Leviticus 23:1 - 25:23
Chapter 22 ended with a solemn reminder to Israel of the holiness of Jehovah, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt to be their God. Chapter 23 opens with the fact that He desired to have the people, whom He had thus redeemed, assembled before Him. A "convocation" is a "calling together," and this was to mark the feasts of the Lord.
The weekly sabbath is mentioned first of all. For six days work was to be done, but every seventh day was to be a time of complete rest. Other scriptures indicate the special character of the sabbath. For instance, Deuteronomy 5: 15, states that it was to act as a reminder of their deliverance from Egypt. Again, Ezekiel 20: 12, shows that it stood as a sign between God and Israel, that there was a covenant between them. It signified rest after work accomplished. This was the case in creation when, after six days of work which was very good, God rested. Under the law Israel was to work for six days, and so earn a rest on the seventh.
In reading the Gospels, we cannot but be struck with the frequency with which our Lord's recorded works of mercy were done on the sabbath, incurring the anger of Pharisees and scribes. Israel had wholly broken the covenant, so He was setting aside the sign of it, and showing also that there was no rest for God in a creation that had been ruined by sin. Hence that great word of His, recorded in John 5: 17, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." We are delivered from the law, and it no longer forms the basis of our relation with God. We stand before God in righteousness, accomplished by the work of Christ, and therefore we begin with rest on the first day of the week, instead of reaching it at the end by works of our own.
The sabbath however had a typical significance, foreshadowing the rest of God, into which ultimately we shall be introduced, according to Hebrews 4. When we read, "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (Heb. 4: 9), the margin tells us that the word used there for "rest" is literally "a keeping of a sabbath"—the only place in Scripture where that particular word is used. In our chapter therefore the sabbath is prophetic of that rest into which God will ultimately bring the true Israel, and the feasts of the Lord, which follow, are prophetic of the steps by which that rest is to be reached.
Of these feasts the passover stands first, as typifying that which forms the basis of all God's work toward that end—the death of Christ. Full details of this we had before us in Exodus 12 and so in verse 5 it is mentioned without detail; and we may pass on to the consideration of the feast of unleavened bread, in verses 6-8.
Leaven being a type of sin in its fermenting activity it was to be wholly excluded from their bread for seven days. Here we have something that is applied to ourselves in 1 Corinthians 5: 6-8. We know that Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us, though we are not of Israel, and the seven days of unleavened bread picture the complete period in which we now live, when it is incumbent on us to have done with the sin for which, and to which, Christ has died. We are to "keep the feast . . . with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
There will be no doubt a special application to Israel in the day to come, when they discover how their Messiah has died for them, and learn to abhor and forsake their sin. It stands true indeed in every connection, that if a soul is released from the penalty of sin, which has been expiated in the death of Christ, that soul repudiates the sin for which Christ died. The principle of it is clearly stated in Romans 6: 2.
Our chapter is divided into paragraphs, beginning respectively with verses 9, 23, 26 and 33. The first paragraph contains the feasts that have the character of "firstfruits," see, verses 10 and 17. As a matter of fact, though the words are identical in our version, the words in the original differ. In verse 10. the significance of the word is "principal fruits," and in verse 17, it is "earliest fruits;" another mark this of Divine inspiration, inasmuch as we can now see that here were types and predictions of, first, the resurrection of Christ, and second, of saints who are His followers.
The New Testament antitype of the first we find in such a scripture as, "Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15: 20). The sheaf of the firstfruits, that was to be offered by being waved before the Lord, and which would be accepted on behalf of the people, was in an absolute sense the beginning of the harvest. Until it was offered the produce of the harvest was not in any form to be touched by the people, as verse 14 shows. When offered it was to be accompanied only by a burnt offering and a meat offering with the corresponding drink offering.
How accurately all this foreshadowed the great Antitypical event we can plainly see. Christ risen is before us, so no sin offering is suitable here. Nor has the peace offering a place, since. the thought of communion does not enter. The two offerings that do appear set forth the sweet savour of both His spotless life and His sacrificial death.
And further, the sheaf of firstfruits was not to be waved before the Lord on the sabbath, but on the day after the sabbath, that is, on the first day of the week. True to this type, Christ lay in the tomb all the sabbath, and on the first day of the week He rose from the dead. The sheaf was waved "to be accepted for you," as verse 11 says, and in keeping with this Jesus our Lord, who was delivered for our offences, "was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4: 25). The believer today stands before God in the acceptance of the risen Christ; and indeed for any saint at any time no other acceptance is possible.
