IN THE TWENTY-THIRD CHAPTER OF LEVITICUS are recorded the feasts and holy convocations which the Lord commanded His people to observe. There are seven in all. Three of them are the great festivals of the year, the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Of these it is written: "Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which He shall choose; in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and in the Feast of Weeks, and in the Feast of Tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty." Deut. 16:16. (See also Ex. 23:17; 34:23.)
The two words used to denote "feasts" and "holy convocations" differ considerably in their meaning. Hag, which belongs especially to the three feasts above named, means "a joyous occasion, a festival, a feast." Moadeem has reference rather to appointed times, stated observances, holy convocations, or solemn meetings. An example of Moadeem would be the Day of Atonement, which was not a feast or festival in any sense of the word, but a holy convocation. Lev. 23:26-32.
Besides the Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Day of Atonement, there were three others, namely, the Feast of Trumpets, occurring on the first day of the seventh month, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of First Fruits. Lev. 23:24,6,9-14; Ex. 12:17; Num. 28:17. The two last-named feasts were celebrated in connection with the observance of the Passover, but are plainly spoken of as distinct from it. Ex. 12:12,15,17; Num. 28:16,17; Lev. 23:9-14. As they are mentioned separately and as they have special significance, we are placing them among the seven feasts of the Lord.
The Passover was observed on the fourteenth day of the first month, the Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the fifteenth day of the same month, and the first fruits were waved on the sixteenth day. Lev. 23:5,6,11. The first three feasts thus came in the first month of the year. The last three feasts came in the seventh month: the Feast of Trumpets on the first day, the Day of Atonement on the tenth day, and the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth day. Verses 24,27,39. The Feast of Pentecost came between these two groups of feasts, fifty days from the "morrow after the sabbath," by which is meant the sixteenth day of Abib, the first month. This would bring Pentecost in the latter part of the third month of the Jewish year, our May or June. Verses 15,16.
The Passover was instituted as a memorial of Israel's deliverance from Egyptian bondage. On the tenth day of the first mouth a lamb was selected for each household, "according to the number of the souls," or if the household was small, two or more households could unite about one sacrifice. The lamb was kept until the fourteenth day, when it was killed in the evening, and the blood sprinkled on the doorposts. Ex. 12:1-7. The same night the flesh was eaten, not boiled as usual, but roasted. Only unleavened bread could be used, "and with bitter herbs they shall eat it." Verse 8. In later years, there were some modifications of this ritual, but the essential points remained the same.
The Passover sacrifice is distinguished by being called "My sacrifice." Ex. 23:18; 34:25. While it is probably not best to stress such an expression, it is at least worthy of notice. The Passover commemorated Israel's departure from Egypt. The New Testament makes it also a forward-looking ordinance. "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us." 1Cor. 5:7. With this symbolic representation in mind, some analogies are easily perceivable. In the crucifixion not a bone of Christ's body was broken. John 19:36. Not a bone of the Passover lamb must be broken. Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12. The Passover was killed the fourteenth day of Abib and eaten on the fifteenth. Ex. 12:6-10. Christ died at Passover time. John 19.14. The sprinkling of the blood meant a "passing over" in mercy, a deliverance from death. Ex. 12:13. So through His blood there has been a passing over of the sins done aforetimes. Rom. 3:24. The Passover sacrifice was a lamb. Ex. 12:3. So Christ was "the Lamb of God." John 1:29. The lamb was to be without blemish. Ex. 12:5. So Christ was without blemish. 1Peter 1:19. The flesh of the lamb was to be eaten. Ex. 12:7. So we are to partake of His flesh. John 6:51.
Closely connected with the Passover, yet distinguished from it, was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The two feasts were in reality part of the same observance, so that the names are used interchangeably; yet in purpose they were somewhat different. The command of God was explicit as to what should be done. "Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel." Ex. 12:15. God's commentary on this reads: "Let us keep the feasts, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." 1Cor. 5:8.
