The term “feast” where used in our common English Bible to designate the set sacred seasons or stated solemnities of the Israelites is somewhat misleading because of the sense in which feast is often understood by many today. These seasons were not all times of banqueting or of elaborate meals, for one called a feast was really a fast. They were principally times of religious rejoicing. Probably a better name for these holy festivals is “sacred seasons.” This designation includes the great annual “set feasts,” other holy days, and the various holy years.
These sacred seasons are referred to many times in the Pentateuch, but are more formally described in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28, 29. One weekly and six annual feasts are described in Leviticus 23. They are: (1) Sabbath, (2) Passover (including Unleavened Bread), (3) First-fruits, (4) Pentecost, (5) Trumpets, (6) Atonement, (7) Tabernacles. To these must be added the Sabbatic Year, which occurred each seventh year, and the Jubilee Year, each fiftieth year. Besides these the new moon was a time for special observance by offering special sacrifices.
Every day, in fact, was sanctified in a sense by the daily burnt offering, or the morning and evening sacrifice. This consisted in offering a lamb each morning and another each evening as a continual burnt offering. This was a national offering for general acceptance and worship and was offered after the manner of the ordinary burnt offering. With it was offered a common meat offering of one tenth ephah of fine flour and one fourth part of an hin of oil, also a drink-offering of wine equal in quantity to the oil. Each Sabbath this daily sacrifice was doubled in number of animals and in quantity of other materials.
On each new moon besides the regular burnt offering nine other animals were offered for burnt offerings, with meat-offerings for each, besides a sin-offering. On every day the great annual feasts several animals were offered in addition to the regular offering, amounting to no fewer than thirty-two on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were the three great feasts. At these each of the male Israelites was required to gather at the national sanctuary. “Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God” (Exod. 23:17; Deut. 16:16). The first and last days of the Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles, also Pentecost, Trumpets, and Atonement, were to be observed as “holy convocations,” or solemn assemblies. No work was to be done in them. They were special sabbaths in addition to the weekly Sabbaths. These assemblies were not necessarily at the tabernacle, but, except in the great feasts, in the communities where the people lived.
Though these were religious occasions, yet they had great value socially, politically, and commercially. These national gatherings were a wise provision of God for the general good of Israel, so far-reaching in their effects were they that it is difficult to believe they could have been so well thought out in their various aspects by any other than the infinite mind. They were observed at the seasons of the year when travel was easiest and when most convenient for an agricultural people to be absent from their work.
At the house of God in a season of rejoicing, a place and time most favorable to the development of friendship, Israel met three times each year. The males only were required to attend, but often women such as Hannah the devout mother of Samuel went. Also families, like that holy family of Nazareth, “went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” (Luke 2:41). There old friendships were renewed. There under the benign influence of the worship of the Lord new and wider circles of friendships were formed. There those of near kin, like Mary and Elizabeth, living at widely separated points could greet each other and converse of things of mutual interest. And men who had fought the Lord’s battles under Joshua or David met again and talked of the events of long ago.
These gatherings could not fail to have great educational value. They required those living in remote places to get out of their own little corner and to see somewhat of the world. In a day when newspapers were unknown and means of communication and travel were most primitive, these feasts could not fail to be a place for general exchange of news. Those coming from distant Beersheba in the south not only would tell of their events, but would doubtless bring somewhat of the doings and culture of the Egyptians, their near neighbors. Worshipers from distant Dan would have the latest news from Damascus and the east. Others from the northwest and southwest would tell of the discoveries or newly planted colonies of the Phoeniceans or the conquests of the Philistines. And especially would there be an exchange of intertribal news. Politically these gatherings did much to mold the nation in one. Thrice yearly tribal jealousies must be laid aside for a national meeting. They developed the spirit of nationalism by this reminder that all who gathered were one nation of a common ancestry, with a common history, a common religion, and different from all the surrounding nations.
The internal commerce of the people could not fail to be built up by these gatherings at the feasts. They opened the ways for trade and business between the different parts of the country. Commercially these feasts had a value not very different from that of modern fairs. Such religious festivals have always had much value commercially. Mecca, because of the annual pilgrimage of the Mohammedans there, has become one of the greatest markets in the Eastern world. Doubtless this simple requirements of all males attending the feasts at Jerusalem three times each year had a tremendous influence in developing the nation of Israel commercially, socially, intellectually, politically, and especially religiously. He who can attribute this and other equally wise laws to the semi-barbarous people which lived under them certainly possesses a credulity far exceeding that necessary to believe they were divinely given. The religious influence of these feasts was very great. The very fact that they furnished set times for worship was of importance in making it easier for a man to break away from his daily routine. Similar set times are equally important now. Then the association with others in worship could not help but fan one’s zeal for God and warm the heart. Inspiration to worship would naturally be the result of many worshipping together. Men more easily move with the mass than singly. Also there the isolated Israelite would be impressed with the holiness of Jehovah as he gazed from a distance upon His holy house. He would be impressed with the reality of the unseen God as he saw His representative the high priest performing his solemn duties there. The sinfulness of sin and that most glorious truth of pardon through vicarious suffering would grip him as he beheld the bleeding sacrifices at the altar of God. He would hear the priests and Levites teaching God’s holy law and go home with a renewed zeal for his most holy faith.
