Chapter 23:10-19 (ESV) - “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.
“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.
“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.
“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God.
“You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning.
“The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God.
“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk.
Question to consider: Why do you think the LORD commanded days of celebration?
In this Book of the Covenant, the LORD commanded Israel to organize their society around mercy and justice. Justice was to be impartial so that the rich could not pervert it with bribes, and the poor were not to receive favorable verdicts merely because they were a societal underdog. Mercy was something that God had shown to Israel in delivering them from slavery in Egypt so He expected them to recognize and fill the needs of others, especially orphans, widows, and sojourners who depended upon the mercy of others.
One of the ways they were to do this was through a sabbath year. For six years, they were to sow and reap from their fields and allow the land to rest on the seventh year. Whatever grew naturally during that year was to be left to the poor to gather for themselves. Interestingly, this coincided with the year of release from those who had sold themselves into slavery. It was as if the LORD provided those recently set free an opportunity to gather food and get back on their feet.
In Leviticus 26, the LORD gave an escalating set of consequences for those that failed to keep the land sabbath with continued disobedience culminating in exile from the land to the land of their enemies so that the land of Israel may enjoy its lost sabbaths. The time of the Babylonian exile was 70 years which means that Israel was unfaithful in this command for 490 years before they were removed from the land.
Everyone who was able to work was expected to labor for six days and rest on the seventh to give a time of refreshment for the servants and animals. All of this was to be done to the glory of God, and He would not share that glory with others. Thus, they were not to call on the name of “the gods” of the surrounding nations and were to set aside festival days throughout the year to honor the LORD and His abundant provision.
The details of the feasts, sacrifices, and dietary laws would be given in the book of Leviticus, but they were mentioned in the Book of the Covenant so that people would know that the sacrifices and worship were going to be a part of their responsibilities to the covenant the LORD was making with them. As I mentioned previously, the expectations in this covenant were no different than in previous covenants. They were just defined in more detail.
The fat and best portions were given as firstfruits from the time of Cain and Abel and were an indication of the faith of an individual. If someone had the faith to give the best from the first portion of their harvest, they were trusting in the LORD to provide throughout the year. The sabbaths, the feasts, and the firstfruits offerings were all types and shadows of Christ.
The sabbaths pointed to the mercy of Christ who is our sabbath rest from works of the Law. The feasts pointed to the work of Christ with the Feast of Unleavened bread declaring Christ as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Feast of Firstfruits pointed to the resurrection of Christ as the firstfruits of our own resurrection. The Feast of Ingathering points to the harvest of righteousness that will be gathered when Christ returns.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for providing us with days of celebration, hope and joy. Help us to be grateful for times of ease and times of difficulty knowing that every circumstance is ordained by You for Your good purposes. May everything serve to remind us that we will one day be with You in Your kingdom. Amen.