Yahweh’s Appointed Times

“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood

and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him COME

UNTO ME, and drink” (Jn. 7:37).

LEVITICUS 23: THE MOSAIC YEARLY CYCLE

This chapter speaks of the yearly feasts, or rather “appointed times” of the Mosaic Law. The Jewish months were lunar. The years were solar, as ours. Each month started with a new moon. The cycle of the moon is just a little over twenty-nine and one half days, so the months alternated twenty-nine and thirty days, with two thirty-day months coming together whenever the fraction over twenty-nine and one half accumulated to a day.

The year normally had twelve months or new moons, which is three hundred fifty-four or three hundred fifty-five days: ten or eleven days short of the solar year, so an extra month was added about every three years (actually seven times in nineteen years) to keep the year in harmony with the seasons.

At the present time, the month Abib or Nisan, scripturally the first month, begins with the first new moon after the spring equinox (the date that night and day are equal: March 20 or 21). This year (1978), Abib began with the new moon on April 8.

If there is a new moon after the twelfth month before the spring equinox, then the thirteenth month is added to the year, so that Abib, the first month of the next year, does not start before the equinox.

By some method like this, the year was kept in balance with the seasons in Bible times, but the exact method is not known.

By God’s command at the time of the Exodus (Ex. 12:2) the year was to begin with the month Abib-roughly corresponding with April. So obviously it had been different before that. Jews today begin the year with the seventh Biblical month: approximately October. This custom goes far back into history, and this was probably the beginning of the year before it was changed to the Passover month. It may seem strange to us to begin a year as winter is approaching, but for an agricultural people in that area, it was very logical. It was another natural dividing line-the autumn equinox, and it was the end and beginning of the agricultural year. All harvests were completed by September: plowing and planting for the coming year began in October. In 1978, the modern Jewish New Year begins with the new moon on October 2.

The Mosaic memorial periods are all based upon the number seven. Seven is completeness: not just completeness as such, but completeness in God-completeness of holiness and rest and absorption into God. Seven is the basic cycle: eight is a new beginning. “Scientists” have many theories to explain the widespread use of the seven-day week, as it has no relation to any astronomical phenomena, like the month and year. The obvious and true explanation, of course, escapes them.

The basic memorial day was the seventh-the Sabbath-when God rested from His completed Creation work, and saw that all was good. Consequently, we find this chapter begins (v.Ê3) with the Sabbath law: the primary “holy convocation”-that is “sacred assembly”: a gathering and uniting for holiness and worship.

Beside the weekly Sabbath, there were seven yearly “holy convocations”-

1. The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread: Abib 15.

2. The last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread: Abib 21.

3. The one-day Feast of Weeks: Pentecost-fifty days after the Passover.

4. The Feast of Trumpets: first day of the seventh month.

5. The Day of Atonement: tenth day of the seventh month.

6. The first day of the Feast of Tabernacles: fifteenth day of the seventh month.

7. The day after the end of the Feast of Tabernacles: the great culminating day of the yearly cycle: twenty-second of seventh month.

On none of these days could “servile” work (relating to daily occupations) be done. On one of them-the Day of Atonement-as on the weekly Sabbath, no work of any kind (even preparing meals) was permitted.

The yearly “feasts” or “appointed times” had several purposes, all directed to Israel’s spiritual well-being and fellowship with God. These ordinances organized their lives into an active and profitable pattern centered in and pointing ever toward God. They gave Israel-

As mentioned, seven was the basic pattern and theme-

The seventh-day Sabbath.

The seventh month the culmination and most sacred.

The seventh year a Sabbath for the land itself.

Seven times seven years to each Jubilee: a complete new beginning again-all bondage ended; all debts can-

celled; all heritages restored.

Two times seven days to the Passover, on Abib 14.

Seven times seven days to Pentecost.

Seven days each for the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles, and-

Seven yearly days of holy convocation.

* * *

Verse 2: “The feasts (set times) of Yahweh.”