The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are fruitful in their teachings of gospel truths. In the slain lamb, provision was made for saving the first-born. But the death of the lamb was not enough to assure salvation. The blood must be struck on the doorpost. There must be individual application of the sacrifice. The sprinkling of the blood was as important as the death of the lamb. Yet this was not enough. The flesh must be eaten, and it must be eaten under proper conditions. "Thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord's Passover." Ex. 12:11. And even this was not enough. All leaven must be purged away. "Whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land." Verse 19.
The Passover is symbolic of Christ's death. He is our Passover. 1Cor. 5:7. On the cross He died for us. Provision was there made for every one to be saved who abides by the conditions of life. But the cross itself saves no one. It only provides salvation. There must be individual application of the blood provided.
The command to Israel was: "Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason." Ex. 12:22. The promise was that if they did this, then when the Lord "seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you." Verse 23. The provisions here mentioned saved the first-born from the destroying angel. The death of the lamb provided the means of salvation; the application of the blood made efficacious the means provided. Both were necessary.
It is one thing to be saved from death. It is another to have the means of sustaining life. This was provided positively in the eating of the flesh, negatively in the abstention from leaven. Christ says: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." John 6:51. Israel was told to roast the lamb entire. The command was to "roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof." Ex. 12:9. Each family was to gather a sufficient number of people together so that all the flesh would be eaten. Verse 4. Nothing was to he carried out of the house, and nothing left until morning. Whatever remained of those parts that could not be eaten was to be burned. Verses 10,46. This could prefigure nothing else than an entire assimilation of Him whom the lamb represented by those for whom the blood was shed. It means the entire identification of Christ and the believer. It means the acceptance of the fullness of God.
Leaven was to be entirely excluded. We are not left in doubt as to the spiritual meaning of leaven. It stands for malice and wickedness. 1Cor.5.8. It stands for false doctrine as exemplified in the teachings of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians. Matt. 16:6; Mark 8:15. The leaven of the Pharisees is greed and injustice (Matt. 23:14), a dog-in-the-manger spirit (verse 13), false zeal (verse 15), wrong estimates of spiritual values (verses 16-22), omission of judgement, mercy, and faith (verse 23), vain punctiliousness (verse 24), hypocrisy (verses 25-28), intolerance (verses 29-33), cruelty (verses 34-36). The leaven of the Sadducees is scepticism (Matt. 22:23), lack of knowledge of the Scripture and of the power of God (verse 29). The leaven of the Herodians is flattery, worldliness, and hypocrisy (Matt. 22,16-21), and plotting evil against God's servants (Mark 3-6).
The New Testament counterpart of the Passover is found in the Lord's supper, the communion service. After Christ had come, there could be no more virtue in slaying the Passover lamb, prefiguring His coming. But there would be virtue in commemorating the sacrifice of Calvary, and its sustaining power. For this reason the Lord instituted the sacrificial meal of communion to call to mind the facts of our salvation and the provisions made on the cross. Like its prototype, it points both backward and forward. We are to remember Calvary "till He come." 1Cor. 11:26.
"These types were fulfilled, not only as to the event, but as to the time. On the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month, the very day and month on which, for fifteen long centuries, the Passover lamb had been slain, Christ, having eaten the Passover with His disciples, instituted that feast which was to commemorate His own death as 'the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' That same night He was taken by wicked hands, to be crucified and slain. And as the antitype of the wave sheaf, our Lord was raised from the dead on the third day, 'the first fruits of them that slept,' a sample of all the resurrected just, whose 'vile body' shall be changed, and 'fashioned like unto His glorious body.'" --The Great Controversy, p.399.
