LEVITICUS 23 PROVIDES A description of the principal “appointed feasts” (23:2). These include the Sabbath, which of course could not be observed by taking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The remaining feasts mentioned, however, are bound up with the temple in Jerusalem. There are three such feasts, along with the related celebrations tied to the principal three. (In later times Jews added a fourth feast.)
Apart from the Sabbath itself, the first “appointed feast” (or pair of appointed feasts) was the Passover coupled with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The “Lord’s Passover” began at dusk on the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month (Nisan), when the Passover meal was actually eaten, and the people gathered to remember the Lord’s spectacular rescue of them from Egypt. The next day began the weeklong Feast of Unleavened Bread, a reminder not only of the rapid flight from Egypt, but of the Lord’s injunction to put aside all yeast for that period of time — a symbol of putting aside all evil. The first and seventh days were to be free from work and solemnized by sacred assemblies.
The First-fruits festival (23:9-14), followed by the Feast of Weeks (23:15-22) — the seven weeks immediately after First-fruits, culminating on the fiftieth day by a sacred assembly — was a powerful way, especially in a highly agrarian society, to remember that God alone provides us with all we need to live. It was a way of publicly bearing witness to our dependence on God, of expressing our individual and corporate thanksgiving to our Maker and Sustainer. There are slight analogues in countries like England and Canada in “Harvest Sunday” festivals and Canadian Thanksgiving. (The American Thanksgiving is partly a harvest festival, but is freighted with substantial symbolism to do with finding freedom in a new land.) But no festival of thanksgiving can be more valuable than the quality and extent of the thankfulness of the people who participate.
On the first day of the seventh Jewish month, another sacred assembly, the Feast of Trumpets, commemorated with trumpet blasts (23:23-25), anticipated Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement (23:26-33) — which fell on the tenth day of the seventh month. This was the day the high priest entered the Most Holy Place, with the prescribed blood, to cover both his own sins and the sins of the people (cf. comments on April 12). The fifteenth day of that month began the eight-day Feast of Booths (23:33-36), when the people were to live in “booths” or “tabernacles,” huts and tents, to remind themselves of the pilgrimage years before they entered into the Promised Land.
How should the people of the new covenant remember and commemorate the provisions of our great covenantal God?