The Festivals (23:1–3)
1–2 The major festivals of Israel are described in this chapter; they are also described in Numbers Chapters 28–29 and in Deuteronomy Chapter 16. The most detailed description of the festivals is given in the book of Numbers, where the instructions are primarily for the priests. Here in Leviticus the instructions are mainly for the people. During the three major festivals-Passover and Unleavened Bread, Weeks (Harvest), and Tabernacles (Ingathering)all the men of Israel were expected to come to the tabernacle to worship (see Exodus 23:14–17 and comment).
The full observance of those festivals that required Firstfruits or any other produce from the field would have to wait until the Israelites were settled in the land of Canaan (verse 10); before then they would be in the desert and have no opportunity to grow agricultural products.
3 See Exodus 20:8–11 and comment.
The Passover and Unleavened Bread (23:4–8)
(Exodus 12:14–20; Numbers 28:16–25; Deuteronomy 16:1–8)
4–8 See Exodus 12:12–20 and comment.
9–14 The “firstfruits” was not a separate festival; it was included in the festival of Unleavened Bread. (The offering of firstfruits was also part of the festivals of Weeks and Tabernacles.) During the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the firstfruits to be offered were from the grain harvest. Before the Israelites could eat grain from their fields, they had to present a sheaf of grain to the Lord (verse 11). They were to wave the sheaf before the Lord (as in other “wave” offerings); that meant they were to wave the sheaf toward the altar and back again, which signified that the sheaf had been offered to the Lord and then received back again with thanks. In addition, a lamb was to be offered as a burnt offering (Leviticus 1:117), and a grain offering (Leviticus 2:1–16) was to be offered as well84 (verses 12–13).
Feast of Weeks (23:15–22)
(Numbers 28:26–31; Deuteronomy 16:9–12)
15–21 The Feast of Weeks was celebrated fifty days after the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In the New Testament it is called “Pentecost,”85 which is the day the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus’ disciples and empowered them for ministry (Acts 2:1–4).
The Feast of Weeks is also called the Feast of Harvest in Exodus 23:16. During the festival, the following offerings were to be presented: a wave offering of firstfruits (verse 17); burnt offerings of seven lambs,a bull and two rams, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings (verse 18); and finally, in verse 19, a sin offering (Leviticus 4:1–2,27–31) and a fellowship offering (Leviticus 3:1–17).
22 Since the Feast of Weeks was a celebration of the wheat harvest, it was appropriate to include this reminder to the people that they should leave the gleanings for the poor (see Leviticus 19:9–10 and comment).
Feast of Trumpets (23:23–25)
23–25 This feast came to be known as “New Year’s Day” among the Jews. Trumpets were blown not only on this day but also on the first day (new moon) of every month. Since there were no calendars available, trumpets were sounded across the land to signal to the Israelites the beginning of a new month, a new agricultural season, a new year.
According to Numbers 29:1–6, the following offerings were to be presented to the Lord on this feast day: a bull, a ram, and seven lambs as burnt offerings, each accompanied by a grain offering. All these were in addition to the daily burnt offering (Exodus 29:38–41). Finally, a goat for a sin offering was to be presented.86 These offerings were to be a pleasing aroma acceptable to the Lord (see Leviticus 1:5–17 and comment).
Day of Atonement (23:26–32)
(Leviticus 16:1–34; Numbers 29:7–11)
26–32 See Leviticus 16:1–34 and comment.
Feast of Tabernacles (23:33–44)
(Numbers 29:12–40; Deuteronomy 16:13–17)
33–36 The Feast of Tabernacles was the third and last of the great festivals of Israel; it is also called the Feast of Ingathering in Exodus 23:16. It was the main harvest festival of the year, so it was a festival characterized by thanksgiving.87
But this feast had another significance as well, and that had to do with its name: Tabernacles. The Hebrew word for “tabernacles” can also mean “booths” or “huts.” At this festival, the Israelites were to come to the tabernacle area and erect small booths or huts to live in for the seven days of the festival. This was to remind the Israelites that after they had been delivered from Egypt, they lived in “booths” in the desert. They had no permanent, secure dwelling place; they were totally dependent on God.88
We too need this reminder, we who live in secure homes in secure countries; we too are totally dependent on God’s provisions every day of our lives.
37–38 These verses are enclosed in parentheses to indicate they are a separate summary of the entire chapter.
39–44 These verses contain final instructions concerning the Feast of Tabernacles.
According to Numbers 29:12–39, large numbers of animals were to be sacrificed during the seven days of this festival: a total of seventy bulls, fourteen rams and ninety eight lambs were to be presented as a burnt offering, each with its accompanying grain offering and drink offering of wine. In addition, a goat was to be offered each day as a sin offering.89 The large number of sacrifices required gave an indication of the prosperity the Israelites would enjoy in the promised land. Thus they were to show their gratitude for God’s abundant provisions by returning to Him these offerings.
According to Numbers 29:39, the Israelites were encouraged to give voluntary offerings in addition to the required offerings specified for Israel’s various festivals. These voluntary offerings included fellowship offerings (see Leviticus 3:1–17), freewill offerings and offerings brought as the result of a vow (see Leviticus 7:16; Numbers 6:121).God’s people are always to do more than the minimum required; God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Let us never be satisfied with only “doing our duty.” Jesus said that a servant who only did his duty should consider himself an unworthy servant (Luke 17:10); Christians are called to do more than their duty.
It was on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles that Jesus stood in the temple and promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to anyone who believed in Him (John 7:37–39). A short time later He offered Himself as the final sacrifice to atone for the sins of all be lievers. With Jesus’ death, the elaborate sacrificial system of Israel was rendered obsolete; a few years later it came to an end altogether when the Jewish temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. God requires no further sacrifice for sin; Jesus’ death is the once for all sacrifice for all mankind (Hebrews 7:26–27; 10:10).