The observance of the presentation of the first fruits was a part of the celebration of the days of unleavened bread. The presentation took place on the "morrow after the sabbath" the sixteenth day of Abib. Lev. 23:11. This day was not one of holy convocation, nor was it a sabbath, but an important work was nevertheless done on that day. On the fourteenth day of Abib a certain portion of a field of barley was marked off to be cut down in preparation for the presentation on the sixteenth. Three selected men cut the barley in the presence of witnesses, having already tied the sheaves together before cutting them. After being cut, the sheaves were all tied together into one sheaf and presented before the Lord as "a sheaf of the first fruits." "He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it." Lev. 23:11. Besides this, "a he-lamb without blemish," and a meal offering mingled with oil, and a drink offering were offered to God. Verses 12,13. Not until this was done could Israel begin to use any of the fruits of the field.
This offering was an acceptance offering. It was a presentation of the first fruits. Doubtless it has reference, first of all to "Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming." 1Cor. 15:23.
If we sum up the teachings of the Passover observance, we have the following important reflections: The Passover is symbolic of the death of Christ. As the Passover lamb died, so Christ died. The blood of the lamb delivered Israel of old from the destroying angel. The blood of Christ now reconciles.
The Passover is symbolic of the resurrection as typified in the wave sheaf. The type is perfect even as to time. The lamb died on the evening of the fourteenth day of Abib. On the sixteenth, the "morrow after the sabbath," the first fruits, which had previously been cut down, were presented before the Lord. Christ died Friday evening. He rested in the grave over the Sabbath. The "morrow after the Sabbath," "Christ the first fruits" was raised from the grave and presented Himself before the Lord for acceptance. The "morrow after the sabbath" was not "a holy convocation," nor a sabbath, either in type or antitype, but an important work was done that may need amplification.
When Christ arose the first day of the week, it was necessary for Him to ascend to the Father to hear the words of God's acceptance of the sacrifice. On the cross His soul was in darkness. The Father hid His face from Him. In despair and agony He cried out: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Matt. 27:46.
"Satan with his fierce temptations wrung the heart of Jesus. The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father's acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God, that their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father's wrath upon Him as man's substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God." --The Desire of Ages, p.753.
Now the resurrection had taken place. The first thing Christ must do was to appear in the presence of the Father and hear from Him the blessed words that His death has not been in vain, but that the sacrifice was accepted as amply sufficient. So He must ascend to the heavens above and in the presence of the universe hear from the Father Himself the words of assurance; then He must come back to earth again to those who were yet sorrowing for His death, not knowing that He had been raised, and show Himself openly. This He did.
"Jesus refused to receive the homage of His people until He had the assurance that His sacrifice was accepted by the Father. He ascended to the heavenly courts, and from God Himself heard the assurance that His atonement for the sins of men had been ample, that through His blood all might gain eternal life. The Father ratified the covenant made with Christ, that He would receive repentant and obedient men, and would love them even as He loves His Son. Christ was to complete His work, and fulfil His pledge to 'make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.' All power in heaven and on earth was given to the Prince of life, and He returned to His followers in a world of sin, that He might impart to them of His power and glory.
"While the Saviour was in God's presence, receiving gifts for His church, the disciples thought upon His empty tomb, and mourned and wept. The day that was a day of rejoicing to all heaven was to the disciples a day of uncertainty, confusion, and perplexity."--Ibid., pp.790-793.
The scriptures were fulfilled to the letter. "Christ arose from the dead as the first fruits of those that slept. He was the antitype of the wave sheaf, and His resurrection took place on the very day when the wave sheaf was to be presented before the Lord. For more than a thousand years this symbolic ceremony had been performed. From the harvest fields the first heads of ripened grain were gathered, and when the people went up to Jerusalem to the Passover, the sheaf of first fruits was waved as a thank offering before the Lord. Not until this was presented, could the sickle be put to the grain, and it be gathered into sheaves. The sheaf dedicated to God represented the harvest. So Christ the first fruits represented the great spiritual harvest to be gathered for the kingdom of God. His resurrection, is the type and pledge of the resurrection of all the righteous dead. 'For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.'
