The Sabbaths of Leviticus 23
The feasts are scheduled events when humanity is to meet and commune with God and consider an aspect of His character. With the understanding that whatever we spend time upon we become, each event emphasizes a different concept of His character. The Seventh-day Sabbath teaches rest and regeneration, our rewewal for another week of labor by the one who created us in the first place. This renewal is only provided by a constant, regular reconnection with God. Without this connection being habitually reestablished, we become slaves to this world.
In a deeper sense, the feasts present a plan of interaction between a fallen, sinful world and God, giving us a course of action that we are to follow on a yearly cycle. Naturally these actions emphasize the most important goal that God has for us: how to solve the sin problem. Abstract concepts that God requires of us such as humility, sacrifice, prioritizing God before everything else, obedience, and thankfulness are given concrete terms for us to practice. No where does God require obedience to a ritual in order to work our way to salvation, but practicing the feasts can act as a barometer for our lives — allowing us to see our own willingness to both adhere to the principles God demands of us and also to bring these principles in constant remembrance in our minds.
The feasts are described several times in the first 5 books of the Bible as part of the worship of the Lord, and are combined into 3 events as described in Exodus 34: “Three times in the year let all your males come before the Lord.” with the promise that “no man will make an attempt to take your land while you go up to give worship to the Lord, three times in the year.” These 3 times are referred to as 7 days of unleavened bread “in the time of the month Abib, the month you came out from Egypt”, the 1-day feast of weeks at the beginning of the wheat harvest, and finally the 8-day “feast of ingathering at the year’s end.” Thematically all 3 events first call us to attention before God in recognition of His sovereignty & sacrifice for us, then calls us to purify our lives and perform an action to acknowledge Him, and finally to receive blessings that God wants to give to us.
Each feast has an individual theme. Passover teaches us two lessons simultaneously: that death results from sin and also how Jesus took that death away from all of those who choose to trust and stay in communication with Him. Unleavened bread shows us the need for turning away from sin. Firstfruits teaches us that the initial and best of all we receive should be given to God in recognition of his leadership in our lives. Pentecost teaches us of the fruit that we need to bear, God’s righteousness in our actions and sharing God’s testimony to others. Trumpets calls us to reform, by relearning and dwelling upon God’s actions in the past so we may sharpen our focus upon God as the center of our lives. Atonement teaches us the solemn action of total surrender to God that we must take in order for God to cleanse us from our iniquity, the process represented by baptism that we must follow to be saved. Tabernacles teaches us the joy of humility, of living as Christ lived by sharing the excess of God’s blessings with those less fortunate around us.
A dedication of time spent contemplating God is difficult in a chaotic world, and a structured reoccurring framework of events prevents us from crowding out this time with worldly events. Since our characters are molded by what we contemplate and spend time with, it is our choice to spend time with God and be molded into His character or to spend time pursuing worldly pleasures and be molded into the character of the world. The sequence of feasts also demonstrates a progressive pathway of significant events between living selfish lives and living Christ centered lives. They also outline major interactions of God with this world throughout history.
The New Moons
(Num 28:11) At the beginnings of your months you shall present a burnt offering to the Lord: two young bulls, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year, without blemish…
Very little direction is explicitly given for keeping new Moon festivals. Other than a simple statement in Numbers 28, there is no mention in Leviticus 23 concerning new moons, and no explicit prohibition from work or command to keep a sacred assembly or Sabbath on these days. This should not be confused with the directions for the feast of trumpets, which also falls on the first day of the seventh month. The Bible does make it clear that these are two separate events:
(Num 29:1-2) ‘And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. For you it is a day of blowing the trumpets. You shall offer a burnt offering as a sweet aroma to the LORD: one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year, without blemish.
