BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 147 (1990): 143-54

Copyright © 1990 Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.

 

 

 

                        The Purpose of Israel's

                               Annual Feasts

 

 

 

                                                   Timothy K. Hui

                                             Attorney and Counselor

                                      Thompson & Knight, Dallas, Texas

 

 

            The feasts of the Lord were days of high importance for Israel.1

They punctuated her calendar with seasons of joyous celebration,

sharing in agricultural abundance, and reprieve from the daily rou-

tine.2 But they were also religious events.3 Their importance is evi-

denced by the fact that three passages in the Mosaic legislation de-

scribe the feasts: Leviticus 23; Numbers 28-29; and Deuteronomy 16.

            What was the significance of these annual religious festivals?

Hulbert suggests that their significance was primarily eschatologi-

cal and that they "were types which prophesied God's redemptive

program in Israel."4 However, as Chafer points out, for a type to be

valid, it must have "continuity of truth" in both testaments.5 So for

 

1 J. Van Goudoever, Biblical Calendars (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1961), p. vii. He intro-

duces "day of 'high importance'" as an appellation for the various festivals.

2 The idea of joyous celebration is particularly strong in the Deuteronomy account.

See the discussion on Deuteronomy 16 in Gilbert George Braithwaite, "The Doctrine of

the Central Sanctuary in Deuteronomy" (ThD diss., Dallas Theological Seminary,

1978), pp. 125-26. The abundance of the land, represented by the freewill offerings

(Deut. 16:10, 17), was to be shared with the unfortunate (vv. 11, 14). For the reprieve

from the daily routine, see the discussion later on the sabbatical rest.

3 The religious nature of these feasts may be seen in the Numbers account. Each in-

dividual feast had its own set of offerings. Furthermore these feasts were said to be-

long to the Lord (hvAhy; ydefEOm).

4 Terry C. Hulbert, "The Eschatological Significance of Israel's Annual Feasts"

(ThD diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1965), p. i.

5 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary

 

                                                            143

 



144                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April-June 1990

 

the annual cycle of feasts to have the eschatological significance

that Hulbert proposes, it must first speak commemoratively to Israel

of her past redemption before it can speak typologically of her future

redemption. Hulbert recognizes this, but he gives little attention to

the historical function.6 Both are needed, and the historical signifi-

cance must be considered first. Stated in another way, before an Old

Testament event can have a forward-looking typological function, its

historical and retrospective significance must be seen.

 

                        How Do the Feast Passages Differ?

 

            The three passages that describe the feasts differ in their em-

phases. Deuteronomy 16 stresses the pilgrimages to the feasts, Num-

bers 28-29 emphasizes the offerings, and Leviticus 23 focuses on the

feasts themselves. Why are these emphases given?

 

DEUTERONOMY 16

            In Deuteronomy 16 the pilgrimage (gH) occupies a prominent

place.7 That chapter mentions only the three pilgrimage-feasts,

during which attendance before the Lord for all male Israelites was

required.8 "These annual feasts would keep the people aware of the

importance of the central sanctuary and of its role in maintaining

their unique spiritual relationship with" the Lord.9 The recurring

phrases, "the place which the Lord your God chooses" and "(appear-

ing) before the Lord your God," readily identify the organizing prin-

 

Press, 1948), 7:309.

6 For example he states that "this retrospective idea was certainly valid, for the

feasts involved true memorials, of deliverance from Egypt, or harvests, of past sins to

be confessed, etc." (Hulbert, "'Israel's Annual Feasts," p. 108; cf. similar statements on

pp. 3, 109). He adds that from the premillennial point of view one must accord to

these feasts "a genuine historical function" (ibid., p. 17).

7 The verbal root ggH has the meaning of "making a pilgrimage" (Francis Brown, S.

R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament

[Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955], s.v. "ggaHA,” p. 290). It has an Arabic equivalent in hajja

whose derivative, hajj, refers to the official pilgrimage to Mecca. Also see Theologi-

cal Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. LairQ Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and

Bruce K. Waltke, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), s.v., "ggaHA," by Carl Philip We-

ber, 1:261-63,

8 The three pilgrimage-feasts are the feasts of Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and

Booths. Even though the Passover is mentioned in this chapter, that feast "and Un-

leavened Bread are in effect the two constituent parts of a single major festival," of

which "the second part. . . [is] the center of attention" (Peter C. Craigie, The Book of

Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976], p. 242). Inciden-

tally this is the same orientation found in Leviticus 23.

