March 25, 2007

Leviticus 22-23: Once a week wasn't enough

Today's reading is Leviticus 22-23 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers further rules for priests, what constitutes an unacceptable offering, and a catalogue of the holidays the Israelites were expected to observe.

Pop quiz: what's the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar? If you guessed Chanukah, please pick up your Bible right now and flip to Lev. 23, which lists the holidays of the ancient Israelites. Note that Chanukah is not on the list. While Chanukah is the best-known Jewish holiday to gentiles, it is not one of the holidays passed down in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). In fact, we have a list here of five holidays which could all be considered more important than the "Jewish Christmas." (Another misconception, incidentally, as Chanukah has absolutely nothing to do with the Christ.)

What are these five holidays, I hear my readers asking. They are:
- the Passover (Lev. 23:4-8)
- the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-22)
- the Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashana (Lev. 23:23-25)
- the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur (Lev. 23:26-32)
- the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot (Lev. 23:33-36 and 23:39-43)

Instead of devoting an entire essay to a glorified summary, I would like to look at two common features listed in all these holidays. The first is sacrifice. It shouldn't be a surprise, given how much space in Leviticus is devoted to laws regarding sacrifices, that each of the most important holidays on the calendar is marked by sacrifices and offerings. In fact, Lev. 23:37-38, summarizing the chapter, read as follows in the NIV:
(37) These are the LORD's appointed feasts, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies for bringing offerings made to the LORD by fire—the burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings required for each day. (38) These offerings are in addition to those for the LORD's Sabbaths and in addition to your gifts and whatever you have vowed and all the freewill offerings you give to the LORD.

It seems, reading this passage, that the holidays exist for the sole purpose of giving sacrifices to God!

Generally, the sacrifices are of grains or animals. The Passover has a burnt offering (Lev. 23:8), as does Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:25), the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:36). The Feast of Weeks is even more precise, listing the required animals and grains: two loaves of flour, seven yearling lambs, one bullock, and two rams as a burnt offering; a kid goat for a sin offering; and two yearling lambs for peace offerings. (Lev. 23:17-19)

Living as we are in the days after the destruction of the Temple, Israelites today (ie: Jews) cannot offer these sacrifices. There is no longer a high priest of the Hebrews, and nowhere for him to receive them, even if there were. Despite the precision of the text, these laws are moot today.

On the other hand, there is another unifying feature of the holidays, which is that no Hebrew could do work during them. This is a common commandment and applies to the first and seventh day of Passover (Lev. 23:7-8), the Feast of Weeks (Lev. 23:21), the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:25), and the first and eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:35-36). The laws regarding the Day of Atonement go so far as to say that anyone who does work during that holiday, "the same soul will I destroy from among his people." (Lev. 23:30, KJV) Clearly, this was not the sort of law a prudent Israelite should ignore.

This commandment not to work should be familiar to anyone who knows the laws of the Sabbath, which also outlaws working. In fact, there is a reminder in this very chapter that the Israelites must not work on the Sabbath, either. (Lev. 23:3) What this meant, therefore, is that in addition to their weekly rest days, the Israelites also had seven extra feast days every year. Decadent! Compared to their servile existence in Egypt, this calendar of holidays must have seemed the height of luxury.

To this day, observant Jews do not work on the aforementioned holidays. Unlike the requirement for sacrifices, which can no longer be applied, the proscription against work can still be upheld today.

However, the two commandments -- to offer sacrifices and to abstain from work -- were clearly meant to complement each other. On the one hand, the Israelites did not work to further their own position. On the other, they brought sacrifices to glorify God. They were, essentially, neglecting their own estates to enhance God's. They had a weekly reminder during the Sabbaths, and an occasional further reminder during the holidays, that everything they had was due to God's intervention. A Christian might say they were shifting their focus from the material world to the celestial one, from the transitory to the eternal. Of course, Christians do not celebrate these holidays, but the sentiment remains.

What can we learn from this chapter? First of all, be grateful if you happen not to be a farmer and therefore don't have a plentiful supply of animals for offerings. Next, rejoice that if you follow the Bible, you have so many holidays in which you can relax. And finally, once more for good measure, Chanukah is not an important Jewish holiday.


James said...

