Holidays and Festivals (Leviticus 23-25)

Part 7 of the Leviticus series: Rules concerning holidays and festivals (Leviticus 23-25).

Leviticus Chapter 23:
God gives Moses instruction on holidays.

Weekly Sabbath:
The seventh day (of each week), is a holiday and no one should be doing ordinary work because it is for rest.

Passover/ The Festival of Unleavened Bread (Pesach):
On the 14th day of the first month (Abib/Nisan) of the year (in the spring), the evening is Passover. Starting the next day (the 15th day) will be a week-long celebration of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The first and seventh days of the week are sabbaths and no one can do ordinary work. Furthermore, sacrifices are to be brought to the Tabernacle on each day of the festival.

First Fruits:
[Measurements are estimates from NLT]
When the Israelites get into the land they are required to bring the first fruits of their first harvest. When they bring a bundle of grain from the first harvest, the priest will wave it before the Tabernacle the day after the Sabbath (the 16th/17th day of the first month). On that same day, a person is to offer a one-year-old male lamb as a burnt offering as well as a grain offering of flour (4.4 liters) mixed with olive oil, and wine (1 liter) as a liquid offering. The Israelites are not allowed to eat any bread, roasted grain, or fresh kernels on that day until they give the first fruit offering. This is a permanent law for all future generations.

Festival of the Harvest (Shavuot):
Seven weeks (49 days) after the Frist Fruits are given during Passover, the Israelites are to assemble and celebrate the summer harvest. They must bring two loaves of leavened bread (chametz) made from 4.4 liters of flour as first fruit gifts to be waved at the Tabernacle. They must bring seven one-year-old male lambs, one young bull, and two rams as burnt offerings. These burnt offerings, go along with the grain (flour and olive oil) and liquid (wine) offerings to God. Lastly, they must offer one male goat as a sin offering and two one-year-old male lambs as a peace offering. The priest will wave the bread loaves and lamb peace offerings before the Tabernacle, and they will be made holy for the priest to eat. This day will be a sabbath, and no ordinary work may be done. As a reminder when the Israelites harvest their crops they are to leave some behind in the corners of the fields for the poor and the foreigners (Lev 19:9-10).

Festival of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah):
The first day of the seventh month (in autumn) is a holy day for assembly and offerings, and it is a sabbath. It is to be commemorated with a blast of the ram’s horn (shofar).

Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur):
On the 10th day of the seventh month, the Israelites will observe the Day of Atonement. This is a day for rest (sabbath), offerings, and fasting (for those healthy enough to do so). Special procedures are done by the high priest in the inner sanctuary, to atone for the priests and the whole community of Israel. Anyone who breaks Sabbath will be condemned by God, and anyone who doesn’t fast that whole day (from the evening of the 9th to the next evening) will be cut off from the community. The Israelites are to keep these instructions for future generations.

Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot):
The 15th day of the seventh month, five days after the Day of Atonement is the beginning of the final festival of the year, the Feast of Tabernacles. It is a seven-day festival like the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and on each day they must bring offerings. The first and eighth days are sabbaths for rest and convocation, and they must bring special offerings all week long. These offerings are in addition to their normal vow and voluntary gifts. On the first day when they harvested all the produce, they must bring branches of various trees: palm fronds, boughs from leafy trees, and willows, and use them to celebrate for the whole week. All week long, native-born Israelites must live inside little tabernacles/shelters (tents), and they must do this for all future generations. This is a reminder of when God brought them out of Egypt and they lived in tents while he sustained them in the wilderness for 40 years.

These designated special holidays require special their own offerings. These festival gifts are in addition to their ordinary offerings both voluntary and required.