9 Braithwaite, "The Doctrine of the Central Sanctuary in Deuteronomy," p. 125.



The Purpose of Israel's Annual Feasts                     145

 

ciple of this passage.10 Verses 16-17 conveniently summarize this

literary unit. The pilgrimages of the people to the central sanctuary

would contribute to national unity.

 

NUMBERS 28-29

Numbers 28-29 is a section of the Mosaic legislation whose pur-

pose "is to define the periodical public offerings."11 The inclusion of

the list of the feasts of the Lord is only incidental.12 These two chap-

ters prescribe the kinds of offerings for various occasions--daily of-

ferings (28:3-8), sabbatical offerings (28:9-10), and festive offerings

(28:19-29:39). The literary clue for the whole section (hence also for

the segment governing the feasts of the Lord) is in Numbers 28:2. The

Israelites were instructed to "observe" (rmawA) to present the offerings.

The word rmawA means “to exercise great care over."13 In Deuteronomy

this word is used of the people's careful observance of the Lord's com-

mandments.14 It is clear then that Numbers 28-29 contains an instruc-

tional manual for the priests on the offerings in the feasts of the Lord.

 

LEVITICUS 23

A cursory reading of Leviticus 23 reveals that no such convenient

organizing principle may readily be found. The feasts are treated at

various lengths, and various details are given for each of the feasts,

as seen in this table:

 

Feasts                                     Passage                     Length

Passover                                 23:5                            1 verse

Unleavened bread                  23:6-8                        3 verses

Firstfruits                               23:10-14                    5 verses

Weeks                                     23:15-22                    8 verses

Trumpets                                23:24-25                    2 verses

Day of Atonement                 23:27-32                    6 verses

Booths                                    23:34-43                    10 verses

 

10 For the phrase "the place which the Lord your God chooses" see verses 2, 6-7,11,

15. For the phrase "before the Lord your God" see verses 11 and 16 (without the prepo-

sition l).

11 George Buchanan Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Numbers, Inter-

national Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1903), p. 402.

12 Ibid., pp. 402-3. "Incidentally it also, and of necessity, contains a list of Jewish

fixed feasts or sacred seasons."

13 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, s.v. "rmawA," by John E. Hartley, 2:939.

"Secondly it expresses .the careful attention to be paid to the obligation of a covenant,

to laws, statutes, etc. This is one of the most frequent uses of the verb."

14 For a complete list see S. R. Driver, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on

Deuteronomy, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1895), p.

lxxxiii.



146                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April-June 1990

 

Even the instructions for the offerings differ in length (compare the

instructions for the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks with

the instructions for the other feasts15).

These differences in length have led critics to conclude that

"this chapter is not a self-contained unity."16 Snaith, for instance,

sees two sources for this chapter.

This chapter is composite, as is clear from the double introduction,

verse 2 and verse 4. Scholars who carry literary analysis into minute de-

tails find they have to speak of more than one P-editor, apart from the

allocation of verses between H and P. It is generally agreed that 1-8, 21,

23-38, 44 belong to P, though of different strata, and that 22, 39-43 are H,

with the rest mixed, basically H but with P-elements of varying degrees

of recognizability. Generally speaking, the agricultural emphasis is

characteristic of H, and the ecclesiastical element of P. Indeed, it is

these differences that are used as criteria.17

Elliger also sees at least two layers of material in this chapter, the

second of which has its own special sources.18

Noth, on the other hand, feels that the various "incongruities

are not easily explained by the literary-critical assumption of dif-

ferent 'sources."'19 He attempts to explain the formation of this

chapter along a historical line. He suggests that verses 9-21 have an

earlier tradition that he calls the Jerusalem tradition. This tradi-

tion is then combined with "the threefold agrarian feasts still pre-

served in Deuteronomy." These all came together about the time of

the Exile and remained so until after the Exile when they became

normative (in Num. 28-29). So the Leviticus list occupies somewhat

a middle position between the other two accounts.20

 

15 Noth makes this point: "On the one hand there are fairly short regulations for

the celebration of particularly and precisely dated times in the course of the year (so

especially vv. 5-8; also vv. 23ff.); on the other hand there are very detailed precepts

for carrying out festival customs on some not exactly dated occasions (so especially vv.

