THE JEWISH RELIGIOUS SACRIFICES AND ANNUAL CELEBRATORY FEASTS REFLECTED THEIR JOY IN GOD’S DELIVERANCE, PROVISION AND ABIDING PRESENCE
Daniel Block: Whereas chapter 16 will deal with scheduled celebrations in the presence of Yahweh, 15:19–23 invites Israelites to be ready to celebrate any time. Regulations concerning the offering of the firstborn are found elsewhere in the Pentateuch (Ex. 13:2, 11–16; 22:29b–30[28b–29]; Num. 18:15–18).
Duane Christensen: In the story of the exodus from Egypt, the firstborn of both livestock and human beings died—immediately before the institution of the Passover. Here the law of the firstlings (15:19–23) precedes the law of Passover (16:1–8). In the law a distinction is made between the firstborn without blemish and those that are blemished. In the narrative of the book of Exodus, a distinction was made between the firstborn of the Israelites and the Egyptians (Carmichael, LNB, 85). . .
From earliest times, these three pilgrimage feasts were given theological meaning in relation to Israel’s epic story. Passover and Unleavened Bread were connected with the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The Feast of Weeks, on the fiftieth day after the people came out of Egypt, marked the occasion of the giving of the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai. And the Feast of Booths called attention to God’s provisions for his chosen people in the wilderness on route to the eisodus—their entrance into the Promised Land.
Michael Grisanti: Just as offering the first-fruits demonstrated God’s ownership of and blessing on the land (Lev 25:2; Dt 8:10–18), the sacrifice of these firstborn animals represents the recognition of God’s ownership of and blessing on the herdsmen (Hall, 259).
Jack Deere: These festivals demonstrated that worshiping God should be a joyful experience in which the participants gratefully share in the bounty of His blessing (Deut. 16:11, 14-15; cf. 12:7, 12, 18; 14-26).
Thomas Constable: God’s people should celebrate their redemption from sin, remember their previous spiritually enslaved condition, and rejoice in God’s provisions, corporately and regularly (cf. Eph. 5:4; Phil. 4:6; Col. 2:7; 4:2; 1 Tim. 4:3- 4). These are the things God encourages Christians to remember at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-28), as well as at other times.
I. (15:19-23) CONSECRATING THE FIRSTBORN LIVESTOCK
Gerald Gerbrandt: In its present context the passage serves as a transition between the sabbatical release provisions (15:1–18) and the festival calendar (16:1–17; cf. the role of the tithe provisions, 14:22–29).
A. (:19) Consecration Commanded
1. Practice = Set the Animal Aside for the Lord
“You shall consecrate to the LORD your God all the first-born males that are born of your herd and of your flock;”
Gerald Gerbrandt: By consecrating (i.e., recognizing as holy) the animal, the Israelite worshiper is setting the animal apart from the rest, removing it from profane use. Moreover, in Exodus it is converted into a reminder of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt: the firstborn of the Egyptians died in the tenth plague (Exod 13:11–16) while Israel’s were redeemed. The practice thus combined a gift of thanksgiving to God for blessings received with a commemoration of God’s foundational redemptive act.
David Guzik: 3 Reasons for Consecration of First Born:
– First, because Israel was God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), and this honored that fact.
– Second, because the firstborn was thought to be the best, and the best was always given to God.
– Finally, it was to be a reminder to all generations of when God redeemed Israel, His firstborn.
2. Prohibition = Don’t Profit from the Animal
“you shall not work with the first-born of your herd,
nor shear the first-born of your flock.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The prohibition not to work the animal or shear it (v. 19b), a prohibition not needed if the animal is offered to God on the eighth day, prevents the farmer from receiving any economic benefit from the animal during its life since it belongs to God (Nelson 2002: 200). The term translated work (v. 19b) also yields the term “slave.” Not working the animal during this time represents the freedom Israel has received. The holy animal in their midst serves as a visible reminder to the people that they also have been made holy, or consecrated, and redeemed from slavery in Egypt.
B. (:20) Celebration Commanded
“You and your household shall eat it every year
before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses.”
C. (:21-23) Caveat: No Animal with Any Serious Defect
1. (:21) Prohibition = No Serious Defect
“But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God.”
