I strongly recommend reading all of Leviticus chapter 23 and Deuteronomy chapter 26 as we approach Christmas. There is so much encouraging information about God’s love and character in these chapters!
Most people, especially Christians, know that the word “holiday” came from the words “holy day”. Wikipedia on the subject:
“The word holiday comes from the Old English word hāligdæg (hālig ‘holy’ + dæg ‘day’). The word originally referred only to special religious days. In modern use, it means any special day of rest or relaxation, as opposed to normal days away from work or school.”
When you hear the word “holy”, what picture forms in your mind? A formal religious ceremony? A judgmental priest or nun? A hellfire-and-brimstone preacher condemning everything that makes you smile?
That’s not our God.
The Old Testament rules and regulations that God gave Israel were never meant to be killjoy, nitpicking, dour, hate-life ordinances. Yes, they were strict. Yes, sin was counted serious. But it was the Pharisees, the rabbis, who turned Judaism into a religion where you couldn’t blink an eye without “sinning”. The priests made money from people’s sins, so they “interpreted” Jehovah’s laws in ways that made every citizen guilty of some “sin” every hour. They weren’t “strict Constitutionalists”.
Bureaucrats are the same in every age.
God is very different than that, toward that, toward those who believe in Him. Since the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, that also means believing in Jesus as Messiah. But even in the Old Testament, God obviously meant for His people to enjoy life! He emphasized this in His laws concerning the Holy Days.
The Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy confirm this. The 23rd chapter of Leviticus lists the Holy Days mandated by Jehovah:
First of all, God certified one day a week when you were supposed to relax:
“There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:3)
By calling it “a day of sacred assembly” and “a sabbath to the Lord”, God precluded businesses from forcing Israelites to work. They’d have been defying God if they did. Once at least they did, and they paid for it, too.
For the most part, this carries over to us four thousand years later, because this nation, and all of Western Civilization, were built on belief in the God of the Bible. When we say, “Thank God it’s Friday!”, we’re able to say that only because, essentially, God gave us Saturday day off. That comes from Judaism. Sunday off comes from Christian tradition. So thank God for your weekends!
The Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread
“These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times: The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.” (Leviticus 23:4-8)
Scrooge would not approve.
Offering of the Firstfruits
Leviticus 23:9-14 describes the ritual for offering the first produce of livestock and crops to God. It sounds dry and uninteresting. But that’s not all the Word of God tells us about this feast, and this is where things really get interesting. Remember, at the time this list of mandated feast was given, the Israelites still had not arrived at the Promised Land. Here is the addendum to the Feast of the Firstfruits that was given for when they were in the Land of Promise:
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket … And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us’ … And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.” (partial from Deuteronomy 26:1-11)
Remember that the Levites were not allowed to own property. That’s why God included provision for them. Also for foreigners in Israel (sojourners). And furthermore, in this passage God made more provision for those in need every third year:
“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.” (Deuteronomy 26:12-14)
Very much like Paul’s statement in 2nd Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Personally, the thought of being able to truthfully say that to God is a joyful thing! But the point I want to make here is that THIS is our God! He invented caring for the unfortunate! He is a God of mercy and caring!
The Festival of Weeks
At the end of the complex instructions for the Festival of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-23) note that this feast, like the other mandated feasts, was to be “a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.” Second, in this passage, Jehovah made provision for the homeless and the foreigners in Israel: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.” Again God gives the authority of His name to this command.
This also carries over to our nation and Western Civilization, although it has been distorted and abused by that most reprehensible class of people, bureaucrats. The idea was good and right, and those in America who receive help from Christians or from our government should bear in mind that the source of this assistance is the God of the Bible. He loves them too.
And again Deuteronomy adds an important note to this feast:
“And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there.” Deuteronomy 16:11)
The Festival of Trumpets
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: “On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.” ‘ ” (Leviticus 23:23-25)
The Day of Atonement
This feast is very different. It’s the only feast with any hint of suffering or unpleasantness connected to it. I’m quoting Amplified Classic Version here for clarification, but it’s still not a fun time:
“Also the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; it shall be a holy [called] assembly, and you shall afflict yourselves [by fasting in penitence and humility] and present an offering made by fire to the Lord … For whoever is not afflicted [by fasting in penitence and humility] on this day shall be cut off from among his people [that he may not be included in the atonement made for them]. And whoever does any work on that same day I will destroy from among his people.” (partial from Leviticus 23:27-30)
This is understandable, because this feast is representative of the suffering the Messiah would have to endure. There’s nothing fun or relaxing about that. And one who rejected this small, this tiny degree of mere acknowledgement of the Messiah’s suffering is in essence rejecting God Himself:
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17)
The last of God’s mandated feasts is …
The Feast of Booths
This feast was to remind the Israelites that God had made them live in temporary shelters when He brought them out of Egypt. This feast was to last a total of eight days, seven of them living in temporary shelters. Survivalists would probably have called these “wickiups”. They’re described this way:
“On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees from palms, willows and other leafy trees and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days!” (Leviticus 23:40) Again the command to rejoice, this time in the memory of Jehovah working fantastic miracles to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, flattening the enemy response in the process. These were spectacular miracles that all the Israelites of that time saw personally. Deuteronomy repeats the command to rejoice, includes the injunction to share the good things with the Levites and the unfortunate, and adds a wonderful promise:
“You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.” (Deuteronomy 16:13-15)
So rejoice, already! Pass the eggnog! Cut me another slice of turkey! Hand round the cranberry sauce! Merry Christmas! And may God be praised loud and long for our wonderful salvation in Jesus Christ! Hallelujah! May we walk worthy of Him Who recused us from the death sentence our sins required!