There are two different words used in this chapter for “feast.” Neither means “feast” or has anything to do with eating. Where plural (as here), it is mo’ad, meaning “set time, appointed season,” and it is so translated elsewhere (Gen. 1:14; 17:21; 18:14). It is applied to the Day of Atonement, a day of mourning and fasting.

When “feast” is singular (as v. 6), the original is chag, literally, “a pilgrimage to a sanctuary.” It occurs over seventy times and, with rare exceptions, always applies to the three yearly occasions Israel must assemble before the Lord: Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of Tabernacles.

These three great pilgrimages or chags were in the first, third and seventh months. All (except the Passover day itself, which commemorated the Egyptian deliverance) were based on and related to the agricultural year-the sowing and the harvest: the seed dying and rising again to a hundred-fold fuller life. It was a wholesome agricultural life, as in the Millennium.

This chapter does not go into the details of the sacrifices offered on these occasions: that is all given in Numbers 28 and 29. There were three kinds of animal sacrifices, offered in this order-

CLEANSING: Sin offerings: partaken of by priest-forgiveness, reconciliation.

DEDICATION: Whole burnt offerings; completely consumed on the altar: total dedication to, and absorption into, God.

FELLOWSHIP: Peace offerings: partaken of by offerer himself (as well as priest). Communion and fellowship with God.

Besides these animal sacrifices, there were the-

Meal offerings: of cereal, though called “Meat” in the Authorised Version: recognizing God’s provision in all things, and sanctifying all one’s possessions to God’s use, and-

Drink offerings: of wine: rejoicing and thanksgiving.

Verse 4: begins to enumerate the yearly ordinances-

Verse 5: the Passover, on Abib 14. This introduced, and ran into-

Verses 6-8: The seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, Abib 15-21. The first and last days were the first two of the seven “holy convocations” of the year when no work could be done. The unleavened bread (from the Passover meal) was the feature that bound the Passover to this Feast.

Verses 9-14 describe the offering of the wave-sheaf of Firstfruits. This was barley, for that was the grain that ripened first. The grain-sowing began, as mentioned, in October, and the grain harvest was from about mid-April to mid-June, beginning with barley and ending with wheat.

This sheaf was just as it came from the field: the very first springing of the new year’s harvest. It was offered on the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread-the 16th of Abib-the day following the holy convocation Sabbath of the 15th, which began the feast.

This Abib 16 was the day Christ rose: having died as the Passover Lamb on the 14th, and having lain in the tomb and rested on the sabbath of the 15th. In the crucifixion year, this holy convocation sabbath was also the weekly Sabbath, as was fitting for the type. Christ was thus the Passover Lamb that died, and the Firstfruit Sheaf that sprang forth to new life two days later-on the third day.

The Passover-Unleavened Bread ordinance appears to apply more particularly to Christ; as the Pentecost does to the Firstfruit Redeemed of this age; and the great final Feast of Tabernacles does to the harvest of the Millennium.

Verse 14 instructs that none of the produce of the new year could be partaken of until the Firstfruit Sheaf had been offered to God. All waited upon that to open the way to the partaking of God’s blessing. We are reminded that the Seven-Sealed Scroll of the Eternal Divine Purpose could not be unfolded for the ultimate blessing of mankind until the Slain Lamb appeared who was worthy (Rev. 5:2-6). Paul, referring to this way-opening and sanctifying Sheaf (Rom. 11:16), says that if the Firstfruit be holy, then the “whole lump” or body of the harvest is holy and acceptable.

Verses 15-22 give the ordinance of the Feast of Weeks (Ex.Ê34:22), or Feast of Harvest (Ex. 23:16), or Day of Firstfruits (Num. 28:26): later called Pentecost because it was fifty days from the Passover.

This was also a Firstfruits. As Christ is the Firstfruit of all to God, so the Redeemed of the present age are the Firstfruits unto him from mankind. The term is applied to both in the New Testament, and this ordinance seems to specially apply to, and be fulfilled in, the brethren of Christ.

