Friday, January 05, 2024

2024.01.05 Hopewell @Home ▫ Leviticus 23

Read Leviticus 23

Questions from the Scripture text: Who spoke to whom in Leviticus 23:1? To whom was he to speak? What was he to tell them about? The meetings (“feasts,” NKJ) of Whom? What are they to call (“proclaim,” NKJ)  these meetings (“feasts,” NKJ)? What does YHWH say about them at the end of Leviticus 23:2? How many days is what to be done (Leviticus 23:3)? What about the seventh? What two further descriptions/titles are given to the Sabbath? What mustn’t they do on it? What is it? Of Whom? Where? In how many of their dwellings? With Whose additional meetings (“feasts,” NKJ) is the rest of the chapter concerned (Leviticus 23:4)? Who must call (“proclaim,” NKJ) the meetings (“appointed times,” NKJ)? On what day of what month does what begin (Leviticus 23:5)? Whose Passover is it? What feast begins the next day (Leviticus 23:6)? Unto Whom? How long is it? What must they do during it? What must they do on the first day of it (Leviticus 23:7)? What mustn’t they do? What are they to bring near (Leviticus 23:8, “offer,” NKJ)? How many days? What must the seventh day be? What mustn’t they do on it? Who speaks to whom in Leviticus 23:9? To whom is he to speak (Leviticus 23:10)? When will this feast begin to be implemented? At what time of year, agriculturally, would it begin? What are they to bring to whom? What is the priest to do with the sheaf (Leviticus 23:11)? Before Whom? For whom will it be accepted? When? What are they to make  into an ascension (“burnt offering,” NKJ) to YHWH (Leviticus 23:12)? What sort of lamb? With what tribute (“grain offering,” NKJ) is it to ascend (Leviticus 23:13)? What mustn’t they do, until they have brought the “brought-near-thing” (“offering,” NKJ) to God (Leviticus 23:14)? How long and how widespread must this first-fruits observation be? How many Sabbaths are they to count from this Sabbath of the first-fruits (Leviticus 23:15)? How many days are they to count total (Leviticus 23:16)? What tribute (“grain offering,” verse 16) are they to offer? To Whom? What are they to bring (Leviticus 23:17)? With what is it to be baked (indicating that it is not offered at the altar)? What is it, and unto Whom is it to be enjoyed? What animals are to be offered as an ascension (Leviticus 23:18, “burnt offering,” NKJ)? What is to be offered with each ascension? What other animals are they to offer as what sort of sacrifices (Leviticus 23:19)? Who waves them (Leviticus 23:20)? Unto Whom are they holy? For whom are they food? What are they to call (“proclaim,” NKJ) that same day (Leviticus 23:21)? What mustn’t they do on it? How long and how widespread must this Pentecost/weeks-of-harvest observation be? What else must they do with their harvest (Leviticus 23:22)? For whom are the corners and gleanings to be left? What does doing so recognize about YHWH? Who speaks to whom in Leviticus 23:23? To whom is he to speak (Leviticus 23:24)? Regarding what month? And what day? What are they to have on that day? What sort of memorial do they remember on that Sabbath? How are they to think of this trumpet ceremony? What aren’t they to do on it (Leviticus 23:25)? What are they to bring near (“offer,” NKJ)? Who speaks to whom in Leviticus 23:26? About what day of which month (Leviticus 23:27)? What day is this day to be (cf. chapter 16)? What is the day to be for them? What are they to do to their souls? What are they to bring near (“offer,” NKJ) to Whom? What aren’t they to do (Leviticus 23:28)? Why? What is done for them before Whom on this day? What must be done with someone who does not participate in the affliction (Leviticus 23:29)? Who inflicts the penalty in Leviticus 23:30, for what violation? How much of their work must they not do (Leviticus 23:31)? How long and how widespread must this Day of Atonement observation be? What must that day be for them (Leviticus 23:32)? What are they to do to their souls? What must the day before it also be? Who spoke to whom in Leviticus 23:33? To whom was he to speak (Leviticus 23:34)? About what day of what month? What feast began on that day? For how many days? Unto whom? What were they to have on the first day (Leviticus 23:35)? What weren’t they to do? For how long were they to bring near (“offer,” NKJ) fire offerings (Leviticus 23:36)? To Whom? On what day are they to have what? What are they to bring near (“offer,” NKJ) to Whom? Since that day is a solemnity (“sacred assembly,” NKJ), what mustn’t they do? How does Leviticus 23:37 form an inclusion with Leviticus 23:4? What are they to call (“proclaim,” NKJ) all these meetings (“feasts,” NKJ)? What are they to bring near (“offer,” NKJ) at each one? How many days of each feast are they to offer an ascension (“burnt offering,” NKJ), tribute (“grain offering,” NKJ), sacrifice, and drink offering? In addition to these feasts, what are they to keep (Leviticus 23:38)? And give? And perform? And offer? What gets special repeated mention now (Leviticus 23:39, cf. Leviticus 23:34)? For how many days is it to be kept? By what is it bookended on what days? What four things are they to gather for the first day (Leviticus 23:40)? What are they to do before Whom? For how long? As what must they keep it (Leviticus 23:41)? How long, and how widespread must this observance be? In what month is it celebrated? In what must they dwell for how long during this feast (Leviticus 23:42)? Which people particularly? What are they to teach to whom (Leviticus 23:43)? What had YHWH done for them? Whom had He made Himself to them? How does Moses respond to the instruction of this chapter (Leviticus 23:44)?