Times of the Feasts. —To know the time of those ancient Jewish feasts it is necessary to do more than name the month and date. They all varied several days each year, as our modern observance of Easter varies according to the common solar calendar. The Jews used the lunar calendar, counting the month by the moon and twelve moons to the year. This meant an average of 291/2 days to the month and 354 days to the year. This falling short of the full year by eleven days meant that about every three years, or, to be exact, seven times every nineteen years, an extra moon must be added.
Thus, there was a constant shifting of the beginning of the year, which makes confusion for us in determining the date in our year for these feasts. The Israelites had the civil year, beginning near the time of the fall equinox, and which was common in the Eastern nations of the time. And they also had the sacred year, instituted by Moses, which was peculiar to themselves and which began six months prior to the civil year, about the time of the spring equinox. This sacred-year calendar is the one that determined the time of the feasts. It properly began with the first new moon before the first full moon after the twenty-first of March. But the Israelites, not having the latter date established, began it, ordinarily, with the moon following the twelfth. If, however, it was seen that on the sixteenth of the moon following Adar, the twelfth, the barley would not yet be ripe, the intercalary month, Veadar, was inserted as a thirteenth moon. But two intercalary years were not allowed in succession. The Jewish month and date of each feast we will give in connection with its discussion.
In the text referred to above God himself names the Sabbath first in his enumeration of the feasts of the Lord. It was most frequently observed, and more often enjoined than any of the other sacred seasons. Yet we are compelled to differ with those who hold that this primacy of the Sabbath among the feasts was because it was pre-Mosaic in its origin and observance. It is true that in Leviticus 23 it is not first mentioned, but as much may be said of the Passover, the observance of which was prior to the exodus and before any observance of the Sabbath by men. Not one text in all the Bible enjoins the observance of the Sabbath upon any man before the exodus, nor since Pentecost. Its first recorded observance was at the time of the giving of the manna. (Exod. 16:23). Objection is sometimes made to this position on the ground of Gen. 2:3, but it is well to remember in reading that text that it was written, not at creation, but by Moses after the Sabbath was commanded to Israel at Sinai. When God wanted to set apart a day each week for himself, he chose the seventh, “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” Observe that the sanctifying of the day was subsequent to the resting—“he had rested.” God’s resting was at creation; the setting apart of the day for men’s observance was at least twenty-five hundred years after man’s creation—after the exodus. This is positively stated in Neh. 9:13, 14 and Deut. 5:2, 3, 12.
Its purpose was for a memorial or a sign (Exod. 31:17) of their deliverance from Egypt and that they were the special people of God (Deut. 5:15; Ezek. 20:12). It was observed in commemoration of the beginning of their nation at the exodus, as Americans observe the fourth of July for a similar purpose. It was a weekly reminder of their peculiar relation to Jehovah. When the father failed to go to the field to work on the Sabbath he answered his little son’s inquiry of, “Why?” with the explanation that it was in commemoration of God’s mighty deliverance of their fathers from Egypt. Thus it always had great value as a memorial besides the physical benefit that can not but result from that wise practice of resting from toil on one day of each seven.
It was observed by a complete cessation from work (Exod. 20:10; 35:2; Lev. 23:3). The law was very strict in its requirement of Sabbath observance. No fire was to be kindled and no cooking done. This could easily be observed in Palestine, where fire is not needed for heating purposes. The violation of the Sabbath was punishable by death. But the Sabbath was not merely negative, it was also positive. It was not to be spent listless idleness. It was set apart for a holy convocation or assembly, doubtless for the reading of the law and worship. We are not told exactly what was the nature of these holy convocations prior to the Babylonish captivity, but we know after that and in New Testament times the Jews met for worship on the Sabbath, and our blessed Lord himself read the law and taught in the synagogues. The object, then, of the Old Testament Sabbath was (1) for a memorial, (2) for needed physical rest, (3) for divine worship, (4) for a type of good things now the heritage of Christians. The Antitypical Sabbath. —That the Sabbath was a type, one of the shadows of good things, is clear from various New Testament texts. “Let no man therefore judge you … in respect … of the sabbath-days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16, 17). It was a type or shadow of a body or substance which we obtain in Christ. The main idea of the Sabbath was physical rest. That physical rest therefore must have been typical of some higher rest to be found by the Christian. The strict observance of the Sabbath which God required of the Jew, like the requirement of strict adherence to the divine pattern for the tabernacle, was because it was to typify a perfect soulrest of the Christian.