"As Christ arose, He brought from the grave a multitude of captives; the earthquake at His death had rent open their graves, and when He arose, they came forth with Him. They were those who had been colabourers with God, and who at the cost of their lives had borne testimony to the truth. Now they were to be witnesses for Him who had raised them from the dead."--Ibid., pp.785,786.
The Passover is typical of communion. The eating of the Passover lamb brought together families and neighbours. It was a communal meal typifying deliverance. An exchange had been effected, and their firstborn was spared because the lamb died. Such a deliverance called for consecration. All sin must be put aside. There must be no leaven anywhere. Every corner must be examined, every nook searched for traces of it. "Holiness unto the Lord." Nothing less would be accepted.
All this and more the Passover meant to Israel of old. As the Lord's supper is the New Testament substitute for "the Lord's Passover," it should mean no less to us than it did to them. There is grave danger that we forget or fail to appreciate the wonderful blessings God has in store for those who "worthily" partake of the ordinances of the Lord's house. We would do well to study the Passover as given to Israel, that we may appreciate more the Christ who is our real Passover Lamb, and whose death is commemorated in the communion service.
Pentecost came fifty days after the presentation of the wave sheaf on the sixteenth of Abib. From that day "shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the first fruits unto the Lord." Lev. 23:16,17.
As the wave sheaf was presented at the beginning of the harvest before any of the new yield could be used, so Pentecost came at the end of the harvest of all grains, not only of barley as in the case of the wave sheaf, and represented the joyous acknowledgement of Israel's dependence upon God as the giver of all good gifts. At this time it was not a sheaf that was presented, but two wave loaves of fine flour, baked with leaven, together with "seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams." Verses 17,18. This was accompanied by a goat for a sin offering and two lambs for a peace offering. Verse 19.
In the Passover celebration, it was particularly enjoined that no leaven was to be eaten or found. At Pentecost two loaves were to be presented, "baken with leaven." Verse 17. The wave sheaf is "Christ the first fruits." He was without sin. The bread is not God's immediate creation. It is partly man's work. It is imperfect, it is mixed with leaven. But it is accepted. It is waved "before the Lord, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest." Verse 20.
Pentecost is symbolic of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As the wave loaves were offered fifty days after the wave sheaf was presented, so there were just fifty days between the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. Acts 2:1-4. Forty of these days Christ spent on earth instructing and helping His disciples. Acts 1:3. Then He ascended, and for ten days the eleven disciples continued in prayer and supplication until "the day of Pentecost was fully come." With Pentecost came the fullness of the Spirit.
These ten days were important ones for the church on earth. They were also important in heaven. When Christ "ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." Eph. 4:8. Those who had been raised at Christ's death and had come "out of the graves after His resurrection," ascended with Him to heaven, and were then presented before the Father as a kind of first fruits of the resurrection. Matt. 27:52,53.
"All heaven was waiting to welcome the Saviour to the celestial courts. As He ascended, He led the way, and the multitude of captives set free at His resurrection followed. The heavenly host, with shouts and acclamations of praise and celestial song, attended the joyous train.
"As they draw near to the city of God, the challenge is given by the escorting angels, --
'Lift up your heads, O ye gates;
And be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors;
And the King of glory shall come in!'
"Joyfully the waiting sentinels respond, --
'Who is this King of glory?'
"This they say, not because they know not who He is, but because they would hear the answer of exalted praise--
'The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O ye gates;
Even lift them up, ye everlasting doors;
And the King of glory shall come in!'
"Again is heard the challenge, 'Who is this King of glory?' for the angels never weary of hearing His name exalted. The escorting angels make reply--
'The Lord of hosts;
He is the King of glory!'
"Then the portals of the city of God are opened wide, and the angelic throng sweep through the gates amid a burst of rapturous music.
"There is the throne, and around it the rainbow of promise. There are cherubim and seraphim. The commanders of the angel hosts, the sons of God, the representatives of the unfallen worlds, are assembled. The heavenly council before which Lucifer had accused God and the Son, the representatives of those sinless realms over which Satan had thought to establish his dominion, --all are there to welcome the Redeemer. They are eager to celebrate His triumph and to glorify their King.
