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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 23

 

 

Verses 1-44

THE SET TIMES OF THE LORD (vv. 1-43)

The times of special observance in Israel are called “feasts” in most translations, yet all were not feasts for Israel, as per the day of atonement (vv. 26-32), which was a day of brokenness and humiliation rather than of feasting. Yet all may be called feasts of the Lord when we think of what pleasure the Lord would have in their proper observance. Sadly, these degenerated into mere “feasts of the Jews” in which there was no real honor given to God (John 2:3; John 5:1; John 6:4; John 7:2; John 11:55).

However, from their very inception, God calls these “holy convocations” — “My feasts” (v. 2). Ought we not therefore to seek to learn in all this chapter how we should please the Lord rather than ourselves? Six of these set times were kept once in the year, but before they are mentioned, there is prior emphasis on

1. THE SABBATH (v. 3)

This was to be observed every week on the seventh day, so that it overspread the whole year. It was to be a day of rest, with no work to be done. It teaches us that we are to rest on the value of God's work already accomplished, not daring to add any work of our own to this. Such a reminder was necessary for Israel, and is necessary for us.

2. THE PASSOVER AND UNLEAVENED BREAD (vv. 4-8).

The Passover was vitally significant of Israel's initial relationship with the Lord. They could have no true relationship with Him apart from the blood of the lamb shed and sprinkled on their doorposts. This feast was to be observed on the fourteenth day of the first month. Its typical meaning clearly extends to believers of the present dispensation of grace, for 1 Corinthians 5:7 tells us, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” Just as it took place in the beginning of Israel's year, so the sacrifice of Christ is the beginning of all true blessing for mankind.

Linked closely with the Passover was the feast of unleavened bread. Israel was to eat no leavened bread for a week beginning with the Passover. Leaven speaks of sin in its corrupting character. For if, on the one hand, the Passover teaches the wonderful positive value of the sacrifice of Christ, on the other hand the abstaining from leaven is negative, emphasizing that in the cross of Christ sin is fully judged. The least allowance of sin would be gross contamination where the sacrifice of Christ is concerned, for that sacrifice involved the total judgment of sin.

Believers today are not told to literally eat unleavened bread, as Israel was, but rather to observe the spiritual meaning of this, as told us in 1 Corinthians 5:7 : “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

No customary (or servile) work was to be done (vv. 7-8), for this typically tells us that we must not dare to think of gaining God's favor or blessing by our own work. On the positive side an offering by fire was to be made every day for the seven days (the number of completeness), telling us that we must depend completely on the value of God's great work in the sacrifice of His Son.

3 THE FEAST OF FIRSTFRUITS (vv. 9-14)

Israel's harvest began early in their year, so the feast of firstfruits took place not long after the Passover. This was to be observed only in the land, as verse 10 tells us. The land speaks of the “heavenly places” into which believers are introduced by the resurrection of Christ. Before the harvest was reaped, the children of Israel were to bring a sheaf of the firstfruits to the priest, who would wave this before the Lord. The message here is perfectly plain. The firstfruits picture Christ in resurrection. “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

While the sheaf speaks of the springing up of life from death, the waving of the sheaf signifies the ascension of the Lord Jesus to heaven. Thus, the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord form the solid basis of blessing for the Church today. This too is the only basis for the blessing of the nation Israel, but that nation has refused this great blessing sent to them by God in the person of His Son. Therefore they are blinded for the time being until the Lord eventually turns away ungodliness from Jacob and Israel's eyes are opened to receive their Messiah.

On this day of the waving of the sheaf before the Lord, being the first day of the week (v. 11), a lamb (a yearling male) was to be offered as a burnt offering, together with a grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and a drink offering of wine (vv. 12-13). The burnt offering was all for God, speaking of the unselfish adoration of our hearts toward the living God, who has by Himself accomplished the great work of redemption and the exaltation of His beloved Son. The grain offering was not a blood sacrifice, but speaks of the perfection and purity of the Manhood of the Lord Jesus as the only One fitted to become the sacrifice. The drink offering of wine speaks of the joy that the offerer has in contemplation of Christ's sacrifice. Thus, God is preeminently glorified, Christ is exalted, and the believer wonderfully blessed.

Verse 14 insists that the children of Israel must not eat any of their harvest until they had offered the firstfruits to the Lord. God gave the increase, so He had prior rights, and especially so because the firstfruits symbolize the Lord Jesus as the firstborn from among the dead.