Centuries before Moses, the patriarch Jacob predicted Christ’s coming under the name “Shiloh,” or Rest-giver. (Gen. 49:10). Jesus himself said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28). He is the rest-giver, and the rest he gives from the burden and bondage of sin is the Christian’s Sabbath foreshadowed by that ancient Mosaic rest-day. It was predicted that “his rest shall be glorious,” and, thank God, it is so. That this is the true Sabbath-keeping is argued by the inspired writer to the Hebrews (chap. 4:3–11). He who ceases from his own works to obtain righteousness and trusts in the mercy of God for pardon of sin has entered the true Sabbath. The Sabbath, like the other ceremonial requirements of the law of Moses, is abolished (Col. 2:14–17; Heb. 8:6–13), but the blessed soul-rest it prefigured remains for the people of God.
The Passover and Unleavened Bread
(Exodus 12; Lev. 23:4–14)
The Passover was the first of the great annual feasts both in significance and time. It was held in the first month, Abib, or Nisan, (March-April), 14–21. It was originally instituted in Egypt on the eve of the exodus. The Egyptian or first Passover is to be distinguished from that of subsequent years because of the difference in the manner of observance.
Imagine ourselves in a Hebrew home in ancient Goshen at the time of that awful crisis in Israelitish history when the great contest between Jehovah and the gods of Egypt was approaching its climax. The father of the family comes toward the little hut he calls home leading a yearling lamb, which has been kept apart for the last four days. The man’s coarse, rough hands bear signs of hard toil and his body the marks of a cruel slave-driver’s lash. But despite his weariness from the day’s toil and the droop of his shoulders from a lifetime of slavery, hope gleams from his eyes this evening. He knows that Jehovah has heard and is answering his prayer for deliverance. As the sun sinks low over the western desert the lamb, probably a pet of the family, is killed, and with a sprig of hyssop its blood is spattered on the door-frame at either side and above.
Later, when darkness has settled over the land and the early hours of the night have passed, we see the family all astir. They are dressed for a journey. Their sandals, not usually worn in the house, are on their feet. They hold walking-staves in their hands. But their immediate purpose is not a journey. They gather about the table and the roasted lamb is brought. Also thin loaves of unleavened bread are distributed among them and a dish of endive, or wild lettuce, is placed in the center of the table. As they eat their feelings are mingled of hope and fear. The father describes to his children the bitter bondage they have endured these many years. He refers to the promises of Jehovah to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and speaks of the mighty miracles lately worked for their salvation, and of the awful blow about to fall upon their hard-hearted oppressors. As he ceases speaking, the children look about with fearful eyes and draw a little closer to their parents. The anxious mother steps to the door once more to see if the blood of the slain lamb is plainly evident there, lest her own beloved first-born child should perish at the near-at-hand hour of midnight.
Not long after the last of the lamb has been eaten a distant wail of grief is heard, which soon grows into a mighty cry throughout all the land. They wait, and midnight passes. Their own first-born is yet alive. God’s angel, sent forth to destroy the first-born of Egypt, has seen the sprinkled blood and has passed over their home. Their bondage is passed and their deliverance has come. Such was the first Passover.
Though the first Passover had greater typical significance than the subsequent ones, yet it is well to know the ceremonial as it was commonly observed. The passover might be a lamb, a kid, or a bullock. After the first Passover the animal was no longer killed at their own homes, but at Jehovah’s sanctuary (Deut. 16:6). Its blood was not put upon the door-posts any more, but poured out at the side of God’s altar. It was a sin-offering in reality, though not the common one. Its observance was no longer obligatory except upon the men, although the women and children were not excluded. The Passover was followed by the seven-day feast of unleavened bread, when leaven must not be found in their houses. This feast was to be a continual reminder to them of their deliverance from Egypt. The slain lamb was to remind them of the sparing of their first-born in Egypt on that dreadful night of their deliverance, and that the first-born as representatives of all the Israelites therefore belonged peculiarly to God. The unleavened bread, called the “bread of affliction” in Deut. 16:3, would remind them of the affliction they endured and the bitter herbs of that bitter bondage.
Typical Significance of the Passover—The typical significance of the Passover is very clear in the New Testament writings. Probably no Mosaic institution is a more perfect type than this. Of the Passover lamb it was said that “a bone of him shall not be broken” (Num. 9:12), which the apostle John quotes of Christ himself (John 19:36). He plainly implies that Christ is the antitypical Passover. The apostle Paul states this plainly as follows: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor. 5:7, 8).
