Three trips to Jerusalem each year
Celebrate Passover week1 I want you to hold a festival and celebrate Passover every spring. Do it in the first month on the Israelite calendar. This is the month the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt when he freed you from slavery. 2 Sacrifice the Passover lamb at the worship center, wherever the LORD decides it will be. 3 For seven days leading you into the day of Passover, don’t eat anything made with yeast. This will help you remember that when you left Egypt, you were in a hurry. You didn’t have time to wait for bread dough to rise. 4 No matter where you live in the land, during those seven days don’t eat anything made with yeast. And when you eat the sacrificed Passover meat, don’t leave leftovers for the next morning. 5 Don’t sacrifice the Passover lambs in any town God is giving you, 6 except where he designates. That’s where you will honor him. Sacrifice the Passover lamb there in the evening at sunset, which is the time you left Egypt. 7 Cook the meat and eat it at the site the LORD your God picks. The next morning you can leave for home. 8 Eat yeast-free bread for six days, and then hold a solemn Passover festival on the seventh day. Take that day off work.
Celebrate the Harvest Festival9 The clock starts on the first day you raise a harvesting sickle to start cutting stalks of grain in your fields. Count the days until you hit seven weeks. 10 After seven weeks, celebrate the Harvest Festival by bringing the LORD your God an offering from your harvest. This is a voluntary offering. You decide how much to bring, based on how much harvest God gave you. 11 This is a time of celebration for everyone. Go to the place of worship that the LORD your God will choose. There, you should celebrate the harvest with everyone: your sons and daughters, your slaves, the Levites who live near you, immigrants in the land, orphans, and widows. 12 Let the occasion remind you that you were slaves in Egypt. And remember to follow the law.
Celebrate the Last Harvest Festival13 At the end of the harvest season, after you’ve gathered the grain and pressed the grapes into wine, spend seven days celebrating the Last Harvest Festival. 14 Celebrate with everyone: your sons and daughters, slaves, the Levites who live near you, immigrants in the land, orphans, and widows. 15 Celebrate this festival for seven days at the worship center the LORD your God will select for you. It’s right to celebrate there since the LORD will give you everything you harvest. This will be a happy time for you.
Make it three trips each year16 Every Israelite man will be expected to make three trips a year to wherever the LORD your God decides to locate the worship center. They’ll go there to celebrate three festivals: the Feast of the Yeast-free Bread, the Harvest Festival, and the Late Harvest Festival. Don’t go to these festivals empty-handed. Bring offerings. 17 This will be voluntary. You decide what to bring and how much. Do it based on what the LORD your God gave you.
Pick good leaders18 When you settle in the towns that the LORD your God is giving you, appoint judges and officials who will treat everyone fairly. 19 Don’t let your leaders get away with warping justice. They shouldn’t show favoritism, and they certainly shouldn’t take bribes. People who take bribes lose their eyesight and hearing. They can’t see injustice or hear honest people talking. 20 If you want the LORD your God to let you keep living in the land he’s giving you, chase justice like your life depends on it. Justice is your goal. 21 Don’t try to adapt Canaanite religion to yours by planting one of their sacred poles beside the altar where you sacrifice animals to the LORD your God. 22 And don’t set up memorial stones like the pillars they use to mark their sacred sites. God hates those things.
The writer calls the month “Abib,” an older name of the month that became known as Nisan (March-April). The month is called Nisan in Exodus 12:2, where the feast of Passover is first discussed. The day the week-long observance begins is the 15th of the month, according to Leviticus 23:6. The Israelites followed a lunar calendar, with every month starting at the first tiny crescent after the new moon. A new moon is when the moon is hidden behind earth’s shadow for one day. The sun, moon, and earth are aligned, with earth in the middle. Nisan is the name of the first Jewish month of the year. It’s when Jews celebrate Passover, one of their most revered holidays. The month falls around Eastertime, in March or April. Jesus went to Jerusalem to observe Passover, when he was arrested and crucified.
Jerusalem will become the site of the one and only Jewish Temple—the only approved Jewish site for sacrificing animals to God. Solomon built the first one in the 900s BC, two or more centuries after Moses.
This harvest festival goes by several names. The Hebrew name here is literally, Festival of Weeks, using a Hebrew word based on the seven-week timeline. Many Jews today call the festival by its Hebrew name Shavuot, meaning “weeks.” In New Testament times it became known as the Festival of Pentecost, from the Greek word meaning “fiftieth.” Jews celebrated the festival 50 days after Passover. Passover is when the Romans crucified Jesus. For more background, see Exodus 34:22-27 and Leviticus 23:15-22.
Levites were the tribe designated to serve as Israel’s priests and their assistants. They didn’t get any plug of tribal territory, like the other tribes. They depended on the tithes and offerings from other tribes for their salaries and survival. For more about the Levites, see the introduction to the Levites in Numbers 3.
It’s often called the Festival of Shelters or Festival of Booths. In Exodus, it was the last harvest festival of the year. That’s when farmers harvested late-season crops such as grapes, figs, and olives (Exodus 23:16). This was in the late summer and early autumn. The Hebrew word describing the festival here is sukka. It can mean tent, canopy, or temporary shelter. Moses said God wanted the Israelites to observe this festival by building temporary shelters and living in them for seven days “so you and your descendants will remember that the people of Israel I led out of Egyptian slavery once lived in shelters like this” (Leviticus 23:43).
Often called “Feast of Unleavened Bread.” Observant Jews eat a large cracker-like bread called matzo.
The text simply calls them “Asherah,” without describing what they are. But that’s the name of an ancient fertility goddess from the Sumerian civilization in what is now southern Iraq. One of her symbols was a “tree of life.” Some ancient jewelry shows the tree growing out of the goddess’s belly. The Asherah poles reported in the Bible apparently represented those trees. Some poles were carved, perhaps with an image of the goddess (2 Kings 21:7). Asherah poles may have been trees or poles meant to represent trees, as symbols of a Canaanite fertility goddess known as Asherah, goddess of motherhood. She was the love interest of Baal, chief god of the people who lived in Canaan, now known as Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
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