Israel were (v. 15) to count seven full weeks from the day they offered the Firstfruit Sheaf, then (v. 16) the next day was this Feast of Weeks. As in the crucifixion year, Abib 16 (the day Christ rose and the Sheaf was offered) was a Sunday, or first day of the week, so would this Pentecost day be, fifty days later: another new beginning. On this day the Spirit was poured out on the Apostles, and they went forth to call out the Firstfruits unto God from all mankind.

On this day (v. 17) they were to offer two loaves which were baked from the new wheat harvest (Ex. 34:22). We note here two things-

First, there were two loaves: Jew and Gentile: the two folds; the two olive branches and two candlesticks: the two sideposts of the Christ-Doorway, of which he is the crowning and connecting lintel. And-

Second, they were leavened. Now the Law was very strict about prohibiting leaven in anything to do with the sacrifices (Lev. 2:11). Leaven is “malice and wickedness” (1 Cor.5:8)-sin-and it made any offering it was connected with an abomination.

This ordinance, and one other place concerning the law of the Peace offering (Lev. 7:13), are unique in requiring leaven in the offerings to God. Clearly God is not condoning or countenancing sin. That is ruled out by every reasonable consideration, and the whole bulk of the word.

But this has some reference to sin; some cognizance of imperfection. “There is no man that sinneth not.” If perfect sinlessness were required, none could be saved. These loaves were (v. 17) “out of your habitation”: that is, the ordinary daily bread, just as it was. Surely we have a merciful indication here that-without for a moment belittling the seriousness of sin and the necessity of its complete removal-God accepts us as we are constituted in our present imperfect state and imperfect service, IF-and only if-we are completely dedicated (offered) to Him, and striving constantly to obey Him.

This Pentecost ordinance was the only occasion in the yearly feasts where a Peace offering was required (v. 19). We have just noted that apart from the Pentecost ordinance, the ordinance of the Peace, or Fellowship-with-God, offering was the only occasion in the Law where leaven was required, or even permitted. Both come together here.

Pentecost was the third of the seven yearly days of holy convocation, in which no servile work could be done (v. 21). All activity must be for God.

Verse 22 adds another feature without which the service and worship of the day would have been a mockery: goodness to others, provision for the needy, love of neighbor, service to mankind. No man liveth to himself (Rom. 14:7). Professed love of and service to God that does not inseparably involve love of neighbor is sterile and dead. None can be saved who does not give his life to the welfare of others.

Verses 23-25 give the law of the Feast of Trumpets: fourth of the seven days of holy convocation. Passover and Unleavened Bread were in the first month; Pentecost in the third (three is resurrection). In the Law, the pattern of cleansing was often one-three-seven (Num. 19:12; 31:19).

We are now beginning the seventh month, and four of the seven holy convocation days occur in this one month alone, including the most solemn one of all: the Day of Atonement.

The year is coming to a climax. From Passover to Pentecost was the range of the grain harvest: mid-April to mid-June. There is nothing in the fourth, fifth and sixth months. But now we come to late September and early October, when all harvests-fruit, wine and oil-are in.

All months, and all feasts, were introduced by the blowing of trumpets (Num. 10:10), but the first day of the seventh month was the especial yearly occasion of trumpet-blowing. Trumpets are proclamations, calls to attention, to assembly and to battle, calls of warning, of instruction.

This seventh month trumpet announces the beginning of the end. The seventh Trumpet of the Revelation speaks of the “finishing of the Mystery of God, as spoken by His servants the prophets” (Rev. 10:7). Pre-eminently, the trumpet-voice is the calling to the resurrection-

There were special Temple sacrifices on this day (Num.Ê29:1-6), but it was not a national assembly to Jerusalem: rather an alerting of the land to the beginning of the solemn, climactic seventh month-and especially of the approach of the great and dreadful Day of Atonement. Dreadful, that is, if approached without the deepest reverence and solemnity and humility. Atonement Day was fifth of the seven holy convocations.