Daniel Block: Lest they become careless about their offerings, Moses reminds the Israelites that the only meat worthy of Yahweh’s table is that which comes from flawless animals (v. 21). Although he specifies defective as lame and blind, the addition of “any serious flaw” suggests these expressions function as shorthand for any conceivable defect. They may be physically flawed, but they represented ceremonially clean species of animals. Therefore, like wild game, they could be eaten by anyone, whether in a state of cleanness or uncleanness in the towns where the people lived, provided the blood was properly drained during slaughtering.
Duane Christensen: The sacrifice of the unblemished firstborn from the flock or the herd points both backward and forward in time. It speaks of the original Passover sacrifice in Egypt, when the firstborn of the Israelites was spared and the firstborn of the Egyptians slain by the angel of death (Exod 13:1–15). But it also speaks of another Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7), who was “without blemish or spot” (1 Pet 1:19), and whose sacrificial death provided salvation for all.
2. (:22) Permission = Local Consumption
“You shall eat it within your gates; the unclean and the clean alike
may eat it, as a gazelle or a deer.”
3. (:23) Prohibition = Don’t Eat the Blood
“Only you shall not eat its blood;
you are to pour it out on the ground like water.”
Thomas Constable: The Israelites were not to use their firstborn male animals for personal gain, but were to offer them to God as sacrifices. The Law taught them to regard them as God’s possessions (cf. Exod. 13:2, 12). They could eat defective firstborn animals at their homes, however, rather than offering them at the tabernacle. Every Israelite who owned farm animals was to set aside his healthy firstborn oxen and sheep for God, to be used as sacrifices, because God had blessed the herd or flock with fertility. The Israelites were to offer God as near a perfect specimen as possible. This taught them that God deserves the very best, which would have cost them the most.
II. (:16:1-8) CELEBRATION OF THE PASSOVER AND THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD (IN SPRING)
A. (:1) Charge to Keep the Passover
“Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Within the biblical story these two celebrations are merged into one larger festival, even if the details of how they fit together may not always be clear. [This] statement reflects the emphasis of Deuteronomy. Although verse 1 only speaks of Passover, and verse 16 only speaks of Unleavened Bread, Deuteronomy envisages a combined, centralized Passover and Unleavened Bread as the most important celebration for Israel, one that it is to keep for the Lord your God as a commemoration of God’s bringing Israel out of Egypt by night (v. 1).
Daniel Block: Structurally, this passage divides into three parts:
(1) the charge to keep the Passover (v. 1);
(2) instructions for keeping the Passover (vv. 2–7);
(3) the charge to keep the Festival of Unleavened Bread (v. 8).
The outer elements echo the Sabbath command of the Decalogue, creating an effective “sabbatical envelope” around the entire unit. . .
Abib was the first month of the year, which may suggest that this celebration also functioned as a New Year Festival.
B. (:2-7) Instructions for Keeping the Passover
1. (:2) Summary Instructions
“And you shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name.”
Michael Grisanti: Although the Passover began as a family event, once Israel becomes established in the Promised Land God’s people (as families) must celebrate it together as a nation (2Ch 35:4, 12).
Peter Craigie: In Egypt, the Israelites had been a number of families under the suzerainty of a worldly power. After the Exodus and forming of the covenant at Sinai, Israel became a single nation, the family of God; thus the Passover became the act, symbolically speaking, of the one large family of God, celebrated in one place where the sanctuary or house of God was located.
2. (:3-4) Specific Instructions Regarding Unleavened Bread
“You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), in order that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. 4 For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory, and none of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The unleavened bread is called the bread of affliction and represents the great haste with which Israel had to flee Egypt (v. 3). On that night there was no time to wait for the bread to rise. Unleavened bread thus was the answer. Even today it is sometimes the bread of choice when a meal must be prepared quickly. But the absence of leaven also symbolizes a new beginning. Today yeast is normally used as leaven, but in ancient times bread would be leavened by some dough from a previous batch that had been left to ferment. Bread with leaven in it thus represented continuity with past; unleavened bread represented a new future (W. Janzen 2000: 159).
Michael Grisanti: The Israelites are to eat unleavened bread during the week following the Passover to remind them of their hasty departure from Egypt. (Unleavened bread could be made quickly; cf. Ex 12:11, 39.) In addition to refraining from any use of leaven for seven days, the Israelites are to consume all the meat of the sacrificed animal before the following morning (probably to prevent decay; Ex 12:10; 23:18; 34:25; Nu 9:12). The unleavened “bread of affliction” will cause them to recall their hardships in Egypt and the pharaoh’s vain opposition to Yahweh’s demands. . .
