Leviticus 23:37, Leviticus 23:38), which answers to the heading in Leviticus 23:4, in which the Sabbaths are excepted, as they simply belonged to the moadim in the more general sense of the word. In this concluding formula, therefore, there is no indication that Leviticus 23:2 and Leviticus 23:3 and Leviticus 23:39-43 are later additions to the original list of feasts which were to be kept with a meeting for worship. וגו להקריב (to offer, etc.) is not dependent upon “holy convocations,” but upon the main idea, “feasts of Jehovah.” Jehovah had appointed moadim , fixed periods in the year, for His congregation to offer sacrifices; not as if no sacrifices could be or were to be offered except at these feasts, but to remind His people, through these fixed days, of their duty to approach the Lord with sacrifices. אשּׁה is defined by the enumeration of four principal kinds of sacrifice-burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, slain (i.e., peace-) offerings, and drink-offerings. בּ יום דּבר : “ every day those appointed for it, ” as in Exodus 5:13.

Verses 38-43

Beside the Sabbaths: ” i.e., the Sabbath sacrifices (see Numbers 28:9-10), and the gifts and offerings, which formed no integral part of the keeping of the feasts and Sabbaths, but might be offered on those days. מתּנות , gifts, include all the dedicatory offerings, which were presented to the Lord without being intended to be burned upon the altar; such, for example, as the dedicatory gifts of the tribe-princes (Num 7), the firstlings and tithes, and other so-called heave-offerings (Numbers 18:11, Numbers 18:29). By the “ vows ” and נדבות , “ freewill-offerings, ” we are to understand not only the votive and freewill slain or peace-offerings, but burnt-offerings also, and meat-offerings, which were offered in consequence of a vow, or from spontaneous impulse (see Judges 11:31, where Jephthah vows a burnt-offering). - In Leviticus 23:39. there follows a fuller description of the observance of the last feast of the year, for which the title, “feast of Tabernacles” (Leviticus 23:34), had prepared the way, as the feast had already been mentioned briefly in Exodus 23:16 and Exodus 34:22 as “feast of Ingathering,” though hitherto no rule had been laid down concerning the peculiar manner in which it was to be observed. In connection with this epithet in Exodus, it is described again in Leviticus 23:39, as in Leviticus 23:35, Leviticus 23:36, as a seven days' feast, with sabbatical rest on the first and eighth day; and in Leviticus 23:40. the following rule is given for its observance: “Take to you fruit of ornamental trees, palm-branches, and boughs of trees with thick foliage, and willows of the brook, and rejoice before the Lord your God seven days, every native in Israel.” If we observe that there are only three kinds of boughs that are connected together by the copula ( vav ) in Leviticus 23:40, and that it is wanting before תם כּפּת , there can hardly be any doubt that הדר עץ פּרי is the generic term, and that the three names which follow specify the particular kinds of boughs. By “the fruits,” therefore, we understand the shoots and branches of the trees, as well as the blossom and fruit that grew out of them. הדר עץ , “ trees of ornament: ” we are not to understand by these only such trees as the orange and citron, which were placed in gardens for ornament rather than use, as the Chald . and Syr . indicate, although these trees grow in the gardens of Palestine ( Rob ., Pal. i. 327, iii. 420). The expression is a more general one, and includes myrtles, which were great favourites with the ancients, on account of their beauty and the fragrant odour which they diffused, olive-trees, palms, and other trees, which were used as booths in Ezra's time (Nehemiah 8:15). In the words, “Take fruit of ornamental trees,” it is not expressly stated, it is true, that this fruit was to be used, like the palm-branches, for constructing booths; but this is certainly implied in the context: “ Take...and rejoice...and keep a the booths shall he dwell .” בּסּכּת with the article is equivalent to “in the booths which ye have constructed from the branches mentioned” (cf. Ges. §109, 3). It was in this sense that the law was understood and carried out in the time of Ezra (Nehemiah 8:15.).

(Note: Even in the time of the Maccabees, on the other hand (cf. 2 Macc. 10:6, 7), the feast of the Purification of the Temple was celebrated by the Jews after the manner of the Tabernacles ( κατὰ σκηνωμάτων τρόπον ); so that they offered songs of praise, holding ( ἔχοντες , carrying?) leafy poles ( θύρσους , not branches of ivy, cf. Grimm. ad l.c. ) and beautiful branches, also palms; in the time of Christ it was the custom to have sticks or poles (staves) of palm-trees and citron-trees ( θύρσους ἐκ φοινίκων καὶ κιτρέων : Josephus, Ant. xiii. 13, 5), or to carry in the hand a branch of myrtle and willow bound round with wool, with palms at the top and an apple of the περσέα (peach or pomegranate?) upon it ( εἰρεσιώνην μυρσίνης καὶ ἰτέας σὺν κράδῃ φοίνικος πεποιημένην τοῦ μήλου τοῦ τῆς Περσέας προσόντος ). This custom, which was still further developed in the Talmud, where a bunch made of palm, myrtle, and willow boughs is ordered to be carried in the right hand, and a citron or orange in the left, has no foundation in the law: it sprang rather out of an imitation of the Greek harvest-feast of the Pyanepsia and Bacchus festivals, from which the words θύρσοι and εἰρεσιώνη were borrowed by Josephus, and had been tacked on by the scribes to the text of the Bible (v. 40) in the best way they could. See Bδhr, Symbol . ii. p. 625, and the innumerable trivial laws in Mishna Succa and Succa Codex talm. babyl. sive de tabernaculorum festo ed. Dachs. Utr. 1726, 4.)

