What is your life like during the rest of the week besides Sunday? Do you come to church stressed out about health, or work, or school? What is your attitude to tithing? Do you rush off immediately after service? Are you part of a group that involves being accountable or accounting for others? These questions involve the use of our resources in terms of what God requires of us and how we use what He has given.
Previously, we had been looking at the civil part of the law. Now we’ll be moving on to the ceremonial law. As we do so, there are five questions we would like to answer:
How to make sense of God’s law given that it’s holy and perfect, knowing that it is a law with various components?
What God is trying to say to Israel in the passage?
What the significance of the three feasts is?
What God is trying to say to us?
Where Christ is in all of this?
(A) God’s law reveals His righteousness, His justice and His holiness
Each book of the Bible was written for a specific audience. For example, Paul’s letters were addressed to different churches, and the first five books of the Torah—the Pentateuch—were dictated by Moses so that God’s people could have a tangible record of His instructions to them and directions on how to live as His people. We need to know who God is and what His nature is like to know Him properly.
The Israelites were God’s special people, and the law given to them is fleshed out more in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Biblical commentaries have traditionally divided the law into three components to better understand the nature of God: moral, civil, and ceremonial components. This is a hermeneutical distinction, which means the division is meant to help readers interpret it over the centuries.
Each law has its own object. The object of moral law is godly man, the object of civil law is godly society, and the object of ceremonial law is God Himself. Yet Deuty 4:9 exhorts us to “take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life”. This verse reminds us that we are prone to take things for granted and to forget God’s goodness. God reminds His people of His law because He knows they are likely to forget. Hence the two instructions given in Exo 23:13 are to pay attention to God’s instructions (Exo 23:13a) and not to worship other gods (Exo 23:13b).
Since God is zealous for His own glory, he warns the Israelites not to worship other gods because worshipping them would involve some form of religious piety. He tells them to remove all idolatry from their lives and gives them ceremonial laws to replace them. What is He saying to you today about your posture towards Him?
(B) The Feasts of the Lord are national events signifying the identity of God’s people
What are the three feasts and their significance? The discussion of the feasts is a backbone that runs through this chapter of Exodus. We need to ask: what is their scale? The Hebrew phrase for ‘feasts’ refers to a time of gathering. They were national events because every adult man had to go to Jerusalem for the feast. Women and children could go if they wanted, but they were not required to go because they didn’t need to represent their households and transporting big families to the city was a logistical problem.
Every nation has its own narrative. Singapore sets aside time during its National Day Parade to recount its story and reflect on its identity, like what the Israelites were doing during the feasts. People gathered and attended because God said so.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is also known as the Lord’s Passover. While the two occasions are not the same, they are closely related. Both are celebrated to commemorate God’s delivery of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and with the consumption of bread made without baker’s yeast, also known as leaven. Because leaven takes time to work in bread to make it rise, leaven is a metaphor for sin which will spread in the heart if we leave it unchecked. Removal of yeast from bread then represents the defeat of sin by Jesus.
The Feast of the Harvest is also known as the Feast of Weeks because it takes place after seven weeks. It commemorates the harvest, specifically God’s provision of the wheat harvest. It foreshadows the harvesting of believers that takes place in Acts 2:41, where around three thousand new converts were baptised after Peter’s sermon on Pentecost day.
At each feast there are offerings of first-fruits: for the Feast of Ingathering, olives and grapes. As it takes place after the Day of Atonement, there is a lot of joy. The feast is also known as the Feast of Booths to commemorate the time the Israelites spent living in booths while wandering in the desert. During this celebration, they are supposed to stop working and offer sacrifices each day for seven days, and on the eighth day they rest. The idea of joy was emphasised in the involvement of everyone in Israelite society, including Levites and foreigners. The other emphasised idea is that of dwelling: in booths, and God’s dwelling in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The commemoration of dwellings foreshadows the long-term dwelling in the Promised Land, where God will gather the redeemed to Himself in the New Jerusalem. These feasts help us remember His deliverance, provision and glory.
( C) The spirit of the Law applied: Our best and our purest
The Law, especially ceremonial law, reveals to us what is pleasing to God. On the 10th day of the first month, God’s people were required to take a lamb without blemish or defilement or disease, kill that lamb at twilight, smear the lamb’s blood on their doorposts and lintel, and eat roasted lamb flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs without gutting or cutting up the animal. The command for the Israelites not to leave the fat, the richest part, of the lamb until morning (Exo 23:18-19) is meant to preserve the sanctity of the statute. Three aspects stand out: the lamb to be sacrificed, the importance of blood to the ceremony, and the absence of leavened bread. The removal of blood from the lamb emphasises that not even the smallest amount of sin is to be left in it, while the absence of leaven from the bread emphasises how sin represented by leaven cannot be mixed with God’s sacrifice.
On what basis are we to come before the Lord? We cannot come empty-handed; everyone must come with something. Have we given God the first-fruits of our time, resources, and money? Time is something which we seek to control, yet we can’t ensure that our time is not ours but God’s. We can’t tell God that we’ll put off what He wants us to do to later. Yet even when we give freely of our resources, our best efforts are wretched. As Isaiah 64:6 says: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Our gifts are made pure by the sacrifice of Christ to atone for our sins. We come to God directly through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. He reminds us to continually remember that we are sinful, and that we need to repent. While Christ has fulfilled the law once and for all, how is it still relevant to our lives today? What are some things that we tend to withhold from God?