Holidays and Holiness (Leviticus 23)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Leviticus 23:1–23:44
Holidays and Holiness
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
May 13th, 2018
I. “Meaning and Order”
Listen to an excerpt from a recent story I heard on the radio. Listeners learned about Gregorio, an elderly Puerto Rican man struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria:
Gregorio's descent from determined storm victim to this moment of despair is a path traveled by many in Puerto Rico, who lost much more than material possessions. Psychologists and social workers...say elderly people are especially vulnerable when their daily routines are disrupted for long periods of time. Those who were once active, she says, now stay home alone...[The] predictability of TV shows, church groups and frequent visits with friends imbues life with meaning and order. The storm changed that. "Because they feel depressed," Vargas says, "they don't have that desire to keep that routine — of sharing in the community."...The loss of routine has created widespread anxiety among the elderly, he says. "We have two in-house psychologists and right now their [schedules are] packed."
The plight of these fellows Americans should continue to inform our prayers. But the emphasis here on routine is also worth noting. The writer stated that routine “imbues life with meaning and order”.
II. The Passage: "These are the Appointed Feasts" (23:1-44)
In light of that idea, it's interesting where God's path of holiness takes us in chapter 23. Look with me at the first two verses:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.
Literally, God is saying these are the “appointments” I have with you; or the “appointed times”. As we read here, these “appointments” were to be “holy convocations”, that is, they were sacred times to assemble. In fact, God first told the Israelites about these appointments in Exodus 23. Listen to verse 14-17. God told the people through Moses...
“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me.  You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed.  You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year [the end of the harvest year, that is], when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor.  Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD.”
So these assemblies required all the men to gather together at the Tent of Meeting three times throughout the year. This schedule is repeated in Exodus 34, and confirmed in Deuteronomy 16. Now, when you look over Leviticus 23, it looks like there are a lot more than three appointments. But in reality, there are not. Leviticus 23 simply gives us more information on the different aspects of these appointed festivals, these holy days, or we might say, “holidays”. Let's take a brief look at each of these three festivals. In 23:4-14 we learn about...
1. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (vs. 4-14)
Look with me at verses 5 and 6: “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the LORD's Passover.  And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.”
So this festival was the first holiday of the year, since Exodus 12:2 tells us the month in which the Passover took place became the first month of a new Israelite calendar. This was an early Spring festival, occurring during March or April of our calendar (remember, the Hebrews used a lunar calendar, unlike our solar calendar).
So this feast day began with a Passover observance, which was followed by a seven-day period during which the Hebrews were to eat unleavened, rather than leavened bread. Leaven is not yeast like we think about buying yeast at the store. In ancient times, some dough was left out to ferment. Than after time, that dough was added to the whole lump in order to make the bread rise when baked. You may remember the Israelites left Egypt quickly, so their bread was not leavened.
But interestingly, in Exodus 12, when God tells them about celebrating this festival, leaven is to be removed from the entire house, not just the bread. Combine that with the fact that Leviticus bans unleavened bread from the normal sacrifices, and you get the sense that leaven represents more than just the hastiness of the Exodus. Remember, leavened bread is the result of fermentation. In light of that, it seems leaven was used, in some cases, to represent corruption. Thus to be unleavened was a picture of purity.
Now, let me mention one more thing about this Feast of Unleavened Bread. Verses 9-14 tell us that on the Sunday of this seven-day festival, (v. 11) “the day after the Sabbath”, the Israelites were to bring, after settling in the Promised Land, a (v. 10) “sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest”. This is one indication that this first festival took place during the barley harvest.
Now, if we move deeper into chapter 23, we read in verses 15-22 about...
2. The Feast of Harvest (vs. 15-22)
This is what we learn, beginning in verse 15, about the timing of this festival: “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering.  You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.”
Verses 17-21 simply contains a description of the offerings required for this festival.
Now, notice that verse 16 described “a grain offering of new grain”. This is a clue that we've moved past the barley harvest and into the wheat harvest. Thus, this was a time of rejoicing for God's provision in these grain harvests. And that rejoicing included a reminder to care for one another, especially the needy. That's why verse 22 repeats God's commands from Leviticus 19:9.
But back to the issue of timing. Verse 15 tells us this festival took palce seven full weeks, or forty-nine days from the day after the Sabbath that took place during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. So that places us in the third month of the Hebrew calendar, which for us would be some time in May or June.
So as we see in Exodus 24, this festival is called the “Feast of Harvest”. In Leviticus 23, it is not named. But in Exodus 34, Numbers 28, and Deuteronomy 16 it is called the “Feast of Weeks”, since it takes place seven weeks after the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
But let's keep going. Moving into the final section, beginning in verse 23, we read about...
3. The Feast of Ingathering (vs. 23-44)
So verse 24 indicates that we've moved ahead several months. We read there...
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation.  You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the LORD.”
Now, it's important to know that trumpets were blown at every new moon, that is, at the beginning of every Hebrew month. So that is not unusual. What is unusual is that in the seventh month, the first day was to be observed as “a day of solemn rest”. Why? Because of what was coming. Look at verse 27...
“Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the LORD.  And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God.”
So the trumpet blast on day one was to announce the imminence of day ten. And as we read here, day ten was the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar, Yom Kippur, “the Day of Atonement”. As we learned in Leviticus 16, this was the only day of the year on which the High Priest could enter into the holiest part of the Tent of Meeting and make atonement for the sins of the entire nation.
Now, like Passover in the Spring, we'd almost expect another seven day festival to follow on the heels of Yom Kippur. And in general, we'd be right about that. Look at verse 34...“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD.” So here's another seven day festival, but it starts five days after the Day of Atonement. Why? Why might this Fall festival not start right after a holy day, just like the Spring festival?