9-21; also vv. 40ff.)" (Martin Noth, Leviticus: A Commentary [Philadelphia: West-

minster Press, 1965], p. 166).

16 Ibid.

17 Norman H. Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers, The Century Bible (London: Thomas

Nelson and Sons, 1967), pp, 149-50.

18 These two layers are his Ph3 and Ph4. For the so-called "literary history" see

Karl Elliger, Leviticus, Handbuch zum Alten Testament (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr,

1966), pp. 311-12.

19 Noth, Leviticus, p. 166.

20 Ibid. Hulbert, on the other hand, puts the Leviticus account as the first historical

account. He considers the other two accounts as "restatements and emphatic reminders

given to the new generation on the plains of Moab as they prepared to enter the land,"

The addition of certain details peculiar to each of the other two accounts was because

of "historical circumstances" (Hulbert, "Israel's Annual Feasts," p, 2). Perhaps it is



The Purpose of Israel's Annual Feasts                     147

Kaiser points out that for hermeneutical exercises such pursuits

of "hypothetical sources" are fruitless. He believes that the task of

an exegete is not to investigate the "pre-history of the text" but to

explain "the meaning of the present text."21 Pursuit of prehistory

often leads to ludicrous dismemberings of the text.22 Wenham warns:

 

The tentativeness of all attempts to discover sources in Leviticus must

be underlined. Even if one admits their presence it does not necessar-

ily follow that they ever circulated independently of each other. Analy-

ses which purport to distinguish between an original source and the

work of later redactors should be treated more warily still. We do not

know enough about the development of Hebrew language, law, and re-

ligion to make the elaborate analyses offered in some works anything

more than conjectures.23

 

The presupposition of the present writer is that Moses penned

this chapter as well as the rest of the Pentateuch. Leviticus 23 is an

original composition. From a careful examination of the text itself

one can determine its unifying principle.

 

Does Leviticus 23 Emphasize the "Appointed Time" or

"Rest" and "Gathering"?

 

Hulbert, in his typological study of Leviticus 23, suggests that

the emphasis of this chapter revolves around the term "appointed

time" (dfeOm).24 However, that would be a rather weak unifying cen-

ter, as the Hebrew word "frequently designates a determined time or

place without regard to the purpose of the designation."25 This cen-

ter is not only weak lexically, but it also fails to account for most of

the divergences in length and in the amount of details.

A more likely unifying principle is suggested by Wenham. He

states that "the whole emphasis lies on the days that must be ob-

 

better to say that the differences were due to differing purposes.

21 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., "Evangelical Hermeneutics: Restatement, Advance, or Re-

treat from the Reformation?" Concordia Theological Quarterly 46 (April-June 1982):

174.

22 See the translation of Leviticus 23 by Elliger. In order to demonstrate the two lay-

ers and the various sources of each layer he employs seven different type faces

(Elliger, Leviticus, pp. 302-3).

23 Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub-

lishing Co., 1979), pp. 7-8.

24 "The Leviticus 23 account, on the other hand, was given in the form of a schedule

of appointed observances. This is borne out by the four pointed occurrences of moadim

in Leviticus 23:2, 4, 37, 44" (Hulbert, "Israel's Annual Feasts," p. 28).

25 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, s.v. "dfy," by Jack P. Lewis, 1:388.



148                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April-June 1990

 

served as days of sabbath rest."26 This calendrical purpose is sup-

ported by the phrase "in their seasons" (MdAfEOmB;, v. 4). The lack of

clarity as to the beginning of the 50-day period before the Feast of

Weeks militates somewhat against this center.27

Keil states that the annual cycle of feasts has "its centre and

starting point in the Sabbath."28 Wenham interprets Keil as saying

that "the sabbatical principle informs all the pentateuchal laws

about the festivals."29 In this view Leviticus 23:3, set between the

so-called "dual introductions," supplies the controlling idea(s) for

this chapter. The repetition of the demonstrative pronoun hl.,xe

which appears at the end of verse 2 and at the head of verse 4,

indicates that verse 3 is a purposeful insertion.30 The addition of the

phrase "in their seasons" to verse 4 (but not in v. 2) makes that verse,

perhaps, the introduction proper.

