The Seven Feasts of Jehovah - Leviticus 23
Address given at the Plumstead Conference 1996
Leviticus chapter 23, verses 1-6, 9-11, 15-17, 23-27, 33-36
The Old Testament has often be called the picture book of the New Testament and I think that everyone of us knows that we have many, many types in the Old Testament, images of truths which have only been revealed in the New Testament. We have persons like Isaac as a figure of Christ and so forth, we have, especially in the people of Israel after their liberation from Egypt, many types, I only take the tabernacle which is an apt type of Christ and His assembly without going into any detail. If we think of the offerings, the sacrifices which all speak of the one sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. And we have also in the seven feasts of Jehovah of which we have been reading this evening a typical description, I would say, of the entire spiritual history of the world and being that we are occupied with the future, the prophecy, I think it might be an apt filling up of the end of the conference to occupy ourselves for some moments with these seven feasts of the Lord.
These seven feasts were naturally, as it is said in the Darby translation, set feasts or feast times, as John says, for drawing near to God. That was the idea, the thought of God, to have fixed times to draw His people toward Himself. But not only was this the idea, the thought of God, but He wanted to give instruction not to the Israelites, as Paul writes in his first epistle to the Corinthians when He gave the commandment that the threshing oxen should not be muzzled, he did not think of the oxen alone, He thought of us. And the same is true when we consider the feasts of Jehovah. If we have paid attention somebody might say but there were eight feasts mentioned, the first being in verse 3 which is the sabbath and indeed if we count all these occasions, these set occasions, there are these eight but the sabbath not being a yearly feast but a weekly recurring occasion. It is on the one hand counted among those feasts but on the other hand it is clearly detached from the seven feasts which only occurred once a year and this sabbath shows us perhaps the idea which we find already in this first chapter of the Bible and which we find in the last book of the Bible of which we have been speaking during our conference today, the eternal rest of Jehovah. The thought of God was, is and shall always be: rest for the soul. For Himself, when He had finished the creation, God rested on the seventh day, and He sanctified this day to detach it from all the other days in which He had accomplished the creatorial work. But then came sin. Many thousand years later when the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, was on this earth, walking over the scene, He said, and He worked on the sabbath, He healed on the sabbath, He was the Lord of the sabbath. And when the Pharisees reproached Him He said 'Man was not created for the sabbath but the sabbath for man' and then He added in another Gospel, He said until that time, even today, "My Father worketh hitherto and I work." There was no real rest, sin had entered into this world, God could not find rest in this world, He cannot find it. So, what was to be done? He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus came to give us rest and He has brought rest to everybody. I don't know whether everybody tonight gathered with us here, has already found this rest for the soul but the Lord said in Matthew 11, the now very well-known words 'Come to Me, all ye burdened and heavy laden and I shall give you rest.' That is the idea of the sabbath, God wants man to have rest and wants to enjoy this rest together with His creatures but this can only be today after sin had entered into this world on the qround of the atoning work of Christ. So this idea of the rest is still there and therefore the author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes 'there remains yet a sabbath rest or a sabbatism for the people of God. But this rest can be looked at from two sides, it can be looked at from the inward rest which the Lord has in store for everybody who believes in His word now to find rest or peace for his conscience and for his soul but it has also the other respect that there shall be an outward scene of rest for all those who belong to Him. It will be fulfilled in a preliminary way in the millennium but it will be fulfilled in the most perfect way in all eternity. This sabbath rest for the people of God is yet remaining. We are waiting for it but we see that, can well understand that this thought of rest was the underlying thought of God in all His works and that is why every week we term the sabbath, the day of rest when the Israelite was not allowed to work. For us we will find this in the course of these feasts, this sabbath has given place to the first day of the week which also had its place already in the Old Testament without any Israelite being able to understand what was the real meaning of that first day, the new beginning which we find even in the first group of feasts.
