God sets the calendar1 The LORD told Moses:
2 Give this message to the Israelite people:
The LORD has set up a calendar for you. These are the sacred gatherings each year, which you need to respect and observe:
3 You have six days to get your work done. The seventh day, the Sabbath, is not one of them. It’s a day of rest and a sacred day of worshiping with others. Don’t work. This is a day off work. It’s a day devoted to the LORD—in every household. 4 I also want you to get together with others and observe the following sacred days every year.
Springtime festivals: Passover, Yeast-free Bread5 I want you to observe my Passover every spring. It starts at sundown on day 14 of the first month of the year. 6 A day later, on the fifteenth, you’ll start the week-long festival of the yeast-free bread. For these seven days, don’t eat anything made with yeast.
7 I want you to meet in sacred worship on the first day of the festival. Don’t work that day. 8 Bring your sacrificial offerings to the LORD every day that week. Day seven is another day off work and a time to meet in worship. 9 The LORD told Moses:
Early grain harvest festival10 Give this message to the Israelite people: When you get to the land I’m giving you, here’s what I want you to do when you harvest the grain. Bring one of the first bundles to the priest. 11 He will lift it in the air and wave it, as a way of presenting it to the LORD. Bring these offerings on Sunday, the day after the Sabbath.
12 I also want you to sacrifice a one-year-old male lamb as a burnt offering. Make sure there’s nothing wrong with the lamb. 13 Also bring a grain offering: a gallon of fine flour moistened with olive oil. It will burn in the fire as a sweet smell to the LORD. Bring a quart of wine, too.
14 Don’t eat anything from your harvest until you bring this offering. Not a piece of bread. Not one roasted grain. Not a single kernel from the stalk. This is the law. And it’s permanent.
Summer: Harvest festival, 50 days later15 Next, I want you to count off seven weeks. Start with Sunday after the Sabbath when you brought your first harvest offering. 16 From that first Sunday morning, count off 50 days. That will take you to Sunday after the seventh Sabbath. On that day, your community is to bring another grain offering to the LORD.
17 Bring two loaves of bread, which you’ve baked with yeast and a gallon of fine flour from your most recent harvest. The priest will lift this in the air and wave it, as a way of presenting it to the LORD. 18 In addition to the bread and wine, bring some burnt offerings. Bring: seven one-year-old male lambs, one bull, and two rams. The fire of these burnt offerings will produce a sweet smell for the LORD. 19 Bring a male goat as a sin offering. And bring a couple of year-old lambs as peace offerings. 20 The priest will lift the bread and the two lambs, presenting them to the LORD. These are sacred offerings to the LORD, who gives them to the priests.
21 This is a sacred day, and a time to get together. Observe this day every year throughout the generations to come. Take the day off work—everyone in every household should do it. 22 When you farm the land and harvest the crops, leave the crops untouched on the outside edges of the fields. Don’t harvest them. Instead, leave them for people in need such as immigrants and hungry travelers passing through. I am the LORD your God.
Autumn: Trumpet festival23 The LORD spoke to Moses again: 24 When harvest season is over, on the first day of the seventh month I want the people of Israel to take another day off work so they can get together. Blow trumpets, to remind the people of the occasion. 25 Don’t work this day. But do bring an offering to burn on the altar.
Atonement: Day of the clean slate26 The LORD told Moses:
27 I’m setting the annual Day of Atonement for the tenth day in the seventh month. This will be a sacred day for getting together with others, offering a sacrifice to the LORD, and then doing some humble reflection and fasting. 28 Take a day off work. You need to face the LORD your God and atone for your sins, so God will erase your guilt and forgive you.
29 People who don’t take this seriously and won’t show it by humbling themselves, those people are no longer Israelites. 30 I’ll disown anyone who lifts a finger to work on this sacred day.
31 Don’t work on the Day of Atonement. Now or ever. 32 Treat the day like the Sabbath—a day of complete rest for every Israelite. Get into a humble and reflective state of mind. Start doing it a day early, the evening of the ninth day of the seventh month. Stay in that spirit of humility until sundown the next day, the tenth.