Comment: The Pharisees and the Sadducees had different interpretations of which Sabbath the First Fruits offering succeeded (Lev 23:11). The Pharisees believed it to be the day after the Holy Sabbath (the first day of Pesach), while the Sadducees believed it was the day after the weekly Sabbath. With the Pharisees’ interpretation, the first fruit is given after the first day of Pesach and allows Pentecost (Shavuot) to be on a fixed day. This is more consistent with scripture since the other main holidays are on specific days of the month. This would have meant since Passover is on the 14th day, and the Holy Sabbath of Pesach was on the 15th and 21st days, then First Fruits was on the 16th day making Pentecost always 50 days after that (the 65th day of the year). If it was the weekly sabbath then the first fruits would slide around since the 14th of the month can be on any day, since the date of the Saturday after Passover would be different based on the what day Passover falls on and how close it is to Saturday. The Sadducees were the ruling party at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, so Jesus rose on the Sadduceeic first fruit day.

Leviticus Chapter 24:
God reminds Moses that the priests are to keep the menorah burning morning and evening, using fresh pure olive oil. They are to keep this up for all future generations. The priest is to prepare 12 loaves of bread made from 4.4 liters of flour each. The loaves should be stacked in two piles (six loaves in each pile) with frankincense on each pile. This bread will be placed out on the gold table in front of the menorah, on the north side of the Tabernacle every Sabbath. This is the Presence Bread, set in God’s presence as a gift to him from the Israelites, and only the priests can eat this bread.

One day, a young man who had an Israelite mother (Shelomith from the tribe of Dan) and an Egyptian father got into an argument with another Israelite man. He used God’s name in vain as a curse. The Israelites set him apart for judgment and God said to execute him. They took the man outside the camp and the witnesses laid their hands on his head. Afterward, the community stoned him to death. God reminds them that blasphemy and misusing God’s name are capital offenses for anyone, both Israelites and foreigners.

Furthermore, God reminds them of other moral laws. Murder is punishable by death. If a person kills an animal they must pay restitution to the owner with another animal. If someone injures a person, then they get an equal injury back, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a break for a break, etc. This standard is for Israelites and foreigners.

Comment: In Lev 24:19-20, Ex21:23-24, and Deut 19:21, there is a system where a person can return an injury for an equal injury from another person, often referenced as “an eye for an eye”. This seems like the opposite of what Jesus said in Matt 5:38-48 about turning the other cheek. Did Jesus break the law? These particular verses are dealing with punishment by a penal system, which required witnesses for the sake of getting justice. These were not for personal grudges, yet at the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were taking these things out of context and allowing people to abuse this for personal disputes via mob justice. In addition, the rules were given to a group of people that lived in a time when violence was used to keep peace in many cultures all over the world, so it wasn’t unique to them. It also promoted equal retribution, meaning a person can’t murder someone for wounding them. Lastly, before Jesus people didn’t the holy spirit, which is God’s presence on the inside that softens man’s hard-heartedness (Ez 36:27-29), so God had to operate with them differently.

Leaven oftentimes is used as a metaphor for sin because of how fast it spreads, and if sin isn’t dealt with early, it will spread like leaven throughout the whole community. This will cause the nation to be corrupted and end up exiled from the land (which is what happens later under the Assyrian and Babylonian empires). The death penalty functions as a deterrent to an extent, but even with that human sin nature will always come out to test God. God’s mercy allows for the animal sacrifice system to substitute for the death that is deserved for sin. However, when it comes to public sins that are exposed by witnesses, these sins are often punished publicly as an act of justice for victims and their families, and a reminder of God’s holiness and the Israelite’s requirement to be holy in his presence and to keep them from spreading. This is to prevent people from abusing the sacrificial system and God’s mercy, by sinning all over the place and hurting people without a care in the world and making cheap sacrifices at the last minute to cover their debts. This is why Jesus overturned the tables of the Temple (Matt 21:21-13) because auctioneers started cheapening the sacrificial system. Furthermore, Jesus addresses this issue head-on in Matt 5:23-24 by telling to people to apologize to those they have wronged before bringing God their guilt sacrifices. Otherwise, the sacrifice is meaningless if they are not repentant. When someone gets away with sin because there were no witnesses, that can be considered an act of mercy from God, and should be thought of as an opportunity to repent, or else that person may get caught next time.