This sabbatical principle incorporates two ideas: the Sabbath

is to be a time of rest (NOtBAwa tBawa), and the Sabbath is to be a time for

religious gathering (wd,qo-xrAq;mi). If this is a valid center, then one

should expect the literary clues (i.e., the details) of this chapter to

expand these two concepts of rest and holy convocation.

 

26 Wenham, Leviticus, p. 3.

27 "On the day after the sabbath (vv. 11, 15, cf. v. 16)--the meaning of this phrase

has been the subject of much controversy. Is the sabbath in question the ordinary sab-

bath, i.e., the first Saturday after the beginning of the festival of unleavened bread?

Or is the sabbath the first day of unleavened bread when heavy work was forbidden?

According to the first interpretation 'the day after the sabbath' means Sunday; ac-

cording to the second it means the sixteenth day of the month.

"Orthodox Judaism and most modern commentators favor the second suggestion.

Some Jewish sects, however, and a few modern writers favor the first suggestion. The

exegetical arguments are finely balanced. It seems slightly more natural to equate

'the sabbath' with Saturday than with the first day of the feast. Furthermore, if one

accepts that: Leviticus is based on the Jubilees Calendar, it would seem more likely

that the first sheaf was offered on Sunday (the day after sabbath) than on Thursday

(second day of the feast)" (Wenham, Leviticus, p. 304).

Van Goudoever suggests two additional ways of counting the 50 days: (1) count

from the day after the week of Unleavened Bread, which ends with a Sabbath, or (2)

count from the Sunday after the week of Unleavened Bread (Biblical Calendars, pp.

18-29).

28 Carl Friedrich Keil, Manual of Biblical Archaeology, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T. & T.

Clark, 1887), 1:470.

29 Wenham, Leviticus, p. 301.

30 Keil feels that the repetition of the title points out the distinction between the

"Sabbath" and the feasts. "As a weekly returning day of rest, the observance of

which had its foundation in the creative work of God, the Sabbath was distinguished

from the yearly feasts in which Israel commemorated the facts connected with its el-

evation into a people of God" (C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, 3 vols.,

Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament [reprint, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans

Publishing Co., n.d.], 2:438).



                        The Purpose of Israel's Annual Feasts                                 149

 

Sabbatical Rest

 

The concept of the sabbatical rest is often associated with Cre-

ation.31 The Lord's rest from His creative activities is the reason be-

hind Israel's keeping of the fourth commandment (Exod. 20:11). In

the reiteration of this commandment (Deut. 5:15) a different reason

is given: to commemorate Israel's redemption from the bondage of

Egypt. The writer of Hebrews linked these two ideas as he spoke of

the rest (tbAwa) in Genesis 2:2 and the rest (hHAUnm;) in Psalm 95:11.32 In

other words he associated this rest with the entrance of Israel into

the Promised Land, which the Israelites (the first generation of the

Exodus) forfeited because of their unbelief. Rest, in this context, was

the repose of the Lord from His completed work; and He shared this

repose with the nation of Israel in their entrance into the Promised

Land. The sabbatical rest is then a commemoration of the Lord's fin-

ished work of redemption.

Viewing the sabbath as "a periodical memorial of Israel's de-

liverance from Egypt"33 finds further support in the fact that some of

the festive Sabbaths cannot fall on the weekly Sabbath. Instead of

having significance in reference to Creation, these festive Sabbaths

point to the completed work of redemption, which is a form of cre-

ation.34

Of the seven feasts of the Lord described in Leviticus 23, five in-

clude a specific prohibition from work (UWfEta xlo hdAbofE). They are the

first and the seventh days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (vv. 7-

8), the Feast of Weeks (v. 21), the Feast of Trumpets (v. 25), the Day

of Atonement (vv. 28-31), and the first and eighth days of the Feast

of Booths (vv. 35-36). During the Feast of Unleavened Bread the two

Sabbaths are only six days apart. The Feast of Firstfruits takes

place on the day after a Sabbath. The 50th day from that day can-

 

31 Ibid.

32 Hebrews 4:1-5. The writer of Hebrews used both the verb and the noun from the

same root: katapau<w and kata<pausij.