The succeeding feast had its date fixed in reference to this one. Fifty days had to be counted, which according to Jewish reckoning, brought them to the morrow after the seventh sabbath—the feast of Pentecost. The offering on this occasion of two wave loaves is spoken of as "a new meat offering." This it was indeed, inasmuch as from every other meat offering leaven had to be rigidly excluded, and here it had to be introduced. Yet though introduced its fermenting action was to be ended by the action of fire, since the loaves were to be baken.
Here then we see foreshadowed that which first took place on that day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. On that great occasion, fifty days after the resurrection of our Lord, three thousand Jews, gathered out of many nations, were converted, and offered as "earliest fruits" to God. Not until Acts 10 is reached do we get Gentiles offered as " earliest fruits." But they were so offered, for later we find the Apostle Paul speaking of himself as "ministering the Gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 15: 16).
In our type there were two loaves, setting forth the two classes, and both, the sin that was in them being judged and thus set aside, were equally accepted, when presented to God. What is not typified here is the fact that in the Church both are made one before God. But that fact is a part of "the mystery" which has now been revealed and which, we are expressly told, was not made known in earlier ages. What is foreshadowed is the fact that the saints today are not the complete harvest that is to be reaped as the result of the death and resurrection of Christ but rather, "a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" (Jas. 1: 18).
In keeping with all this, the accompanying offerings were to include both sin and peace offerings as well as burnt offerings. The two loaves themselves were the meat offering but representing as they did redeemed sinners, they could not be presented save on the basis of a sin offering, the leaven that was in them having been typically judged by the fire. Again, we meet with the words, "Ye shall do no servile work therein." We had them in connection with the feast of unleavened bread, but they were absent in connection with the sheaf of firstfruits. If saints are to be presented to God, all human effort is totally excluded.
Verse 22 is really a parenthesis, brought in to show that God, while ordaining these feasts in which He was to be honoured and exalted, had a heart full of compassion for the needy among His people, and even for the stranger. In the Book of Ruth we are permitted to see how a God-fearing Israelite, Boaz, observed this command; and his observance of it was over-ruled of God to bring Ruth's name into the genealogy, not only of David but also of Christ Himself, as mentioned in Matthew 1: 5.
The feasts of the Lord were not equally distributed throughout the year. After Pentecost came a pause until the seventh month, and then in quick succession came three feasts, which closed the series. On the first day of the seventh month the feast of trumpets was to be observed, which in its prophetic bearing still awaits fulfilment. It foretells the gathering together of the elect Israel at the second Advent, according to the Lord's words, recorded in Matthew 24: 31.
Verse 24 of our chapter speaks of this feast as "an holy convocation," and an holy gathering together that day will indeed prove to be. It will be accomplished on the ground of sacrifice, as the next verse indicates, and all "servile work" is eliminated, for this predicted gathering together of Israel will not be achieved by works of law, but wholly based on the mercy of God, as declared in Romans 11: 26-32.
On the tenth day of the seventh month came the day of atonement, details of which we had before us when considering chapter 16. Here we have emphasized the elimination of all work on that day, and even more strongly the affliction of heart and soul that was to characterize the people. Viewing it therefore in its setting amongst the other feasts, it is predictive of that great spiritual awakening in Israel, which will produce repentance of unusual depth and reality, as is predicted in Zechariah 12: 10-14. By this inward work of grace there will be created a nation morally fit to enter upon millennial blessedness.
Just five days later came the feast of tabernacles which lasted for seven days. It was a time of thanksgiving and rejoicing when all the fruits of the year had been gathered in, and that doubtless was all that it conveyed to the people at that time. Now that we have the light of New Testament prophecy we see how it foretold the millennial blessedness, which is the purpose of God for Israel. Had the people known its ultimate meaning they might not have been so careless as to its observance, as is noted for us in Nehemiah 8: 17. And a similar carelessness seems to have marked them as to other feasts.
Reviewing the teaching of the chapter, we find that it points to great landmarks in Israel's history—the death of Christ; His resurrection; the coming of the Spirit; the gathering out of an elect people; their profound repentance; millennial joy and blessing. The first three have found fulfilment: the last three await it. The portion of the church is not found here, but in the New Testament only. We may rest assured that, whether for Israel or for the church, not one predicted thing will fail when its season arrives.
