Holy Days of Leviticus 23: The Divine Appointments

This article has been reproduced with permission from Petah Tikvah (Door of Hope Ministries).

A very dear friend of ours has a love for the Jewish people, and was seeking to impart something of a Messianic Jewish vision at the church which he attended. The pastor was very open, and permitted him to do teachings on all of the Holy Days of Leviticus 23. His teachings on the Holy Days were well attended, and apparently well received. I was impressed that such teachings would go over so well!

Then the High Holy Day season came upon us. None – not even one – of these people had any interest at all in actually celebrating these Holy Days. They apparently were interested in learning about these days. But when it came to actually “doing,” there was no interest.

It has been my experience that much more learning takes place by doing. For instance, you could go to “Baseball University” for four years, studying the books diligently on how to play good baseball. But if you never actually got out onto the field to play baseball, you would be a lousy baseball player.

This applies also to Scripture. We can study Torah,[1] but if we don’t actually obey the Instructions God has given to us in His word, we will not learn all that God has for us. Once I began actually obeying the mitzvoth,[2] I began learning more of what God was trying to teach me. Why should He teach you more if you aren’t obeying what he already taught you?

The Holy Days of Leviticus 23 are God’s divine appointments. It is curious that many will be very careful to be on time for their doctor or dental appointments. However, God has His appointment calendar for when He wants to meet with His people. If you are Jewish, you are “His people.” Also, if you have accepted Yeshua[3] as your Messiah and Savior, you are also “His people.” You have been grafted into the Jewish Olive Tree described by Rav Sha’ul (Paul) in Romans 11:17-24. As such, you are no longer “excluded from the Citizenship[4] of Israel” that Rav Sha’ul tells us about in Ephesians 2:11-13. As “citizens” of Israel, it would behoove us to observe the laws of Israel, that is, the instructions that are contained in Torah.[5]

Feasts of the LORD not Feasts of Israel

We have encountered books with such titles as “The Feasts of Israel.” Such books can be enjoyed by Christians because they are designed to teach lessons of the Holy Days, but without actually expecting anyone to observe or celebrate these days. However, Scripturally these days are not called ”the Feasts of Israel.” In the King James Bible, in Leviticus 23:2, they are called “the feasts of the LORD,” not the “feasts of Israel.” In the original Hebrew, they are called “Mo’edei YHWH.” A “mo’ed” is an appointed time.

I have heard of Christians say that they observe commandments that are mentioned in the New Testament or commandments that came along before Moses, that is, “before the Law.” This is typical Dispensational Theology, and is very poor theology. However, they are ignorant that the mo’edim (“Feasts” or “appointed times”) were given to us long before Moses, even long before there were any Jews! In fact, the mo’edim were instituted even before there were men to obey them!

The first mention of the mo’edim was in Genesis 1:14, where God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” The term “mo’edim” is in this verse. However, the KJV mistakenly translates “mo’edim” as “seasons.” Regretfully, the KJV is held is such high esteem that most succeeding English translations repeat the same mistakes that are in the KJV. I’m not picking on the King James Version. It’s a pretty good translation. But it isn’t perfect! It would be nice if succeeding translations at least attempted to eliminate such errors.

The point that I am trying to make is that even those who hold to Dispensational Theology might want to consider observing the Feasts of YHWH, because the mo’edim are first mentioned in Genesis 1:14, which was “before the Law.” I confess to having major problems with Dispensational Theology. One of the major errors is that it basically “dispenses” with the Law. However, the Newer Testament gives a very interesting definition of sin: “Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the Law: for sin is the transgression of the Law (that is, Torah).”[6] That’s what Yochanan (John) said, not me! I’m just the messenger. Those who claim to believe the Bible should take note of these things.

Also, they should note Yeshua’s own words in Matthew 5:17-19. Yeshua Himself says,

“Think not that I have come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, mpt one jot or one tittle shall in any way pass from the law, until all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Paul the Christian, or Rav Sha’ul the Pharisee?

Of course, we have some who recognize that Yeshua was very “pro-Torah,” but then “Paul the Christian” came along and did away with the precepts of Torah. Actually, Paul the Christian was in actuality “Rav Sha’ul the Pharisee” (Acts 23:6).[7] In order to understand the writings of Paul, you need to have a Jewish mindset, and understand the Scriptures (including the Newer Testament) from a Jewish frame of reference. Jews have their own form of Dispensational Theology. However, in Christianity, succeeding “Dispensations” replace earlier Dispensations. In Judaism, succeeding Dispensations are added to the previous Dispensations.