So we turn now to these seven yearly returning feasts in Israel most of which are well-known especially the first one, the passover of which we have read in verse 4 "These are the set feasts of Jehovah, holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons; In the first month, on the fourteenth of the month, between the two evenings, is the passover to Jehovah." All these Israelites who received this commandment probably had celebrated this first passover already in Egypt. We all know that what was the occasion of this passover, this as it is in Hebrew and the English translation is even in phonetically a little bit in accord with the Hebrew which is not the case in German and in French, because it really means, passing over. The occasion was the judgement of God on all the first born, representatives of the whole people in Egypt. And for every Israelite there was this possibility of being spared of this judgement by slaughtering the passover lamb, taking the blood of this lamb and putting it on the door posts and the lintel of the door and by that means being saved from the judgement. And the wonderful thing which also has a very touching voice for us is that not the Israelites, the first born, had to see the blood, it was to be on the outside of the house. And God said 'When I see the blood I will pass over you'. It is not our appreciation of the blood of Christ - which will never reach that height which God has for it - but it is His appreciation of the precious blood of Christ.
So the passover which was celebrated in the beginning of the month and if we turn to Exodus 12 we will see that God really instituted a new beginning. The normal Hebrew or Jewish year begins in Autumn, in September/October, that is the normal, the civil year but in Exodus 12, in the Darby Bible I think there is a note when it says there 'this is to be the beginning of your months', that is he said 'the beginning of the holy year'. It was actually a new beginning starting with the sacrifice of the passover lamb with freedom from judgement and the beginning of salvation, the beginning of a new life. We see that in the New Testament just to explain that the passover is really a type of the work of the Lord Jesus, in I Corinthians 5 the apostle explained it expressly, I Corinthians 5, verse 7 at the end "For also our passover Christ has been sacrificed". It is always important to find a New Testament explanation for an Old Testament type so it is easier to understand that we don't stray from the meaning of Scripture. The Holy Spirit explains in the New Testament that the passover is really a type of the work of Christ in freeing us from the judgement which we had deserved.
But then the second feast which follows immediately after the passover which was celebrated on the fourteenth of the first month was in verse 6 the day the feast of unleavened bread which started on the fifteenth day of the first month of the holy year and which lasted for one complete week. And having opened I Corinthians 5 we can just continue in verse 8 "So that let us celebrate the feast not with old leaven nor with leaven of malice and wickedness but with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." So we have in these two verses, 7 and 8, the full explanation of the two first feasts of Jehovah, the passover which was one day, reminiscent of the memorial of the freedom from judgement by the blood of the lamb, and then this seven day feast of unleavened bread. Well, these seven days, one week, speak of a period, seven being the divine number of perfection, completion, which shows that, and it is exactly in this way that Paul by the Holy Spirit explains this, it is an image of our life 'let us celebrate the feast' is not to be understood to celebrate the feast of the Supper as sometimes is being said. No, the feast is here the feast of unleavened bread which is the whole week which follows the passover, the whole week and week after week after week, it is an image of our, a type, of our entire lives, life marked by unleavened bread. Now, leaven in the New Testament and also in the Old Testament, is always, if it is taken typically, a type of sin, of sin allowed in one's life and not judged. And it was absolutely forbidden to have any leaven in the house of a Jew for one week after the passover and so God says in I Corinthians 5 that it is not apt for the Christian to have any leaven of old leaven which speaks of our lives of the old man, our lives before our conversion nor with leaven of malice and wickedness, we still have our old nature, the old man has been crucified, Romans 6, verse 6, but the flesh is still there and the flesh has not changed the law, and it has no right of existence, put it away, self judgement is the thing for our everyday life. And so we can see that we have to put away this leaven of malice and wickedness and to live our lives with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, things which were represented in perfection by the Lord Jesus and we are to follow Him. So this second feast of Israel or the feast of Jehovah rather is a type of the entire life of a believer.