Verses 26-32 give the instructions for that day-tenth of the seventh month-when all normal activity was completely suspended for twenty-four hours throughout the whole land, and every Israelite must “afflict his soul” on pain of death (v.Ê29). Three times in these verses is this affliction of the soul strictly commanded. And three times they are charged to do absolutely no work.

What did this “afflicting the soul” consist of? Clearly it involved external aspects, for whoever did not comply was to be put to death (v. 29). It would certainly involve abstinence from food, and from all fleshly pleasures and enjoyments. This day became known as “the Fast” (Acts 27:9). This was the one great day of the year to bring sin to remembrance: for a man to “examine himself”: to labor mightily for self-purification and to seek the cleansing and mercy of God.

Fasting of itself was not specifically prescribed, nor would it of itself have been acceptable (Isa. 58:5). In not prescribing specific rituals of affliction, the attention would be directed to the inner aspects-the realities: inward examination and repentance and humility and rededication of the heart, soul, strength and mind to God.

This was the day when even the normal priestly ministrations at the Tabernacle stopped (Lev. 16:17), and the holy precincts were silent and empty while the High Priest alone went about his solemn, once-a-year task of making reconciliation for the nation: entering, on this dread day only, the inner sanctuary of the Most Holy, beyond the Veil, where the glory of God rested between the Cherubim, above the golden Ark.

This day of all days called for a humble and contrite spirit: no levity, no lightness, no manifestation of rejoicing, no self-pleasing, no going thoughtlessly about one’s ordinary activities and pleasures. The entire nation in affliction and mourning, conscious of the great burden and disease of sin and fleshliness and self-will-

There is a historic counterpart to this great day. Indeed, this would be the final national climax to which this day in type pointed in all its ages of observance. Did Israel have any idea of what the High Priest’s ministrations on this memorable day foreshadowed?-

So this somber day was passed: twenty-four hours “from even to even” (v. 32).

But once every fifty years, as darkness fell and this day of affliction and mourning ended, there was a striking and unusual event, all the more striking by its contrast with the hushed mourning of the day.

Suddenly, just as the day ended-beginning at Jerusalem and picked up in ever-widening circles until the echoes rang throughout the whole land-the joyful trumpets of the Jubilee began to sound. The day of affliction and mourning was over, and the day of freedom and release and a completely new beginning had begun-another wonderful type.

The rest of the chapter (vs. 33-42) speaks of the Feast of Tabernacles: the seven days from the fifteenth to the twenty-first of the seventh month.

“Tabernacles” should really be translated “Booths,” for it is an entirely different word from the “Tabernacle” of God, which is Mishkan or “dwelling place.” The word here is succoth, meaning “hut or booth,” a rough, simple, temporary shelter-usually of tree branches, from a word meaning “to entwine.”

This Feast was primarily to remind them of the forty years in the wilderness (v. 43). It was thus a memorial of both the deliverance from bondage, and the afflictions of the journey. It was also called the Feast of Ingathering (Ex. 23:16), and as such it was the joyful thanksgiving for the bounties and blessings of God throughout the year. It was the great Rest, after all the year’s labors, when all the harvests were in.

The first day of this seven-day ordinance was the sixth holy convocation.

And this feast was the third and last of those in which all Israel must assemble at God’s Tabernacle. They were there required to build simple little booths (v. 40) of tree branches, and live in them for the week of the feast: high and low, rich and poor together (v. 42). In their harvest joy they were reminded that we have here no continuing city, and should not set our interest on present things. In the later corruptions of the nation, the faithful Rechabites carried forward this memorial in their lives, dwelling simply in temporary dwellings (Jer. 35:7).

They were to take palm-branches, and willow-branches (v.Ê40). Palms throughout Scripture represent joy and victory: willows represent oppression and sorrow-illustrating both aspects of the memorial. God’s loving purpose with mankind of redemption and glory manifests throughout these twin aspects of joy through sorrow, peace through suffering, rest through labor, and exaltation through humility: that no flesh should glory.