Some believers claim to be “New Covenant” Christians, not bound by the “legalism” of the Tanakh (Old Testament). However, they are often completely ignorant of what the “New Covenant” is! Jeremiah 31:31-33 tells us that the New Covenant is God’s Torah being written on our hearts! Those who refuse to accept this “Old Testament” definition should take note: This passage is also repeated in Hebrews 8:8-10 and 10:16. You can’t eat ham and shellfish, or ignore the Sabbath and Holy Days of Leviticus 23, and then proclaim you are a “New Covenant” Christian! This makes an utter mockery of the New Covenant given to us by God.

The very first of the “feasts” mentioned in Leviticus 23 is Shabbat (the Sabbath). Shabbat also predates the “Law,” having been instituted at Creation, as the seventh day of Creation. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”[8]

Therefore, since it predates the “Law,” according to Dispensational Theology, Christians should observe Shabbat. However, the Council of Nicea in 325 CE instituted “Sunday” (the sacred day of sun worshippers) as the sacred day for Christians. The Council of Nicea was really the birth of Roman Catholicism. We do not hold the Council of Nicea to be in any way authoritative. However, Protestant Christianity adopted Sunday as its sacred day, as well as other Catholic holidays such as Easter and Christmas. Both Catholics and Protestants have (for the most part) abandoned the Biblical Sabbath and the Biblical holy days of Leviticus 23.

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)

As I write this, the Holy Day of Yom Kippur is approaching. We learn about this day in Leviticus 16, which describes how it was observed in the days of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), as well as during the time of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple). Included in this description are the sacrifices, which can no longer be made, as long as there is no altar or Temple on Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. This description in chapter 16 is primarily concerned with how the cohenim (“priests”) are to observe the ritual ceremonies. You can also read some excellent commentary on this chapter in Hebrews chapter 9.

In Leviticus 23:26-32, we have some instructions on how the rest of us who are not cohenim in the days of the Temple, and how we can still observe this Holy Day today:

“Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a Day of Atonement (Yom HaKippurim: lit., Day of Atonements). It shall be an holy convocation (mikra kodesh) to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to YHWH. And you shall do no work in that same day: for it is a Day of Atonement, to make an atonement for you before YHWH your God. For whosoever shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. 30And whosoever does any work in that same day, the same soul I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a Sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall you celebrate your Sabbath.”

In verses 28, 30, 31, and 32, we are commanded to rest, to refrain from work. Check out your calendars in advance and let your employer know you would like to have off for the religious holidays coming up. In New York State where we live, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees to observe their Sabbaths and holidays. You might not have the same privilege where you live. However, you should at least make the attempt to do so. I don’t want to get anyone fired! The needs of man supercede Torah. If your employer or school refuses to have you off on that day, then don’t take that day off. Also, don’t expect to get paid to take that day off, unless you have personal or vacation days set aside for that purpose.

Afflicting the Soul

We are commanded to “afflict” our souls. This has been interpreted as fasting. We see this in Psalm 35:13b: “I humbled my soul with fasting.” We see the same thing happening in Psalm 69:10. Also, in Acts 27:9, we read “the fast was now already past.” All good Bibles with notes indicate very correctly that this is a reference to the autumn fast, or Yom Kippur. Therefore, it is understood that afflicting our souls means fasting. In Judaism, all those beyond bar/bat mitzvah age (13 and up) are expected to fast on Yom Kippur unless there are health reasons preventing us from fasting.

The Holy Day begins on the 9th day of the seventh month at sunset and ends at sunset 24 hours later, on the 10th day of the seventh month. On the sacred biblical calendar, this holiday is usually observed between late September and early October. In Isaiah 58:6-12, we read:

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not thyself from your own flesh?

“Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your health shall spring forth speedily: and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of YHWH shall be your reward. Then shall you call, and YHWH shall answer; you shall cry, and He shall say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall your light rise in obscurity, and your darkness be as the noonday: And YHWH shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make fat your bones: and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of you shall build the old waste places. You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.”

It is traditional in Judaism to do good deeds, particularly deeds of charity at this time of year. The money you save by not eating on Yom Kippur can be used to feed the hungry.

Mikra Kodesh – Holy Convocation

Like all Holy Days (including Shabbat), Yom Kippur is a mikra kodesh, correctly translated as a “holy convocation,” or a “holy calling together.” In other words, we should ideally be assembling together for the observance of this day with others who are also observing this day. This is easier said than done. Some may be living in areas in which no one else observes the Biblical holidays. You do what you can! If I were in an area in which there were no Messianic believers, I would go to a non-Messianic synagogue for the observance of these Holy Days, something my wife and I have done often in the past.