Victims of wrongdoing are typically going to bear grudges and hold hatred in their hearts for the other person. This goes against the command in Lev 19:18 to not hold grudges but rather love your neighbor as yourself. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus called this the 2nd greatest commandment, only second to loving God with all our heart, soul, and might. Furthermore, he says following these two commandments will fulfill all the laws. The dealt penalty was one way to alleviate this, and mercy is shown through the sacrificial system by the requirement of death for sin (Rom 6:23). God made other systems of mercy beside the sacrificial system. The two systems related to the context of this discussion were refugee status and eye for eye restitution. The city of refuge system was designed to protect people from those who held grudges (Numbers 35:9-29, Deut 19:1-13). This was for someone that accidentally killed someone else, so they could escape from the victim’s family because even though it was an accident, their hard hearts prevented them from forgiving. The eye for an eye system is built on the foundations of the death penalty for murder (Gen 9:5-6). This allowed someone who was truly wronged to get immediate compensation so that they could move on and be free of grudges. Otherwise, it can turn into family feuds and cause strife between families in future generations, and this division would cause problems for the Israelites as a whole.

The holy spirit is a promise of the new covenant which was initialed by Jesus, so he is preparing people for the new covenant. This is the same reason why we don’t have the stone people to death in the new covenant because Jesus died in our place for our sins, and receiving the gospel brings the gift of the holy spirit which helps believers overcome sin. Rejecting the gospel keeps people in the same sinful state where they will not follow God’s way, but at any time, a person can come to Jesus to be born again, so there is no need to end their lives because all people are potential followers of Jesus until they die. Paul started off persecuting and executing Jesus’s followers and then he became one (Acts ch. 9).

Leviticus Chapter 25:
God gives Moses rules regarding special annual time cycles for the Israelites to follow once they have conquered the promised land. The people (foreigners and Israelites) will be allowed to work the land for 6 years but on the seventh, they must let the land rest. Just like with the weekly sabbath when the people in Israel rest from daily work. No one can plant, harvest, or store crops that grow naturally. Everyone (servants, workers, the poor, foreigners, all animals) may freely eat whatever grows during that year. (This special seventh sabbath year is called the shmita.)

After seven shmitas (49 years), and on Yom Kippur (the 10th day of the seventh month) the priest will blow the shofar (rams horn) to initiate the beginning of the next year (the 50th year) which is the year of Jubilee (Yovel) or “liberty”. In a Jubilee year, people will return to their ancestral land allotment, and land that was purchased will be returned to the owners. This will be a year of complete rest like the shmita, and the people can freely eat whatever the land produces. No one can plant, harvest, or store crops that grow naturally.

The year of Jubilee will determine the market value of assets like land. This metric is to be used to prevent exploitation. The price of land is determined by the number of years left until the next Jubilee. If there are many years until Jubilee then it will cost more, if there are fewer then it will cost less. Since Jubilee returns all land ownership rights, it is only fair that the market value adjusts based on how many years the land can be used before being returned.

Keeping God’s instructions will bring blessing over the land and they will live in financial security. Some may wonder what they are going to eat and barter with if they can’t sow or harvest during a sabbath year or Jubilee. God promises to pour out a blessing in the sixth year so that they can store up the extra for provision in the seventh. This is so that they can have food until they are allowed to sow again in the eighth year. Even then they won’t be able to eat right away because they have to wait for the eighth year harvest, but God promises that the sixth year’s provision will be big enough to cover the eighth year and bleed into the ninth year. This implies that if the seventh year is also the 49th year then the provision of the 48th year will cover the 49th (seventh shmita), the 50th year (Jubilee), and the two years after while they wait for the 51st year’s harvest to grow. This way they can keep the sabbath rules on Jubilee after the shmita as well.

No one can truly own a purchased field in the land of Israel since the land is owned by God and they all work for him. Any property sold must include the right to be redeemed for the original owner. Therefore, if someone sells their family land because they are poor, they (when they have more money) or their immediate relative, have the right to redeem it so that it can go back to their family line. The redemption price will be reduced based on the number of years left until the next Jubilee year. If the seller doesn’t have the money to buy it back, nor a relative that can do it for them, then the purchaser keeps it until Jubilee Year, then it will be redeemed automatically to the original owner.

