(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—The regulations about the holiness of the sanctuary and the sacrifices, the holiness of the priests and the people, are now followed by statutes about holy seasons.
Concerning the feasts of the Lord . . . Better, the festivals of the Lord which ye shall proclaim as holy convocations, these are my festivals. That is, the following festivals God claims as His, on which solemn assemblies are to be held in the sanctuary.
Ye shall do no work therein.—Better, ye shall do no manner of work, as the Authorised version renders this phrase in Leviticus 23:31 of this very chapter. (See Leviticus 16:29.) Whilst on all other festivals servile work only was forbidden (see Leviticus 23:7-8; Leviticus 23:21; Leviticus 23:25; Leviticus 23:35-36), and work connected with the preparation of the necessary food was permitted (see Exodus 12:16), the sabbath and the day of atonement were the only days on which the Israelites were prohibited to engage in any work whatsoever. (See Leviticus 23:28; Leviticus 23:30; Leviticus 16:29.) Though manual labour on the sabbath was punished with death by lapidation (see Exodus 31:14-15; Exodus 35:2; Numbers 15:35-36), and though the authorities during the second Temple multiplied and registered most minutely the things which constitute labour, yet these administrators of the Law have enacted that in cases of illness and of any danger work is permitted. They laid down the principle that “the sabbath is delivered into your hand, but not you into the hand of the sabbath.” Similar is the declaration of Christ (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:27-28).
Ye shall proclaim in their seasons.—By the blast of trumpets on the day of the month on which they are to be observed.
At even.—Or, in the evening, as the Authorised version renders this phrase in the parallel passage (Exodus 12:6), literally, denotes between the two evenings. The interpretation of this expression constituted one of the differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees during the second Temple, and seriously affected the time for offering up the paschal lamb and the evening sacrifices. According to the Sadducees it denotes the time between the setting of the sun and the moment when the stars become visible, or when darkness sets in, i.e., between six and seven o’clock, a space of about one hour and twenty minutes. According to the Pharisees, however, “between the two evenings” means from the afternoon to the disappearing of the sun. The first evening is from the time when the sun begins to decline towards the west, whilst the second is when it goes down and vanishes out of sight. This is the reason why the paschal lamb in the evening sacrifice began to be killed and the blood sprinkled at 12.30 p.m. This is more in harmony with the fact that the large number of sacrifices on this day could only be offered up in the longer period of time.
The Lord’s passover.—Also called “the feast of unleavened bread.” (See Leviticus 23:6.)
Ye shall do no servile work therein.—Servile work was defined during the second Temple to consist in building, pulling down edifices, weaving, reaping, threshing, winnowing, grinding, &c, whilst needful work which was allowed was killing beasts, kneading dough, baking bread, boiling, roasting, &e. For violating this law the offender was not to be stoned to death, as in the case of violating the sabbath, but to receive forty stripes save one.
In the seventh day . . . ye shall do no servile work.—This was, in all respects, celebrated like the first, with the exception that it did not commence with the paschal meal. During the intervening days the people indulged in public amusements, as dances, songs, games, &c, to fill up the time in harmony with the joyful and solemn character of the festival. They were also allowed to irrigate dry land, dig watercourses, repair conduits, reservoirs, roads, &c.
Then ye shall bring a sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest.—Better, ye shall bring the first-fruit omer of your harvest. The omer had to be from the best and ripest standing corn of a field near Jerusalem. The measure of an omer was of the meal obtained from the barley offering. Hence three seahs = one ephah, or ten omers, were at first gathered in the following manner :—“Delegates from the Sanhedrim went into the field nearest to Jerusalem a day before the festival, and tied together the ears in bundles whilst still fastened to the ground.”
