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Leviticus 23


Book of Leviticus Chapter Twenty-Three
Commentary by Pastor Ron Beckham

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Sabbath Rest

Repetition is important because we are slow to understand, which is why the same lessons have been repeated over and over in our lives. In Verses 1-3, Israel and the world are reminded again of the Sabbath, a day of utter rest within an otherwise busy week: "The Lord spoke again to Moses, saying, 2 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these: 3 For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the Lord in all your dwellings.'" The sabbath of these verses reached back to Genesis 2:3, where God rested from all His works because creation was complete. It looked forward in time to Christ as He rested in the grave after the ordeal of the cross. It reaches to the peace of the soul enjoyed by the people of God, and finally takes us into eternity, where our rest in Christ will fill—everything. God wants you to know His rest right now—and forever.

In this chapter, we return to certain rituals designed for Israel's remembrance of what God had done, was doing and would do for them. You may be drawn to certain types of ritual or decide, "That's not right for me." But note Verse 4: "These are the appointed times of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the times appointed for them." God has placed a need for certain forms of worship into you, which you can accept, misuse or try to ignore. You have a choice. And He is also shaping others who love the Lord as much as you do, but express worship in a different way. Continue to express YOUR love and take any judgemental thoughts to the Lord, who loves us all.

Verse 5: "In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover." The Passover, celebrating God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt, was established as a one-day event on Nisan 14, according to the Hebrew calendar. The Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted seven days, from Nisan 15 to Nisan 21, and is seen in Verse 6: "Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread." The two observances blended into one through the centuries, and were intended to bring subsequent generations to faith that the Lord delivers His people from the slavery of sin.

Verses 7-8: "On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work. 8 But for seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work." The first and seventh days were holy for the Jews and they were to do no work. But it was on the Sabbath of Nisan 15 that our Lord was crucified at the frantic urging of religious leaders who were supposed to require rest on that especially holy day. People far too often break the very rules they insist others keep.

Verses 9-14: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 10 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. 11 He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 Now on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb one year old without defect for a burnt offering to the Lord. 13 Its grain offering shall then be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire to the Lord for a soothing aroma, with its drink offering, a fourth of a hin of wine. 14 Until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your God, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places." The Lord is speaking here of the Feast of Pentecost, a celebration of harvests yet future to an Israel that presently had no harvest, for they camped and wandered in a barren desert. Have you felt a call from the Lord to do or be something that does not yet exist? His timing is very different from ours, and often we must wait while we are prepared for what is to come. And the fulfillment, which could take years, may be completed by those who come after us. We are a part of something much bigger than we see or understand. We each do our part. Blessedly, the offering, the Lamb, the bread, the oil, the fire, the wine—all has been given in and through Christ, who shares with us the harvest of God.

Verses 15-16: "You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord." Seven sabbaths is a period of seven weeks, a total of forty-nine days. The next day, day fifty, was the Feast of "Pentecost," from a Greek expression which meant, "the fiftieth day." This Feast of Pentecost lasted one day.

As you read these verses, keep in mind that God, through Israel, is painting a picture with words and rituals, of the future Messiah who was to come. Verses 17-19: "You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the Lord. 18 Along with the bread you shall present seven one year old male lambs without defect, and a bull of the herd and two rams; they are to be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord. 19 You shall also offer one male goat for a sin offering and two male lambs one year old for a sacrifice of peace offerings." Jesus would later cry out in John 6, "I am the bread of life," a reference both to the "manna" given by God to the people in the wilderness and to this harvest ritual, shown here in Leviticus. Jesus fulfilled these prophetic Scriptures.

The perfect lambs, the bull and rams, identify all of us as sinners in need of a sacrifice, and they tell of Jesus Christ, perfect in all His ways, who gave His life as our Offering—"the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Verse 20: "The priest shall then wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering with two lambs before the Lord; they are to be holy to the Lord for the priest." It would seem unnecessary for the priest to wave the bread and lambs before the Lord who already knew about them, except that the waving of them was a request, a prophetic prayer that the Messiah would come to us. And that prayer was beautifully answered centuries later in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.

Have you thought about eternity? For those who love the Lord, it is a place of utter peace, eternal rest and complete joy. The "rest" of these verses actually would have been difficult for the industrious Israelites, who were required to give a tithe of total rest every week. Verse 21: "On this same day you shall make a proclamation as well; you are to have a holy convocation. You shall do no laborious work. It is to be a perpetual statute in all your dwelling places throughout your generations." We can all ask ourselves: Am I needy? Am I like an alien, an outsider? Probably we are in more ways than we acknowledge, even to ourselves. And isn't it wonderful that God makes provision for the "needy and the alien," as in Verse 22: "When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God." The "field" we need is heaven, where we will be with the Lord, finding that we are accepted and He has made provision for us.

The Lord now moves ahead in His instructions to Israel through Moses, to the seventh month, the month of Tisri, in Verses 23-25: "Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 'Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘In the seventh month on the first of the month you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. 25 You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord.'" Another sabbath, some of them may have thought. The blowing of trumpets on Tisri 1 was not all that unusual because trumpets were heard each month in relation to the lunar calendar. But this was a special day, introducing a new year of jubilee to the nation Israel. A day of feasting, a precursor of the day when we will attend the joyful "marriage supper of the lamb" (Revelation 19:6-9) and find the wonders of eternity.

In Verses 26-32, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 27 'On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord. 28 You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God. 29 If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. 30 As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. 31 You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. 32 It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.'" The word "atonement" here is the Hebrew "kaphar," literally an outward action which covers over an error. Paul shouts out in Romans 5:11, "we... exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation." The word "reconciliation" is actually a Greek rendering of "atonement," carrying precisely the meaning here in Leviticus. Jesus Christ is our atonement—He performed the outward action (His substitutionary death), which covers our many errors. He is the Rescuer of those who have faith in Him and what He has done.

Verses 33-44: "Again the Lord spoke to Moses (regarding the month of Tisri), saying, 34 'Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord. 35 On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. 36 For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work. 37 These are the appointed times of the Lord which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, to present offerings by fire to the Lord—burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each day’s matter on its own day— 38 besides those of the sabbaths of the Lord, and besides your gifts and besides all your votive and freewill offerings, which you give to the Lord. 39 On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. 40 Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. 41 You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, 43 so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.' 44 So Moses declared to the sons of Israel the appointed times of the Lord."

Feasts and fasts are meant to help us understand. Not all need the same lessons and so we are to be patient with those whose call to worship differs from ours. Israel was to learn faith in the Lord by recalling His deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt, as they lived for a week each year in huts made of twigs and branches called "booths." The rite of communion is like that. We are to grow in faith, recalling through the bread and wine or grape juice that: 1) we are all sinners in need of a Savior, and 2) we have Him in Jesus Christ our Lord, who gave His body and blood, His life, in saving us from eternal death by the offering of Himself on the cross.

Father, thank You for leading us into true worship and faith in the Lord. You have given us the Feast of Your Son. We are Yours. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit and give us REST in Almighty God, now and forever. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries
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