Autumn: Festival of temporary shelters33 The LORD spoke to Moses again:
34 Tell the people of Israel that a few days later, on the fifteenth of the seventh month, they’ll need to observe the LORD’s one-week festival of temporary shelters.
35 Day one of the festival is especially sacred. So, don’t work on that day. 36 Every day for seven days, you should bring a sacrificial offering to the LORD, which you burn on the altar. On the eighth day, the people should meet and then give the LORD another offering. This is a holy day, too. Don’t work.
37 These are the holy days and weeks of Israel’s calendar. These are the times you’re to meet with others and give the LORD your offerings of meat, bread, and wine.
38 These are add-on festivals. They’re in addition to the Sabbath days you’re already observing, and to offerings you bring because of promises you made or for other reasons. 39 So after the crops have all been harvested, on day fifteen of the seventh month, begin celebrating the LORD’s weeklong festival of the temporary shelters.
40 On the first day of the festival, I want you to pick fruit from the best trees out there. Pick palm branches, too, and other leafy branches from trees along the stream and wherever else you find them growing. Celebrate for seven days. 41 Every year, observe this weeklong festival. Don’t ever stop honoring this festival. 42 For those seven days you observe the festival, I want you to live outside in temporary shelters I want you to build. This applies to every Israelite.
43 Here’s why I want you to do this. It’s so you and your descendants will remember that the people of Israel I led out of Egyptian slavery once lived in shelters like this. 44 Moses did what the LORD asked. He told the people of Israel about the sacred days they needed to start observing.
The Hebrew word is pesach (PAY sock). It refers to the annual Passover meal today called a seder (SAY dur), which means “order.” That’s a reference to the fact that the Passover meal is eaten as a meticulously detailed ritual of reading, remembering, and prayer. The word “Passover” comes from the story of God or one of his angels killing the Egyptian firstborn, but “passing over” Hebrew homes with animal blood on the doorframes.
Nisan is the name of the first Jewish month of the year. It’s when Jews today celebrate one of their most revered holidays: Passover. The month falls around Eastertime, in March or April. Jesus went to Jerusalem to observe Passover when he was arrested and crucified. In the time of Moses, 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. For more on Passover, see Exodus 12.
Which Sunday? That’s the controversial question Jewish scholars have debated. Was it day 16 of the month, at the beginning of the festival, as most Jewish scholars today seem to teach? Or was it at day 23 of the month, at the end of the festival, which some scholars say is the more natural way to read the instructions in Hebrew?
This was the most common sacrifice. Worshipers burned the entire animal. Burnt offering instructions: “Take the animal to the north side of the altar. Kill it there on this sacred site of the LORD. Aaron’s sons, the priests, will take some of the blood and splash it on all four sides of the altar. Cut the animal into pieces, including the head and the fat. A priest will set them onto the fire on the altar” (Leviticus 1:11-12). See also Leviticus 1:3-13; 6:1-6.
Grain offerings were expressions of gratitude for a harvest and for the way God takes care of the Israelites. People offered the grain in several ways: ground to fine flour, presented as baked, fried, cooked in a pot, or roasted with olive oil.
That’s a little more than the typical five-pound bag of flour. It’s roughly seven pounds (3 kg). And that’s one dry gallon (4.4 dry liters), or almost 20 US or metric cups.
About a liter.
The word Pentecost means “the fiftieth,” as in the fiftieth day. The festival of Pentecost comes 50 days after Passover. Passover is when the Romans crucified Jesus. Pentecost is a festival celebrating the harvest. Many Jews call the festival by its Hebrew name Shavuot, “Festival of Weeks,” because it follows Passover by seven weeks.
Jewish scholars say this a group offering from the community. The people pool their resources to come up with the bread, wine, and livestock needed for this second harvest offering.