On the morrow after the sabbath.—The interpretation of this phrase also constituted one of the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees during the second Temple. According to the Pharisees, the term sabbath here, as elsewhere (see Leviticus 23:24; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 23:39), is not the weekly sabbath, but the next day, or the first day of the holy convocation, the first day of Passover, on which the Israelites had to abstain from all unnecessary work. It is the 16th of Nisan. The Sadducees, however, maintained that it is to be understood in its literal sense as denoting the weekly sab-bath in the Passover week, which might happen to fall within the seven days, and possibly the fifth or sixth day of the festival. But this is against the import of Leviticus 23:15. Here the feast of Pentecost is to be reckoned from this sabbath, and if this sabbath might either be on the second or sixth day of the Passover, not only would the feast of Pentecost have no definite day, but the Passover itself would, in the course of time, be displaced from the fundamental position which it occupies in the order of the annual festivals. Hence the Pharisees, rightly regarding the word sabbath here as an alternative term for the day of holy convocation, took the morrow after the sabbath to denote Nisan 16. On the afternoon of this day, therefore, the inhabitants of the neighbouring towns of Jerusalem assembled together “so that the reaping might take place amidst great tumult.” As soon as it became dark, each of the reapers asked, “Has the sun gone down?” To which the people replied, “Yes.” They asked twice again, “Has the sun gone down?” to which the people each time replied, “Yes.” Each reaper then asked three times, “Is this the scythe? “to which the people each time replied “Yes.” “Is this the box?” they next asked three times. “Yes,” was again thrice the reply of the people. “Is this the Sabbath?” the reaper asked three times; and three times the people replied, “Yes.” “Shall I cut?” he asked three times; and three times the people replied, “Yes.” When cut it was laid in boxes, brought into the court of the Temple, threshed with canes and sticks, that the grains might not be crushed, and laid in a roast with holes, so that the fire might touch each grain. Thereupon it was spread in the court of the sanctuary for the wind to pass over it, and ground in a barley mill which left the hulls unground. The flour thus obtained was sifted through thirteen different sieves, each one finer than its predecessor. In this manner was the prescribed omer or tenth part got from the seah.
Parched corn.—See Leviticus 2:14.
Green ears.—The expression carmel, which the Authorised version renders “full ears” in Lev. 214, the authorities during the second Temple took to denote the five kinds of the new grain, viz., wheat, rye, oats, and two kinds of barley, which were forbidden to be used in any form whatsoever prior to this public dedication of the harvest to the Lord. The same custom of dedicating the first-fruits of the harvest to the divine beings also obtained amongst the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other nations of antiquity.
A statute for ever . . . —See Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:23-25.
Seven sabbaths shall be complete.—Better, seven weeks shall be complete. That is, seven entire weeks, making forty-nine days. The expression sabbath denotes here a week, hence the parallel passage substitutes the word week, viz., “seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee” (Deuteronomy 16:9), The same usage is to be found in the New Testament. Thus the passage rendered in the Authorised version, “the first day of the week,” is “the first day of the sabbath” (Matthew 28:1); and “I fast twice in the week” (Luke 18:12), is, “I fast twice in the sabbath.” In accordance with the injunction here given, the Jews to the present day begin to count the forty-nine days at the conclusion of the evening service on the second day of Passover, and pronounce the following blessing every evening of the forty-nine days: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast sanctified us with thy commandments, and hast enjoined us to count the omer. This is the first day of the omer. May it please thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, to rebuild the sanctuary speedily in our days, and give us our portion in thy Law.
Shall offer a new meat offering.—That is, of the first-fruits of the wheat-harvest in contradistinction to the omer first-fruits, which was of barley-harvest. Hence this festival is also called “the feast of harvest” (Exodus 23:16), because it concluded the harvest of the later grain.
Two wave loaves of two tenth deals.—These two loaves were prepared in the following manner. Three seahs of new wheat were brought into the court of the Temple, were beaten and trodden and ground into flour. Two omers of the flour were respectively obtained from a seah and a half, and after having been sieved in the twelve different sieves, were kneaded separately with leaven into two loaves outside the Temple, but were baked inside the sanctuary on the day preceding the festival. Each loaf was seven hand-breadths long, four hand-breadths broad, and five fingers high. These were offered to the Lord as firstlings (Exodus 34:17), whence this festival is also called “the day of first-fruits” (Numbers 28:26).
Ye shall do no servile work.—For what constituted servile work, see Leviticus 23:7.
A statute for ever . . . . —See Leviticus 23:14, Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:23-25. In accordance with this declaration, and with the fact that the Jews during the second Temple regarded it as the day on which the Decalogue was given, the Israelites to this day sacredly keep this festival on the 6th and 7th of Sivan, i.e. between the second half of May and the first half of June. From their circumstances, however, the harvest character of the festival is now subordinate, and more prominence is given to its commemorating the giving of the Law on Sinai. Still the synagogues and the private houses are adorned with flowers and odoriferous herbs. The male members of the community purify themselves for its celebration by immersion and confession of sin, and many of them spend all night in their respective places of worship.