Then we continue to the third feast in verse 9 "Jehovah spoke to Moses saying 'Speak unto the children of Israel and say unto them, When ye come into the land that I give unto you, and ye reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest unto the priest. And he shall wave the sheaf before Jehovah to be accepted for you; on the next day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it." This was the third feast of Jehovah, the feast of the first-fruits or the feast of the wave-sheaf. Now, this might be a little bit more difficult because it was in very close connection with the first two feasts. It was eaten exactly on the first day of the week, there we have for the first time the first day of the week in those feasts typically mentioned. Now if we take the passover, it was to be held on the fourteenth day of the month which could be any weekday. And then started seven days of unleavened bread, type of the life of the Christian. But then we have here a fixed day of the week, the first day after the sabbath naturally following the passover so if the passover was on a Monday then exactly seven days later on the Lord's day, the first day of the week after the sabbath this feast of the wave-sheaf or the first-fruits was to be celebrated. But when the real Passover was sacrificed the first day of the week followed three days and three nights after the sacrificing of the Passover, the death of the Lord. And what happened on this first day of the next week after the death of our Lord? He was raised from the dead, He was as I Corinthians 15 says, verse 20, He was the real firstfruits, the firstfruits of those fallen asleep, He is the first born of those who have been dead, nobody has been raised by God Himself without human intermediation except the Lord Jesus and all people who have been raised before, even by Himself, had been raised only, that we say, to die a second time but the Lord Jesus was raised in a life marked by incorruptibility. And that is why we find here that this feast was only to be celebrated when they came into the land of Canaan because the land of Canaan brings us into the heavenly sphere, into the heavenly places, that is the type of heavenly places. And if we study the New Testament, especially the letters of Paul exactly, then we shall find that the resurrection of the Lord and our resurrection with Him is only mentioned in the Ephesians and Colossians and once I think in Timothy but in no other letter of the apostle Paul is our resurrection with Him, our spiritual not our future resurrection, but our dying with Him and our being raised with Him spiritually mentioned. And these are exactly those epistles in which our heavenly position is presented. When the Lord was raised from the dead He did not belong anymore to this earth. In one sense virtually He never belonged to this earth, He was always the heavenly Stranger, but He came down and He took part in our condition. He became man, not the sinful condition but our creature condition. I know that this is some discussion here in the English speaking world about the terms 'condition' and 'state', but what I mean is simply that the Lord Jesus became the perfect man except sin, sin excepted. He came down, He was on this earth and He was surrounded by all the marks of the human state, sin excepted. He was hungry, He was thirsty, He was tired but after the accomplishment of His work, after His resurrection, He did no longer belonged to this earth, He belonged now as man to heaven where He went forty days afterwards. And that is why we find here that this feast is connected with the land, not with the desert 'When ye come into the land'. In the desert there are no first-fruits, there is no crop to be raised, only in the land, and they should bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of which we find in just to mention the exact passage, I Corinthians 15, should I perhaps mention other passages, but I take this one from the resurrection chapter, I Corinthians 15, verse 20 "But now Christ is raised from among the dead, firstfruits of those fallen asleep". This is the fulfilment of the feast of the wave-sheaf which was to be presented in the land which brings the people of God in the full possession and enjoyment of what He has given to us. He doesn't want us to be poor and joyless Christians, He wants to see us in connection and relation with the Lord and in the enjoyment of all the blessings He has procured for us. But this was not yet the last feast.
The first three feasts which belong very closely together which all have, as we can easily see from the New Testament quotations, found their fulfilment in the work of Christ.
But then we have the fourth feast which is mentioned from verse 15 onwards
"And ye shall count from the morning after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave-offering, seven weeks; they shall be complete; even unto the morning after the seventh sabbath shall ye count fifty days; and ye shall present a new oblation to Jehovah. Out of your dwelling shall ye bring two wave-loaves and of two tenths of fine flour; with leaven shall they be baken; [as] first-fruits to Jehovah."
Fifty days after the resurrection day, after the waving of the first-fruits, the wave-sheaf, was another feast of which we find the fulfilment also in the New Testament. If we take the Greek exactly, it says in Acts 2, verse 1 'And when the feast of the fiftieth was fulfilled', the fifty days mentioned here, seven weeks plus one day, the day of Pentecost. Pentecost is simply the Greek word for 'fifty'. The day of Pentecost was the fulfilling of the feast of the weeks which was to take place seven weeks after the presenting of the firstfruits, this wave sheaf and when we go to the New Testament and ask what was the meaning, what happened on this day of Pentecost, we see that it was the foundation day of the assembly.