Christ died on the cross during the Feast of the Passover. He was the Lamb of God which the ancient Passover lamb typified. He died to save us from God’s judgments as that lamb died instead of the firstborn. As those ancient first-born redeemed by the blood of that lamb therefore belonged peculiarly to God, so we redeemed through Christ belong to God in a special sense. We are saved by his death, not merely by his life. A live lamb tied at the door of one of those Hebrew homes in Goshen would not have been sufficient to shield the first-born from wrath. It must die. Those who deny the vicarious death of Christ and teach salvation through his beautiful life alone, disregard the lesson of the Passover. Nor should the equally important truth be overlooked that the blood must be applied as well as shed. The blood was to be applied to the door-posts and lintels. The blood thus applied was the means of salvation then. So now the mere fact that Christ died for sinners does not save them. The blood must be applied to them individually for their salvation from sin’s guilt and penalty. Reader, has the blood of Christ been applied to your heart? As they ate as food of the flesh of that lamb by whose blood they were saved, so we have our spiritual life only by partaking of the flesh of the Son of God (John 6:53). But as the Passover lamb was eaten with bitter herbs, so we can partake of the benefits of Christ our Passover only with the bitter herbs of repentance of sin. And as they must eat only unleavened bread, so we must reject malice, wickedness, and all other forms of sin and live a holy life. So Paul interprets the unleavened bread. And it is well to note that the bitter herbs were eaten only at the Passover meal, but they ate unleavened bread for seven days or a complete period of time following, thus signifying that our repentance is to accompany our first partaking of Christ, but the holy life must continue on throughout life. Those who teach we must sin more or less every day have utterly failed to grasp the significant truth of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Feasts of First-Fruits and Pentecost
These two feasts may properly be considered together because they were similar in their nature, and also because they are connected in the Bible. The time of the second was determined by measuring from the first. A close study of their description in Leviticus 23 shows that God regarded them as being closely connected. Though the Feast of First-fruits was observed during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, being a feast within a feast, yet it is introduced in Lev. 3:9 with the words, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,” which is commonly used to introduce a new institution. Therefore it should not be regarded as a part of the Passover or of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But it is worthy of notice that when the inspired writer introduces the Feast of Pentecost the usual formula is omitted. This, as the Bible Commentary observes, is because of its close connection with the Feast of First-fruits.
The Feast of First-fruits was observed on the sixteenth day of Nisan, which was the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, “the morrow after the Sabbath,” which “morrow” was the special sabbath of holy convocation. It was kept by the waving of a sheaf of barley before the Lord as a special sort of meat-offering, and the sacrificing of a lamb for a burnt offering with a common meat-offering of flour. This sheaf of the firstfruits of the harvest was to be offered before any of the new grain was eaten.
Pentecost, usually called in the Old Testament the Feast of Weeks or of Harvest, was kept fifty days after the waving of the barley sheaf. Therefore after the translation of the Old Testament into the Greek language, it was called “Pentecost,” from the Greek word for fifty. It was kept about the last of May or first of June. It was observed by the bringing of two loaves of leavened bread made of the new wheat of the harvest, which was then supposed to be all gathered. These were waved before the Lord as was the sheaf of the first-fruits, and with it they represented the consecration of the entire harvest to God. This was also a special kind of meat-offering and was accompanied with seven lambs, one bullock, and two rams for a burnt offering with their accompanying meat-offerings and a sin-offering.
Pentecost was one of the three great feasts when all male Israelites were to appear before the Lord. It was originally a one-day feast, but among the later Jews it came to be an eight-day feast. It was to this feast that every Israelite was commanded to bring with him “a tribute of a free-will offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee.” (Deut. 16:10). Some of the Jews regarded the Feast of Pentecost as being commemorative of the giving of the law, but such a view has no ground in Scripture nor reason.
Antitype of the Feasts of First-fruits and Pentecost. —A variety of opinions have been set forth concerning the meaning of the Feasts of First-fruits and Pentecost. Some interpreters see nothing in them but thanksgiving and an acknowledgment of God’s providence. We believe these ideas were comprehended in them, but also that they had much deeper significance.
They combined the idea of feast and offering. The various feasts set forth practically the same great truths of religion as were contained in the offerings. These two feasts with their wave-sheaf and wave-loaves typified the same thing—the consecration or dedication by the believer of himself to God. The two feasts with the intervening seven weeks were necessary to include the entire harvest—the beginning and the end. It has already been pointed out that these were a special class of meat-offerings. Also in our consideration of the meat-offering we found it was typical of this dedication of ourselves to God. But more direct evidence that this is the typical meaning of these feasts is evident from the nature of them. The offering of the first-fruits of the harvest in the sheaf and in the loaves was representative of the entire harvest being given to God. This harvest was their food, which in turn was a fitting symbol of themselves. In eating their food it became themselves, so in offering it to God in its entirety as they did it was an entire giving of themselves to God. This food was analogous to themselves. The Passover typified salvation through the blood of Christ, the unleavened bread holiness of life, and these feasts consecration. These truths are almost parallel with those typified by the general class of offerings.
