Leviticus 23:15-22 Making the Holidays Holy Days Again
QUOTE: Holidays are about making memories. Holy days are about reminders.
On our secular American calendar, today is Memorial Day. It is originally a holiday to remember those who had died in war. People would decorate the graves of soldiers and so it was also called Decoration Day. We remember soldiers who died on Memorial Day. We recognize all soldiers living and dead on Veterans Day.
Since that time, different traditions have changed the nature of this holiday.
Memorial Day has the beginning of the summer movie blockbuster season. It started with Star Wars in 1977. The movie became such a big hit that movie makers changed their schedule to make their big hit movies for the summer start on this weekend. Because the Memorial Day weekend had an extra day off from work, people would take their kids to go see the next big movie for the summer.
Yes, in some churches, we would recognize people who have gone before us. However, for the most part, this Sunday became a secular celebration of vacation time. People would go off to the lake, have family reunions and even schedule weddings.
But Memorial Day is more than that. It has a special meaning.
Here is an American flag. You will see lots of them during this Memorial Day weekend. There is symbolism in this flag. First, there is the Pledge of Allegiance.
THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
So let’s start by pledging allegiance to the American flag.
I pledge to allegiance to the flag of the United States
and to the Republic for which it stands
One nation, under God, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.
The flag is a symbol or a type which represents something else. When we look at the American flag, we learn about values and history.
How many stripes are on the flag? 13. Why? Because it reminds us of the 13 original colonies which formed this nation.
How many stars are on the flag? 50. Why? They represent one star for every state in the Union.
Why are there stars on a blue background? Because we look up to Heaven for guidance.
What do the red, white, and blue colors symbolize?
Red – Blood
White – Purity
Blue – Justice
Just as there is meaning in the American flag, there is meaning in the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost.
Because today is also Pentecost. We don’t generally celebrate this holy day as Christians except in some churches where they baptize adults. Some churches will use this holy day to wear white and baptize adults. It is called White Sunday or Whit Sunday.
We have moved from January through the spring, past Easter and now fifty days later, we are at the beginning of the summer season. Pentecost is a holy day that helps us prepare for the summer.
““You are to count seven complete weeks starting from the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the presentation offering.” (Leviticus 23:15, HCSB)
Why is it called the Feast of Weeks. A “week” is a set of seven. In this case, a set of seven days. Seven weeks starting from a day after the Sabbath gives you fifty days. The Jews calls this the Feast of Weeks because it is described like this in Leviticus 23.
As you can see in this chart, Leviticus 23 gives you the Hebrew celebration calendar. They marked holy days which the people would celebrate to focus on God’s provision. There were celebrations in the spring, and then there were celebrations in the fall. The spring festivals celebrated how God provided to help people prepare for the planting season. The fall festivals celebrated how God provided for the harvesting season.
“You are to count 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:16, HCSB)
To be clear, God says that you count 50 days from the previous festival and you get the Feast of Weeks. This is why it is called Pentecost. Pente is the Greek word for 50.
It was on the day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers in Jerusalem in a special way (Acts 2:1–4). For Christians since then, Pentecost has become a celebration of a different kind of harvest, a celebration of the gracious gift of God’s Spirit to the people of the first Christian community, empowering and equip ping them for ministry and service throughout the world. It might be called the birthday of the church.1
“Bring two loaves of bread from your settlements as a presentation offering, each of them made from four quarts of fine flour, baked with yeast, as firstfruits to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:17, HCSB)
According to the rabbis, the two loaves represent the two tablets of stone on which the Law was given when Israel became a nation.
Leaven, however, is a picture of sin. Therefore, the Law being perfect (Psalm 19:7), I believe the fullest explanation for the meaning of the two loaves lies not in what Pentecost commemorated, but what it anticipated, for it would be on the very Day of Pentecost that the church was born (Acts 2).