The last words of the chapter repeat the opening words of verse 2—"the feasts of the Lord." It is sadly instructive to note how John speaks of them in his Gospel. A sample is, "After this there was a feast of the Jews" (5: 1), and so it is all through. They were being more observant of them than their fathers, but only in a ritualistic way. They had lost the kernel while retaining the shell. Consequently their feasts were disowned. Herein is a warning for us. Let us not fail to take to heart the principle involved in it, and the danger disclosed.
Leviticus 24 divides into two parts. In the first we have instructions as to the maintenance of the lamps in the holy place and of the cakes upon the golden table, so that all was to be in order before God. In the latter part we discover that there was bad disorder in the camp, when it was a question of the actual state of the people. To view things ideally according to God's mind is one thing: to view them practically according to the state of the people is quite another. And thus it is of course in connection with ourselves today.
It is worthy of note how often the word "pure" occurs in verses 1-9. The pure candlestick had seven lamps to be fed with the pure oil beaten out of olives. The pure table had on it the twelve cakes of fine flour, covered in pure frankincense, renewed sabbath by sabbath before the Lord. Here we see what will yet be realized in the coming age, when the light of the Spirit of God will not only be "before the throne," but also, "sent forth into all the earth" (Rev. 4: 5; Rev. 5: 6). In that age too the twelve tribes will at last be maintained before God in a fragrance which they derive altogether from Christ.
The holiness of all this is emphasized in verse 9. The weekly cakes were to be eaten only by the priests, and in the holy place. They were not to be carried forth into the outside world. Yet even this regulation had to give way in the presence of the pressing need of David, who was the Lord's anointed, as recorded in 1 Samuel 21: 6; and this action of Ahimelech was approved by our Lord in Matthew 12: 3, 4. The true Lord's Anointed is "greater than the temple," important though that temple and its arrangements were. David moreover was in rejection when the incident took place; and our Lord was the rejected One when He spoke in Matthew 12. Under these circumstances the needs of the Lord's Anointed took precedence of legal regulations.
The sin of the man who cursed the name of the Lord is brought in here by way of contrast. The Lord's mind concerning him was made known and he had to die. In verse 17, killing a man is mentioned, and cursing the Lord is as grave a sin as that, for death was to be the penalty of both. Here too we have mentioned lesser evils, and we get the legislation, "eye for eye, tooth for tooth," mentioned also in Exodus and Deuteronomy, and referred to by the Lord in Matthew 5: 38. He referred to it to throw into relief the grace that He was beginning to reveal, which would entail upon His disciples the showing of grace to others.
Leviticus 25 introduces a fresh subject. The previous chapters have dealt mainly with matters that specially concerned the priests, and were spoken "out of the tabernacle" (chap. 1: 1). We now have a matter that concerned rather right government in Israel, when they were come into the land, and so it was spoken "in Mount Sinai." In this connection the basic fact they had to remember is stated in verse 23,—"the land is Mine." Consequently Israel had to deal with the land, when they possessed it, in the way prescribed in the earlier verses.
Every seventh year was to be a sabbatical year, when the land was to be given a rest. And when seven of these sabbatical years had passed the fiftieth year was to be a jubilee, when not only no sowing was to be done but every man was to return to his inheritance. This law must have been a great test to the people.
In verse 20, it is anticipated that they would say, "What shall we eat . . .?" In answer to that they had to rely on God's pledged word that the sixth year should bring forth enough for three years. This being so there would be a sufficiency of supply even when they did not sow on the fiftieth year as well as the forty-ninth. The question became simply this—Would they take God at His word? It is a rather ominous fact that there is no record in the history of the people of the jubilee year being observed, though we do have a reference to a kinsman redeeming an inheritance.
What is made very plain is that since the land was God's, those to whom He gave it might only dispose of it on the leasehold principle, selling it until the jubilee came; the value of the lease decreasing as the jubilee drew near. Thus each inheritance was not to be permanently alienated from the family that originally had it. In this way any accumulation of landed property by men of a grasping nature was prevented and, what was even more important, Israel had a continual reminder that all they were to possess they held from the Lord, and they were dependent upon Him. Do we who are Christians need this reminder any less than they? Do we not rather need it more?
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