(Num 29:6) besides the burnt offering with its grain offering for the New Moon…
THE MOON DETERMINES TIMES
God explicitly gave the moon for “appointed times.” Although this word is translated “seasons” in one verse and “appointed times” in another, the Hebrew word is identical in both places. The word for appointed times is explicitly stated in Leviticus 23 as determining when the feasts should take place:
(Psa 104:19) He appointed the moon for seasons(H4150 mo’ed – properly an appointment, that is, a fixed time or season; specifically a festival)
(Lev 23:4) ‘These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times(H4150 mo’ed)
NEW MOON CELEBRATION
The Hebrew word for month is interchangeably translated Moon or new Moon (H2320 kho-desh). The important consideration is that kho-desh is interchangeably translated to mean an entire month and also a specific day on which the month begins, and that day happens to be a day of a festival in many cases.
Even if not explicitly stated, we can logically guess at the purpose of these celebrations. If the beginning of the month was always determined by observation, it would make sense that the people would gather together for this determination. (See the section entitled “The Lunar Calendar” for additional details) If the new Moon was not observed one night, the people would have to stay for another night. After the observation took place, the agreement of the date of the new month would have to be communicated to all of the people. It would make sense that the leaders would gather together for this event and that it would likely require more than one day. These elements may be seen in the most explicitly described event to occur on a new moon festival, when David and Jonathan were expected to appear at King Saul’s table.
The important considerations in these verses are that:
- The people were expected to gather together at the beginning of the month
- Because the “next day” was the second day of the month (v27), this feast must started on or before the first day of the month
- During Saul’s time this was a customary event that lasted approximately three days.
(1Sa 20:5-6) And David said to Jonathan, “Indeed tomorrow is the New Moon (note this word is H2320 kho-desh, identical to the word for month), and I should not fail to sit with the king to eat. But let me go, that I may hide in the field until the third day at evening. If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked permission of me that he might run over to Bethlehem, his city, for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.’
(1Sa 20:18-19) Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon; and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty. And when you have stayed three days, go down quickly and come to the place where you hid on the day of the deed
(1Sa 20:24-27) Then David hid in the field. And when the New Moon had come, the king sat down to eat the feast. Now the king sat on his seat, as at other times, on a seat by the wall. And Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty. Nevertheless Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him; he is unclean, surely he is unclean.” And it happened the next day, the second day of the month, that David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has the son of Jesse not come to eat, either yesterday or today?”
NEW MOON IN HEAVEN
This “gathering with the king” is mentioned to be an event that we will continue in Heaven, either coming to worship before the Lord and to receive new fruit from the tree of life each month:
(Isa 66:22-23) “For as the new heavens and the new earth
Which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the LORD,
“So shall your descendants and your name remain.
And it shall come to pass
That from one New Moon to another,
And from one Sabbath to another,
All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the LORD.
(Eze 47:12) Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.”
(Rev 22:2) In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Sanctuary: Ark of the Covenant/Testimony
(Exo 25:10,11,16) “And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around. And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you.
(Exo 40:20-21) He took the Testimony and put it into the ark, inserted the poles through the rings of the ark, and put the mercy seat on top of the ark. And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, hung up the veil of the covering, and partitioned off the ark of the Testimony, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
(Gen 2:2-3) And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
The Lunar Calendar
THE LUNAR MONTHS
The original Hebrew calendar is lunar-based, with the beginning of every month set by an observation of the new crescent moon. Because the lunar cycle is 29.5 days, the roughly 11 day difference between 12 lunar months and one solar year requires addition of a 13th month every two or three years, or 7 times out of every 19 years.
The twelve Hebrew months correspond to the cycle of new moon to new moon. In the leap years an additional month is added.
(Gen 1:14-15) Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
THE 1st MONTH / 13th MONTH
God Himself declared that the first month of the year was to be the month of the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt:
(Exo 12:1-3) Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household.
In the absence of more definitive instruction, determining if the lunar month after the 12th month is a 13th month or 1st month can be determined by the observation of the ripeness of naturally irrigated barley crops on the date of the sighting of the new crescent moon. The evidence for this is based on the requirement that the feast of firstfruits occur during the early harvest, which in the ancient world was the barley harvest. This can also be determined by the name of the month itself “Abib”:
(Exo 13:4) On this day you are going out, in the month Abib.
