Lessons from Leviticus - Chapter 23
E. L. Lovering, Ilfracombe
Chapter 23 describes the Proclamation of the Feasts: "The feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts", 23. 2. Two Hebrew words are translated "feast", one meaning "to dance, or be joyous" applied exclusively to the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles; the other, including all the sacred feasts, indicates "to meet by appointment"—hence the term "set or appointed feasts". The feasts so designated are the Sabbath, Passover and Unleavened bread, Firstfruits, Weeks or Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles. These were times of rejoicing and rest from labour, Exod. 12. 16; Lev. 23. 7, with the presentation of special offerings.
The feasts may be considered from three aspects, prophetically, typically and practically. From the standpoint of prophecy, there is God's purpose to restore man from sin to holiness; His plan to call out a people to Himself, and the redemption of Israel as a chosen nation, with final blessing in new heavens and a new earth, through the coming of Messiah; and His process revealed in the types and shadows of the Old Testament and fulfilled in the teachings of the New. Typically, in relation to Christ and the believer, there is redemption, resurrection and realization. As a practical application in daily experience, the feasts describe God's requirements for conduct and character; His provision in redemption and sanctification. and man's response and realization of joy and fellowship with Himself.
The first of the feasts was the Sabbath, 23. 3, which reflected the work of God in creation, perfect in its character and followed by the rest of accomplishment. Here, every seventh day was a constant reminder of God's relationship with His people. On the fourteenth day of the first month was the feast of Passover and commencing the next day that of Unleavened bread, 23. 5-8, typical of the work of God in redemption. Thus the year began with the reminder of their redemption from slavery and separation to Jehovah. "Ye shall do no servile work . . . but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord", 23. 7, 8. Man's labour would cease and the sweet savour of the burnt offering ascend to the Lord. God does not desire a servile, legalistic activity from His people, but the unfolding of His Son in His redeemed people. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, exhorts them to "purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened . . . Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven . . . of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth", 1 Cor. 5. 7, 8.
The feast of Firstfruits, Lev. 23. 9-14, observed in the land of Canaan, pointed to the witness of God's power in resurrection, for it was a feast of harvest. For every believer in Christ, "the land" is the proper sphere of Christian life and conduct, for "like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life", Rom. 6. 4 The principal offering, a sheaf of firstfruits, was waved by the priest before the Lord, when it was accepted for Israel, Lev. 23. 11. The Lord Jesus, as a corn of wheat, fell into the ground and died, and so brought forth much fruit, John 12. 24, and became the firstborn from among the dead, so that "in all things he might have the preeminence", Col. 1. 18. The sheaf, waved before the Lord on the morrow after the Sabbath, spoke of resurrection, the first day of the week. Not until God had received His portion, did the people partake of the harvest, for, "ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God", Lev. 23. 14. This divine order must be our constant pattern, both in the assembly of His people and in our individual lives.
Seven weeks after the feast of firstfruits came the feast of Weeks or Pentecost ("penxecost" in Greek meaning fifty), 23. 15-22. In this feast, the two wave-loaves of fine flour baken with leaven, might point towards the church of God called from Jew and Gentile and born on the day of Pentecost. The church, which is His body, is that through which "the principalities and powers" in the heavenlies might know "the manifold wisdom of God", Eph. 3. 10. With the leavened bread were offered "seven lambs without blemish", Lev. 23. 18, indicating that in God's people there is yet much leaven, though in their standing before God they are accepted and complete in Him.
The seventh month was the most sacred of all, for in it the people observed three related feasts, the first of which was that of Trumpets, 23. 24-26, which illustrated the worship of God in memorial. After a long interval of nearly four months, on the first day of the seventh month there was to be "a memorial of blowing of trumpets", 23. 24, to call the people to remembrance and activity. The trumpets here are not of rams' horns but of silver, typical of the fact that it is on the ground of redemption alone that we are called to be priests and witnesses to God. The ministry of intercession and worship is the privilege of those within the sanctuary, and in the world their responsibility is to proclaim the gospel "to every creature". Thus shall "the remembrancers of Jehovah, keep not silence",
Isa. 62. 6 NFWBERRY.
After an interval of eight days came the day of Atonement which told of wasted opportunities confessed, 23. 26-32. This was a time of sober reflection, of affliction, and humiliation of soul, 23. 27; of atonement for sin and rest from labour, 23. 8; a day not so much of feasting as of fasting. When the service of every believer is reviewed at the judgment seat, all will be manifest before the eye of Him who searches the hearts, and from whom nothing is hid, 2 Cor. 5. 10. For the nation of Israel, it will be a day when they shall look on Him whom they pierced, and shall mourn for Him, Zech. 12. 10-14.
The last of the feasts was that of Tabernacles, 23. 33-44, when wilderness experience was remembered. The fasting of the day of atonement was now followed by seven days of festive joy, 23. 40, being the longest of all festivals. Because it took place at the close of the year, at the time of harvest, it was also called the feast of ingathering, Exod. 23. 16; Deut. 16. 13. At the remembrance of God's deliverance and guidance, and His gift of the law to them, they were filled with joy. To keep them mindful of this, they were commanded to "dwell in booths" for seven days, 23. 42, 43; thereafter, every seven years, at the feast of tabernacles, the law was read in the hearing of the whole congregation, Deut. 31. 10-12. However, despite this reminder, Israel soon forgot that they were pilgrims and strangers, and neglected these aspects of the feast from the days of Joshua to the time of Nehemiah. When the feeble remnant returned from the Babylonian captivity, they once again sat under booths (made partly of willows) and there was very great gladness, Neh. 8. 17. At last they had exchanged the willows of Babylon, where they had hung their harps, unable to sing the Lord's song, Psa. 137. 2, for the "willows of the brook", Lev. 23. 40.
In a day yet future "it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles", Zech. 14. 16.
Thus "Moses declared unto the children of Israel the feasts of the Lord", Lev. 23. 44. It is of interest to note that in New Testament days the feasts of Jehovah had become the feasts of the Jews, John 7. 2; how easily divine institutions can be marred in the hands of man.
Erratum. Mr. J. H. Large informs us that the last six lines on page 188 of Day by Day through the New Testament should read as follows: "the will of God ... is good, designed for the glory of God and our blessing, increasingly acceptable to us as experience grows, and perfect because it cannot be improved upon, nor its possibilities exhausted."
"Assembly Writers Library", Vol. 2. The Works of William Lincoln (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Hebrews). 440 pages; £3.80 plus 85p post and packing. Gospel Tract Publications, 48 York Street, Glasgow G2 8JW. This is uniformly case-bound to match Volume 1 (reviewed in Nov./Dec. 1979 issue). Here is the sweetest verse-by-verse ministry on these Epistles—a voice from the last century, reprinted from the original pages. This is heartwarming spiritual ministry, not too deep or too detailed, but teaching for young and old alike, bringing out all the important points and ideas in these Epistles. This teaching is as important today as when Lincoln wrote in the last century, or when the apostle Paul wrote by divine inspiration in the first century.