Introduction - Leviticus 23
G. B. Fyfe, London
It is important to grasp the fundamental principle that the theme of the whole Bible is Christ. The great segments of Holy Writ - the histories, prophecies, counsels and types - all have Him in view. And among the typical ordinances of the Bible we find the Feasts of the Lord, or Jehovah, which bring before us in graphic symbolism the person and work of Christ.
We are, no doubt, spiritually the poorer today for our neglect of this rich vein of truth designedly set in Scripture as an aid to our apprehension of Christ and His work.
Definition, and Designation
Before commencing a consideration of the Feasts it might be well to define the term. The word “feast” in this context means a fixed time or an appointed season. It also embodies the idea of fellowship. By bearing this in mind we shall understand more readily and appreciate more fully this wonderful subject of “The Feasts of Jehovah”.
We discover when reading the Scriptures that these holy occasions are referred to in three ways. The change of emphasis is indicated by the prepositions. They are called the Feasts of Jehovah”, telling us that the Lord is the author of those fixed seasons. They are therefore divine appointments. Then they are termed the “Feasts to Jehovah”, implying that Jehovah is Himself a recipient from these special occasions marked out in Israel’s calendar. Thirdly, we find them referred to as the “Feasts before Jehovah”. That is, the gatherings took place in His presence, and thus His people became, beneficiaries as a result of the experience. So m the Feasts, God desired to assemble His people at certain times throughout the year, fixed by Himself, in order that while dwelling among them He might have special seasons ot fellowship with them.
Design and Dispensation
The Feasts or appointed seasons trace out for us the ways of God with man and indicate the ultimate goal to which those ways lead, the goal being God’s own rest - eternal rest. In view of this, the Feasts have been termed God’s Calendar, for they form a schedule of God’s ways in relation to man down through the ages of time. As we look at God’s Calendar today, some of the appointments, in their typical application, lie m the past and are now a matter of history. The Feasts are therefore commemorative. There are, however, some appointments which still await fulfilment and are prophetic in nature. Thus the Feasts of Jehovah are also anticipative, for they project our thoughts onwards to the still unfulfilled events of the future.
In the course of these articles we shall be considering the Feasts mainly as they are presented in Leviticus 23. But the divine appointments are not peculiar to the book of Leviticus. They are spoken of also, but with a different bearing;, in Exodus 23 and 24, in Numbers 28 and 29, and in Deuteronomy 16. In Leviticus only are they presented with a dispensational character.
It is significant to note that when the Feasts are referred to in the Gospels they are no longer designated the Feasts of the Lord but the Feasts of the Jews, as in John 2. 13; 5. 1; 7. 2. Israel had by then turned her back upon Jehovah and in practice those divinely appointed seasons had deteriorated into empty formalities devoid of the presence of God - hollow shells lacking in substance and reality. Is there not a grave danger that the divine appointments of the Christian era may likewise degenerate into little more than mere formalities in our day? Are, for instance, the Lord’s supper and the gatherings for collective prayer - both divine appointments - as real and vivid to our souls as they used to be?
Distinction and Duration
Now in Leviticus 23 we have a series of seven annual feasts or fixed times, which together represent God’s programme in time in connection with His creature man. Mention is made in this chapter a number of times of the Sabbath, but this weekly institution is carefully distinguished from the annual feasts. Another fact which is apparent from the reading of the chapter is that the seven appointed seasons are divided into two groups. There are the spring feasts and the autumn feasts. The spring feasts find their parallel in Christianity, while the autumn feasts have their application particularly to Israel, since they have to do with Israel’s regathering. A further feature worthy of mention is that some of the Feasts were of one day’s duration while others extended to seven and eight days. The one day feasts may signify great definitive acts of God occurring once only in history, and being absolutely complete in themselves, such as the Passover, the Feast of First Fruits, Pentecost; whereas the seven and eight days feasts — Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles respectively — portray the far-reaching and continuing effects of these unique enactments of God. These features will no doubt be seen with greater clarity when we examine the various feasts in detail.
Division and Direction
Then the numerology here, as everywhere in Scripture, is expressive. The seven Feasts arranged as in Leviticus 23 imply a complete and meaningful cycle of events, for seven is the number of completeness. As we have stated already, they mark out the whole programme of God’s ways through time’s ages. In the first group, the spring Feasts, there are four - the Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Pentecost. Three feasts comprise the second group of autumn Feasts - Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles. In the Feast of Tabernacles mention of the eighth day affords us just a glimpse into the timeless state and the rest of God, the numeral eight here signifying an entirely new beginning, which in this case will never know an ending. There is a break in the sequence which occurs between the spring and autumn Feasts. Verse 22 of our chapter marks an interlude and forms a bridge between the two groups of Feasts. This verse may contain a typical hint of the tribulation period which will follow the translation of the saints at the coming of Christ to the aerial heavens. When the harvest had once been reaped no gleaning was to be permitted. May not this denote the solemn truth, affirmed in the New Testament, as in 2 Thessalonians 2, that during the period of the tribulation there will be no further opportunity of salvation for those who have rejected the Gospel of the grace of God?
Having made thus a brief telescopic survey of the Feasts of Jehovah as a whole, we shall in future articles study them microscopically and individually.
To be followed by “The Passover”.