Laws of Moses – Special Feasts

I was reading a book set in the Middle Ages recently.  I actually quit reading it because I had so much trouble keeping track of the characters – there were too many name changes, official and unofficial titles, nicknames, and unclear pronoun references!

Sometimes the holidays and celebrations established in the Laws of Moses feel similar – a little hard for us to keep track of.  See if this helps:

There are Five Feasts established in the Law of Moses:

1. Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread – Passover memorializes the freeing of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt and recalls the night that death passed over the land and killed the firstborn of all but the Israelites.  Passover is a meal with lamb representing the lamb that was slain and whose blood was put on the door frames; unleavened bread representing purity and recalling the night of their flight; and bitter herbs representing the horrors of bondage.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread is the week after Passover.  This is a “pilgrim” feast which required all males to travel to a designated spot to offer sacrifices.  It normally occurred in March-April. (Ex 23,34; Deut 16, Num 9,28; Lev 23)

2. Feast of Weeks (or Harvest or Firstfruits, later Pentecost) – originally called the Festival of Weeks, it falls at the time of the wheat harvest in Israel and came to be called the Harvest Feast instead.  It was to be 50 days after the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and eventually came to be called Pentecost (meaning 50)!  This too was a pilgrim feast that required freewill offerings from the grain harvest, in proportion to the blessings the Lord had given you that year. It normally occurred in May-June.  (Deut 16; Lev 23; Num 28)

3. Feast of Trumpets (later Rosh Hashanah) – This is a minor feast, an occassion for the blowing of the trumpets.  It was celebrated on the first day of the seventh month on the religious calendar, which happened to be New Years on the civilian calendar and is currently celebrated as Rosh Hashanah in September-October. (Num 29, Lev 23)

4. Day of Atonement (later Yom Kippur) – The great significance of the Day of Atonement lies in the confession of sins and the purification of the people.  The high priest laid his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed all the wickedness and rebellion of the people over it.  Bearing the sins of the people, the goat was sent out into the desert.  It is the only day when the Israelites were commanded to fast.  It normally occurred in September-October. (Lev 16, 23)

5. Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths or Ingathering) – Following the Day of Atonement there was the Feast of Tabernacles.  It was a week-long remembrance of Israel’s years of wandering in the desert as punishment for rebellion and the sin of disbelief.  For one week they were to live in booths made of tree branches and rejoice that they were no longer wandering in the desert.  It fell during a period of harvest or ingathering and was a joyful celebration of the Lord’s goodness, a reminder of all the blessings the Lord had given them.    It normally occurred in September-October. (Lev 23, Num 29, Deut 16)

So… Five Feasts – all occasions for remembering and celebrating the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness to His people, in spite of their sin and rebellion.  There were other feasts and festivals added to the Jewish calendar later, but these are the feasts from the Laws of Moses.

“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” – Deut 7:9

* This format of the Law of Moses is found in The Daily Bible (Chronological) by Harvest House Publishers, commentary by F. LaGard Smith.  I am so glad that someone grouped all the laws together and made sense of them for me!!

Laws of Moses – No Other Gods

BJ First Commandment“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.” – Deut. 5:6-7

We know this verse as the FIRST commandment.  It is the cornerstone of all the commandments.  The SECOND is like it.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” – Deut. 5:8-9

Got that?  We are to worship only the LORD, nothing else.  All our allegiance is to Him.

There is a whole collection of laws related to this command.  They could be grouped into the following categories:

A. Laws Against Idolatry and Paganism.

Don’t make other gods (out of any material you can imagine), don’t sacrifice to other gods, don’t swear by other gods, and don’t sacrifice your children to other gods.  Do not tolerate anyone among you who worships other gods and, in fact, you (nation of Israel) must completely destroy any city that worships other gods.  You also cannot worship the LORD wherever and however you choose – there is a specific way to worship Him, and a specific place (the tabernacle, and later the temple in Jerusalem).  (ref. Lev 19-20,26, Deut 12-14,17)

B. Laws Against False Spiritualists

Do not practice witchcraft, divination, sorcery, consult mediums or the dead, or cast spells – all such people must be put to death.  Do not listen to those who tell the future, interpret dreams, claim to be prophets, or lead you to serve another God.  Test the prophets and have no fear of them.  (ref. Deut 18, Lev 20)

C. Laws Regarding Blasphemy

Do not take the name of the LORD in vain, do not misuse the name of the LORD.   (ref. Deut 5, Lev 24) Did you recognize the third commandment?

