Leviticus 23 Study Notes


23:1-44 God set aside a sacred period that included festivals and holy days to give the covenant community rest from everyday life. These special days would also help them remember his acts of creation, deliverance, protection, and provision.

23:1-2 The expression sacred assemblies occurs eleven times in chap. 23 (vv. 2,3,4,7,8,21,24,27,35,36,37) and eight times elsewhere in the Torah (Ex 12:16; Nm 28:18,25,26; 29:1,7,12). A sacred assembly was a time during which the people were to lay aside their usual work to focus on the worship of the Lord. The eight days that designated sacred assemblies were the first and seventh days of Unleavened Bread (Lv 23:7-8), the Festival of Weeks (v. 21), the first day of the seventh month (v. 24), the Day of Atonement (v. 27), the first and eighth days of Shelters (vv. 35-36), and the Sabbath.

23:3 The Sabbath is the only holy day commanded in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:8-11) and the only commandment grounded in creation (Ex 20:11). Examples of work mentioned in the Torah are plowing and reaping (Ex 34:21), kindling fire (35:3), and gathering wood (Nm 15:32-36). Work that was prohibited elsewhere in the OT includes trade (Am 8:5) and carrying burdens (Jr 17:21-27). The Hebrew verb shavath means “to rest” or “to cease,” and it is the root on which the word “Sabbath”was formed. Jesus affirmed that he is “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mt 12:8) and that “it is lawful to do what is good on the Sabbath” (Mt 12:12). The book of Hebrews also speaks of a spiritual rest into which the community of faith enters through Jesus Christ (Heb 3-4). Just as the rainbow was the sign of the covenant with Noah and circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, the Sabbath served as the sign of the Mosaic covenant.

23:4-5 The Passover was celebrated in the first month, Abib (later called Nisan; March-April). Further instructions about Passover were given in Ex 12, before the Israelites were delivered by God’s mighty hand. It was during the Passover Festival that Jesus was crucified, signaling that he was the unblemished lamb sacrificed for all humanity (Is 53:5-6; 1Co 5:7; Heb 8-10; 1Pt 1:18-19).


Hebrew pronunciation [koh DESH]
CSB translation sacred, holy, sanctuary
Uses in Leviticus 92
Uses in the OT 470
Focus passage Leviticus 23:2-4,7-8,20-21,24,27,35-37

This noun regularly functions adjectivally as holy, sacred, dedicated, or consecrated (Ex 3:5; 12:16; 31:15; Lv 19:24). It denotes sanctuary (Ex 28:29) or various parts such as holy place, sanctuary area, or most holy place (Ex 26:33; 28:43; Lv 16:6). Qodesh occurs twice in a row to indicate superlatives: most holy place, especially holy, and holiest part (Ex 26:34; 30:10; Lv 2:3). Singular uses suggest holiness, what is holy, or holy portion (Ex 15:11; Lv 19:8; Nm 6:20). With numbers qodesh connotes holy ones (Dt 33:2). Plurals can signify holy offerings, gifts, things, or objects (Ex 28:38; Lv 5:15; Nm 4:16). Implicit in qodesh are concepts of separateness and consecration (Ezk 42:20). Holiness is associated with glory and commands respect or awe (Ex 15:11). God is holy as separated from sin. Holy things and people belong to God, being set apart from common use (Ex 39:30) for his consecrated purposes (Lv 10:17).

23:6-8 The Festival of Unleavened Bread began on the fifteenth day of Abib and was a reminder of the haste with which the Hebrews left Egypt (Ex 12). The word “festival” designates the event as a pilgrimage, and it could not be celebrated at home. The unleavened bread was usually in the form of small round wafers baked from new grain without leaven (Lv 2:4). Over time leaven came to signify corruption. Thus, the festival was intended to remind the covenant community that they were supposed to purge corruption as they celebrated redemption (1Co 5:8). By the first century AD, the Passover and Unleavened Bread festivals were celebrated at the same time (Mk 14:1,12; Lk 22:1,7), although Passover was also treated as part of the pilgrimage during the reign of King Hezekiah (2Ch 30:1).

23:9-14 The Festival of Weeks-or-Harvest occurred during the week of Unleavened Bread and was both commemorative and prophetic. During this feast the Israelites were to show their gratitude to God for his provision. The community of faith was to acknowledge God’s provision by giving him the first of their income. The waving of the sheaf was to be an outward sign of an inward attitude; therefore, it was accompanied by the bringing of sacrifices. The people could only eat from the fruit of the land after they acknowledged God as its source. The prophetic element of this feast was fulfilled in the risen Jesus Christ, who is the firstfruits of those believers who have died (1Co 15:20).

23:15-22 The word Pentecost comes from the Greek. It means “fiftieth,” and it concluded the period of seven weeks that began during Passover. Originally the Festival of Weeks was for the wheat harvest (Ex 34:22), but later it was tied with the events on Sinai. During this feast the Jews were supposed to show gratitude for God’s provisions by bringing gifts (Lv 23:15-17), by setting aside times for worship (vv. 18-21), and by making provision for the poor. God’s concern for the poor is evident throughout the OT, and he always makes provision for their well-being (v. 22; 19:10; 25:35; Ex 23:11; Dt 15:4; Ru 2). The Jews were celebrating this pilgrimage feast when the Holy Spirit came upon those gathered in Jerusalem (Ac 2).

23:23-25 What later became known as the Festival of Trumpets was observed in the seventh month of Tishri, when the Israelites celebrated the end of the harvest. During the postexilic time, this day became the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah). The trumpet blasts reminded the Israelites to assemble in God’s presence for spiritual service. Trumpet blasts are important in the end time when events surrounding Christ’s second coming will be preceded by angels blowing trumpets (Rv 8:7-8,10,12; 9:1,13-14; 10:7; 11:15).

23:26-32 The Day of Atonement was to be celebrated during the tenth day of Tishri. Details on the celebration of this day are outlined in chap. 16. In contrast to the other feasts, this was to be a day of fasting in which the people exercised self-denial and expressed remorse over personal and corporate sin.

23:33-36 The Festival of Shelters or Tabernacles began on Tishri 15. It was primarily a thanksgiving festival showing gratitude for God’s provision (Ex 34:22) and closing out the agricultural year. The shelters (Hb succoth) were also a reminder that the Israelites lived in tents during the forty-year journey from Egypt to the promised land (Lv 23:42-43). The Festival of Shelters was observed during the monarchy period as well as the postexilic period (2Ch 8:13; Ezr 3:4; Zch 14:16,18-19) and during the early church period. In fact, Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival (Jn 7:1-15 and possibly Jn 5:1).

23:39-43 These verses cover additional instructions for the Festival of Shelters. This is the only festival where the Israelites are commanded to rejoice before the Lord (v. 40; cp. Dt 12:10-12; Php 4:4).