Leviticus 23

Notes (NET Translation)

1 The LORD spoke to Moses:

2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘These are the LORD’s appointed times which you must proclaim as holy assemblies — my appointed times:

The Sabbaths and festivals that follow are to be observed by all the Israelites, not just the priests. The sanctity of these days is brought about by both divine and human action: God appoints the times and the Israelites must proclaim them as holy/sacred.

3 “‘Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there must be a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy assembly. You must not do any work; it is a Sabbath to the LORD in all the places where you live.

The Old Testament explicitly forbids the following work on the Sabbath: baking or boiling food (Ex 16:23), plowing or harvesting (Ex 34:21), kindling a fire (Ex 35:3), gathering wood (Num 15:32-36), carrying loads (Jer 17:21), and buying or selling (Neh 13:15-21; Amos 8:5). It is a Sabbath to the LORD, implying that the Israelites should devote themselves to spiritual matters (cf. Ps 92). This verse states that the Sabbath is to be observed where the Israelites live, not solely in the sanctuary.

4 “‘These are the LORD’s appointed times, holy assemblies, which you must proclaim at their appointed time.

5 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, is a Passover offering to the LORD.

This date corresponds to the first full moon following the spring equinox.1 The Hebrew bein ha-ʿarbayim (“twilight”) is ambiguous, literally meaning between the two evenings.

Mekhilta Boʾ 5 presents the view of Rabbi Nathan that bein ha-ʿarbayim is the time after the sun begins to incline toward the west, after the sixth hour of the day. In a hypothetical twelve-hour day that begins at 6:00 A.M. and concludes at 6:00 P.M., this would mean that the time period called bein ha-ʿarbayim begins at noon. Mishnah Pesaḥim 5:1 tells us that during the period of the Second Temple, the paschal sacrifice was offered on the altar at approximately nine and a half hours into the day, immediately following the second daily offering (tamid), which was scheduled earlier on Passover eve. This was near the midpoint of the second half of the ideal twelve-hour day that begins at 6:00 A.M. and concludes at 6:00 P.M. Again, this is before twilight. There is no similar information available about practices in earlier periods of antiquity.2

6 Then on the fifteenth day of the same month will be the festival of unleavened bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.

The Hebrew is clear that this is a pilgrimage feast/festival. The participants needed to undertake a pilgrimage to a cultic site in order to celebrate.

7 On the first day there will be a holy assembly for you; you must not do any regular work.

8 You must present a gift to the LORD for seven days, and the seventh day is a holy assembly; you must not do any regular work.'”

Num 28-29 provides more details of the sacrifices required for the festivals in this chapter.

9 The LORD spoke to Moses:

10 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When you enter the land that I am about to give to you and you gather in its harvest, then you must bring the sheaf of the first portion of your harvest to the priest, 11 and he must wave the sheaf before the LORD to be accepted for your benefit — on the day after the Sabbath the priest is to wave it.

Mishnah Menaḥot 5:1 describes the procedure employed in the days of the Second Temple as follows: “How is one to do this? He inserts his two hands underneath the objects being offered and carries them to and fro. He lifts them up and lowers them.” The purpose of such rites was to show the offering to God, so that it might be accepted.3

12 On the day you wave the sheaf you must also offer a flawless yearling lamb for a burnt offering to the LORD, 13 along with its grain offering, two tenths of an ephah of choice wheat flour mixed with olive oil, as a gift to the LORD, a soothing aroma, and its drink offering, one fourth of a hin of wine.

14 You must not eat bread, roasted grain, or fresh grain until this very day, until you bring the offering of your God. This is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all the places where you live.

The offering of the firstfruits is a ritual act by which the community acknowledges Yahweh’s ownership of the land and his rightful claim to the current harvest. For the people themselves to eat of the firstfruits would be a direct affront to Yahweh’s having blessed their land. Because Yahweh is Lord, he rightly demands the firstfruits. As soon as the people present the firstfruits, symbolized in this rite of raising up the sheaf as an elevated offering, Yahweh releases the rest of the harvest back to his people for their use. After this ritual the people may live off the harvest with deep gratitude for the harvest Yahweh has given them. By this ritual humans recognize their place in their community under God.4

15 “‘You must count for yourselves seven weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day you bring the wave offering sheaf; they must be complete weeks.

Verses 15-22 describe the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost).

16 You must count fifty days — until the day after the seventh Sabbath — and then you must present a new grain offering to the LORD.

17 From the places where you live you must bring two loaves of bread for a wave offering; they must be made from two tenths of an ephah of fine wheat flour, baked with yeast, as first fruits to the LORD.

18 Along with the loaves of bread, you must also present seven flawless yearling lambs, one young bull, and two rams. They are to be a burnt offering to the LORD along with their grain offering and drink offerings, a gift of a soothing aroma to the LORD.

19 You must also offer one male goat for a sin offering and two yearling lambs for a peace offering sacrifice, 20 and the priest is to wave them — the two lambs — along with the bread of the first fruits, as a wave offering before the LORD; they will be holy to the LORD for the priest.