God certainly considers this self-dedication important or he would not have repeated it so often in these types and made it as prominent as salvation itself. Doubtless it should serve as an admonition to us that we, in stressing our being saved from the penalty of sin by Christ, do not forget that it is equally important that we give ourselves to him. God wants us to be so devoted to his service that we will be willing to work or to wait, to go where he wants us to go or to stay where he wants us to stay, to fight in the front of the battle or to “stay by the stuff.” Perfect submission to the divine will is the secret of soul-satisfaction and the peace that passeth understanding.
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Observe also that as Christ, the true Passover, died on the same date that the Passover lamb was eaten, so on the “morrow after the Sabbath,” the first day of the week, when the sheaf of the first-fruits was waved, he arose from the dead, “the first-fruits of them that slept.” (1 Cor. 15:20). And as the wave-loaves, the completion of the harvest, were offered at the Feast of Pentecost fifty days after the waving of the first-fruits, so on that great day of Pentecost which was fifty days after Jesus arose from the dead, the Holy Ghost came, and a new order of things began.
Feast of Trumpets
The Feast of Trumpets fell on the first day of the seventh month of the sacred year, which was the first month of the civil year. It came in the latter part of September or early October. The significance of this day is due to its place in the calendar. As related to the civil year it was the beginning of their time. As related to the sacred year it had all the significance of a new moon, and more, it began the seventh or sabbatic month, the most sacred month of all. It was not only the month of the joyful Feast of Tabernacles, but also and especially the month of the great day of atonement, at which time the sabbatic year was ushered in (when slaves went out free, when broken families were reunited, when debts were canceled), and also the year of jubilee (when unfortunates recovered their lost inheritance and when rest and joy were ushered in).
The opening of such a month deserved special recognition and religious observance. This day was observed by resting from labor, by a holy convocation, and by appropriate sacrifices. But its chief peculiarity was the continual blowing of trumpets from morning until evening.
This announcement that at last had come the glorious month of atonement with all its benefits was a beautiful symbol of the preaching of the gospel. When the priests blew the two silver trumpets over the burnt offerings for atonement at God’s altar, and their joyful sound reverberated over the hills and valleys of the land of Israel, the same great truths in type were proclaimed that are now set forth in the preaching of the glad tidings of salvation through the perfected atonement of Christ. The blowing of these silver trumpets on this occasion foreshadowed practically the same glorious truth as did the tinkling of the golden bells on the border of Aaron’s garment when acting as Israel’s mediator with God.
It was to be a “memorial of blowing of trumpets.” A memorial is a reminder of an event past or present. This was the announcement of the grand truth that the time of atonement and salvation had come. It was a time of rejoicing because of the proclamation of a blessed truth. And as those ministers of God of that ancient system of types and shadows blew those literal trumpets, so God would have his ministers today sound out to all the glorious gospel trumpet, the good tidings of salvation to men.
“Blow the gospel trumpet, brother, over land and sea,
Sound the news to all creation, ‘Christ will set you free,
Free and happy every moment, though by Satan bound,
He is able, do not doubt him, let his grace abound.’ ”
Day of Atonement
(Lev. 16; 23:26–32)
The Day of Atonement was in its typical significance probably most important of all the sacred seasons of the Mosaic law. Its services and offerings are frequently referred to in the Epistles to the Hebrews, especially in the ninth and tenth chapters.
It was observed in the seventh month, called Tisri, on the tenth day, which would usually correspond with an early date in what is now our October. It was kept as a day of rest from work, as a holy convocation, and as a time to afflict their souls. This afflicting their souls is not specifically stated to be by fasting, but such was the usual method of showing contrition, as did the Ninevites and as is intimated in Isa. 58:3, 5. It is certain from Acts 27:9, “The fast was now already past,” that this was a day of fasting at a later period. It was a day of national humiliation when the sense of sin was to be deepened to its utmost intensity in the mind of the Israelites, and especially when the idea of atonement by sacrifice for sin was to be set forth in its highest expression by the elaborate ritual then observed. This atonement was to be, not for particular sins that had been unatoned for, but especially for sins generally, which were remembered again each year, even though they had been atoned for the year before or by special offerings (Heb. 10:3).
The high priest alone was to perform almost all the services of the day. According to later Jewish writers he was also to offer the regular daily burnt offering, not only on this day, but for the week preceding. During that whole week, according to Edersheim, he, in preparation for the coming event, was to eat but little, and none on atonement day, and was to spend the night preceding that day without sleep in hearing or expounding the Scriptures. He was to lay aside his beautiful garments and clothe himself in plain white linen, for the entrance into the holiest place on this occasion. He was to bathe himself with water or wash his hands and feet frequently during the solemn services of the day.
So our great High Priest humbled himself as a servant and became a “man of sorrows.” He accomplished the great work of atonement alone. His disciples slept while he agonized in Gethsemane. None stood by to comfort him while he died on the cross. The services of the day were without doubt typical of Christ’s atonement for us.