But ye shall offer.—As the festival is also the new moon, a threefold sacrifice was offered on it, (1) viz. the ordinary daily sacrifice which was offered first; (2) the appointed new moon sacrifice (Numbers 28:11-15); and (3) the sacrifice for this festival, which consisted of a young bullock, a ram, and seven lambs of the first year, with the usual meat offerings, and a kid for a sin offering (Numbers 29:1-6). With the exception, therefore, of there being one bullock instead of two, this sacrifice was simply a repetition of the monthly offering by which it was preceded in the service. During the offering of the drink offering and the burnt offering the Levites engaged in vocal and instrumental music, singing the eighty-first and other psalms, whilst the priests at stated intervals broke forth with awful blasts of the trumpets. After the offering up of the sacrifices, the service was concluded by the priests, who pronounced the benediction (Numbers 6:23-27), which the people received in a prostrate position before the Lord. Having prostrated themselves a second time in the court, the congregation resorted to the adjoining synagogue, where the appointed lessons from the Law and the Prophets were read, consisting of Genesis 21:1-34; Numbers 29:1-6; 1 Samuel 1:1 to 1 Samuel 2:10; Genesis 22:1-24; Jeremiah 31:2-20. Psalms were recited and the festival prayers were offered, beseeching the Lord to pardon the sins of the past year, and to grant the people a happy new year. This concluded the morning service, after which the families resorted to their respective homes, partook of the social and joyous repast, and in the evening went again into the Temple to witness the offering of the evening sacrifices, and to see the candlestick lighted with which the festival concluded, all wishing each other, “May you be written down for a happy new year; may the Creator decree for you a happy new year.” To which was responded, “And you likewise.” With the exception of the sacrifices, the Jews keep this festival to the present day. The trumpet which they use on this occasion consists of the curved horn of a ram, in remembrance of the ram which Abraham sacrificed instead of Isaac. This event, as we have seen, is also commemorated in the lesson of the day.
And ye shall afflict your souls.—That is, fast. (See Leviticus 16:29.)
And offer an offering.—See Numbers 29:8-11.
To make an atonement for you.—See Leviticus 16:30.
Will I destroy.—Whilst in all other instances where God threatens the offender with the penalty of excision the expression “cut off” is used, in the passage before us the word is “destroy.” This stronger term may be owing to the fact that the day of Atonement is the most solemn day in the whole year, and that violating its sanctity will be visited more severely. Hence the severer expression used on this occasion. It is, however, to be remarked that whilst working on the sabbath was punished with death by stoning, he who transgressed the law of labour on the day of Atonement was punished with excision.
A statute for ever. . . —See Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:23-25.
And ye shall afflict your souls.—Having set forth in Leviticus 23:30-31, and in the first clause of this verse, the duty of abstaining from all work, and of celebrating this day as a day of solemn rest, the law giver repeats the second feature of the day, which is of equal importance, viz., the fasting, lest some should think that doing the one and leaving the other undone would pass as having kept this law.
In the ninth day of the month at even.—In accordance with the ancient mode of counting the day, the tenth of the month began with the evening of the ninth. (See Leviticus 16:29.)
Celebrate your sabbath.—In Leviticus 25:2, where this phrase occurs again, the Authorised version inconsistently renders it keep . . . sabbath. In both instances, however, the margin has, “Heb., rest.” This alternative rendering of part of the phrase has no meaning. To convey to the English reader an idea of the Hebrew idiom here used, which was the intention of the translators, the whole phrase should have been translated, which is, rest the day of rest, that is, to “keep rest,” to “keep the day of rest.” Just as to “fast a fast” (2 Samuel 12:16; Zechariah 7:5) denotes “to keep a fast.” In 2 Samuel 12:16 the margin has consistently reproduced the Hebraism by remarking “Heb., fasted a fast.”
Shall be the feast of tabernacles.—How and where these tabernacles are to be erected the law here gives no directions. The details, as in many other enactments, are left to the administrators of the Law. From the account of the first celebration of this festival after the return from Babylon, the Jews, according to the command of Ezra, made themselves booths upon the roofs of houses, in the courts of their dwellings, and of their sanctuary, in the streets of the Water-gate and the gate of Ephraim. These tabernacles they made of olive branches, pine branches, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of thick trees (Nehemiah 8:15-18). The construction of these temporary abodes, however, was more minutely defined by Ezra’s successors. It was ordained during the second Temple that the interior of each tabernacle must not be higher than twenty cubits, and not lower than ten palms, it must at least have three walls, with a thatched roof partially open so as to admit a view of the sky and the stars. It must not be under a tree, nor must it be covered with a cloth, or with any material which contracts defilement. Only branches or shrubs which grow out of the ground are to be used for the covering. These booths the Israelites began to erect on the morrow after the Day of Atonement. On the fourteenth, which was the day of preparation, the pilgrims came up to Jerusalem, and on the eve of this day the priests proclaimed the approach of the holy convocation by the blasts of trumpets. As on the feasts of Passover and Pentecost, the altar of burnt-offering was cleansed in the first night watch, and the gates of the Temple, as well as those of the inner court, were opened immediately after midnight, for the convenience of the priests who resided in the city, and for the people, who filled the court before the cock crew, to have their sacrifices duly examined by the priests.
Ye shall do no servile work therein.—For the difference between servile and necessary work see Leviticus 23:7.
On the eighth day shall be an holy convocation.—That is, like the first day, since no servile work is to be done on it. As it is not only the finishing of the feast of Tabernacles, but the conclusion of the whole cycle of festivals, the dwelling in tabernacles is to cease on it.
Ye shall offer.—For this reason the sacrifices offered on this day are to be distinct, and unlike the sacrifices of the preceding days. The burnt sacrifice is to consist of one bullock, one ram, and seven lambs, with the appropriate meat and drink offerings, and one goat for a sin offering. (Numbers 29:36-38.) Being, however, attached to the feast of Tabernacles, the two festivals are often joined together, and spoken of as one festival of eight days.
To offer an offering.—On these festivals sacrifices are to be offered as prescribed in Numbers 28, 29.
Beside your gifts.—Nor are they to interfere with the voluntary offerings which each individual brought privately (Deuteronomy 16:10; Deuteronomy 16:17; 2 Chronicles 25:7-8), or with the performance of vows (Deuteronomy 12:6-12).
When ye have gathered in the fruit of the land.—That is, those productions which ripen in the autumnal season, as wheat, barley, oil, wine, &c.
Ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord.—The Israelites are then to keep a festival in which they are to acknowledge the bounties of the Lord and express their gratitude to the Giver of all good things. For this reason this festival is also called “the Feast of Ingathering” (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22).
On the first day shall be a sabbath.—Both on the first and last days of this festival there is to be abstention from all servile work. (See Leviticus 23:35-36.)
Boughs of goodly trees.—Better, the fruit of goodly trees, as the margin rightly renders it. As this phrase is too indefinite, and may simply denote the fruit of any choice fruit-tree, there can hardly be any doubt that in this instance, as in many other cases, the lawgiver left it to the administrators of the Law to define its precise kind. Basing it therefore upon one of the significations of the term here translated “goodly,” which is to dwell, to rest, the authorities during the second Temple decreed that it means the fruit winch permanently rests upon the tree—i.e., the citron, the paradise-apple. If it came from an uncircumcised tree (see Leviticus 19:23), from an unclean heave-offering (comp. Numbers 18:11-12), or exhibited the slightest defect, it was ritually illegal.
Branches of palm trees.—During the second Temple this was defined as the shoot of the palm-tree when budding, before the leaves are spread abroad, and whilst it is yet like a rod. It is technically called lulab, which is the expression whereby it is rendered in the ancient Chaldee version. The lulab must at least be three hands tall, and must be tied together with its own kind.
The boughs of thick trees.—This, according to the same authorities, denotes the myrtle branch, whose leaves thickly cover the wood. To make it ritually legal it must have three or more shoots round the stem, and on the same level with it. If it is in any way damaged it is illegal. This accounts for the ancient Chaldee version rendering it by “myrtle branch.”
Willows of the brook.—That species, the distinguishing marks of which are dark wood and long leaves with smooth margin. The palm, the myrtle, and the willow, when tied together into one bundle, constitute the Lulab. Whilst the psalms are chanted by the Levites during the sacrifices, the pilgrims, who held the Lulabs or palms, shook them thrice, viz., at the singing of Psalm 118:1, then again at Leviticus 23:25, and at Leviticus 23:29. When the chant was finished, the priests in procession went round the altar once, exclaiming, “Hosanna, O Lord, give us help, O Lord! give prosperity !” (Psalm 118:25). Whereupon the solemn benediction was pronounced by the priests, and the people dispersed amidst the repeated exclamations, “How beautiful art thou, O altar !” It is this part of the ritual which explains the welcome that the multitude gave Christ when they went to meet Him with palm-branches and shouts of hosanna (Matthew 21:8-9; Matthew 21:15; John 12:12-13).
In your generations.—Better, throughout your generations, as the Authorised version renders it in Leviticus 23:14; Leviticus 23:21; Leviticus 23:31 of this very chapter. (See Leviticus 3:17.)