So we have in these four feasts, passover, unleavened bread, the wave sheaf and the feast of the weeks the whole, one could say, the entire plan of God for the salvation and the union of His own brought about by the work of the Lord. And it is interesting that these types in many respects and here especially fall short of the reality because on the day of Pentecost, as Paul explains it later, all the believers, these at least one hundred and twenty believers who were together there in the upper room, were baptised according to I Corithians 12, verse 13 by one Spirit to one body which is expressed every Lord's day in the breaking of bread, one loaf, one body, "Because we, [being] many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf." But here the type falls short, they had to bring not one loaf but two loaves. There are many types of the assembly in the Old Testament, take for example the tabernacle, but there is not a type of this wonderful oneness of the Church of God to the present day. The people of Israel is also a type of the heavenly people, twelve tribes, and here we have two loaves, two loaves, verse 17, which are characterised that they contain leaven.
Now, we have just heard that leaven is not to be allowed in the lives of the Christians but here we see that they have been baken with leaven. Leaven which is not baked works but the moment it is exposed to fire the working, the energy of this leaven, stops, it is only the memory that there was leaven in this loaf but it has finished. And this is exactly the state, the assembly, consisting of believers, is in because every believer knows that he was once leavened but due to the judgement undergone by the Lord Jesus this leaven, the old man, has been taken away, the working of sin has finished - not in practice but with regard to our position.
This feast of weeks is also connected with first-fruits brought to Jehovah, these two loaves of bread, the nearest, the closest approach to the oneness of the assembly in the Old Testament, two loaves. In the tabernacle there were twelve loaves, speaking of the twelve tribes, but here we have two loaves, not one. This type falls short in that respect but there we find again this word 'first-fruits' but in the Darby translation, in the note and it is very important that we find it here, this word for first-fruits is another word than that which we have had in verse 10, as the note says which is the same word as in chapter 2 Vers 12 in connection with the meat offering. We are also first-fruits, as James says in his first chapter, verse 18 "According to His own will begat He us by the word of truth, that we should be a certain firstfruits of His creatures", firstfruits of the new creation. If you look around you see the old creation, everybody by nature is the old creation, this earth is the old creation but in this old creation lying under sin there are new creatures, every believer is the part of the new creation. Paul says this and it is also the very precious thing to remember this: we do not any longer belong to this old creation, we are in it but Paul says in II Corinthians 5 Vers 17 'if anybone be in Christ there is a new creation; the old things have passed away, behold all things have become new.' Isn't that a wonderful thing, we ought to be able to say 'I belong to the new creation, I'm a new creature'. But why are we firstfruits? Because of everything of which we have been speaking, the remnant, the millennium, everything is future but we are living at present and that is why we are really the firstfruits of the new creation and everything in this old creation will undergo judgement except the believers, they were taken out of this old creation to be really, to enter as firstfruits into the new state of things.
And then comes a pause, an interval. We see that all the first four feasts have a relation to the passover which is the beginning of the old year, a new beginning, passover, and even the feast of weeks was seven weeks after the first day of the week, after the resurrection of the Lord. And then comes a time of several months until the seventh month as we have read in verse 24:
"Speak unto the children of Israel saying, 'In the seventh month, on the first of the month, shall ye have a rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets"'.