As the Passover is Christ, and Pentecost is the Redeemed from the present, so the Feast of Tabernacles is the great millennial harvest of the earth. Each in its turn is a harvest: the Firstfruit Sheaf, the Firstfruit Loaves, and the total Ingathering.

The sacrifices of this week (Num. 29) were much more than at any other of the memorial periods: seventy bullocks, fourteen rams, ninety-eight lambs. But the bullocks (the principal sacrifice) diminish day by day to a perfect unity and completeness of seven on the last day. Here, as bro. Roberts points out, is a winding down of sacrifice; an approaching the end of the need of sacrifice: an approaching the time when all shall have been brought into perfect subjection to God, and God shall be all in all.

This was the Feast of Ingathering. It was a thankful celebration of God’s blessing in the harvest, and all centered round the harvest. But once in every seven years there was no harvest to celebrate. Once in seven years they neither sowed no reaped, and what grew of itself was for the poor.

During the feast that year, the procedure was different. It was the Sabbatical year. That year, the Law of Moses was to be read and explained to the nation as it was assembled for this week (Lev. 25:4).

The whole preceding year had been a year of rest from daily labor. Ideally, it was a year of learning and meditation and study of the Word. How fitting, then, at this final great week-long assembly that year, the time should be given to proclamation and discussion of the Law of God that makes wise unto salvation!

Israel being what they were, it is to be doubted if this ideal occupation of the sabbatical year ever materialized to any appreciable degree or length of time, but how wonderful it could have been! What wonderful opportunities they had! What a wise and ideal set-up! But how few, in any generation or dispensation, have had the wisdom to use their God-given (and God-owned) leisure time profitably or scripturally! What needless tragedy the judgment seat will reveal!

* * *

The yearly ordinances were now over: the seven days in booths ended. Only one last event remained-the final day of holy convocation: the day following the Feast of Tabernacles: the eighth day of new beginning:

The original word here for “assembly” is different. It only occurs a few times, usually applied to this particular day. Note that the margin has “day of restraint.” Rather it means “day of closing”: a closing ceremony. It is atzereth, from atzar, “to close, to restrain, to shut up.”

This was the final day of the cycle: the day over and beyond the three yearly feasts. They were no longer in the booths, representing the wilderness journey. The sacrifices for the Feast of Tabernacles had come to a climax with the gradual reduction of the bullocks to seven.

In the symmetrical pattern of the three yearly feasts at the national center of worship, this final great day balances out the Passover day by which the pattern began-

First the one-day Passover, immediately followed 1 day

by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. 7 days

The second, middle yearly assembly was just one day-

Pentecost, in the third month. 1 day

The third yearly assembly was the seven-day

Feast of Tabernacles, 7 days

Immediately followed by this special,

separate eighth day. 1 day

In John 7 is a record of the last Feast of Tabernacles that was kept before Moses’ Law was nailed to the cross and forever done away.

A call to leave the passing-away shadows, and come to the great reality. We can picture what a commotion this would cause.

This “Great Day” was the culminating eighth day that closed the Mosaic yearly cycle: the Atzereth, the “closing ceremony.” Little did Israel realize the significance of THAT DAY. The Mosaic cycle, after one thousand five hundred revolutions, had run its course for the last time.

As the next cycle began, with the Passover of the next year, the true Passover Lamb himself fulfilled in one-time reality the age-old and oft-repeated shadowy type, and the shadows forever vanished away.

The Jews carried on robot-like with the dead rituals for another thirty-seven years, until reality was forced upon them by the terrible events of AD 70.

And there will truly be memorial Passover and memorial Feast of Tabernacles in the Kingdom of God (Eze. 45:21-25), but under the new Abrahamic covenant, not the old Mosaic-

That New Eternal Covenant has been confirmed by the blood of the true Passover Lamb.

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