Now that they are able to come near, when and how are Israel to use the tabernacle of dwelling as a tent of meeting? Leviticus 23 prepares us for the evening sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these forty-four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that Israel were to meet God at His tent on the Sabbaths, and on a Sabbath-full of Sabbath-keepings throughout the year.

Meeting with the God of the Covenant. Back when the Lord had originally gathered Israel to Himself at Sinai and thundered the decalogue from heaven, there, He had given an initial set of laws called the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21–23, cf. Exodus 24:7). The climax of that book (Exodus 23:10–19) included instruction for three annual feasts: Unleavened Bread, Harvest (Pentecost/weeks), and Ingathering (booths/tabernacles/Succoth). At the time, God had met with the seventy elders of Israel up on the mountain in a little display of heaven (cf. Exodus 24:9–11), but there was not yet an ongoing place for God to meet with His people.

With the conclusion of the holiness code in Leviticus 22, YHWH has made that provision. And what a provision it has been! When the glory of YHWH had filled God’s dwelling (“tabernacle,” ends of Exodus 40:34, Exodus 40:35), Moses had not been able to enter it as a tent of meeting (“tabernacle of meeting,” Exodus 40:34, Exodus 40:35). But YHWH had called to Moses from within the tent of meeting (Leviticus 1:1) and provided the ascension (Leviticus 1), tribute (Leviticus 2), and peace (Leviticus 3) by which Israel could come near. He provided the sin/trespass offering for the cleansing of the conscience to permit the other three (Leviticus 4–5). He provided direction and sustenance of the priesthood (Leviticus 6–7), finally consecrating (Leviticus 8) and ordaining (Leviticus 9) them into the ministry by which Moses and Aaron were actually able to enter unto the blessing of the whole assembly in the presence of God’s glory (Leviticus 9:22–24)!

Even the great problem of a sinful and mortal priesthood (Leviticus 10) has now been addressed with the cleanliness code (Leviticus 11–15) and holiness code (Leviticus 17–22), centering upon the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)—by which even something so dreadfully wicked as bringing manmade worship might be expiated (covered over), and God’s wrath propitiated (completely satisfied by atonement)! 

The stage has been set for Leviticus 23–25, where two chapters covering Israel’s calendar surround Leviticus 24, in which the fellowship of heaven and earth inside the tabernacle (Leviticus 24:1–9) means that life outside the tabernacle must take into account YHWH’s special presence among the people as their covenant God (Leviticus 24:10–23). Leviticus 25 will establish the rhythm of Israelite life across generations. 

But first, Leviticus 23 establishes the rhythm of Israelite life within each year. And it is a rhythm established by meetings with Yahweh (Leviticus 23:2; see the questions above, for the many times that “feast” in our English translations is actually “meeting” in the original, in connection with the “tent of meeting). These are “holy callings together” for the people, but the Lord decisively titles them “My Meetings.” The word “feasts” probably evokes a very different idea for us than “being called together to meet with God.” But that was what God actually designed for His people’s lives to be punctuated by: “being called together for God’s meetings.” And to these meetings we are “called.” The word “convocation” and “proclaim” throughout the chapter are from the same root as that blessed verb at the beginning of Leviticus 1:1, which actually gives the book its name in the Hebrew Bible.