What we have considered until now was actually the work of Christ for everybody who believes whether Jew or Gentile and the result even including the building, the making of the assembly. But now comes an interval of many months and what we have here, the seventh month, if we turn back to Exodus 12 where we have found that God has reversed the order of the months we shall find that this was the seventh month in actually the normal beginning of the normal year which is here called the seventh because here we have the holy year. But, what I want to say is that now God, by these feasts turns back to the normal order and we can say to the earthly order to His earthly people. What we have had now is the formation of the heavenly people by the first four feasts but the last three feasts which are firstly separated by a longer interval from the first four, secondly bring us back into the earthly and, let me say, normal order of things, show us that something must be changing here and I think we can say that was in the first place it is the returning to the people of Israel, that the last three feasts have to do with the development of Israel and secondly that they, this is indicated by the interval which was not to be even fixed by a certain number of days because this interval was always changing from the day of Pentecost until the first of the seventh year you only have to take several calendars you will see that every year the number of days will be different showing that this difference is not a fixed distance. That's why we don't know when the Lord will take up His relations with Israel. He will do it as certainly - and this is one lesson which we can draw from these seven feasts - as four of these feasts have already been fulfilled two thousand years ago and God has given them one thousand five hundred years before they were fulfilled. They have all been fulfilled. Prophecy fulfilled, typology fulfilled, four of the seven feasts are fulfilled: should not that be for everybody a very earnest and serious hint that there will be no doubt - and there can be no doubt - that the last three feasts will also find their fulfilment? The Bible is full of these things. How many prophecies concerning the Lord Jesus, actual prophecies, have been fulfilled, undeniably fulfilled? And still man does not believe. But for us who believe in that which has happened we know we can infer that that which has been prophesied, prophecy, and is not yet fulfilled will as certainly be fulfilled as that which has been fulfilled.
So we turn to these last three feasts. The seventh month the Lord will speak to Israel and He will do it by means of a trumpet. It is not the trumpet which will take the saint up, this would belong to the first four feasts but it is not mentioned. This is a new beginning in the new setting with His own people, with Israel, and I only mention Joel 2, verse 1: "Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain; let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of Jehovah cometh, for it is at hand; a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and gross darkness, as the dawn spreads upon the mountains;- a great people and strong". 'Blow the trumpet in Zion and sound an alarm because the day of Jehovah is at hand': that is exactly the meaning of these trumpets in verse 24:
"In the seventh month, on the first of the month" the beginning of this month "shall ye have a rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. No manner of servile work shall ye do".
We read this commandment to do no manner of servile work practically at every feast and it shows us, we read it here a very close connection with blowing of the trumpet, it shows that in all the dealings of God with man, with His heavenly people or with His earthly people we can do nothing. It is not our work and it will not be the work of the Jew that they return, it will be the work of God Who will blow the trumpet and we can say that between the 22nd and the 23rd verse (just as in the Revelation where we have no direct indication of the rapture of the assembly after chapter 3) so here we have no indication of the rapture but it is there, it should be here between verse 22 and verse 23 and then after the assembly, the believers asleep and alive have been taken away the Old Testament and the New Testament and every believer have been caught up to be for ever with the Lord then this trumpet for Israel shall be sounded and Israel will be spiritually awakened. Now, there could be lots of things said as to the state of Israel. We see that outwardly a great part, not the greater part, I think that in New York alone there are more Jews than in the whole state of Israel, more than three million, but a great part of this people who have in our days been returned to Israel after two thousand years of absence but it is not yet the trumpet. It is what we find perhaps in Ezekiel 37, the dead bones have been gathered in the valley but there is no life in it and for the spiritual life, the waiting for the Messiah. They have sinned and that's what we had this afternoon that the woman has to flee into the desert (Rev. 12). This is something which has not yet appeared in Israel and which will probably, very probably, openly come to life after the rapture of the assembly and not before because this will be to my mind the effect of the sounding of the trumpet that the people of Israel open their ears again to the word of God, to the voice of His prophets.