33 Driver, Deuteronomy, p. 85.

34 "The Exodus, too, was a type of creation and thus forms an analogy to the creation

account in Genesis. The Exodus from Egypt marks in effect the creation of God's people

as a nation, and the memory of that event was also a reminder to the Israelites of

their total dependence upon God. Whereas atone time the Israelites had been slaves

in Egypt, with no appointed day of rest from their continual and monotonous labor,

God's deliverance made them potentially a nation, and the sabbath was to function as

a day of rest in which the deliverance from the former bondage could be remembered

with thanksgiving" (Craigie, Deuteronomy, p. 157).



150                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April-June 1990

 

not possibly be another Sabbath. Thus the Feast. of Weeks would not

be on a weekly Sabbath. Between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day

of Atonement the interval was 10 days; thus one of them could not

fall on a weekly Sabbath. The significance of the sabbatical rest

went beyond the general commemoration of the Lord's repose from

His completed work of creating the world to the specific commemo-

ration of His completed work of redeeming the nation Israel.

Two of the seven feasts include no prohibition from work. They

are the Passover and the Feast of Firstfruits. The Passover, accord-

ing to verse 5, is basically an evening event. The next morning begins

the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. So the Passover

is, in effect, the beginning of or the introduction to the Feast of Un-

leavened Bread. In the description of Deuteronomy 16 the "Passover

and Unleavened Bread are in effect the two constituent parts of a

single major festival."35

The Feast of Firstfruits took place after a religious Sabbath

(Lev. 23:10-11). There is no mention of a Sabbath observance or a

prohibition from work in the instructions for this feast. There are

some indications that this and the Feast of Weeks should be consid-

ered as "the two constituent parts of a single major festival" like the

Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of First-

fruits marked the beginning, and the Feast of Weeks marked the end,

of the harvest season.36 Both included the wave offering (vv. 11, 17).

In the first case what was waved is the sheaves, but in the second

case what was waved is two loaves of bread baked with yeast

(leaven). It signified the completion of the harvest and the

leisurely preparation of meals. At the Feast of Firstfruits no such

leisure could be offered. It began the harvest and no special time was

taken for rest. A literary parallel to this phenomenon is in Genesis

1:7. At the end of the second day of Creation there was no pronounce-

ment of approval. That did not come till the third day. It is sug-

gested that the work performed on both days should be taken as a

unit.37

The feasts may be grouped into three units. The first two feasts

belong together, as mentioned earlier. The second two feasts are also

to be taken together. The last three would naturally be taken to-

 

35 Ibid., p. 242.

36 Van Goudoever, Biblical Calendars, pp. 15-18.

37 "The words it was good were not appropriate at this state, in as much as the work

of water had not yet been completed. The situation was not yet good; for had it been

good, there would have been no necessity for another separation on the third day" (U.

Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, part 1: From Adam to Noah: Genesis

I-VI 8 [Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961], p. 34).

 



The Purpose of Israel's Annual Feasts                                 151

 

gether because they are in the seventh month. Some modifications of

this group may be necessary as will be revealed in the study of the

term "perpetual statute" (MlAOf tq.aHu). Only four of the seven are so

designated in Leviticus 23: Feasts of Firstfruits, Weeks, Booths, and

the Day of Atonement. The first two feasts--Passover and Unleav-

ened Bread-are so designated in Exodus 12:14, 17. But the perpetual

statute statement is really not necessary because they were instituted

and kept before the Mosaic Law was given at Sinai. The Feast of the

Trumpets is considered a memorial (NOrkAzi), not a perpetual statute

(Lev. 23:24). It was not equal to the other six, because it was an in-

troductory Sabbath for the Sabbath month (seventh month). Thus

the feasts may be seen as three groups of two, with the third group

having an introductory Sabbath.