(Exo 23:15) You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt;
(Exo 34:18) “The Feast of Unleavened Bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.
(Deu 16:1) [The Passover Reviewed] “Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night.
THE 1ST “ABIB” MONTH
What is Abib? This can be found in Exodus 9:31-32 and this passage also refers to the early and late harvests:
(Exo 9:31-32) Now the flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was in the head and the flax was in bud. 32 But the wheat and the spelt were not struck, for they are late crops.
Note the important keyword translated in the NKJV as “in the head” or in the KJV as “in the ear” is the single Hebrew word pronounced aw-beeb’ or abib.
From Strong’s Hebrew concordance: H24 aw-beeb’ – From an unused root (meaning to be tender); that is a young ear of grain; hence the name of the month Abib.
Barley initially is a dark green color and very flexible. As it becomes ripe it takes on a light yellowish hue and become more brittle. Even though the head grows larger and fuller, if you open up the barley to early, you’ll never actually see a grain inside the head. Suddenly a tiny grain will appear inside the hull and will fatten up with starches until it is fully formed. The plant will then begin to dry out as seen in the images below and the grain will become fully firm. Interestingly enough the hull must be opened and the barley examined in order to determine if the grain actually has appeared inside. There is no direct relation between the change in color and the ripeness of the grain. Two or three weeks after this early stage of “Abib” the barley is ready to be harvested which exactly corresponds to the timing of the feast of firstfruits.
The first month cannot be too late in the year because if barley is left too long unharvested, the seeds fill with fluid and will shrivel up when parched, rendering them useless as a food. The admonition that no food from the year’s crops was to be eaten before the offering of firstfruits takes place in the first month also indicates that the first month cannot be too late.
We know from several passages that barley which is in the state of Abib has not completely ripened, but has ripened enough so that its seeds can be parched in fire and eaten. Parched barley was a commonly consumed food in ancient Israel and is mentioned in numerous passages in the Hebrew Bible as either “Abib parched in fire” (Lev 2:14) or in the abbreviated form “parched” (Lev 23:14, Jos 5:11, 1 Sam 17:17, 1 Sam 25:18, 2 Sam 17:28, Ruth 2:14).
Considering that the first month of the lunar monthly system is calibrated directly to the growth and maturity of actual plants, the changing temperatures of the seasons will much more closely correspond to the lunar months. The beginnings of fall and spring will not be as variable or uncertain as they are in the solar calendar.
Modern day individuals trying to observe the moon now have a number of online tools that will make the task of locating and observing this first crescent moon easier. The complexity of visibility on the horizon and also cloud cover means that no tool can tell you definitively whether the moon can be observed from your location. Neither is any tool required since anyone can go outside and observe the moon for themselves.
Moon Phases Calendar (new moon dates) along with twilight, sunset, moonrise, and moonset
Moonsghting (shows the probability of observing the crescent moon based on geographical location)
Naval Oceanography Portal (gives exact sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset data for any location)
Your sky: Horizon views (shows the exact position of the sun and moon above the horizon anywhere in the world at an exact time)
The same observation of the crescent moon could be followed for the start of each month. Most importantly it was repeated seven months (or new moons) later to determine the first day of the seventh month, and the exact dates of the fall festivals.
DETERMINING DAY 1 OF THE MONTH
Once the first month of the year has been determined, the first day of the month is determined by the first observation of a crescent moon after a new moon. The system was followed by the Jews until about 100 BC when a system of combining past observations with mathematical rules and was substituted instead. This method of calculating when the moon would appear is known as the “Rabbinical” method. Unfortunately the dates determined by the “Rabbinical” method and actual observations will vary significantly from one location to another. The convenience of knowing the dates of the feasts in advance by necessity means sacrificing the accuracy of the dates themselves.
