Festivals of Leviticus 23

Q. Will You Explain the “Feasts” of the Lord?


The annual “set feasts” (Num. 29:39) are six in number:

(1)    The Passover (Num. 28:16)
(2)    The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Num. 28:17)
(3)    The Feast of Harvest, the Feast of Weeks (first fruits), or Pentecost (Ex. 23:16; 34:22; Num. 28:26; Acts 2:1)
(4)    The Feast of Trumpets (Num. 29:1)
(5)    The Day of Atonement (Num. 29:7)
(6)    The Feast of Ingathering, the Feast of Tabernacles (Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:34, Num. 29:12.)

Three times in the year all Hebrew men were required to gather at Jerusalem (Ex. 23:14-17; Deut 16:16) to celebrate the three harvest festivals – (1) the Feast of Unleavened Bread; (2) the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost); and (3) The Feast of Ingathering, or the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles).

Passover – The festival instituted at the Exodus to commemorate the night of the Israelite’s escape from Egypt, when all the first-born of Egyptians were slain.  Immediately before the departure from Egypt, God instructed Moses that “this month” (Abib, later called Nisan) was to be the lst month of the year; that on the 10th of this month each family or larger group should set aside a lamb; and that on the l4th the should kill it at evening and eat it that night.  Detailed instructions (Ex. 12:1-28) were given for this ceremonial meal that was to become an annual observance.  The lamb was to be slain by each family, presumably at home, and the blood sprinkled on the lintel and doorposts as a sign that that house should be passed over when the homes of the Egyptians were invaded by sudden death.  The lamb, roasted whole, was to be eaten the same night with bitter herbs and unleavened bread; it was to be eaten in hast, the family standing, dressed for travel, with their staffs in their hands.  In that same night the plague of death at midnight induced Pharaoh to ‘thrust out’ the Israelites in haste before morning on the l5th (Ex. 12:12, 29-33; Num. 33:3; Deut. 16:1).

Later, the Passover was celebrated only at the central sanctuary, eventually at Jerusalem (Deut. 16:2, 5, 6).  Although only adult males were required to attend (Ex. 23:14-17), the families might go voluntarily, as in the case of Joseph, Mary, and the child Jesus (Lk. 2:41-43).  In the time of Christ the Passover lambs were killed by the priest at the Temple on the afternoon of the 14th, and their owners then took them home for roasting.  By that time the procedure was prescribed in detail, including the preliminary ritual search of the house for any remaining bits of leaven, the kind and order of the dishes served at the supper, the number of cups of wine, the hymns, the recital of the Exodus story, and the prayers.  The participants no longer girded themselves as for a journey and they ate sitting on reclining instead of standing, since those signs of haste were not appropriate after they were no longer strangers and wanderers but were dwelling in their own land.

Besides being a memorial of the Exodus, the Passover feast, centering around the sacrificed lamb, pointed forward to Christ, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).  Furthermore, instructions given to Moses that no bone of the Passover lamb was to be broken (Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12) doubtless found an antitypical fulfillment in the fact that Jesus’ bones were not broken (Jn. 19:36; Ps. 34:20).  Paul directly declares Christ to be “our Passover lamb,” “sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7).

The Feast of Unleavened Bread – Closely connected with the Passover, yet distinct from it, was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which followed.  For practical purposes the two feasts were considered as one, and the names are often used interchangeably.  But in purpose they were somewhat different.  The Passover stood for deliverance (Ex. 12:23); the unleavened bread was reminiscent of the haste in which Israel left Egypt (Ex. 12:33, 39; Deut. 16:3).  God was explicit as to the manner in which the Feast of Unleavened Bread should be celebrated (Ex. 12:15).

Feast of Pentecost – The festival of wheat harvest, called variously the Feast of Weeks (Ex. 34:22), of First Fruits (Ex. 34:22; Num. 28:26), of Harvest (Ex. 23:16), and, in the New Testament times, of Pentecost (Acts 2:1).  This was one of the 3 festivals at which all Hebrew men were required to “appear before the Lord” (Ex. 23:17), that is, they were required to journey to the sanctuary.  It was a one-day festival, one of the annual ceremonial Sabbaths (Lev. 23:21).  On it 2 loaves of fine flour, baked with leaven, together with specified animal sacrifices were offered to the Lord (vs. 17-20).