Since the first two feasts are not mentioned as perpetual statutes

because they were established before the giving of the Law at Sinai,

what then is the significance of such a designation for the last two

groups of feasts? One factor that seems to be common to them is that

they could not be properly observed until the nation of Israel was in

the Promised Land. Obviously they could not celebrate the beginning

or the end of the harvest season so long as they lived a nomadic life

in the Sinai wilderness. The feasts of Firstfruits and of Weeks would

be meaningless if Israel continued the wilderness sojourn. The Feast

of Booths commemorated the wandering of Israel and the living in

tents during that period (Lev. 23:43). Such commemoration would be

unlikely until the wandering itself had ceased and the nation was

dwelling in houses and not tents. The Day of Atonement gives no in-

dication one way or the other. Some sense of permanence seems to be

indicated for the tabernacle in Leviticus 16. Taken together, the

idea seems to point toward the completed redemption. The feasts of

the Lord emphasize not the leaving of Egypt, but the entrance into

the Promised Land, which completed the Lord's redemptive work for

Israel.

 

Holy Convocation

 

The second concept of the sabbatical principle relates to the

calling of a holy convocation. The purpose for such gatherings was

religious—“for the worship of Jehovah.”38 They were special occ-

sions for fellowship and communion between a holy God and His

holy people. This concept is conveyed in the details that Leviticus

23 gives for the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks.

The following table summarizes their treatment:

 

38 Keil and Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, 2:21.

 



152                 Bibliotheca Sacra / April-June 1990

 

Feasts                         Offerings Specified              Details

Passover                     None mentioned                    None

Unleavened Bread     Offering (using the                Made by fire

general verb braqA)39

Firstfruits                   Wave offering                        Sheaves

Burnt offering                        Yearling male lamb

without blemish

Meal offering                        Two-tenths ephah

of fine flour, mingled

with oil, made by fire

Drink offering                       Fourth of a hin

of wine

Weeks                        Wave offering                        Two loaves of bread

made of two-tenths

ephah of fine flour,

baked with leaven

Burnt offering                        Seven yearling lambs

without blemish

One young bullock

Two rams

Meal offering                        Made by fire

Drink offering                       Made by fire

Sin offering                            One male goat

Peace offering                       Two yearling lambs

Trumpets                    Offering                                 Made by fire

Atonement                 Offering                                 Made by fire

Booths                        Offering                                 Made by fire

 

The third and fourth feasts--the Firstfruits and the Weeks--re-

ceive extended treatment here. The regulations for the offerings dur-

ing the other feasts are recorded in Numbers 28-29. However, one

must consider the reason for singling out Firstfruits and Weeks in

Leviticus 23 and the types of offerings that are prescribed. Four types

of offerings were common to these two feasts. Wave offerings signify

consecration or dedication.40 The concept behind burnt offerings is

multifaceted. In light of the event (harvest), one should consider

 

39 This verb means basically "being or coming into the most near and intimate prox-

imity of the object (or subject)." But it is also used technically to connote "every step

man performs in presenting his offering to God," but without specifying the type of of-

fering (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, s.v. "braqA," by Leonard J. Coppes,

2:"811-12).

40 Wenham, Leviticus, pp. 126-27. Rainey sees a communal significance for the wave

offering. But he feels that the "technical term (hpvnt) was applied to offerings other

than communal sacrifices: . . . the sheaf of First Fruits (23:15), the two loaves at the

Feast of Weeks (vv. 17, 20)" (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, S.v.

"Sacrifices and Offerings," by A. F. Rainey, 5:208).



The Purpose of Israel's Annual Feasts                     153

 

 

them as dedicatory.41 The same notion probably also lies behind the

third and fourth types of offering, the meal and drink offerings.42

Numbers 28:26-31 also prescribes offerings for the Feast of

Weeks, called the "Day of the Firstfruits."43 When the two lists are

compared, the last three of the above four types of offerings are

common to both. The portions seem to be more generous in Numbers.44

Leviticus 23 adds mention of sin and peace offerings. In Numbers

28:30 a male goat is specified for the purpose of making atonement.