Hello Julie

Christ's first advent as a suffering sacrifice.

- the Passover (Lev. 23:4-8)
Lev.23[5] In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD's passover.

Prophecy of Christ death was to take place on the 14th day of the first month.

Prophecy Fulfilled: On Friday(preparation day)
John 19[42] There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

Lev. 23:[10] Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest:
[11] And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.

Prophecy Fulfilled:
Fristfruits of the dead:
[50] Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
Matt. 27[51] And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
[52] And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
[53] And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

1Cor.15[20] But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

John.20[17] Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

- the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-22)
[15] And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete:
[16] Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.

Prophecy Fulfilled:Pentecost
Acts.1[9] And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

Heb.3[1] Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;

Christ Second Advent as a Conquering King.

- the Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashana (Lev. 23:23-25)

[24] Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.

Rev.8[2] And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.

- the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur (Lev. 23:26-32)

God said he declares the end from the beginning. Isa.46:9,10 Is there an end to righteousness? No but there is an end to sin. On the very day Adam sinned, that day became the Day of Atonement. For on the 10th Day of the 7th month, Adam waxed very, very poor and was in need of a Redeemer Lev.25[25]

Was Adam in need of an atonement before or after he sinned? Death and the grave came as the result of his sin.

When God said to Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent. This is symbolized by the High Priest placing the sins of Israel on the head of the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement.

On the 10th day of the 7th month of the 7th year in the near future sin could come to an end.

With sin,death and the grave at an End. The covenant of peace is delivered. Preparations for the Feast of Tabernacles to look forward to for great rejoicing.

Then On
- the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot (Lev. 23:33-36 and 23:39-43)
on the 15th day of the 7th month of the 7th year. Deut.31 [10] And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years,in the solemnity of the year of release,in the feast of tabernacles,...

This the prophecy of the Second Advent.

Enjoy Jim

Julie said...

See, Jim, this is one of those sections where Jews and Christians differ. To Jews, this chapter is exactly what is sounds like: a list of holidays for Jews to observe, as instructed by the text. To Christians, it's an alllegorical passage referring to the Christ.

To take your first example, to Jews, the Passover is the Passover. It's a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt, and meant to be followed by not doing work, not eating leavened bread, and by retelling the story of the Exodus to our children. (In modern times, this is done by holding a seder.) Jews look backwards to the Exodus. Christians, on the other hand, look forwards and see it as a prophecy of things to come.

This is, in my mind, the biggest difference between Jewish and Christian attitudes: Jews read the text literally, for the most part, while Christians read it allegorically.


James said...

Hello Julie

"To take your first example, to Jews, the Passover is the Passover. It's a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt, and meant to be followed by not doing work, not eating leavened bread, and by retelling the story of the Exodus to our children."

You are right. Also
Jesus at the age of 12:
"Not one act in the life of Christ was unimportant. Every event of his life was for the benefit of his followers in future time. This circumstance of the tarry of Christ in Jerusalem teaches an important lesson to those who should believe on him. Many had come a great distance to keep the passover, instituted that the Hebrews might keep in memory their wonderful deliverance from Egypt. This ordinance was designed to call their minds from their world-loving interests, and from their cares and anxieties in relation to temporal concerns, and to review the works of God. They were to call to mind his miracles, his mercies and loving-kindness, to them, that their love and reverence for him might increase, and lead them to

ever look to him, and trust in him in all their trials, and not turn to other gods.

The observance of the passover possessed a mournful interest to the Son of God. He saw in the slain lamb a symbol of his own death. The people who celebrated this ordinance were instructed to associate the slaying of the lamb with the future death of the Son of God. The blood, marking the door-posts of their houses, was the symbol of the blood of Christ which was to be efficacious for the believing sinner, in cleansing him from sin, and sheltering him from the wrath of God which was to come upon the impenitent and unbelieving world, as the wrath of God fell upon the Egyptians. But none could be benefited by this special provision made by God for the salvation of man unless they should perform the work the Lord left them to do. They had a part to act themselves, and by their acts to manifest their faith in the provision made for their salvation.

The Spirit of Prophecy Volume Two (1877), page 35, paragraph 2;page 36, paragraph 1
Chapter Title: Chapter II. - The Life of Christ.