This historical reality should have a life-transforming impact on their present and future existence. Each new generation, made up of Hebrews who did not witness this great event, should through the commemorative event bring to life that national deliverance and gladly accept the privileges and obligations that accompany a treasured covenantal relationship with Yahweh.
Utley: Leaven, which was regularly used in sacrificial items (cf. Lev. 7:13; 23:17), became a symbol of sin and rebellion. The fermentation was viewed in this symbolic feast as Israel’s opportunity on an individual basis to examine their lives for any hint of rebellion or disobedience to YHWH. As the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) functioned on a national level, the Feast of Unleavened Bread functioned on an individual or family level. This annual required feast being combined with the Passover feast kept the gracious deliverance of YHWH ever before the minds and hearts of His people. As grace and promise provided deliverance from Egypt, so Israel depended on these unchanging divine characteristics to save her as the years went by (cf. 4:9).
John Schultz: the unleavened bread represented two completely opposite matters: the affliction and hardship of the slavery of Egypt, and the sincerity and truth of a life dedicated to the service of the Lord. Very few, if any, of the Israelites who lived in slavery in Egypt would have concluded that they endured their hardship because they were God’s elect. Yet, seen against the background of the cosmic struggle between light and darkness, between God and Satan, the suffering of God’s children in this world can only be accounted for by the fact that they are the representatives of heaven in a sin-stained world. This is the reason Paul wrote: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Christ Himself, who is the antitype of the unleavened bread, is the best example of affliction and holiness. The very reason for His crucifixion was the fact that He was the Son of God in a world that is under the dominion of the prince of darkness.
3. (:5-7) Specific Instructions Regarding Place of Sacrifice and Eating
“You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the LORD your God is giving you; 6 but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt. 7 And you shall cook and eat it in the place which the LORD your God chooses. And in the morning you are to return to your tents.”
Jack Deere: After roasting and eating the Passover animal the people were to return to their tents, the temporary homes of those who had come to the central sanctuary for the celebration.
C. (:8) Charge to Keep the Festival of Unleavened Bread
“Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the LORD your God; you shall do no work on it.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: In Deuteronomy, Passover with Unleavened Bread receives considerably greater attention (eight verses) than Weeks (four verses) and Booths (three verses). In Deuteronomy, Passover with Unleavened Bread is the most important event of the year. The more detailed descriptions confirm this first impression.
Daniel Block: Our text uses the expression ʿ aṣeret (NIV “assembly”), which suggests a mandatory celebration for Yahweh (Deut. 16:8), with the people gathering at a particular place. The designation of the Passover elsewhere as a “pilgrimage festival” reinforces this understanding. Since the exodus involved freeing a “people,” a national—rather than family—commemoration of that event is appropriate. Thus while the original Passover was observed in Israelites’ homes, a national celebration was anticipated from the beginning.
III. (16:9-12) CELEBRATION OF THE FEAST OF WEEKS (IN SUMMER)
A. (:9-10) Summary Instructions
1. (:9) Timing of the Festival
“You shall count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.”
Daniel Block: Instead of specifying a date for its celebration, twice the opening statement calls on the people to “count off seven weeks.” The point of reference is “the time you begin to put the first sickle to the standing grain.” In the context of Leviticus 23:11–16, this “time” would probably be the last day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is identified as “a sacred assembly.” Here the festival would have fallen in the month of Sivan (May-June), so that the Festivals of Unleavened Bread and Weeks respectively served as bookends on either side of the grain harvest.
Duane Christensen: Whereas the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Booths were in each case seven-day celebrations, before and after the agricultural year in ancient Palestine, the Festival of Weeks took place in early summer, at the conclusion of the grain harvest. In Palestine, Weeks properly lasted but a single day. Within diaspora Judaism the celebration was extended to two days in order to avoid the possibility of celebrating it on the wrong day. Because it is a shorter period of celebration, and because it takes place in the midst of the agricultural year, to the present day it is not a family occasion in the same manner as the other two pilgrimage festivals. Originally only adult males were required to make the pilgrimage journey to the central sanctuary for the Festival of Weeks.
2. (:10) Tribute of the Festival
“Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand,
which you shall give just as the LORD your God blesses you;”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Other Old Testament passages speak of it as the festival of harvest (Exod 23:16; cf. 34:22) or the time of firstfruits (Exod 23:16; 34:22; Num 28:26).