4 PENTECOST (vv. 15-22)

The sheaf of the firstfruits was waved before the Lord on the first day of the week. Then seven weeks were to pass until, on the fiftieth day (also a first day of the week) was the celebration of Pentecost (meaning “fifty”). Then “a new grain offering” was to be offered to the Lord. This signifies in some sense a new beginning, for it was on this day (fifty days after the resurrection of Christ) that the Spirit of God came to indwell believers (Acts 2:1-47) and to begin the marvelous formation of the Church in unity on earth.

Verse 17 is most interesting at this point. The people were to bring from their homes two loaves of bread, called “wave loaves.” But in contrast to all other grain offerings, they were to be baked with leaven. Therefore they certainly do not speak of Christ, for “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). They can only signify believers accepted by God in spite of their sinful natures. When the Spirit of God came at Pentecost in “divided tongues, as of fire” (Acts 2:3), those upon whom He came were publicly accepted by God. The Spirit had come upon the Lord Jesus “like a dove” (Matthew 3:16), for in Him personally the Father had pure delight. When the Spirit came at Pentecost it was “as of fire,” which speaks of God's holiness in judging evil, so that the effect of the Spirit's presence in believers is to cause self-judgment of the sin within them.

The two wave loaves picture the acceptance of both Jewish and Gentile believers, who are seen in 1 Corinthians 12:13 to be joined together in one body by “the baptism of the Spirit.” As the waving of the sheaf of firstfruits is typical of the ascension of the Lord Jesus to heaven, so the waving of the two loaves pictures the Church as being “raised up together” and made to “sit together in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 2:6). This could not be applied to Israel, for Israel is God's earthly people, but the Church is identified today with Christ in heaven. Wonderful grace!

These wave loaves are said to be “the firstfruits to the Lord.” This does not contradict the fact that the wave sheaf (offered 50 days earlier) was the sheaf of firstfruits, typical only of Christ raised and glorified. From this viewpoint Christ stands alone. But when the people are considered, the firstfruits from among mankind focuses upon the Church, which is the first result of the work of Christ. So James 1:18 tells us, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” This has taken place before the general harvest which will involve Israel and the nations.

On that day seven yearling lambs were offered, one young bull and two rams, as a burnt offering, together with grain offerings and drink offerings. In the feast of firstfruits, since the focus is on Christ alone, only one lamb was sacrificed (v. 12), but Pentecost involves the large number who are identified with Christ, so seven lambs (the complete number) were offered, besides a bull and two rams, the bull speaking of the strength of the offering in its capability of atoning for large numbers, the two rams symbolizing the witness that redemption is accomplished. This burnt offering was again accompanied by a grain offering and a drink offering.

More than that, however, a sin offering was required (one kid of the goats) and a peace offering (two yearling lambs). For Pentecost involves the acceptance of all believers, as we have seen, so that a sin offering of the substitutionary goat was imperative, and the peace offering implies the fellowship of believers with the Lord Jesus and with God the Father. Since the feast of firstfruits speaks of the Lord Jesus alone in His resurrection and ascension, only a burnt offering was indicated, for this was all for the glory of God. But Pentecost involves the blessing of those whom the Lord calls, “My brethren,” the Church of God.

The priest was to wave these offerings also before the Lord, as he had waved the loaves. For we need the insistence that the Church is a heavenly company, identified fully with her glorified Lord. The priest was to consider this a matter of holiness too (v. 20).

Again, in verse 21, customary (or servile) work was forbidden, for Pentecost speaks of another great work of God in which people are blessed by God's grace without any work on their part

Verse 22 adds a most interesting precept at this point. Though the main harvest was not reaped till much later than Pentecost, yet Israelites are told now that in reaping their harvest they were not to reap the corners of their fields nor gather any gleanings, but leave these for the poor and for strangers to gather. This is consistent with the character of the Church, for being the recipients of God's grace today, we should show the same grace to others, as Galatians 2:10 insists. As well as this, the grace of God by which we have been so greatly blessed, will not be exhausted when the Church is translated to heaven: there will be abundance of grace left for the poor of Israel and for stranger Gentiles who will be brought to God during the tribulation period.

THE THREE FINAL SET TIMES (vv. 23-44)

The three feasts we have considered all took place early in the year, and refer to those great works of God that have already taken place, — the sacrifice of Christ, His resurrection, His ascension and the coming of the Spirit of God to introduce the Church period. There follows a long interval before the last three set times were celebrated. These three speak of the future restoration and blessing of the nation Israel, beginning with

5 THE BLOWING OF TRUMPETS (vv. 23-25)

Only three verses deal with this observance, the blowing of trumpets on the first day of the seventh month. Israel's seventh Month would correspond to our October. All three of the last set times were observed in this month. They speak of the revival of blessing for Israel in a coming day, long after the Church was established in the book of Acts. Israel the nation at that time rejected the grace sent to her in Christ, yet God will restore her to great blessing in spite of this, when He works in hearts to bring them to receive the Lord Jesus; for it will be God's work in their hearts that initiates this great revival, though centuries have passed since that nation had refused Him.