Interestingly, the method observing the initial crescent moon for determining the first days of the month is still used today by most of the Muslim world. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_calendar) Visually this often is very difficult because a new moon is on the same side of the earth as the sun, and the earliest waxing crescent moon will rise and set at almost the same time that the sun rises and sets.
NEW CRESCENT MOON VS. CONJUNCTION
Modern languages attach to different concepts to the phrase “new Moon.” According to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged Edition New Moon is defined as “The moon either when in conjunction with the sun or soon after being either invisible [Astronomical New Moon] or visible [Crescent New Moon] only as a slender crescent.”
The concept of the lunar conjunction in modern astronomy when the moon is completely invisible simply did not exist in ancient times. In the area of the Middle East, it is very common for the moon to stay concealed for 2.5 days at a time, making determining the exact date of lunar conjunction nearly impossible without calculation. On the other hand, the smallest visible sliver of the crescent moon is far easier to observe on an exact day.
CALCULATING FEAST DAYS IN ADVANCE
Once the first day of the first month has been determined by observation of the new crescent moon, the spring feast days may then be determined with certainty. Likewise when the first day of the seventh month has been determined by observation, the fall feast days can be determined. Although days can be counted by looking at a calendar and counted manually, a website such as this one that adds or subtracts days from a specific date can make the task easier:
Date calculator: Add to or subtract from a date – http://www.timeanddate.com/date/dateadd.html
In this example, the date of the daytime portion of the day is given. This means that if a particular date is given as a Sabbath rest day, it is kept from the evening of the prior day throughout the daytime portion of the date provided, not starting at the evening of the day provided and continuing the next day.
In 2012, “Saturday night” April 21st was the day after the new moon, but the crescent moon was not visible. “Sunday night” April 22nd the moon was visible so that evening and the daytime portion of April 23nd (Monday) was the first day of the first month. Counting 13 days later, you get to May 6th, the 14th day of the first month. This means that Sunday May 6th “at twilight” is Passover.
The following day, May 7th (Monday) is the first day of unleavened bread and a day of “holy convocation” requiring no work. Six days later is May 13th (Sunday) the seventh day of unleavened bread and also another Sabbath day of rest. The seventh day Sabbath within the unleavened bread week is May 12th so “the day after the Sabbath” May 13th is first fruits. Counting 7 Sabbaths after May 12th gives you the Sabbath of June 30th, the following day being July 1. Likewise adding 50 days to May 12 also gives you July 1st (Sunday) for the feast of weeks or Pentecost.
Estimating the first day of the 7th month can be done several ways. Looking at a lunar calendar, 6 months after April is October, the new moon in October falls on October 15th, and so it’s probable that October 16th will be the first day that the crescent moon is visible, meaning that October 17th (Wednesday) will probably be the first day of the seventh month. Alternatively adding 177 days (29.5 X 6) to April 23rd also gives you October 17th. Again it is important that this date is determined with certainty only by observation of the crescent moon, calculations beforehand are only good for estimates.
Assuming October 17th (Wednesday) is trumpets and the first day of the seventh month, 9 days later will be the 10th day of the 7th month, October 26th (Friday) or the Day of Atonement. The 15th day of the 7th month is 14 days after October 17th, or October 31st (Wednesday) is the first day of tabernacles and also a Sabbath day. The 8th day of tabernacles will fall on the same day of the week – November 7th (Wednesday) and is also a Sabbath day of rest.
The resulting feast day calendar (for 2012) is:
April 23 1st day, 1st month (must be determined by observation)
May 6 Passover
May 7 Unleavened 1st (Sabbath)
May 13 Unleavened 7th (Sabbath)
May 13 Firstfruits
July 1 Weeks (Sabbath)
Oct 17 Trumpets (Sabbath) (must be determined by observation)
Oct 26 Atonement (Sabbath of affliction)
Oct 31 Tabernacles 1st (Sabbath)
Nov 7 Tabernacles 8th (Sabbath)