B. (:11) Synchronized Celebration
1. Focused on Inclusive Celebration
“and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God,
you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan
and the widow who are in your midst,”
Gerald Gerbrandt: the dominant tone of the festival is inclusive celebration (cf. ch. 12, plus 14:22–27; 15:19–23).
2. Focused on the Centralized Sanctuary
“in the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name.”
C. (:12) Significance of the Celebration
“And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt,
and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.”
Jack Deere: Appropriately the Holy Spirit was given to New Testament saints during the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2). This symbolized the end of the Old Testament system of worship and the beginning of the New. It also pointed to the fact that God’s greatest provision for a Christian’s daily living is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
IV. (16:13-15) CELEBRATION OF THE FEAST OF BOOTHS OR INGATHERING (IN FALL)
A. (:13) Timing of the Celebration
“You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat;”
Gerald Gerbrandt: this also was an agricultural festival, marking the end of the harvest year with special emphasis on the completion of the grape harvest. Fruits (e.g., dates, figs, olives, and grapes) were the last crop to be harvested before the fall rains arrived. This festival thus celebrates the end of the agricultural year.
Daniel Block: The term “ingathering” does not refer to the harvest of agricultural products, but to the collection of processed grain and unfermented grape juice and their storage for winter in granaries and vats. Rejoicing over the blessing of harvest and the safe processing of the foodstuffs, the Festival of Booths is the happiest of all the festivals. . .
The present text sets the time of the Festival of Booths more generally: “after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.” This phrase confirms that the festival occurs not when crops are harvested but when the agricultural products have been processed and stored.
B. (:14) Tone of Inclusive Celebration
“and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter
and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger
and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns.”
C. (:15) Theme of God’s Abundant Blessing
1. Duration and Location of the Feast
“Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God”
“in the place which the LORD chooses,”
2. Joy from Celebrating God’s Blessing of Productivity
“because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce
and in all the work of your hands, so that you shall be altogether joyful.”
John Schultz: The Feast of Tabernacles strangely combined elements of hardship and privation with abundance and rejoicing. It was the Jewish Thanksgiving Day, but also a commemoration of the journey through the wilderness when the people lived in makeshift tents instead of in solid stone dwellings. It emphasized the transience of life on earth as well as the provision of the Lord. It is at the same time a reminder that life on earth is not our final destination, but a half-way house, and that we are heading for eternity, and it also reminds us of the fact that God provides for our needs in a most generous way while we are on the road.
The Feast of Tabernacles acquires special meaning in the light of the Incarnation. John’s Gospel says: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory.” The Greek word translated “made his dwelling” is skenoo which, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, literally means: “to pitch a tent” or “to tabernacle.” Jesus’ coming to earth combines the same elements as are manifested in the Feast of Tabernacles: the transience and the glory of human life on earth. Sin has turned God’s creation into a desert, and death makes life on earth a fleeting experience. But the presence of the Lord gives glory and exuberance to life. It makes life on earth something to be celebrated, in spite of hardship and sorrow.
We are trekking to the place of God’s abode, heaven, to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles eternally. In Revelation we see those who came out of the great tribulation celebrating this feast. We read how the Apostle John is interviewed by one of the elders: “Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes– who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ ” The phrase: “He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them” is rendered differently in other versions. The NKJ says: “And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.” The Greek word again is skenoo.
(:16-17) EPILOGUE – CONCLUDING SUMMARY
A. (:16a) Presence Commanded at Three Annual Feasts
“Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths,”
Meredith Kline: This concluding summary turns all eyes again to the central sanctuary (v. 16a) and bring into relief the character of the pilgrimages as tributary trips to the throne of the God-King (v. 16b).
B. (:16b-17) Presentation of Offering Commanded
1. (:16b) Stated Negatively
“and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.”
2. (:17) Stated Positively
“Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.”
Michael Grisanti: This long section (14:22–16:17) began with the giving of tithes (14:22–29), and it ends with a summary of Israel’s “festal” responsibilities. The varied duties described in these verses represent “tribute” that Israel has the privilege of offering to her covenantal Lord. By obeying these divine mandates, God’s covenantal people both manifest and pledge their continuing loyalty to Yahweh, their Redeemer.
God demands that for all three of these pilgrimage feasts, all Israelite men must travel to the central sanctuary to celebrate his stupendous deliverance of and abundant provision for Israel. In the light of those factual realities, no one should come to these great gatherings without a gift proportionate to Yahweh’s blessing of them.