The blowing of trumpets signifies the regathering of Israel back to their land, as is seen in Matthew 24:31 : “He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” The trumpet speaks of clear, declared testimony, and the Jews, who have been so scattered for centuries, will be awakened to return to their land. Already there are some stirrings of the Jews to this end, and many have returned to the land, but as yet not by any means all of Judah has returned, and we do not even know where the ten tribes are. But God knows, and this great trumpet call of angels will bring them out and back to the land of promise.

Therefore the blowing of trumpets was another “holy convocation.” Again, no customary work was to be done, for human energy will have nothing to do with this great regathering of Israel (v. 25). It will be exclusively the work of God.

6 THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (vv. 26-32)

The tenth day of the seventh month was a great climax for Israel, for it symbolizes the most vital climax of their entire history. We have before considered that Leviticus 16:1-34 devotes 34 verses to the services of this day, and seven more verses are occupied with this in chapter 23. This day was most holy, but by no means a day of feasting, rather a day in which everyone in Israel was commanded to afflict his soul (v. 27) in severe self-judgment. On the positive side, however, they were to offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. Chapter 16 shows this to be the one day of the year when the high priest brought the blood of the sin offering into the holy place, sprinkling it before and on the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:11-19), Verse 29 of that chapter furnishes the date (the tenth day of the seventh month) on which this was done.

This day is a striking picture of the coming day when Israel will be brought down to a place of deepest humiliation and self-judgment when, at the end of the Great Tribulation, God says, “I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplications, then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).

After centuries of suffering because of having rejected their Messiah, the change in that nation will be amazing when they look on the One they had pierced. Only then will they use the language of Isaiah 53:4, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” It will be astonishing to them then to find that Jesus whom they crucified is their true Messiah, the Son of God, and all the world will be astonished at the miraculous change that takes place in Israel as a result of their receiving Christ; and the nations will bring tribute to Israel in the way of much wealth (Isaiah 61:6).

But only a national repentance and faith will bring national blessing. The one who will not afflict his soul will be cut off from his people (v. 29). He will have judgment rather than blessing. Also the one who did any work was to suffer the same fate. For at the sight of the Lord Jesus every one must cease from his own works, to contemplate the wonder of the sacrificial work of Christ as the only basis of their blessing. It is sad to think that two thirds of Israel will be cut off in death at the time of the tribulation (Zechariah 13:8) because they have no faith in the Lord Jesus. The other one third will then form the nation Israel, a nation born again in one day (Isaiah 66:8).

The things seen in these verses on the day of atonement are mainly negative, but the positive things are seen in Leviticus 16:1-34, which is well worth our careful consideration.

7 TABERNACLES (vv. 33-44)

The Feast of Tabernacles completes the series of set times in Israel, and is therefore connected with the eventual completion of God's ways in bringing Israel to the fulfillment of God's promise of blessing toward them. The work will be quickly done, from the time of God's regathering the nation to the land until His fully establishing them in the blessing of millennial glory.

So, beginning on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (v. 34), in which there was to be a holy convocation, an offering was to be made every day through seven days, and on the eighth day was another holy convocation (v. 36).

The Blowing of Trumpets was for one day only, as was the Day of Atonement (over one night and day — v. 32), for they were leading up to the Feast of Tabernacles, which, being for seven days, pictures the eventual completeness of blessing that God will give Israel in fulfilling His promise to Abraham, given long before the covenant of law was introduced in the days of Moses.

On the first day and the last day of this observance of the Feast of Tabernacles, no customary work was to be done (vv. 35-36), for the marvelous millennial blessing of Israel will be God's sovereign work exclusively, just as is true of the spiritual significance of all these set times.

Verses 37 and 38 sum up these set times by insisting again that they are “feasts of the Lord, and offerings were to be made “to the Lord,” all on the days appointed, besides gifts, vows and freewill offerings which they were to “give to the Lord.” The Lord was to be the Object of their lives.

Also, on the first day of Tabernacles, the 15th day of the seventh month, after the completion of harvest, they were to take the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, bows of leafy trees, and willows (vv. 39-40). These were to be used to make booths (v. 42) in which they were to live during the week they observed. This would be a shade from the heat of the sun, but no protection from rain, wind and cold, which would not be likely at that time of year in the land of Israel.

However, the significance of this is that in the millennium the outward circumstances will be no problem, neither the weather nor the danger of thieves and robbers. All will dwell safely without need of such precautions as we cannot do without today.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Leviticus 23:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/leviticus-23.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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