If someone sells land in a walled city, the original owner has one year to redeem it. If it is not redeemed it is the buyers to keep. If the land is in a town or village without walls, then it is treated as an open field and only to be owned until Jubilee and can be redeemed at any time in between. As for the cities of Levites and their houses in those cities, those properties must be returned to them in Jubilee. Also, open fields around those cities belong to Levites permanently and are not for sale. Since the Levites don’t have full land allotments, whatever they sell will always be returned to them on Jubilee.

If an Israelite becomes poor and sells himself, they are not to be treated like a slave but rather like a hired worker. Their meals should be free and any money loaned to them should be interest-free. If they sell themselves to an Israelite as a slave then must be treated like tenant farmers or hired workers, and they will work until the Jubilee year, which is when they and their whole family will be restored. The Israelites are to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and should always treat people better than they were treated.

The Israelites are allowed to buy and sell slaves from amongst the Gentiles. Israelite slaves could be bought but they could not be traded like Gentile slaves. Israelites were not to be treated harsher than Gentile slaves. If a poor Israelite sells himself to a Gentile in the land, then he always maintains the right to redeem himself or his relatives can redeem him. The price of redemption will be based on how many years there are until the next Jubilee multiplied by the standard employee wages. If there are many years until Jubilee they will refund the price they sold themselves for, if there are few they will refund at a discounted price. The Israelite slaves are not to be treated as slaves by Gentile owners but rather as hired workers on a yearly contract. If they are not redeemed by Jubilee, then they (and their families) will be free at that time. God reminds Israel that he owns them, and must act as if they are slaves to him. This way they can remember to treat their own slaves the way God treats them and operate with justice, holiness, and integrity.

Comment: In addition to it being a sabbath, personal debts are canceled for Israelites on the shmita, and Israelites are encouraged to generously give to the poor even in the sixth year (Deut 15:1-11). God provides double for the sixth year so that they can eat in the seventh without harvesting. Just like with the Manna in the wilderness (Ex 11:21-26). God told them not to look for manna on the seventh day because it was a day of rest and he provided double on the sixth day, so they could save it for the seventh day. God will not give absolutely impossible instructions, he will always provide the means to keep his commands. We simply must trust.

On the topic of land ownership. The redemption price will be reduced based on the number of years left until the next Jubilee year (Lev 25:26-27). For example, if the land was sold 30 years before Jubilee for $900 (using USD for example), and then redeemed 15 years later since 15 is half of 30, the price will be redeemed at half of the original sale price, in this case, $450. Furthermore, God’s statement in Lev 25:23 is reflected in Jesus’ parable of the Evil Farmers in Matthew 21:33-46. God says in Lev 25:23 that the land belongs to him and no one can own or sell land perpetually because they are just tenant workers who manage it. The parable is about some hired tenant farmers who refuse to pay the owner when he sends a messenger to collect his portion of the harvest. They beat, and kill his messengers and eventually his son. After they kill his son he punishes them. Israel’s leaders at the time were the evil farmers in the parable, who rejected the owner’s sons (Jesus). The owner has always been God and Israel were his tenants.

On the topic of impoverishment and slavery. Slaves were usually people (or their children), who borrowed money and worked to pay off their debt, or thieves, who have to pay back double when caught, and couldn’t pay restitution so they worked off their debts plus interest. Slaves could also include Gentiles who submitted to Israelites’ conquest as permanent slaves like the Gibeonites in Joshua 9. Gentiles could never own land in Israel since the Israelites had permanent land allotments. Even rich Gentiles were borrowers which is in line with the blessing of being the lenders and not borrowers in Deut 28:12. The borrowers are servants of lenders (Prov 22:7). However, people who were poor and desperate were to be distinguished as being destitute much like foreigners, widows, or orphans. Therefore those Israelites who sold themselves into slavery out of desperation were to be treated like workers.

<–Part 6
Part 8–>