And then we have the second of the second group, the sixth feast in verse 26 "And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, Also on the tenth of this seventh month is the day of atonement: a holy convocation shall it be unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and present an offering by fire to Jehovah." Now, this day of atonement is explained very largely in chapter 16 of the book of Leviticus. And it shows us it is very often, rightly so, applied to ourselves, Hebrews does so, Hebrews 9 and partly 10 is a biblical explanation where Scripture explains Scripture, of the day of atonement and the apostle who wrote the epistle to the Hebrews writes that Christ is the fulfilment of the work of the High Priest, the fulfilment also of this sacrifice of the two goats and the other offerings by His offering which has taken place once for all whereas in the day of atonement the only time the High Priest was allowed to enter into the Holiest of Holies once a year, Hebrews 9 says, this shows that it was not yet a complete salvation but it's this once a year is also a type of the work done once and for all by the Lord Jesus. We apply this to ourselves and we can do it because the work of the Lord is universal, it is for every man, it is for the believers of the Old Testament times, Romans 3:25 it says there that God "passed by the sins that had taken place before thruogh the forebearance..." God looked over the sins in the past days with a view to Calvary, it is, it has been fulfilled for us in the present time and it will be the foundation of the New Covenant which will be made with the people of Israel. And here we see that Israel will have their own day of atonement, that after the sound of the trumpet, it's not an exact historical description, but that the main thing for Israel after the call of God to come back to Him by the trumpets the main thing will be that Israel as people will see that the Lord Jesus, our Saviour, is also their goat of atonement, that He has also taken their sins, that He is the One Whose blood was brought two thousand years ago into the heavenly sanctuary, that He is the One Who was sent away as Azazel.... 'His blood be on us and on our children' but then they will see that their sins were on Him, that their children's sin were put on Him and they will look at Him Whom they have pierced: that is the day of atonement for Israel. I don't say that this is given in a sense or in view to any historical exact description but just to show us the main thrust of what God will be doing with His people, His earthly people.
And then we come to the seventh feast, the last feast, which cannot be anything else than the great rest of God for His earthly people, the millennium, which is described in verse 33 and following
"And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of booths seven days to Jehovah. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation: no manner of servile work shall ye do. Seven days ye shall present an offering by fire to Jehovah; on the eighth day shall be a holy convocation unto you; and ye shall present an offering by fire to Jehovah: it is a solemn assembly; no manner of servile work shall ye do."
This feast which also lasted one week is a picture, an apt image of the millennium, a feast of joy where Israel was bidden to make huts of leaves and of branches and to rejoice in what God had done for them and this will be true for Israel in the millennium, that will be the true feast of tabernacles as it is given here. But it does not end there. Even as we had a new beginning right from the beginning after the passover the first day of the week the resurrection day of the Lord, also here we have not the first day of the week but the eighth day which in reality is again the first day of a new week. And this opens our eyes and our view towards a time which will follow after the millennium, the eighth day is the day of eternity, the eternal day where we will in a way continue what has has begun in the millennium. The millennium has a double meaning, it is on the one hand the glorious end of the ways of God with the old creation. It will not tumble down as it is now. God will in the thousand years reign of Christ by a man demonstrate gloriously that peace and justice are possible on this poor earth. If we look around us now we would hardly believe that this is possible but God will close the history of the last thousand years of this world's history with this demonstration, a thousand years of peace and justice. In one sense this is the end of the present world but in one sense which shows already even if it's the old creation, it shows a glimpse of what will be eternal although it is imperfect and so we see here that the eighth day is in a way the continuation, it is a new beginning on the one hand but on the other hand it is the continuation of the reign because even if we take the thousand years reign, reigning, ruling will not end after the millennium. In Revelation 22 we see that the servants of the Lord will reign with Him in all eternity.
This is in one chapter marvellously put, I only could give a short overview, if we look into all these feasts we will receive much more instruction but in one chapter, three thousand five hundred years ago given to us the moral, or let us say the divine, view of the history of the world. The work of the Lord at Calvary and the history of His earthly people which... led to a glorious end which will not be the end but which will lead us on to this eternal state for which we may now wait and even as Peter says (2nd Epistle, 3:12) we can hasten that day, hasten the day of God although it is after the day of the Lord in the millennium but because the one follows to the other. So we see that God in His word wants us to be informed about His thoughts, this is His thoughts for His children to take us as it were into His arms and say 'Look here, this is what I have in store for everybody who believes in the Lord Jesus, for everybody who belongs to My earthly people' and in a way it is a call to all those, if anybody should be here tonight who says 'Well, I don't understand a thing' - you can understand that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him may not perish but have life eternal.