4 May 2016

Leviticus 23:1-14

“These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at the time appointed for them.” (v. 4)

Psalm: Psalm 85


Chapter 23 of Leviticus sets out the priestly version of the festival calendar of the Israelite community. It is one of several descriptions of the festivals - when they take place and what in involved - in the Hebrew Bible. The books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy also make reference to some or all of the festivals listed here, but with differing emphasis and detail. What this reveals is that the pattern of religious observance has evolved over time, in response to the changing situation of the Israelite people. In particular, Leviticus 23 reflects a shift away from an agricultural society towards the urban context of Jerusalem and the temple. This is evident from the fixing of the calendar dates - no longer are people wholly dependent on the weather and seasons. A similar shift is evident in Christian festivals; for example harvest festivals take place in early autumn, irrespective of whether all the crops have been gathered in. 

Like the weekly Sabbath, the festivals are set apart from ordinary time. They are times of rest (verses 7-8); the instruction to rest is underlined by the command not to work: the same command given positively and negatively, thus establishing its completeness. Understanding festivals as moments of rest connects well to an understanding of worship as time wasted, unproductive to human eyes, yet commanded by God who calls the community of faith to live according to a different rhythm and vision.

These are times of remembrance and reflection. Indeed, what were once purely agricultural festivals have been woven into the narrative of the Exodus and wilderness journey, the experience through which the people of Israel came to know God. Thus God's creative power which brings forth grain and all good things is celebrated alongside God's saving power which brought forth a people of faith.

To Ponder

  • Are you someone who enjoys holidays and special occasions, or do you prefer the ordinary, routine of daily life? Why do you think that is?
  • How easy do you find it to rest? Why?
  • Where do you see God's creative power in the world around you and your own life?

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).