Feast of Trumpets – A feast celebrated on the 1st day of the 7th month, the beginning of the civil year.  This lst day fell on the “new moon’ of September or October.  This month was always numbered the 7th (see Lev. 23:24), according to God’s instructions to Moses to begin the year with the Passover month of Abib (Nisan), as the first month (see Ex. 12:2); yet the year was still reckoned as beginning with Tishri for civil matters.  Tishri 1 was marked by extra sacrifices in addition to the new-moon sacrifices of the other months (Num. 29:1-6).  It was a ceremonial Sabbath, and was celebrated by the blowing of trumpets (Lev. 23:24, 25).  The tradition of the Jews is that on New Year’s Day (celebrated to this day as Rosh Hashana) everyone is judged for his deeds of the past year, but that one’s doom is not settled until the 10th, on the Day of Atonement, apparently after 9 days of grace.

Day of Atonement –  The 10th day of the 7th month (Ethanium, or Tishri), the most solemn day of the year.  On it all were not only to refrain from work but also to afflict their souls (Lev. 23:27-32).  This probably included fasting, since in New Testament times it is evidently this day that is referred to as “the fast” (Acts 27:9).  On this day all the sins of the preceding year were finally disposed of in the ceremony of cleansing the sanctuary.  All who did not afflict their souls on that day were cut off from Israel.  The Day of Atonement was to the Jews a day of judgment.  As their tradition later describes it, all are judged on New Year’s Day, but those who are not outstandingly good or hopelessly wicked have 9 days more, until the Day of Atonement, before their doom is finally sealed.

Another important event connected with the Day of Atonement was the blowing of the trumpet on that day to announce the 50th year of the sabbatical year cycle, the year of jubilee (Lev. 25:9, 10).  Presumably, then the sabbatical years, running in the same series with the jubilee years, also began at that time.  The Day of Atonement services represented cleansing from sin and reconciliation to God.  The ritual began with the high priest bathing his body and putting on the holy linen garments.  For himself and his house he offered a bull for a sin offering.  After this personal preparation a goat designated “for the Lord,” previously chosen by lot from two acquired for the service was sacrificed.  Then, amid clouds of incense ascending from the altar before the second veil, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place and sprinkled the blood first of the bull, then of the goat, upon and before the mercy seat, which covered the ark containing, among other things, the tables of the Decalogue (Heb. 9:4).  In this manner the holy place was cleansed, and atonement made for the sins of the people (Lev. 16:16).  In a similar manner the altar was cleansed.  Later, but not until the work of reconciliation for the holy place, the altar, and the people was ended, the transgressions of the people were transferred ritually to the goat, described as being “for Azazel,”  This goat was then led into the wilderness.

The high priest was a type of Christ, the high priest in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 8:1).  The earthly priest performed his services “unto the example and shadow of heavenly things”.  The author of Hebrews explains that by the high priest’s entering only once a year into the second apartment the Holy Spirit signified that “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing”.

The Day of Atonement was part of the sacrificial system of worship that came to an end when Jesus died on the cross.

Colossians 2:14

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

Ordinances.  Greek dogmata, “decrees,” “statutes.”  This refers to the various laws and decrees of the Jewish legal system such as terminated at the cross (see Eph. 2:15)

Ephesians 2:15

Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;

The Feast of Tabernacles (RSV generally “Feasts of Booths”) – This was the last feast of the religious year and usually came during the present month of October, after the autumn harvest (particularly of the grain, olive and grapes) was over and the fruit had been gathered in.  It was a joyous occasion for all.  The Day of Atonement was past; all misunderstandings had been cleared up, all sin confessed and put aside.  The Israelites Were happy, and their happiness found expression in the Feast of Tabernacles.  The term “tabernacles,” or “booths” refer to the custom of living during the feast in booths made of branches, commemorative of the wilderness wanderings (Lev. 23:34-43).  It was one of the 3 festivals that all Hebrew males were required to attend (Ex. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16).


Flesh Meat Served at Potluck