The Sabbath of holy-callings-together (Leviticus 23:3). With the coming of Christ, the Lord has removed the annual rhythm of “high” meetings with Himself. How can meeting with Him go higher than an assembling of all of us with Him in the true Holy of Holies (cf. Hebrews 10:19–25)? Indeed, the yearly rhythm that led up to Jesus looked forward to a year of the Lord’s favor (cf. Isaiah 61:1–2a) that would come in the fullness of time (cf. Luke 4:18–21; Galatians 3:24–4:5). Each year’s meetings and pilgrimages (a more literal translation of the other word translated “feasts” throughout the chapter) were a reminder that the year of God’s favor had not yet come. The fullness of time had not yet come. 

But now that the fullness has come, the faith has come, the hoped-for Christ has come, we no longer have this yearly rhythm of yearly reminders. Jesus continually lives to intercede! His sacrifice was once for all! And the Lord has eliminated the annual calendar (though there be no shortage of Nadabs and Abihus who offer strange/profane calendars that come from men rather than God, cf. Leviticus 10:1). With this in mind as the context of meetings with God under Moses vs under Christ, it is significant that the annual calendar presented in our chapter actually begins with the weekly Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3).

The Sabbath is the first feast. Though it belongs to all humanity, it is still the center of the covenant calendar and undergirds all of the other feasts. It even gives a shape to the annual calendar; there are the three great feasts where all must gather, but the Lord gives them seven in total that are named in this chapter. The other six will follow in the inclusio (a unit, in a Hebrew Scripture passage, that is “bookended” by identical or nearly identical statements) of Leviticus 23:4-37

By including the weekly Sabbath at the outset, the Spirit presents to us seven callings to meet with God, a “Sabbath of holy convocations.” Even today, all men everywhere owe the Lord the moral duty of keeping holy the day He has consecrated to Himself. But it is only His people, whom He has gathered to Himself in Christ, who can keep it covenantally as a holy calling together. It is blessed and holy, because God made it so from the creation. But it is also now a holy convocation, because God has gathered to Himself a people. 

With “holy convocation” emphasized by its being repeated in Leviticus 23:3 from Leviticus 23:2, the Spirit makes “in all your dwellings” to stick out in Leviticus 23:3. The meeting day as a whole is a holy convocation, but even when they are not at the tabernacle, it is still a “Sabbath of Yahweh,” blessed and holy. Even at home, even alone, it is a day of joy in the Lord and consecration to active fellowship with Him. Dear reader, what does the Sabbath-keeping look like “in all our dwellings” on the Lord’s Day?

The Pilgrimage of Unleavened Bread, Leviticus 23:4-8Leviticus 23:4 begins the list of “meetings of YHWH, holy callings which you shall call at their meetings.” Translated literally, like that, you can see how the emphases of the book as a whole are being brought together. The Passover (Leviticus 23:5) was dealt with extensively in Exodus 12:1–28. Now the Lord calls them to a high day (cf. John 19:31) that begins after sundown on the 14th day of the first month. It is the first of seven days of eating unleavened bread. The seventh day is also to be a Sabbath, a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:8).

The principle of a “holy calling together” is very strong here, repeated in Leviticus 23:4Leviticus 23:7, and Leviticus 23:8. They are not to do any “customary work.” “Customary” is actually a word indicating “skilled work,” while the word “work” is translating a word that indicates more vigorous physical labor. The phrase ends up meaning something along the lines of “no work of any kind.” But the word translated “feast” in Leviticus 23:6 is not the “meeting” word that we see translated that way, but a word that means “pilgrimage.” It appears again in Leviticus 23:33

Three times a year, all Israel were to gather together. Surely, there would be a temptation to view these gatherings as a business opportunity. But these are holy convocations. We must remember this when gathering for the Lord’s Day assembly. This is a gathering called by God for His holy purpose, and we must not add any other purpose to that which God has consecrated as holy!

The Sabbath of Firstfruits, Leviticus 23:9-14. “The day after the Sabbath” in Leviticus 23:11 probably refers to the first Sabbath of the Pilgrimage of Unleavened Bread. What rejoicing there must have been when they came “into the land which I give to you” (Leviticus 23:10) and reap its first harvest. The feast took place in the spring, but none of the harvest could be eaten until the wave offering happened on the day after the Passover Sabbath (Leviticus 23:14). The Lord designed their calendar to reinforce that He personally provided the land for them, and He personally provided each harvest within the land for them.

The Sabbath of Sabbaths, Leviticus 23:15-22. From that first fruits offering (Leviticus 23:15), they were to count seven Sabbaths until the next day was the fiftieth day (Leviticus 23:16). The word “fiftieth” is where this feast gets the name “Pentecost.” The timing places it at the beginning of the third month of the Israelite calendar.