D. Laws Requiring Dedications

In order to instill a proper sense of priorities and gratitude, God required that the first and best of everything be dedicated to the LORD.  The Law of Moses required dedication of the firstborn son, all firstborn male animals, and the first crops/grain/fruit.  The son can be redeemed and may return to the family, but the other dedications are used to support the work of the priests and Levites and to care for those with special needs. (ref. Ex 22,23,34, Deut 15)

E. Laws Requiring Tithing (ref. Deut 14,18)

F. Law of the Sabbath

The sabbath rest is noted twelve times in the giving of the laws and it is to serve as a day or remembrance and corporate worship and assembly.  It was the fourth commandment and symbolizes the day God rested after creation. (ref. Deut 5, Ex 31, Lev 19,23, Num 15)

Whew.  So what can we learn from this group of laws?

The LORD our God wants to be respected and honored – in our worship, our words, our labors and income, our children and all we own.  He does not tolerate the worship of anyone or anything else.

“You shall have no other gods.”

* This format of the Law of Moses is found in The Daily Bible (Chronological) by Harvest House Publishers, commentary by F. LaGard Smith.  I am so glad that someone grouped all the laws together and made sense of them for me!!

** Graphic from series, “What if God had texted Moses?” http://bjdhorehartford.blogspot.com/2011/05/if-god-had-texted-moses.html

The Laws of Moses

Leviticus.  Sigh.  Leviticus is usually the point at which my Read Through The Bible plan comes to a screeching halt.law

Then I skip over most of Deuteronomy and start again in Joshua.  Let’s go conquer Jericho!

Offerings, feasts, clean and unclean animals and other things, sacrifices, altars, washing bowls, incense, and blood poured out and sprinkled on all kinds of things.  Really?  Who wants to read the Laws of Moses?  The whole system certainly seems confusing.  Complicated.  And extremely exact.  There is only one right way to keep the Law, and if you screwed it up you were guilty of trespass – ignorance was no excuse.

Well, by golly, it’s been at least five years since I read the Laws of Moses.  How about you?  I am determined to get through them… and not only that, but to make some sense of them.  As I read along, I would like to share with you the big pieces of the puzzle – the broader framework that the Laws of Moses hang on.  I hope you’ll find the Big Picture helpful.

The explicit purpose for each law or statute is rarely given.  However, most of the laws are designed with fundamental principles in mind:

The Laws of Moses were designed to teach the Israelites:

1. To honor and respect God above all else,

2.  To honor and respect people and their property, and

3. How to be holy and aware of their separateness (from the nations around them) as a God’s specially chosen people.

The Laws of Moses provided a national framework for what was right and wrong.  As Moses told the people, “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing what is right in his own eyes!” – Deut. 12:8

The laws must also be viewed in the context of the life and times in which the Israelites were living.  They were surrounded by death, wicked kings, and nations that practiced child sacrifice.  Keeping that in mind, we realize that the Laws of Moses impose an incredibly high standard of ethical conduct on the nation.  We also find that the laws are unique (for that era) in teaching the value of a human life, the importance of due process, and the necessity of judicial fairness/equal justice.

Indeed, the laws were established for the good of the people.  (Why do laws not always feel like they are for our own good?!)

As Moses said, “Now, Israel, what does the Lord require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statues which I am commanding you today for your good.” – Deut. 10:12-13

We also know from reading Romans that it is the Law that makes people aware of what is sin (3:20), even though our conscience often makes this clear to us anyway (2:14-15).  We also know that no one was ever justified before God by keeping the Law (3:20, 3:28, 4:13) and only Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law.  And we know that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away the guilt and sins of the people (Hebrews 9:9-10 and 10:1-4,11) and that we are cleansed only in the blood of Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice.

So just remember that the Laws of Moses were a framework of right and wrong, were designed to teach important principles, and were for the good of the people.  I am so glad that Jesus Christ came as our perfect high priest and instituted a time of reformation (Hebrews 9:10-11) so that we are not bound by the Laws of Moses!

However, we’re still going to read them – because we can learn from them!

Here is an excellent commentary on the purpose of the law:  http://agapegeek.com/2010/05/14/understanding-the-bible-definition-and-purpose-of-the-law-of-moses-pt-1/