But the important feature of the day was the elaborate ritual. The animals to be offered were a bullock for a sin-offering and a ram for a burnt offering for Aaron, also two kids of the goats from the whole congregation for a sin-offering and also a ram for a burnt offering for them. The ritual of these offerings was that which belonged to offerings of these classes except in the application of the blood and concerning the scapegoat which was wholly irregular.
The order of the rites was somewhat as follows: (1) Aaron bathed himself and put on the holy linen garments in the holy place. (2) He cast lots on the two goats to determine which was to die and which was to become the scapegoat. (3) He killed the bullock. (4) He took a censer full of live coals and his hands full of incense into the holiest place and burned the incense upon the fire in the censer, making a cloud of smoke over the ark and filling the room with a sweet odor. (5) He went back to the brazen altar and took a vessel containing the blood of the bullock and returned to the holiest place, where he sprinkled the blood seven times on the east side of the mercy seat and seven times on the ground before the ark to make atonement for himself as priest. (6) He killed for a sin-offering for the congregation the one of the two goats that was chosen for the Lord, and sprinkled its blood as he had that of the bullock on and before the mercy seat, to atone for the people. (7) He made an atonement for the holy place (which here evidently means the holiest place), and for the tabernacle or first room, probably by sprinkling blood in each. (8) He made atonement for the brazen altar by putting of the blood of each animal on its horns and by sprinkling of the blood upon it seven times. (9) He laid both his hands upon the second goat, the “scapegoat” as our version translates this difficult word, and confessed the sins of himself and of the people, “putting them upon the head of the goat,” after which the goat was sent by a fit or responsible man into the wilderness where no one dwelt. (10) He went into the holy place, removed the linen clothing, bathed himself in water, and put on again the golden garments. (11) He offered the two rams for burnt offerings for himself and the people, burned the fat of the sin-offerings on the altar, and had some one carry the remainder of them outside the camp and burn it.
The sprinkling of the blood of the sin-offerings upon the mercy seat had special typical significance and is deserving of further notice. This action was peculiar to this day and these two sin-offerings and was the most impressive and significant sprinkling of atoning blood of all those ancient shadows. It was done by him who typified our Savior. It was done with the blood that typified the all-atoning blood of Christ. It was done in the very presence of God. It typified Christ’s intercession for us in heaven. The blood was sprinkled seven times to represent the completeness of the atonement of Christ. It was put upon the mercy seat or propitiatory, which existed for the very purpose that it with the atoning blood upon it might cover from God’s holy eye the broken law in the ark beneath. The mercy seat, this atonement-covering which covered and was coextensive in size with the ark which represented God’s law, was the culmination of all the Levitical institutions and services in all that ancient sanctuary, and was sprinkled with the blood on this greatest of the sacred seasons. This blood on the mercy seat symbolized the greatest and grandest truth of the Mosaic religion, and typified the most important and glorious fact that ever entered men’s minds, that Jesus has atoned for the broken law of God and made possible the salvation of a world of sinners from the wrath of God.
The other great typical feature of this day was the scapegoat. The two goats together constituted one offering, not two (Lev. 16:5). The goat that died was typical of Christ dying to atone for your sins, but the scapegoat was typical of him to take away our sins. The first exhibited the means of atonement, the second the effect of it. They are both typical of Christ, and except for the impossibility of one goat typifying both phases, but one goat had been employed. Two goats were here used in the type of Christ and his work as it was necessary to have various articles of furniture to represent the different phases of his saving work.
Concerning the goat for Jehovah which was to die, nothing is said of the confession of sins over it. Doubtless the usual requirement of the bloody offering was observed, the laying on of the hand of the offerer to signify that he identified himself with the offering. But on the head of the scapegoat Aaron was to lay both his hands, “and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat: … and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited” (Lev. 16:21, 22). The prayer which he prayed on this occasion is given by the Mishna as follows: “O Lord, thy people, the house of Israel, have transgressed, they have rebelled, they have sinned before thee. I beseech thee now absolve their transgressions, their rebellion and their sin that they have sinned against thee, as it is written in the law of Moses thy servant, that on this day he shall make atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins, and ye shall be clean.”
This symbol is very clear. It shows our Savior, not propitiating God, but removing our sins from us. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Christ not only died to atone for sin and procure God’s favor for us, but he lives now to bear our sins by actual forgiveness of us individually. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psa. 103:12). “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:19). “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows … The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:4, 6). In Heb. 9:1–10:18 the inspired writer contrasts and compares that symbolic sin-offering with the true. Aaron took the blood of that goat into the most holy place, but Jesus enters into heaven itself with his own blood to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24, 25). Its blood availed only for the purifying of the flesh; but Christ’s blood is effectual in purifying the conscience (vs. 13, 14). That sin-offering availed for but one year, when remembrance was again made of all the sins of the past; but Christ’s blood avails for “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:25, 12; 10:3, 4, 14). Surely these two goats are a remarkable type worthy of being given by the Author of the glorious truth which they typify.