This was the conclusion of their harvest, and they were to bring a “new” tribute (Leviticus 23:16). This tribute is unique in that it cannot be offered on the altar, because the Lord actually commands that it be baked with leaven (Leviticus 23:17). All of the ascension offerings of Leviticus 23:18 have their own tribute and their own drink offerings that are offered with them. But the leavened loaves of the firstfruits are to be waved with two male lambs as a holy portion for the administering priest (Leviticus 23:20). 

So, there are portions for the priest, for the people, and even a specially designated portion for the poor (Leviticus 23:22). The Lord is rich to all of His people, and Pentecost was a day set aside as a holy convocation especially for enjoying that richness in His presence.

The Memorial of Trumpeting, Leviticus 23:23-25. This little section is set off by itself, with the introductory formula in Leviticus 23:23 that is repeated to begin yet another section in Leviticus 23:26. The seventh month was the high month, including the Day of Atonement and the Pilgrimage of Booths. Its arrival would be marked by the blowing of trumpets on the first day (Leviticus 23:24), which would announce and remind them of the arrival of this high month. That day would be a holy convocation, when no work of any kind was to be done (Leviticus 23:25), making room for bringing near to YHWH a fire-offering.

The Day of Atonement, Leviticus 23:26-32. The instructions for the Day of Atonement have been given in Leviticus 16:1–34. Now, its annual timing is fixed as the tenth day of the seventh month. In addition to what is performed by the High Priest, it is especially a day for every last Israelite to bring low (“afflict,” NKJ) his soul before “YHWH your God” (Leviticus 23:27Leviticus 23:29Leviticus 23:32). It was not only the High Priest, then, who was to renew covenant with YHWH, Who had given Himself to be their covenant God. Every single person must do so or be excommunicated (Leviticus 23:29). Indeed, YHWH Himself would destroy the one who did any work on that day (Leviticus 23:30). 

How dreadful it must have been! Yet, we wonder if they even knew why they were perishing; did they connect it to indulging in “just a little” work on the tenth day of the seventh month? How easy it is for us just to let the corporate exercises of worship go on without the participation of our own soul, but how seriously the Lord takes this! Let each and every one of us see to it that we bring our own soul to the Lord in all of the ways (lowliness, confidence, joy, dependence, devotion, etc.) appropriate to what our Great High Priest is doing, every week, in that Sabbath-keeping that remains.

The Pilgrimage of BoothsLeviticus 23:33-44. It is interesting that Leviticus 23:37’s inclusion with Leviticus 23:4 actually occurs in the middle of the section on the “Pilgrimage of Booths” (Leviticus 23:34). Leviticus 23:37-38 emphasize that this annual rhythm provided a superstructure to which they would then attach all of the other interaction with the Lord throughout the year. But then the pilgrimage of YHWH (Leviticus 23:39) is reintroduced, with new instructions on what beautiful booths they should build of beautiful materials (Leviticus 23:40).

Israel had already grumbled much in the wilderness, and would grumble a great deal more by the time they came into the land. As they did so, they would violate what the Lord was already teaching them about their time in the wilderness. It was not to be thought of as a hardship, but as a time of majestic provision. 

So the booths of this pilgrimage were to be beautiful, and it was to be seven days of rejoicing (Leviticus 23:40). It was a celebration of being redeemed not just by YHWH but for YHWH, to be brought into the fellowship of this covenant bond with their God and teach subsequent generations to do the same (Leviticus 23:43). Now our weekly assemblies serve the same purpose: to enjoy the Lord, as the One Who has saved us, as well as the One for Whom we were saved—even as He uses us to teach subsequent generations to do the same!

How is the weekly Sabbath a holy convocation for you on earth? Where else are you assembled, and how? By what practices do you carry this even into your dwelling with your family when you’re “back home from church”? How is the Lord’s Day a day when you receive the Lord’s best provision? A day when you recognize all of His other provision? A day when you are glad to be used by Him to provide for others? In what ways do you bring your own soul into participation with what is being done corporately on the Lord’s Day? How is it a day, for you, of celebrating not just that you have been saved BY the Lord, but especially that you have been/are being saved FOR the Lord?

Sample prayer:  Our gracious God, we thank You and praise You that the Lord Jesus came in the fullness of time, and that we now live according to a weekly rhythm in which all of the glories in this chapter have come to be enjoyed in Him. Grant unto us to participate in this weekly meeting with You and calling of ourselves together, each of us in our own soul, and even in every one of our dwellings. Make us to rejoice before You, our God, by Your Spirit, through Christ, in Whom we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP15 “Within Your Tent, Who Will Reside” or TPH165 “To Your Temple, I Repair”

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