20 July 2013

Leviticus 23:23-44

“On the first day you shall take the fruit of majestic trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.” (v. 40)


Three festivals take place in the seventh month of the Jewish year. The first is the festival of the trumpet blasts (verses 23-25) which announces the sacred month. In later times, this day became New Year's Day (Rosh Hashanah).

The second festival is the holiest of days; the great Day of Atonement (verses 27-32). The regulations concerning this day, Yom Kippur, are set out in detail in Leviticus 16. In contrast to the surrounding festivals this is a time of mourning and fasting. The command not to work is given in even stricter form than previously, with punishment set for those who break it.

The third festival is Sukkot, the Festival of Booths (or the Festival of Tabernacles). Like others, this festival is doubly rooted in the agricultural cycle and in the story of the Exodus and time of wandering in the desert (verses 34-36, 39-43). Over seven days and nights the people are commanded to live in temporary accommodation. They are to build shelters made of tree branches, leaves and flowers (see Nehemiah 8:15). They are to feel once again the sunshine and starlight, to take a step away from their settled life and remember what it was to live unprotected from God's gaze, as their ancestors did in the desert. This is a joyful time, a time of freedom from everyday routine. And their only task is to rejoice before God.

To Ponder

  • What places or people, stories or songs prompt you to rejoice before God?
  • How do you celebrate the natural world?

Bible notes author

Rachel Starr

Rachel Starr is the Methodist tutor at The Queen's Foundation for ecumenical theological education in Birmingham, where she teaches studies in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Before that she spent three years in Buenos Aires completing doctoral studies at the Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos (Instituto Universitario ISEDET).