Leviticus 23: 23-36
We have considered the first two sections of these feasts: 1) the Sabbath, the Passover and the unleavened bread; 2) the wave sheaf and the first fruits.
In the verses which we have just read, when the harvest was finished, in the seventh month, a figure of a perfect lapse of time, there was the “Jubilee”, the gathering of Israel, and their joy to be the object of Jehovah’s favour. Although rejected, this people is still the object of God’s interest today. If they had received the Messiah, there would have been no question of pure grace towards them, for in receiving Christ, they would have shown that man could be blessed without expiation and without a Saviour. Having rejected Jesus, Israel becomes the object of God’s pure grace and finds itself on the same footing as the Gentiles. They have lost all right to the promises. “Jesus Christ became a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises of the fathers; and that the nations should glorify God for mercy” (Rom 15: 8, 9); now in order for Israel to become an object of mercy, it must be that they should enter in by grace, like the nations.
Once the time of the Gentiles is finished, God resumes His ways with His people of old on earth, and the thought of celebrating a Sabbath on the earth arises anew. There is a rest, a memorial of jubilee.
It is at the time of the new moon: the light of Israel begins to be manifested again. Every new moon was a feast, but that of the seventh month particularly typified the gathering of Israel.
In verse 27, we see in the great day of atonement, the application to Israel of the sacrifice of Christ. It is only by an offering that one can approach God. One finds the details of the feast of atonement in this same book of Leviticus, in chapter 16. It is there that the sin-offering is seen. Here, nothing is said of it because, as applied to the future history of Israel, there is no sin-offering; but in this day they will afflict their souls, in looking on Him whom they pierced, and then they will grasp the efficacy of the blood of Christ, already shed for them, and without which there is no expiation. To enjoy the sacrifice of Christ, the soul must be before God in the place to which this sacrifice applies, and realise that God has seen our sin, and [that it was] put and visited upon Him.
For God to be in relationship with our souls, it is necessary for us to be in relationship with Him, according to His thoughts, and that we should see as it is the sin of which He has taken account in [the atoning work of] Christ. In this way we will judge sin in its horror, but nevertheless in the calm of a soul softened in the thought of what He has suffered for us. In the presence of the fact that God has taken account of our sins in Christ, we thus take account of them, but in peace because all is grace in the blood of Jesus, and God cannot impute sin to us for He has “condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8: 3) in Him who has been made sin for us.
In this day to come, Israel shall afflict their souls (Zech 12: 10-14), which shows us that, at this time, the family links are no longer anything when the heart is convicted of sin. Each is absorbed in his mourning, knowing that he has rejected his Messiah. The grace which leads them back makes them see their sin, and they mourn because of it, but they are at the same time brought back to God’s thoughts in seeing that His wonderful faithfulness has kept them in spite of their iniquities, to cause them to enjoy the promises at last. They understand that Jesus is not only a Messiah, but a Saviour and, called to enjoy God’s favour, they judge [their] sin as God judges it.
It is in the presence of the atonement that we understand how horrible sin is in God’s eyes, and how perfect is the love of Christ, who, instead of pouring scorn on our hatred, devotes Himself to death without any thought of Himself. Man always looks after himself; the Christian hates this selfishness and nevertheless falls back into it continually; but if he has by the Holy Spirit the conviction of the devotion of Christ, he is absolutely disgusted with all that he finds in his own heart.
Before these things the soul is afflicted; it is in bitterness. All is stirred up in the heart; it must be emptied. It even gives up judging itself because it has lost all hope of any kind of improvement whatever. It leaves the judgment to the Lord but this is how this judgment reveals love. Sin is condemned in Christ; the soul relies on the judgment of God and enters fully into peace. It is no longer judging itself; it leaves this to God, and God is all grace. It only remains to it to judge itself continually in its walk.
In this feast, such as our chapter presents it to us, it is a question of the application to the soul of a sacrifice made long ago; it is not therefore a question of imputation. First of all, all is jubilation; then God reveals their state to the soul of the people, as having rejected the Messiah. “For every soul that is not afflicted on that same day, shall be cut off from among his peoples”. The expiation is made and, on this day, it is the only thing which is placed before God. Woe to him who rejects it!
From verse 33 to 36, we find something quite different. It is the only feast to be called a solemn assembly: the great congregation. It has taken place only twice in Israel, at the dedication of the temple by Solomon, and when Nehemiah restored the service. Apart from these two cases, Israel has never properly celebrated the feast of tabernacles, any more than it has [enjoyed] rest on earth.
The people, spared then, will be a righteous people because the wicked will have been cut off; they will enter into the rest of the earth. These people will need a new birth to enjoy earthly blessings, Ezek 37; John 3. It is all the more impossible that we should enjoy heavenly things without it. The Lord presents this contrast to Nicodemus. The flesh does not understand the principle on which one can enter into the kingdom of God down here. Only, those of Israel who will have received the efficacy of the cross of Christ will enjoy “the sure mercies of David”, Isa 55: 3; Acts 13: 34. They will have communion with God about these blessings; moreover, the curse will be removed and the liberty and glory of the children of God introduced.
The feast of tabernacles had an eighth day; the other great feasts only had seven. This day belongs to the resurrection. They were to rejoice on this day in recalling the condition of Israel in the wilderness, and the goodness and the faithfulness of God who had led and kept them there.
We also, when we shall have entered into the rest, will know that grace has led us our whole life long down here. Our outward condition is now affliction, but at the same time we can enter, by the cross, into the enjoyment of the heavenly glory where all is joy, pure joy for us.
This feast of tabernacles has in no way yet been accomplished; it is entirely to come. It is Israel’s rest in the land, when they will have returned to Christ and will have recognised Him.