The leading character of the feast of Tabernacles, which is indicated at the outset by the emphatic אך (Leviticus 23:39, see at Leviticus 23:27), was to consist in “joy before the Lord.” As a “feast,” i.e., a feast of joy ( חג , from חגג = חוּג , denoting the circular motion of the dance, 1 Samuel 30:16), it was to be kept for seven days; so that Israel “should be only rejoicing,” and give itself up entirely to joy (Deuteronomy 16:15). Now, although the motive assigned in Deut. is this: “for God will bless thee (Israel) in all thine increase, and in all the work of thine hands;” and although the feast, as a “feast of ingathering,” was a feast of thanksgiving for the gathering in of the produce of the land, “the produce of the floor and wine-press;” and the blessing they had received in the harvested fruits, the oil and wine, which contributed even more to the enjoyment of life than the bread that was needed for daily food, furnished in a very high degree the occasion and stimulus to the utterance of grateful joy: the origin and true signification of the feast of Tabernacles are not to be sought for in this natural allusion to the blessing of the harvest, but the dwelling in booths was the principal point in the feast; and this was instituted as a law for all future time (Leviticus 23:41), that succeeding generations might know that Jehovah had caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths when He led them out of Egypt (Leviticus 23:43). סכּה , a booth or hut, is not to be confounded with אחל a tent, but comes from סכך texuit , and signifies casa, umbraculum ex frondibus ramisque consertum ( Ges. thes. s. v.), serving as a defence both against the heat of the sun, and also against wind and rain (Psalms 31:21; Isaiah 4:6; Jonah 4:5). Their dwelling in booths was by no means intended, as Bähr supposes, to bring before the minds of the people the unsettled wandering life of the desert, and remind them of the trouble endured there, for the recollection of privation and want can never be an occasion of joy; but it was to place vividly before the eyes of the future generations of Israel a memorial of the grace, care, and protection which God afforded to His people in the great and terrible wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:15). Whether the Israelites, in their journey through the wilderness, not only used the tents which they had taken with them (cf. Leviticus 14:8; Exodus 16:1; Exodus 18:7; Exodus 33:8.; Numbers 16:26., Leviticus 24:5, etc.), but erected booths of branches and bushes in those places of encampment where they remained for a considerable time, as the Bedouins still do sometimes in the peninsula of Sinai ( Burckhardt, Syrien, p. 858), or not; at all events, the shielding and protecting presence of the Lord in the pillar of cloud and fire was, in the words of the prophet, “a booth (tabernacle) for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain” (Isaiah 4:6) in the barren wilderness, to those who had just been redeemed out of Egypt. Moreover, the booths used at this feast were not made of miserable shrubs of the desert, but of branches of fruit-trees, palms and thickly covered trees, the produce of the good and glorious land into which God had brought them (Deuteronomy 8:7.); and in this respect they presented a living picture of the plenteous fulness of blessing with which the Lord had enriched His people. This fulness of blessing was to be called to mind by their dwelling in booths; in order that, in the land “wherein they ate bread without scarceness and lacked nothing, where they built goodly houses and dwelt therein; where their herds and flocks, their silver and their gold, and all that they had, multiplied” (Deuteronomy 8:9, Deuteronomy 8:12-13), they might not say in their hearts, “My power, and the might of mine hand, hath gotten me this wealth,” but might remember that Jehovah was their God, who gave them power to get wealth (Leviticus 23:17, Leviticus 23:18), that so their heart might not “be lifted up and forget Jehovah their God, who had led them out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” If, therefore, the foliage of the booths pointed to the glorious possessions of the inheritance, which the Lord had prepared for His redeemed people in Canaan, yet the natural allusion of the feast, which was superadded to the historical, and subordinate to it, - viz., to the plentiful harvest of rich and beautiful fruits, which they had gathered in from this inheritance, and could now enjoy in peace after the toil of cultivating the land was over, - would necessarily raise their hearts to still higher joy through their gratitude to the Lord and Giver of all, and make this feats a striking figure of the blessedness of the people of God when resting from their labours.

Verse 44

Communication of these laws to the people.


Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Bibliography Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Leviticus 23:4". 1854-1889.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 21st, 2018
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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