The Feast of Tabernacles
The Feast of Tabernacles is also called “the Feast of Ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labors out of the field” (Exod. 23:16). Both names are descriptive of the nature and purpose of the Feast. It was the third of the three great yearly feasts at which all male Israelites were to meet at Jerusalem. It was observed 15–22 of the seventh month, Tisri, in the autumn, beginning five days after the Day of Atonement. It was held after the corn and wine was all gathered in.
It was celebrated by the Israelites dwelling for seven days in temporary booths (Lev. 23:42), or tabernacles, made of boughs of trees—hence the name of the feast. These booths were built on the housetops, in the open courts of the homes or of the temple, or in the streets (Neh. 8:16). The purpose of the booths was to remind the Israelites of their dwelling in tents during the forty years in the wilderness (Lev. 23:43).
It was a national festival of thanksgiving for the bounteous harvest, not very different in this aspect from the thanksgiving season now observed by Americans for a similar purpose. “Because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice” (Deut. 16:15). It was a time for rejoicing before the Lord (Lev. 23:40), and of feasting (Neh. 8:10). Probably at this feast the second tithe for festive purposes was used in special feasting before the Lord. It was the gladest of all the seasons of the year. A later Jewish writer has said of this feast that “he had never seen joy who saw not the joy of Tabernacles.” A third important feature of the observance of this feast was the many sacrifices (Num. 29:12–38). On the first day the burnt offering was to consist of thirteen bullocks, two rams, and fourteen lambs. The same number of rams and lambs was to be offered each day of the seven, but one less of the bullocks each day until on the seventh day but seven were to be offered. Also a kid for a sin-offering was sacrificed each day besides the regular daily burnt offering. With each animal for a burnt offering were offered large meat-offerings of flour, oil, and wine. A total of 203 animals was sacrificed during the seven days. The eighth day, which was not of this feast, and when the people ceased to dwell in booths, was to be observed as a sabbath with an offering of nine animals besides the regular daily offering. Also the whole law of God was to be read publicly at this feast each seventh year.
This feast had value to the Israelite especially in awakening in him gratitude to God for his multiplied blessings in a rich harvest and prosperity. The dwelling in booths was a memorial of the wilderness life, it is true, but the Israelites were to remember that life, not for its own sake, but that they might contrast it with their present blessings and thus more clearly recognize God’s goodness. Then they dwelt in tents, in Canaan they dwelt in houses; then they had only manna, but in Canaan they had food in great variety and plenty. The typical meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles is more difficult to determine than that of any other of the feasts. But a careful consideration of its nature and significance to the ancient people of God in the light of the general principles of typical interpretation, to which we have already referred, will doubtless assist greatly in understanding what is the good thing we now have that was foreshadowed by that feast of rejoicing. The dwelling in booths was but a means to the end of emphasizing the then present blessings of the Israelites, and therefore did not have a large place in typical significance. The ingathering of the harvest merely furnished the occasion for the feast, and was not a part of it. Therefore the typical element must consist in the rejoicing and feasting together before the Lord and in the many sacrifices offered to God.
It was a feast of communion. The people ate their good things together and offered abundantly to the Lord, of flesh, flour, oil, and wine. God had a part of their food. This is the reason why burnt and meat-offerings were to be offered so profusely at this time. During these seven days God and his people rejoiced and feasted together to typify that holy communion which now exists between God and believers, and between Christians, today. To those who open the heart’s door to God, he comes in to sup with them and they with him (Rev. 3:20). This communion expressed friendship in its highest form. It is the unspeakably blessed intercourse that God always craved with his creatures, but from which he was shut away because of their sinfulness until the Day of Atonement, which then represented the glorious truth that since the atonement of Christ true communion between God and men is possible.
God considers this communion of much importance. It is the great end for which he originally created man. It was set forth in these shadows of good things again and again. Like salvation from sin, it was typified in three of the main classes of Mosaic institutions. In the tabernacle it was set forth by the priests eating the loaves of the shewbread while the frankincense, the memorial of them, was burned upon God’s golden altar. It was typified in the sacrifices by the peace-offering, a part of which was the priest’s food, a part the offerer’s and a part the “food of God” by being burned on the altar. It is not strange therefore that we should have it typified in this complex system of typical feasts.
As the peace-offering was principally for thanksgiving, so this communion feast was a thanksgiving feast. The attitude of heart most conducive to communion with God is that of gratitude for blessings received. Therefore let us not fail to be thankful to God for all his benefits.
