Leviticus 23 (NRSV)
This chapter introduces us to the seven annual feasts Israel celebrated. These feasts are rich with symbolic and prophetic significance.
–David Guzik (and all following comments in green)
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: These are the appointed festivals of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations, my appointed festivals.
3Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work: it is a sabbath to the Lord throughout your settlements.
Hebrews 4:9-10 (New International Version)
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.
The Passover and Unleavened Bread
Passover was meant to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, and with the sacrifice of the lamb for each family, show how the blood of the lamb averted the judgment of God for each Israelite family.
4These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at the time appointed for them. 5In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord, 6and on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. 7On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. 8For seven days you shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire; on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation: you shall not work at your occupations.
The Offering of First Fruits
The day following Passover’s Sabbath was a time to give the firstfruits of the harvest to God. The idea was to dedicate the first ripened stalks of grain to God, in anticipation of a greater harvest to come.
9The Lord spoke to Moses: 10Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. 11He shall raise the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall raise it. 12On the day when you raise the sheaf, you shall offer a lamb a year old, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord. 13And the grain offering with it shall be two-tenths of an ephah of choice flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord; and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin. 14You shall eat no bread or parched grain or fresh ears until that very day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your settlements.
The Festival of Weeks
Fifty days after the feast of firstfruits, at the completion of the wheat harvest, Israel was to celebrate the feast of Pentecost by bringing a new grain offering to the Lord; and by waving two loaves of leavened bread unto the Lord.
15And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. 16You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord.
Acts 2:1-4 (New Living Translation)
On the day of Pentecost[a] all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
a. The Festival of Pentecost came 50 days after Passover (when Jesus was crucified).
17You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering, each made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of choice flour, baked with leaven, as first fruits to the Lord. 18You shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, one young bull, and two rams; they shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, along with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord. 19You shall also offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of well-being. 20The priest shall raise them with the bread of the first fruits as an elevation offering before the Lord, together with the two lambs; they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. 21On that same day you shall make proclamation; you shall hold a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a statute forever in all your settlements throughout your generations.
22When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.
The Festival of Trumpets
On the first day of the month Tishri on the Jewish ceremonial calendar, the feast of trumpets was held; trumpets were blown to gather together God’s people for a holy convocation.
23The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 24Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts. 25You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall present the Lord’s offering by fire.
Matthew 24:31 (English Standard Version)
And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Hear the sound of the shofar HERE !
The Day of Atonement
The people gathered again for a holy convocation; but this was not a celebration feast, but a day to afflict your souls in humble recognition of one’s sin and need for atonement.
26The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 27Now, the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you: you shall deny yourselves and present the Lord’s offering by fire; 28and you shall do no work during that entire day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God. 29For anyone who does not practice self-denial during that entire day shall be cut off from the people. 30And anyone who does any work during that entire day, such a one I will destroy from the midst of the people. 31You shall do no work: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your settlements. 32It shall be to you a sabbath of complete rest, and you shall deny yourselves; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your sabbath.
The Day of Atonement
This day is so important that a whole chapter of Leviticus is devoted to it — remember chapter 16? And Hebrews chapter 9 clearly explains how this day points to Jesus Christ and the work he did on the cross.
The Festival of Booths
The Feast of Tabernacles was a time to rejoice in God’s deliverance and provision for Israel during the time of wilderness wandering; a time when having come into the promised land, looking back with gratitude on all God had done to deliver and provide in the tough times of the wilderness. The Feast of Tabernacles began and ended in rest; it was all about celebration and rest and refreshment.
33The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 34Speak to the people of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, and lasting seven days, there shall be the festival of booths to the Lord.
35The first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. 36Seven days you shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire; on the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation and present the Lord’s offerings by fire; it is a solemn assembly; you shall not work at your occupations.
37These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you shall celebrate as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the Lord offerings by fire—burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day— 38apart from the sabbaths of the Lord, and apart from your gifts, and apart from all your votive offerings, and apart from all your freewill offerings, which you give to the Lord.
39Now, the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the festival of the Lord, lasting seven days; a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. 40On the first day you shall take the fruit of majestic trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. 41You shall keep it as a festival to the Lord seven days in the year; you shall keep it in the seventh month as a statute forever throughout your generations. 42You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, 43so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Nehemiah 8:13-17 (New International Version)
On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths”-as it is written.
So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
44Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed festivals of the Lord.
–by Robert C. “Dag” Johnson in Stones of Remembrance
God in His gracious wisdom has always encouraged His people to celebrate the significant events of their lives. He consistently nudges us to remember our experiences and accomplishments in relation to His sovereign grace. These nudges may come at unexpected times or in our more reflective hours. Each seeks to focus our attention on His loving provision. How often the children of Israel were reminded to establish markers of remembrance in their historic journey.
Celebrations are some of the most important events in our passage through life. Without them the true meaning of our days here on earth is obscured. We can diminish life to mere existence, living in a world without a true sense of color or dimension. Celebrations are essential to our understanding and appreciation of one’s value and worth. They fuel our dreams and aspirations–they memorialize our commitments and achievements. They may be personal or cultural, provincial or universal, prosaic or profound, but all are to be enjoyed, relished, and remembered. Births, marriages, graduations, reunions–all are reminders to celebrate. Remembering is the avenue for our realization that celebration is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.
A perfect song for every celebration — and every day is a gift to celebrate! HERE is “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.” Sung by Fernando Ortega.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.