A sin offering can refer to something the people of Israel brought to God after they realized they had accidentally broken one of God’s laws earlier. Some scholars say a better translation is the opposite of “sin” because the sacrifice is intended to “un-sin” people, to purify them. So those scholars call it a “purification offering.”
A peace offering, also described in Leviticus 3, is one of several prescribed offerings in Jewish tradition. When Jewish people wanted to thank God for something, such as good health or safety, they would sacrifice a sheep, goat, cow, or bull. They would burn part of the animal, including the kidneys and the fat covering the intestines. They would eat the rest in celebration, often with family and friends. It takes a fair number of hungry people to eat a cow. But people were eager to eat meat because it was rare in Bible times for common folks to eat meat, many Bible scholars say.
This festival takes place in September or October. Many Jewish people today still observe the festival. They call it Rosh Hashanah, which means “head of the year.” It’s the Jewish New Year, a sacred two-day event.
Known today as Yom Kippur, this is the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. The high priest appeals for the forgiveness of sins that the people of the nation had committed in the past year. Jews taught that God’s footrest was the lid on the Ark of the Covenant, the gold-covered chest that held the Ten Commandments (1 Chronicles 28:2). Two winged beings called cherubim rested at each end of the lid. “Cherubim” is Kerubim in Hebrew. These are celestial beings mentioned throughout the Bible. Ancient Middle Eastern creatures with similar names, such as kirubu, reportedly served gods. The creatures were portrayed in statues of beings such as human-headed lions with wings. These statues guarded entrances to cities and palaces.
September or October, Israelites followed a calendar based on the movement of the moon instead of the sun, which we follow.
“Humble reflection and fasting” is one word in the original Hebrew language: ʽānâ. It’s a word that depends a lot on the context of the words around it. That’s because writers used it in many contexts with lots of different meanings: humble, self-denial as in fasting all day, humiliated, mistreated, dishonored. In the context of atoning for sin in the face of God, fasting might seem most appropriate because that’s what people of faith often do when they’re afraid of what’s coming, or when they ask for forgiveness.
A legal term would be “expunge.” The record of the crime is deleted from the files.
“So God will expunge your guilt and forgive you” is not in the original Hebrew manuscripts. But many Bible scholars would say it expresses what God does for repentant and humble people on the Day of Atonement.
More literally, the person “should be removed from the community” or “cut off.” This is a consequence repeated throughout these early books of the Bible. It’s unclear how and by whom the offenders were removed. Perhaps they could no longer worship at the tent worship center, or they lost their rights as citizens of this emerging nation that Moses seemed to be organizing. Maybe they were executed. Or perhaps the community let God deal with the person. Scholars seem uncertain about what happened.
“Disown” is a mild contender for the Hebrew word that can also mean: destroy, eliminate, silence, banish, or annihilate. It’s not a happy ending.
Literally “burnt offerings.”
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
Leviticus repeatedly tells us not to do any work on the Sabbath—almost forming a refrain that runs through the book. And the commandment to keep the Sabbath heads a list here of seven important feasts and festivals that God wants the Israelites to celebrate. Why do you think that this commandment (one of the big ten) is so important?
The number of the special feasts and festivals listed in chapter 23 of Leviticus is seven, like the number of days of the week. Do you think that number is coincidental, or could it be related to resting on the Sabbath, the seventh day?
The last of the seven feasts and festivals dictated by the LORD required the Israelites to build temporary shelters and live in them for a week. Was this some sort of biblical version of summer camp set in early winter? Why would anyone do such a thing?
If you have Jewish friends or live in an area with a large Jewish population, you may notice that two big Jewish holidays are missing from this chapter: Purim and Hanukkah. They came centuries after Moses. What do you know about those holidays? They both have interesting stories to tell.
For a book whose main characters are almost all shepherds (if you discount the priests), there seem to be a lot of rules about agriculture. What do you think festivals about harvesting crops have to do with shepherds and priests?
LIFE APPLICATION. These seasonal festivals celebrate who the Israelites were: farmers, herders, merchants. How do you think we celebrate who we are today? And how might we do it more?