Jubilee and the Sabbatical Year
The two longer sacred seasons of the year of jubilee and the sabbatical year are not included in the list of feasts given in Leviticus 23; but inasmuch as they were similar to the stated feasts in their nature and typical significance, we may properly consider them at this point. Because both in their appointment and nature the sabbatical and jubilee years were very closely related and jubilee was really an intensified form of the former, we give principal attention to jubilee as a type.
These unique enactments were the arrangement of a wise Providence for the protection of the Israelites from those evils of greed and oppression that have menaced society in every age and country. “Had these laws been observed, they would have made the Jewish nation the most prosperous and perfect that ever existed.”—Peloubet. But the constant neglect of the sabbatic years from the very first was one of the national sins for which God punished the Jews in the Babylonish captivity—“until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths” (2 Chron. 36:21). The sabbatical year was observed, however, after the captivity, according to 1 Macc. 6:49.
The Sabbatic Year. —After Israel came into possession of Canaan, they were told to till the land six years, but in the seventh year they were to give the land rest. They were not to sow the fields nor to prune the vineyards. They might eat direct from the fields and vines that which grew of itself; and to this the poor and the stranger also had access. But they were not dependent upon this for food, for God promised to make the yield of the sixth year so abundant that it would supply their needs for the remainder of that year, all the seventh, and until the harvest of the eighth year. It was a wonderful provision in which God would intervene as he did in giving the double amount of manna on the sixth day so that the Sabbath day might be kept. All debts of Hebrews were then to be freely forgiven (Deut. 15:1–11).
However, they were not to spend the year in idleness. They still had the care of their flocks and herds, also they might do their building work, repair their homes and furniture, make their clothing, and especially devote themselves to God’s service and worship as was indicated by the fact that the law was to be read at the Feast of Tabernacles of this year. It was beneficial especially in giving the land a chance to become built up after the six years of cultivation. It typified soul-rest in Christ as does the seventh-day Sabbath and the rest of jubilee year.
The Jubilee Year. —The year of jubilee was named from the Hebrew word meaning the joyful shout of trumpets, by which the year was announced. It was celebrated each fiftieth year. When seven sabbaths of years were completed, then the jubilee began. Seven was the perfect number, and seven times seven was the most emphatic expression of completeness. It began, not at the first of the year, but on the tenth day of the seventh month, atonement-day, in the afternoon, probably when the rites of the day were past, and was announced by the blowing of the silver trumpets of the sanctuary.
Then began the year of rest and joy. (1) The soil had rest as in the sabbatic years. God promised to make the produce of the forty-eighth year sufficient for the seventh of the seven sabbatic years, the jubilee, and for the year following until the harvest. (2) Also with the jubilee, those who had been compelled to sell their property because of poverty, or for any other reason had lost it, received it back again. All land reverted to its original owner of his heirs. It was a grand provision for the poor; and it was no injustice to the prosperous person who had temporarily gained possession, because in buying it the price of the land was much or little according as there were many or few years until the jubilee. There was no such thing as a permanent transfer of real estate except of that in walled cities not belonging to the Levites. It was a grand arrangement which tended to equalize wealth and abolish poverty. (3) It also was a time when every Hebrew slave was set free and allowed to return to his possessions and his family At other times than this the Hebrew servant went out free after he had served six years, unless he voluntarily chose to remain with his master. But in the jubilee all alike, male and female, were freed, even though they her not served the full six years. Typical Significance of Jubilee. —Though the temporary and material benefits of the jubilee were important, yet the typical value of it was still more important. Glorious realities of present-day blessings were there depicted. As that year of jubilee began with the completion of the solemn rites of the Day of Atonement, so the true jubilee is the result of Christ’s great atonement. As the sounding of the silver trumpets announced the blessings of that time, so the proclamation of the gospel of salvation is the announcement of the good things those benefits foreshadowed.
(1) Then slaves were set free to typify that glorious freedom from the burden and bondage of sin that Jesus promised: “If the son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Thank God, those whose lives are blighted, ruined, and made bitter with the hard bondage of sin, may be freed, through faith in Christ, from its guilt and power. (2) Then every man received back again his lost inheritance, so in Christ we receive back that glorious inheritance of the sons of God which has been forfeited by sin. We become “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Christ restores to us the joy and peace, the moral purity and divine presence, that Adam lost in Eden. In Christ we have eternal life and hope of resurrection of our bodies, that die because of sin. (3) Then broken families were reunited. “Ye shall return every man unto his family.” So in Christ those who have been alienated by sin are made “one” as Christ and the Father are one. Their hearts are “knit together in love,” and they have blessed fellowship together. (4) That was a season of rest and joy, which foreshadowed the soul-rest Jesus gives and the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” which is the portion of the saved in Christ.
The real jubilee is here. To those who will accept the blessings, they are now available. The year of jubilee was referred to in that which Isaiah predicted and which Jesus quoted as being fulfilled with his coming; “He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18, 19).
Forward to Chapters 7 & 8
MAIN PAGE MENU