"But He waves them back. Not yet; He cannot now receive the coronet of glory and the royal robe. He enters into the presence of His Father. He points to His wounded head, the pierced side, the marred feet; He lifts His hands, bearing the print of nails. He points to the tokens of His triumph; He presents to God the wave sheaf, those raised with Him as representatives of that great multitude who shall come forth from the grave at His second coming. He approaches the Father, with whom there is joy over one sinner that repents; who rejoices over one with singing. Before the foundations of the earth were laid, the Father and the Son had united in a covenant to redeem man if he should be overcome by Satan. They had clasped their hands in a solemn pledge that Christ should become the surety for the human race. This pledge Christ has fulfilled. When upon the cross He cried out, 'It is finished,' He addressed the Father. The compact had been fully carried out. Now He declares, 'Father, it is finished. I have done Thy will, O My God. I have completed the work of redemption. If Thy justice is satisfied,' 'I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.'
"The voice of God is heard proclaiming that justice is satisfied. Satan is vanquished. Christ's toiling, struggling ones on earth are 'accepted in the Beloved.' Before the heavenly angels and the representatives of unfallen worlds, they are declared justified. Where He is, there His church shall be. 'Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.' The Father's arms encircle His Son, and the word is given, 'Let all the angels of God worship Him.'
"With joy unutterable, rulers and principalities and powers acknowledge the supremacy of the Prince of life. The angel host prostrate themselves before Him, while the glad shout fills all the courts of heaven, 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing!'" --The Desire of Ages, pp.833,884.
"When Christ passed within the heavenly gates, He was enthroned amidst the adoration of the angels. As soon as this ceremony was completed, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in rich currents, and Christ was indeed glorified, even with the glory which He had with the Father from all eternity. The Pentecostal outpouring was Heaven's communication that the Redeemer's inauguration was accomplished. According to His promise He had sent the Holy Spirit from heaven to His followers, as a token that He had, as priest and king, received all authority in heaven and on earth, and was the Anointed One over His people." --Acts of the Apostles, p.38.
Feast of Trumpets
The Feast of Trumpets came on the first day of the eleventh month, and was preparatory to the Day of Atonement which came on the tenth day of the month. It was a solemn call to all Israel to prepare to meet their God. It announced to them that the day of judgement was coming, and that they must get ready for it. It was a merciful reminder to them of the need of confession and consecration. As we have elsewhere discussed the matter of atonement, it may not be necessary here to emphasise either the Feast of Trumpets or the Day of Atonement.
Feast of Tabernacles
This was the last feast of the year and came ordinarily in the latter part of our October, after the harvest was over and the fruit gathered. It was a joyous occasion for all. The Day of Atonement was past, all misunderstandings had been cleared up, all sins confessed and put aside. Israel was happy, and their happiness found expression in the Feast of Tabernacles.
The feast began with a day of holy convocation. Lev. 23:35. The people were to take "boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days." Verse 40. These branches they were to make into booths, and in these they were to live during the feast. On the Day of Atonement they were to "afflict their souls." At the Feast of Tabernacles they were to "rejoice before the Lord your God seven days." It was altogether the most happy occasion of the year when friends and neighbours renewed communion and dwelt together in love and harmony. In this respect it was prophetic of the time when the great ingathering of God's people shall take place, and they shall come "from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." Matt. 8:11.
The Feast of Tabernacles was commemorative of the time when Israel lived in tents in the wilderness during their forty years of wandering. "Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt: and thou shalt observe and do these statutes. Thou shalt observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine: and thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates. Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord shall choose: because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice." Deut. 16:12-15.
It is well to remember how God has led us in times past. It is well to bring to mind His providences. We are sometimes inclined to complain. Might it not be well to think of the many blessings God has bestowed upon us, and the wonderful way He has led us? It would make us more appreciative and thankful. And that is a vital part of religion.