The Holy Days are all to be observed as “a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” We learn this in Leviticus 23:14, 21, 31, and 41. I have heard people say, “Do I have to observe the Biblical Holy Days?” No, you don’t have to do anything! You have the choice of obeying God or disobeying Him. However, I would prefer to obey Him and reap the blessings than to disobey Him. You do what you want. And if you are a Believer in Yeshua, I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to obey Him by celebrating the days He has set aside.

Living Like Angels

All of the Holy Days are historically important to remember things that God has done for Israel in the past, and are meaningful for us today, and are prophetically important for the future. The Rabbis tell us:

“On Yom Kippur, we live the way the angels live: We refrain from eating, drinking, marital relations – we even refrain from wearing leather shoes. The written Torah tells us that we are to ‘afflict our souls’ on Yom Kippur, and the Oral Law, as encapsulated in the Talmud, explains exactly how to do that: Just as the angels neither eat nor drink nor make love, neither do we.”[9]

That’s interesting! Rabbi Yeshua said the same thing: “For in the resurrection, they shall neither marry, nor are they given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.”[10] Yeshua also told us that “the kingdom of heaven is not eating or drinking.” So the Rabbis are right! When we abstain from food and drink, as well as marital relations, we are living like the angels! We are also putting our bodies into submission to our spirits! This is part of what it means to be human. The animal doesn’t know how to deny himself, and doesn’t even care to do so. We deliberately deny ourselves in order to “afflict our souls” and bring ourselves closer to God.

As with Rosh HaShanah (Biblically called “Yom T’ru’ah”), it is traditional to wear white on Yom Kippur. This reminds us of the promise written by Isaiah (1:18): “Come now, and let us reason together,” saith the LORD. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

We generally avoid leather or fur. It is interesting to see Jews walking to synagogue on Yom Kippur, all dressed nicely in their suits and ties, but wearing sneakers on their feet!

This is the last of the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe), in which Jews seek to have their names inscribed in the Sefer Chaim (Book of Life) by doing acts of repentance, prayer, and charity. We learn in Hebrews 9 that Yeshua already purchased our atonement. If we are “in Yeshua,” then our names are already in the Lamb’s Book of Life. However, we see Yom Kippur as a day to fast and pray for the day of Israel’s salvation in particular, although we may lift up other needs as well.

Prophetically, all the Holy Days have fulfillments. Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) have already been fulfilled. The autumn holidays will have future prophetic fulfillments. Yom Kippur in Leviticus is Israel’s national day of atonement. Prophetically, it looks forward to a time described by Zechariah (12:10 – 13:1):

“And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications. And they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart. In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.”

This is perhaps the day that Rav Sha’ul told us about in Romans 11:25-27:

“For I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’ For this is my covenant to them, when I shall take away their sins.”

Curiously, although this is Israel’s national day of salvation, the little “book” of Jonah is traditionally read in the synagogue in the afternoon on Yom Kippur. Jonah was the reluctant prophet who brought the wicked city of Nineveh to repentance. We read this book as a demonstration of the fact that God has compassion for all of His creatures, including the animals (Jonah 4:11). He even sought out those who were as sinful as the people of Nineveh. God wanted to see them come to repentance. However, if they refused to come to repentance, they would be judged for their sins. God also wants you to come to repentance, and accept Yeshua as your atonement.

 

Endnotes:

[1] Torah literally means “Instructions.” The Greek Septuagint translated “Torah” as “Nomos,” meaning “Law.” Perhaps if the term “Torah” had been correctly translated, it wouldn’t carry such a negative connotation in the minds of so many Christians.

[2] “Commandments.”

[3] That is, Jesus.

[4] The Greek word is “politea,” which is normally translated “citizenship.” However, in this one verse, the King James translators changed the meaning to “commonwealth.” I strongly disagree with them.

[5] That is, the first five books of the Bible.

[6] 1 Yochanan (John) 3:4.

[7] Along this same line, we highly recommend the parody album, “Not One Jot or Tittle,” available from www.ffoz.org

[8] Bereisheet (Genesis) 2:1-3.

[9] Idiot’s Guide to Jewish Spirituality and Mysticism, by Michael Levin, © 2002, p. 243.

[10] Matthew 22:30.

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