Prior to Acts 2, the world was divided into only two groups of people: Jews and Gentiles. But after the Spirit came down, after three thousand were born again in a single day, a third group came into being: the church, composed of former Jews and former Gentiles. Thus, there was leaven in the bread—for, consisted of sinners, the church is far from sinless.2
Instead of the priest waving sheaves before the Lord, he waved two loaves of bread baked with leaven. In order to have loaves, the grain had to be ground into flour and the flour baked into loaves. The fulfillment of this image is recorded in Acts 2 when fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit came and united the believers into the church, symbolized here by the two loaves (Jews and Gentiles).13 There’s leaven in the two loaves because there’s sin in the church (Leviticus 2:11). The church will not be “holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27) until it sees the Lord in glory.4
“You are to present with the bread seven unblemished male lambs a year old, one young bull, and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offerings and drink offerings, a fire offering of a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:18, HCSB)
“You are also to prepare one male goat as a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a fellowship sacrifice.” (Leviticus 23:19, HCSB)
Just as God’s people made offerings during Pentecost, Christians give offerings as well. Our offerings serve a different purpose. The Israelites offer to remember that they need a Savior. We give our offerings in gladness because we have a Savior. Theirs was an offering of anticipation. Ours is an offerings of celebration.
“The priest will wave the lambs with the bread of firstfruits as a presentation offering before the Lord; the bread and the two lambs will be holy to the Lord for the priest.” (Leviticus 23:20, HCSB)
We are called to worship during holy days.
“On that same day you are to make a proclamation and hold a sacred assembly. You are not to do any daily work. This is to be a permanent statute wherever you live throughout your generations.” (Leviticus 23:21, HCSB)
Holy days are times of rest. They are times to come together to worship and then to rest. We come together today to worship, and then we go away to rest. Times of rest during holy days are meant to help you reflect on God’s grace and provision.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap all the way to the edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident; I am Yahweh your God.”” (Leviticus 23:22, HCSB)
Notice that this calendar was not just a rhythm for the Jewish calendar, it was also prophetic. These festivals point to Jesus Christ. You can look at each festival and see Jesus.
The Festival of Passover points to Jesus’ death. The Festival of Unleavened Bread points to Jesus’ burial. The Festival of First Fruits points to Jesus’ resurrection. The Festival of Weeks (or Pentecost) points to the coming of the Holy Spirit and birth of the Church. These are the spring holy days which are to be celebrated.
Then comes the summer (or the time of planting of the seed of the Gospel for those who need to hear about Jesus.)
Following the Feast of Pentecost, there’s a four-month gap on God’s calendar before the next feast. This gap could represent the age we’re now in, the age of the church, during which we should be devotedly involved in the harvest (Matthew 9:36–38) and eagerly waiting for the sound of the trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:51–58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).5
After the summer, comes the fall holy days which are related to the harvest season. These are a type or point to the second coming of Jesus.
The Festival of Trumpets points to Jesus’ calling up the believers. The Day of Atonement points to Judgment of unbelievers. The Festival of Tabernacles points to the time when Jesus will start His Millennial reign and we will reign with Him here on Earth.
Why I can’t tell you the specifics now, I can tell you for sure they will line up with the Festivals in the Fall. The reason is because God designed it that way.
Holy days are about reminders.
What does God want to remind you about during this Pentecost season. He wants to remind you of the ways He has poured out His grace. It is an opportunity to thank God for His provision.
A vital principle underlying this religious system helps us understand how we can better communicate our own faith.
The principle is expressed in a Hebrew term, zikkaron, which is often translated as “memorial” and means “a reminder” or “a remembrance.” It is used of objects or actions that help Israel identify with some particular religious truth.
What was the zikkaron intended to do? It was intended to help individuals who saw or participated in it sense his or her identity with what God had done in the past. In essence the festivals of Israel were designed to help each new generation relive God’s great and wonderful acts for His people. In the festivals that annually reminded Israel of what God had done for them, the people were intended to sense their own identity with their forefathers, and to realize that God had worked His wonders for each one of them!6
What does God want us to do? He wants to remind us of His provision and our responsibility. Holidays are not just days to celebrate and ignore God in our lives. Holidays are holy days when we remember God do our best to incorporate Him into our lives.
1 Gary W. Demarest and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Leviticus, vol. 3, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1990), 232.
2 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume One: Genesis–Job (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 433.
31 The Spirit baptized Jewish believers into the church at Pentecost and Gentile believers in the home of Cornelius (Acts 10). Thus the imagery of the two loaves was fulfilled.
4 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Holy, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 106.
5 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Holy, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 107.
6 Larry Richards and Lawrence O. Richards, The Teacher’s Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987), 120.