Well, in Numbers 28 and 29 we find a detailed list of all the sacrifices that were to be offered by the Israelites, throughout the year, including on these festival days. Now, when you look in Numbers 29 at the offerings prescribed for this “Feast of Booths”, you will see the list is four or five times the length of every other festival, with sacrifices being made every single day of the festival.
But look at what else Leviticus 23 tells us about this holiday...
“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest.  And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.  You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month.  You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths,  that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
So the five days between Yom Kippur and the beginning of this Feast of Booths was probably a time of preparation, a time to gather both sacrifices and branches. Why branches? Well, it seems the branches were used to build canopies, booths in which to stay, as a reminder of their time in the willderness, after God redeemed them from Egypt.
And like the Spring festivals, this festival of canopies or “booths” was a harvest festival. Remember verse 39? “...When you have gathered in the produce of the land...”, that is, the grapes, the figs, and the pomegranates. This is why Exodus 23 and 34 call it the “Feast of Ingathering”.
So three annual festivals that covered a numbers of different days, included a number of different rituals, and prescribed a number of different sacrifices and offerings. But why? Why this kind of calendar? Well, think about the two ideas find emphasized in these three festivals: God's redemption and God's provision. From affliction in Egypt to abundance in Canaan, these festivals were about remembering. Listen to how Moses puts it in Deut. 6:10–12...
“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build,  and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full,  then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
III. Do You Have a Consecrated Calendar?
Now think about all this for a minute. Beginning in chapter 18, God has been teaching the Israelites about this set-apart kind of life, of being conformed to will of God rather than the world out there. But as we see here, this includes having a consecrated calendar. Do you have a consecrated calendar; a schedule influenced by God and his agenda?
But wait a minute. These festivals, these holy days were for the Israelites. Are followers of Jesus Christ called to follow this same calendar? I believe the NT says “no”. Now, before I forget, did you notice that the first calendar command in Leviticus 23 has to do with the Sabbath. Did you see that in verse 3? God's influence on their schedule was not restricted to three months out of the year. It was relevant every single week. Well, think about all of that as you listen to the Apostle Paul's words from Colossians chapter 2...
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16–17)
So these OT Sabbaths and festivals were fulfilled in Christ. They were only shadows. And if you follow the shadow back, you find the One casting the shadow: Jesus Christ (“the substance belongs to Christ”). But what's the connection? How is Jesus connected to these feast days? Or we might ask, how did these festivals point forward to Jesus?
Well, look with me if you will at I Corinthians 5:6-8. See if any of this sounds familiar...
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (I Corinthians 5:6–8)
Notice what Paul, “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (as he calls himself in Philippians 3:5), [notice what he] does with the first festival from Leviticus 23. Jesus is (v. 7) “our Passover lamb”. And His sacrifice has cleansed us, for we (v. 7) “really are unleavened”. Therefore we can (v. 8) “celebrate the festival”. How? As the Israelites did? Christians can celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread everyday...in its fullness. How? By rejecting the leaven of “malice and evil”, and living for God in sincerity and truth.
“Now wait”, you might declare. “I see the Passover, and I see the Feast of Unleavened Bread...but what about when the firstfruits were offered on that Sunday? How was that fulfilled?” Well, ten chapters later, in I Corinthians 15:20, Paul declares...But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. And of course, this resurrection took place on what day? The Sunday after Passover!
And how do we celebrate that holy day, in light of Christ, “the firstfruits”? Paul makes the connection in Romans 6:4...just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. And one day, we too will be raised up in the full harvest of that final resurrection.
So let's go back to that question inspired by Leviticus 23: “Do you have a consecrated calendar?” In one sense, our celebrations of Good Friday and Easter Sunday represent a connection back to the Israelites' consecrated calendar. But remember, the NT does not instruct us to celebrate those holy days, those holidays, annually. That's just a tradition.
No, as we saw in I Corinthians 5 (and 15), my calendar, your calendar should be consecrated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Remember what I said a few minutes ago about the goal of God's calendar guidelines in Leviticus 23: “From affliction in Egypt to abundance in Canaan, these festivals were about remembering”. Having a consecrated calendar is about more than observing Christmas and Easter. Remember Gregorio in Puerto Rico? Having a consecrated calendar is about embracing a “routine [that] imbues life with order and meaning”, God's order and meaning.
Do you see your hours and days and weeks and months and years as resources for remembering...that is, resources to be employed in the service of remembering your journey from affliction to abundance, from slave to landowner, from inhumanity to inheritance, from chattel to child, from lost to found, from darkness to light, from despair to hope, from death to resurrection, all because of the death and resurrection of Jesus?
As we see here in Leviticus 23, God wants to teach his people that true holiness “redeems the time” (Ephesians 5:16). Your calendar can and should be used to “train yourself for godliness” (I Timothy 4:7). Your calendar is a stewardship, and (I Corinthians 4:2) “it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” For (I Corinthians 4:7), “What do you have that you did not receive?” Do you have a consecrated calendar?
How do we set-apart, how do we consecrate our calendars? Like Leviticus 23, an important place to begin is the weekly commitment of worship and the word on Sunday mornings. That's clear in the NT. Beyond that, I would encourage you to prayerfully ask, “What kind of time can I set, on a regular basis, to remember what God has done, is doing, and wants to do in my life?” Maybe that means personal devotions. Maybe it means gathering with other believers. And that mentality should make our holiday traditions even more meaningful, right?
The me-centeredness of sin always tempts us to commandeer our calendars for our own selfish desires. But Christ our Passover lamb has been slain. And if He has consecrated us (purified, sanctified, set us apart), by grace alone through faith alone, then we should consecrate our calendars for Him. God is saying, “These are the appointments I want to have with you. Will you come and meet with me?”