A Holy Convocation

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.

“These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the Lord‘s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. But you shall present a food offering to the Lord for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.” Leviticus 23:1-8 ESV

In this chapter, God begins to explain the various feasts or holy festivals the Israelites would be required to celebrate each year. Five times in the first eight verses of this chapter, God refers to these communal events as “holy convocations,” a Hebrew phrase (מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁmiqrā’qōḏeš) that could literally be translated as “a set apart calling together.” It was a “summoning” of the called-out ones – God’s holy people.

Because God was decreeing these events they were, by their very nature, holy or set apart. These were not manmade occasions, but divinely sanctioned holy days that God had established and that He expected to be honored by His people. They were to be considered holy days, a term from which the English term “holiday” is derived. In Old English “holy day” was rendered hāligdæg, and referred to “a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done” (The Oxford English Dictionary). Notice now the more modern definition emphasizes recreation and the cessation of work. The holy nature of the occasion has been lost in translation and in practice.

Yet, from the very beginning, God placed the focus on holiness. These special dates on the Hebrew calendar were to be treated with reverence and reserved for the worship of Yahweh. Along with all the various sacrificial ceremonies the Israelites were expected to keep, they were to set apart a series of days and weeks that would be dedicated to remembering and commemorating their good and gracious God. And to set the tone for these holy convocations, God began by reiterating His call to Sabbath rest.

“You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of complete rest, an official day for holy assembly. It is the Lord’s Sabbath day, and it must be observed wherever you live. – Leviticus 23:3 NLT

This was not new information to the Israelites. They were already fully aware of God’s commands concerning the Sabbath. When Moses received God’s law on top of Mount Sinai, it included a regulation concerning the Sabbath.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you.For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11 NLT

Now, when preparing to articulate the various holy assemblies the Israelites would be required to keep, God began by restating His call for Sabbath rest. This weekly calling to rest and rely upon Him would form the basis for all the other holy days, and it all pointed back to the creation account.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.– Genesis 2:1-3 NLT

God completed all that He had set out to accomplish. In six days, He created the entire universe and all it contained, and He deemed it all to be “very good.”

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day. – Genesis 1:31 NLT

There was no more work to be done because God’s intentions for His creation had been realized – perfectly and completely. So, on the seventh day, God rested; not because He was tired or worn out from the effort He had expended. He reveled in the beauty and perfection of all that He had made. The universe reflected His own glory. Everything He had made honored Him by serving as proof of His power, majesty, creativity, and sovereignty. Centuries later, David would wax eloquent when describing creation’s God-honoring capacity.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.– Psalm 19:1-4 NLT

As God surveyed all that He had made, He rested in the glory of it all. Every facet of His creation pointed back to His greatness and declared His glory. And the Sabbath was meant to be a perpetual day of commemorating the greatness and glory of God. It was to be a day of complete rest – not just cessation from work – but a celebration of all that God has done. It was to be a time for His creation to honor Him by proclaiming His glory. One day a week, the Israelites were to stop everything they were doing and focus all their attention and adoration on the holy, gracious, and generous God. While all the other nations were busy working, the Israelites were to busy themselves with the worship of Yahweh, their creator and sustainer.

And that same attitude of sold-out adulation and adoration was to permeate all the other holy days that God prescribed. He began with the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was not two holy convocations, but one. And when God established the first Passover back in Egypt, He had declared that this event would begin a new calendar year for the people of Israel.

While the Israelites were still in the land of Egypt, the Lord gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you. Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household. – Exodus 12:1-3 NLT

With the inauguration of the Passover, the Israelites began a new year. From that point forward, they would live their lives based on a different calendar than all the other nations of the earth. And that calendar would include sacred assemblies and holy days that no other people group on the planet were required to keep. This new holy calendar served as a constant reminder to the Israelites that time belonged to God and so did they. Every day, week, month, and year was a gift from God Almighty. God expected His people to live the entirety of their lives with a constant awareness of His law that permeated every second of their lives. He later emphasized the 24/7 nature of their commitment to Him.

“Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NLT

These holy festivals were intended to serve as signposts throughout the year, directing the Israelites’ attention back to God and reminding them that, without Him, they were hopeless and helpless. The Passover was to serve as a vivid reminder of how God had graciously and miraculously delivered them from their captivity in Egypt. In a sense, the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread served as powerful reminders of God’s salvation and sanctification. In the Passover, the Israelites recalled His deliverance. In the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they demonstrated their commitment to live set-apart lives. He had saved them to sanctify them. Getting the Israelites out of Egypt had been easy. Getting Egypt out of Israel was another matter altogether.

As the name of the feast suggests, leaven or yeast was to be avoided at all costs.

“…you must begin celebrating the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This festival to the Lord continues for seven days, and during that time the bread you eat must be made without yeast.” – Leviticus 23:6 NLT

And the apostle Paul provides a clear explanation for why God forbade the eating of yeast during this weeklong festival. In writing to the believers in Corinth, Paul used the Jewish festival of unleavened bread as an illustration of the power of sin among God’s people.

Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 NLT

When God set apart this feast as a holy convocation, He demanded the removal of all yeast from their homes. It was a not-so-subtle reminder to purge their lives of their old ways. They were expected to leave anything associated with Egypt behind. God demanded that they do a clean sweep of their lives and begin anew. God miraculously delivered them from their captivity in Egypt. Now, He was expecting them to free their lives from any residual effects from that previous phase of their lives. They were no longer in Egypt, but the lingering traces of Egypt were still evident in their lives.

Throughout the week of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the people of Israel were to purge their lives of sin and focus their attention on their Savior. Anything and everything that might distract or deter them from their dependence upon God was to be removed – at all costs. Complete rest in and reliance upon God was to become their sole focus.

“For seven days you must present special gifts to the Lord. On the seventh day the people must again stop all their ordinary work to observe an official day for holy assembly.” – Leviticus 23:8 NLT

The same God who saved them was the God who wanted to sanctify them. He longed for His people to live in total dependence upon His will so that their lives might glorify Him. And these holy convocations were intended to declare His greatness as His chosen people demonstrated their reliance upon Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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