The type of offering, a sin offering, is not mentioned. Its emphasis is

noteworthy. The concept of the removal of sin, or the requirement of

holiness, on the part of the worshiper is clear. The fact that this

type of offering is followed by a peace offering further clarifies that

only after the removal of sin can one have communion or fellowship

with the Lord.45 This is the only occasion among the seven feasts

when a peace offering was required. It spoke of the special relation-

ship between a sanctified people and their Lord. This is further

supported by requiring observance of the Feast of Booths by "all the

native-born in Israel" (Lev. 23:42). The purpose of that feast was to

instruct them that they were to have a special relationship with

their Lord (v. 43).

The concept behind the holy convocation is not so much the sa-

credness of the occasion but rather the "sacredness" of the people. It

is a holy convocation because of the "holiness" of the people gath-

ered together. The precision with which they kept these feasts was

not what the Lord sought if they persisted in sin.46 Without a holy

people, there could be no holy convocation.

In this section on the harvest feasts, the poor and the foreigners

were not forgotten (v. 22). Perhaps this is an indication that Israel

needed to be reminded of her own disenfranchisement in Egypt.47 The

 

41 Ibid., p. 205.

42 Ibid., pp. 206-7.

43 Keil considers that the Day of the Firstfruits is the same as the Feast of Weeks

(Keil and Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, 3:221). The equation is rather evident in that

the Day of the Firstfruits comes at the end of the weeks (Num. 28:26).

44 The Numbers passage mentions two bulls. Numbers has only one ram instead of

two. Numbers has at least five-tenths ephah of fine flour specified, plus several more

tenths not specified.

45 Though the significance of this is disputed, one may agree with Delitzsch, Stade,

and Wellhausen in understanding it to be "fellowship between God and worshipers"

(Brown, Driver, and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, s.v.

"Ml,w,," p. 1023). This notion is also the first of three given in Theological Wordbook of

thc Old Testament, s.v. "MlewA," by G. Lloyd Carr, 2:930-32.

46 Cf. Amos 5:21-22; Micah 6:6-8.

47 Cf. Deuteronomy 24:19-22.



154                             Bibliotheca Sacra   /    April-June 1990

 

abundant harvest at the same time reminded them not only of the

harvest's completion but also of the completeness with which the

Lord had redeemed them.

Conclusion

Keil suggests that the Sabbath is the governing principle in the

feasts of the Lord. The annual cycle of feasts, he says, had "its cen-

tre and starting point in the Sabbath."48 The literary clues from

Leviticus 23 vividly demonstrate this point. These feasts were to be

"celebrated by a Sabbath cessation from work, and a special assem-

bling for religious purpose."49 This celebration was retrospective.

The commemoration was made by a holy people who were the bene-

ficiaries of the Lord's completed work of redemption.

Hasel points out that the work of Old Testament theology is not

complete unless it is related to the New Testament.50 One may also

say that an exposition of an Old Testament passage is not quite com-

plete without seeing how it relates to New Testament believers in

their walk with the Lord. Because of the feasts' emphasis on the

sabbatical principle, some may assume that the application is to the

Lord's day--Sunday--and its various activities. However, since the

Sabbaths involved in the Feasts were not the weekly Sabbaths, such

a connection is weakened. The two ordinances of the New Testament

church provide a better parallel. Both baptism and the Lord's Sup-

per commemorate the completed work of redemption of Christ on the

cross.51 The idea of cleansing is embodied in baptism, and the Lord's

Supper calls for self-examination.52 But both also signify an identification

with Christ.53 So whenever believers gather for these events, they should look

back, as a holy people, to the completed work of their Lord.

 

48 Keil, Biblical Archaeology, 1:470.

49 Ibid.

50 "The Biblical theologian understands OT theology as being more than the

'theology of the Hebrew Bible.' The name 'theology of the Old Testament’ implies

the larger context of the Bible of which the New Testament is the other part. An inte-

gral OT theology must demonstrate its basic relationship to the NT or to NT theol-

ogy" (Gerhard F. Hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues In the Current Debate

[Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972],pp. 94-95).

51 On baptism see Romans 6:1-10 and Colossians 2:11-13, and on the Lord's Supper see

1 Corinthians 11:24-26.

52 On baptism see Acts 22:16, and on the Lord's Supper see 1 Corinthians 11:28.

53 On baptism see Romans 6:3, and on the Lord's Supper see 1 Corinthians 10:16.

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu