We are continuing on with Moses as he receives the rest of the covenant from God. Today we read where God addresses the Sabbath requirements.
God knew His people, like He knows all mankind. He knew their stubbornness and drives to succeed. He knew they would push beyond reason if allowed to do so, both personally and corporately. He gave us limits for our own good. He also prescribed times to reflect and give thanks.
I’m going to confess to getting very distracted with finding the Holy days on my calendar and trying to figure out the corresponding times. I discovered that the Jewish calendar has two starting points; the religious one (Nisan/Aviv/Abib?), which we are following in God’s instructions to Moses, and the “civil” one (Tishri/Ethanim) that the people follow now. I honestly don’t know how it got “shifted” to make the start of the year that God proclaimed to happen in the seventh month of their regular calendar. I guess it is like our “fiscal calendar” and our regular calendar. Business can start their fiscal calendar any date they want to but our standard calendar always starts on January 1st (at least in the U.S.A.).
I was also curious about the Sabbath year and when it fell. After researching on Google I found an article that put it in 2015 (our calendar year), 5775 (Jewish calendar year). That means the next one will be in 2022/5782. A few years away. While looking this up I looked up the Jubilee year and found out that it is no longer celebrated or observed because not all the tribes are represented in Israel and haven’t been for some time. This isn’t something that was mentioned in today’s text but I was curious anyway.
By MY watch it is time to get back to our text for today and see where the Spirit takes us. I don’t consider my time in research wasted because we are talking about the Sabbath observances today.
The first Sabbath rest we encounter in our reading is the seventh year rest for the fields. This didn’t mean that nothing grew that year but no planned planting or harvesting took place. I say this because if nothing grew the poor would have nothing to gather. Grapes still grew. Volunteer plants still sprouted and the poor harvested anything growing that year. This was theirs from the Lord so I’m assuming He gave them plenty.
The landowners would have to make the sixth year produce stretch through the seventh. I’m betting that God made the sixth year plentiful for the farmers who followed His statutes.
Each week also had a rest for EVERYONE. God made this rest to cover His chosen people, their animals, their servants, and even the foreigners living with them. It was a scheduled day of rest every week. A time of recuperation for all. This is still needed today even though it gets pushed off by MANY. I’m wondering if I should be observing a day off from my blog for Sabbath but since I’m focusing on God here, I don’t know. I’m open to opinions on this issue.
The reason for the Sabbath wasn’t just for recuperation but also reflection. We are to reflect on all that God has provided for us from creation right on through. The Sabbath was to be dedicated to Him. That is what made it special.
Now we get to the part that has me running in circles; the festivals. I have tried, through Google of course, to figure out when these Holy days occur. The sites I’m visiting include many more references than just our reading for today. Leviticus 23 is one of their major sources. What I’m running into though is that the names have changed over time and what is celebrated today doesn’t match up with what God gave on Mt. Sinai. That shouldn’t be too surprising really but I find myself looking from one spot to another trying to line it all out anyway.
Passover is easy and it still remains where it was when first implemented, along with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Passover is the 14th of Abib/Nisan/Aviv and the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the 15th and lasts until the 21st. This is according to Leviticus 23 and we also encountered this same date earlier in our Exodus studies.
After a LOT of looking, I have finally been able to follow the next two festivals into today’s world. I was confused by the First Fruits festival date. What I have found (with a video finally explaining it to me) is that the offering of the First Fruits occurs on the day following the Sabbath day of the Unleavened Bread week. This is when the very first of the ripened barley is brought as an offering to God. Then the Festival of First Fruits happens 50 days from that day. Today that festival is known as Shavuot or Pentecost. By this day the barley harvest is complete, which is the first thing to be harvested each year.
The second of these two holidays, Feast of Ingathering, happens in the 15th day of the seventh month in the Jewish Spiritual calendar. This is the month of Tishri/Ethanim. Today that celebration is called Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles. It celebrates the final harvest of the year for Israel as well as commemorates their wandering in the wilderness.
All three of these holidays were times when the people would travel to the temple. God commanded that “Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God” (verse 17) and these were those three times.
While researching these festivals I came across something very interesting. First of all, the Jewish calendar is VERY complicated and results in a “floating holiday” scenario. I say this because each year the first day of the first month of the year is calculated to prevent the holidays from falling on specific days of the week. If finishing the last month of the year would cause an issue, an extra day or two are tacked on. As the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, there are also “leap years” where an extra month is added in to get things back in sync with the solar calendar. So the day of the festivals are moved as the year is adjusted. The date of Passover and Sukkot always fall on their same dates each year but the offering of first fruits and the Festival of First Fruits move about accordingly. But since the Jewish calendar moves about each year the actual observances move about on our calendar. I’m SO glad I don’t have to figure this out each year!
With all this in consideration I want to turn to Jesus’ crucifixion. We know He was our Passover lamb and we believe He was crucified on Passover. When we went through this study before, I stated that I agree with those who put Jesus’ crucifixion on Wednesday instead of Friday for many reasons. This is entirely possible given the movability of that holiday within the week. But the awe inspiring part is that Jesus rose from the dead on the day of the offering of First Fruits. He is our first fruits from the dead and of His Kingdom. Even better though is the birth of His church happened on the day of the Festival of First Fruits. Those 3,000 plus souls added to the Kingdom that day were the first fruits of the church. I LOVE how God set that up LONG before Jesus arrived on the scene!
I want to conclude our time today by pointing to which commandment God is expounding upon in our reading today. He is fleshing out His command to have NO OTHER gods before Him. We see this specifically in His command in verse 13. “Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.”
All He is commanding is a direct instruction to remember Him and honor Him above ALL else. “Stop what you are doing to give time to Me by observing My Sabbath.” “Stand before Me three times a year as a remembrance for what I have done and what I am about to do for you.” “Obey the instructions I have given you regarding sacrifices. I will NOT share your love with ANY other thing!” “I want Your best. And I am promising you My best.”
Father God, thank You for sending Your BEST; Jesus. He is all these sacrifices rolled into one. He is my covering for Passover. He paid the redemption price for me that day. He is the first of many to rise from the dead as on the day of offerings for the first fruits. He is also the beginning of the celebration of first fruits as He was the first to ascend to You on Pentecost. And He is the Lord of the harvest when the rest of the family will finally be gathered. I’m looking forward to that day! But in the meantime, I need to listen to Your instructions. I’m not bound by them in law any more but that doesn’t mean their wisdom isn’t still applicable for me today. Help me follow the Spirit of Your laws each day. Remembering to thank You for all I have and all You have done in my life, specified holiday or not. Help me remember to include rest into my schedule.
I find it kind of funny that I’m writing this on Sunday, the day most Christians reserve as their “day of rest” and it took me ALL day to finally get through my thick skull the days and observances that You spoke of today. Not exactly a day of rest but certainly a day of reflecting on You and Your word.