21 “‘On this very day you must proclaim an assembly; it is to be a holy assembly for you. You must not do any regular work. This is a perpetual statute in all the places where you live throughout your generations.

22 When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.'”

Cf. Lev 19:9-10.

Why is this law included when there are no other such laws in this calendar? Regulations on firstfruits plus this law frame the calendrical instruction regarding the Feast of Weeks. Both those regulations and this law are based on the theology that Yahweh is Lord of the land and its produce. Israel recognizes his lordship by giving the firstfruits to him. They further recognize that Yahweh, their Lord, is holy and merciful, by observing the law to leave the gleanings of the harvest to the poor and to resident aliens. Their obedience lets them celebrate the bountiful harvest with full joy.5

23 The LORD spoke to Moses:

24 “Tell the Israelites, ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you must have a complete rest, a memorial announced by loud horn blasts, a holy assembly.

The Feast of Trumpets, which occurred in the fall, marked the end of one agricultural year and the beginning of another.

25 You must not do any regular work, but you must present a gift to the LORD.'”

26 The LORD spoke to Moses:

27 “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It is to be a holy assembly for you, and you must humble yourselves and present a gift to the LORD.

The Day of Atonement is also described in Lev 16.

28 You must not do any work on this particular day, because it is a day of atonement to make atonement for yourselves before the LORD your God.

29 Indeed, any person who does not behave with humility on this particular day will be cut off from his people.

30 As for any person who does any work on this particular day, I will exterminate that person from the midst of his people!

31 You must not do any work. This is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all the places where you live.

32 It is a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must humble yourselves on the ninth day of the month in the evening, from evening until evening you must observe your Sabbath.”

The observance of the Day of Atonement begins in the evening. Milgrom points out that fasting (“humbling yourselves”) from evening to evening would limit the fast to 24 hours whereas waiting until the next morning would result in a 36 hour fast. Hence, the observance may have begun in the evening, instead of the morning, for practical reasons.

33 The LORD spoke to Moses:

34 “Tell the Israelites, ‘On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Temporary Shelters for seven days to the LORD.

A booth (sukkah) “designates a small, often impermanent structure that is covered on top, but that may be only partially enclosed on its sides.”6

35 On the first day is a holy assembly; you must do no regular work.

36 For seven days you must present a gift to the LORD. On the eighth day there is to be a holy assembly for you, and you must present a gift to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly day; you must not do any regular work.

37 “‘These are the appointed times of the LORD that you must proclaim as holy assemblies to present a gift to the LORD — burnt offering, grain offering, sacrifice, and drink offerings, each day according to its regulation, 38 besides the Sabbaths of the LORD and all your gifts, votive offerings, and freewill offerings which you must give to the LORD.

39 “‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the produce of the land, you must celebrate a pilgrim festival of the LORD for seven days. On the first day is a complete rest and on the eighth day is complete rest.

40 On the first day you must take for yourselves branches from majestic trees — palm branches, branches of leafy trees, and willows of the brook — and you must rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.

Presumably these are the materials used to make the booths.

41 You must celebrate it as a pilgrim festival to the LORD for seven days in the year. This is a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you must celebrate it in the seventh month.

42 You must live in temporary shelters for seven days; every native citizen in Israel must live in temporary shelters, 43 so that your future generations may know that I made the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'”

The people are to erect סכת, “booths,” to dwell in during this week. While it is not explicitly stated, one could infer that these booths are to be made out of branches from the trees mentioned here. These booths are to be constructed like the temporary shelters that were erected in the fields to enable a person to live there during the harvest in order to protect the fields from robbers, both humans and animals (Neh 8:16). In the tradition as prescribed here, these booths came to symbolize the temporary shelters the people lived in during the wilderness journey. There is a little tension in that in the wilderness the people lived in אהלים, “tents,” not booths. But there is a deeper play on the tradition, for the first resting place of the Israelites in their exit from Egypt was סכת, “Succoth” (Exod 12:37; Num 33:5). Levine (163) points out that סכות is a double entendre, a place name and a type of habitation. These shelters, however, are not to recall the hardship of the wilderness, but the grace of God in providing for his people in so many ways in such an austere environment (Keil and Delitzsch, 449–50). This interpretation is supported by the construction of the booths out of the glorious trees of the promised land, not from the shrubs of the wilderness (cf. Deut 8:7–8). These booths are a symbol of the people’s gratefulness to their caring God during this joyful feast. In this way this feast became tied to Israel’s saving history. It is specifically stated that during this feast כל־האזרח בישׂראל, “all citizens of Israel,” are to live in booths.7

44 So Moses spoke to the Israelites about the appointed times of the LORD.

Bibliography

Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.

Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17-22. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.


  1. Hartley 1998, p. 384 
  2. Levine 1989, p. 156 
  3. Levine 1989, p. 157 
  4. Hartley 1998, p. 391 
  5. Hartley 1998, p. 374 
  6. Levine 1989, p. 162 
  7. Hartley 1998, p. 389–390 
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