Leviticus 23: There Ain’t no Party like a God-ordained Party

Studying Leviticus gave me a new perspective on observing of Passover, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter this spring. Though the big holiday season ended barely a week ago, I am still musing over the significance of each holiday and what they represent in my life today.

Leviticus 23 begins with instructions for the sacred assemblies: on a weekly basis, the sabbath, and on a yearly basis, other festivals.

The reason for the festivals came to life for me after reading this paragraph from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology:

“Israel’s festivals were communal and commemorative as well as theological and typological. They were communal in that they drew the nation together for celebration and worship as they recalled the common origin and experience of the people. They were commemorative in that they kept alive the story of what God had done in the exodus and during the sojourn. They were theological in that the observance of the festivals presented the participants with lessons on the reality of sin, judgment, and forgiveness, on the need for thanksgiving to God, and on the importance of trusting God rather than hoarding possessions. They were typological in that they anticipated a greater fulfillment of the symbolism of the feasts. It is not surprising that each of the major feasts is in some way alluded to in the New Testament. On the other hand, the festivals could become meaningless rituals and were subject to the criticism of the prophets ( Isa 1:13-14 ). (emphasis mine; Source)

After reading through Baker’s expose on the festivals, I wrote up a comprehensive list of each festival, when it was celebrated, and how its significance has shifted for a New Testament believer. While I would love to share that with you, I found the exercise so helpful to my understanding of this Levitical history, that I would highly recommend you do the same! (Let me know what you discover in the comment section below).

For now, I will stick with the simple objective I hold for every chapter of this study:

  1. What does this tell me about God?
  2. How can I live in light of this truth?
  3. Other thoughts/questions.

What does this tell me about God:

  • God set up reliable and repeatable occasions for the people to have direct access to God as a group.

Once a week, God gave the people a boundary in which to do no work, focusing instead on rest and meeting together to worship God.

I just began a study by Priscilla Shrirer titled Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath. Shrirer reminds us that the structure God imposed on the Israelites was a gift! Rather than being in bondage of busyness and constant work, God provides, no, He mandates room to meet with God and rest. Not only does this gift provide downtime for the people, it also reminds them to have a right perspective of who the provider is (Deut. 5:15)

The festivals also provided this opportunity to rest, gather, and meet with God.

  • Through Passover, God ensures His people will remember how the Lord spared the Israelite first-born during the final plague in Egypt (Exodus 12).

God knows humanity can be forgetful and narcissistic. The Passover festival kept the focus on God as the hero and ultimate rescuer of Israel, as well as the all powerful God who brought the terrible plagues to Egypt.

  • The Feast of the Unleavened Bread stood as a reminder of God’s call for the people to clean out the sin in their lives.

The whole week immediately after the passover, the people of God completely avoided yeast, even removing it from their homes. Avoiding yeast became a symbol for God’s call for the people to avoid sin.

In the New Testament, Paul compared the Corinthian church to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, encouraging them to remove the influence of an unrepentant member of their church:

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
  • God deserves credit for our provisions.
God used the Feast of First Fruits, Pentecost, and Feast of Trumpets to mark His provision during the harvest season. He reminded the people his worthiness for the credit and worship during this time.

How can I live in light of this:

  • I should remember that God is the hero and Savior.

In many ways, Easter is a way that Christians commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice to spare us, in the same way the Israelites celebrated passover. In fact, on one special passover, Jesus gathered with his disciples for his last supper. Jesus is now referred to as our passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) reminding us that He has fulfilled the purpose of the young animal’s blood shed that the Lord’s judgement might “pass over” us.

  • I can set up specific seasons to purge both my home and my heart.

While we (Christians) are not commanded to observe the feast of unleavened bread, I still like to observe the principle that God ordained: to not allow ungodly influences and sin grow unchecked like a batch of yeast. Recently, I tackled a big project of cleaning out our guest room (the catch-all). In the process, I prayed and repented of sin as God brought it to my attention as I cleaned. I have written more about this type of purge here.

  • I should thank God for His provision.

Many Americans perceive Thanksgiving as a time to recognize God’s provision. In addition to celebrating the physical nourishment God provides, I also believe He calls us to give Him credit for the spiritual harvest we see in our churches and neighborhoods.

In John 4, Jesus says

“Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.”

In the Kingdom harvest, we can celebrate with new souls who accept Christ as their Savior, even if we did not directly share the gospel with them (or have them join our church, etc.).

Other thoughts or questions:

  • I had many more realizations while studying the festivals of Leviticus 23, and Baker’s comparison to the events and ideals of the New Testament. I won’t share them all here, but I challenge you to look further into it.

How can you celebrate, worship, and remember what God has done in your own life?

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/feasts-and-festivals-of-israel.html