Exodus 23:14
Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year.
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(14-17) The first great festival—the Passover festival—had been already instituted (Exodus 12:3-20; Exodus 13:3-10). It pleased the Divine Legislator at this time to add to that festival two others, and to make all three equally obligatory. There is some reason to suppose that, in germ, the “feast of harvest” and the “feast of ingathering” already existed. All nations, from the earliest time to which history reaches back, had festival seasons of a religious character; and no seasons are more suitable for such festivities than the conclusion of the grain-harvest, and the final completion of the entire harvest of the year. At any rate, whatever the previous practice, these three festival-seasons were now laid down as essential parts of the Law, and continued—supplemented by two others—the national festivals so long as Israel was a nation. In other countries such seasons were more common. Herodotus says that the Egyptians had six great yearly festival-times (ii. 59); and in Greece and Rome there was never a month without some notable religious festivity. Such institutions exerted a political as well as a religious influence, and helped towards national unity. This was more especially the case when, as in the present instance, they were expressly made gatherings of the whole nation to a single centre. What the great Greek panegyries, Olympic, Pythian, &c., were to Hellas, that the three great annual gatherings to the place where God had fixed His name were to Israel—a means of drawing closer the national bond, and counteracting those separatist tendencies which a nation split into tribes almost necessarily developed.

Exodus 23:14. The passover, pentecost, and feast of tabernacles, in spring, summer, and autumn, were the three times appointed for their attendance; not in winter, because travelling was then uncomfortable; nor in the midst of their harvest.

23:10-19 Every seventh year the land was to rest. They must not plough or sow it; what the earth produced of itself, should be eaten, and not laid up. This law seems to have been intended to teach dependence on Providence, and God's faithfulness in sending the larger increase while they kept his appointments. It was also typical of the heavenly rest, when all earthly labours, cares, and interests shall cease for ever. All respect to the gods of the heathen is strictly forbidden. Since idolatry was a sin to which the Israelites leaned, they must blot out the remembrance of the gods of the heathen. Solemn religious attendance on God, in the place which he should choose, is strictly required. They must come together before the Lord. What a good Master do we serve, who has made it our duty to rejoice before him! Let us devote with pleasure to the service of God that portion of our time which he requires, and count his sabbaths and ordinances to be a feast unto our souls. They were not to come empty-handed; so now, we must not come to worship God empty-hearted; our souls must be filled with holy desires toward him, and dedications of ourselves to him; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.This is the first mention of the three great Yearly Festivals. The feast of Unleavened bread, in its connection with the Paschal Lamb, is spoken of in Exodus 12; Exodus 13:but the two others are here first named. The whole three are spoken of as if they were familiarly known to the people. The points that are especially enjoined are that every male Israelite should attend them at the sanctuary (compare Exodus 34:23), and that he should take with him an offering for Yahweh, presenting himself before his King with his tribute in his hand. That this condition belonged to all the feasts, though it is here stated only in regard to the Passover, cannot be doubted. See Deuteronomy 16:16.14-18. Three times … keep a feast … in the year—This was the institution of the great religious festivals—"The feast of unleavened bread," or the passover—"the feast of harvest," or pentecost—"the feast of ingathering," or the feast of tabernacles, which was a memorial of the dwelling in booths in the wilderness, and which was observed in the seventh month (Ex 12:2). All the males were enjoined to repair to the tabernacle and afterwards the temple, and the women frequently went. The institution of this national custom was of the greatest importance in many ways: by keeping up a national sense of religion and a public uniformity in worship, by creating a bond of unity, and also by promoting internal commerce among the people. Though the absence of all the males at these three festivals left the country defenseless, a special promise was given of divine protection, and no incursion of enemies was ever permitted to happen on those occasions. No text from Poole on this verse.

Three times thou shall keep a feast unto me in the year. The feast of the passover, on the fourteenth of the month Nisan or March; and the feast of weeks or pentecost fifty days after that; and the feast of tabernacles on the fifteenth day of Tisri or September. Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year.
14. times] Heb. regâlîm, lit. feet, i.e. foot-beats, fig. for ‘times’; so besides only Numbers 22:28; Numbers 22:32-33 (also E). In v. 17 the more ordinary Heb. word is used (pe‘âmîm).

keep a pilgrimage] The word (ḥag) means a feast accompanied by a pilgrimage (see on Exodus 10:9): there were only three of these in the Jewish year. Ḥag is to be carefully distinguished from the wider term mô‘çd (rendered variously in RV. set feast, appointed feast, solemn [i.e., like the Lat. solemnis, stated, recurring] feast, solemn assembly, solemnity: see e.g. Leviticus 23:2; Leviticus 23:4; Leviticus 23:37; Leviticus 23:44, Hosea 2:11; Hosea 9:5; Hosea 12:9, Isaiah 1:14; Isaiah 33:20, Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 1:15; Lamentations 2:6-7, Ezekiel 36:38; Ezekiel 44:24; Ezekiel 45:17; Ezekiel 46:9; Ezekiel 46:11), which means properly a fixed time or season, and is applied to any fixed sacred season (including e.g. the Day of Atonement and New Year’s Day), whether observed by a pilgrimage or not (see esp. Leviticus 23, which, as vv. 2, 4 shew, is a Calendar of such mô‘ădim).

14–17. The three annual pilgrimages, at which every male was to appear before God at a sanctuary. These pilgrimages were festivals which marked originally stages in the agricultural operations of the year: they were the occasions of thanksgiving to Jehovah, the Owner of the land, for the gifts of the soil—the festivals of Maẓẓoth and Harvest celebrating the beginning and close of harvest, and the feast Ingathering the completion of the vintage and olive-gathering. In later times a historical significance was attached to them, and they were regarded as commemorative of events connected with the Exodus; in the case of Maẓẓoth and Ingathering this character is attached to them in the OT. itself, in the case of the feast of Harvest (or of weeks), it is first met with in the post-Bibl. literature (see on v. 16a). The present passage, with the nearly verbal parallel in Exodus 34:18; Exodus 34:22 f., contains the earliest legislation on the subject: the festivals are already recognized institutions; and the Israelite is merely commanded to observe them. The later codes prescribe the ritual with which, as time went on, they gradually came to be celebrated: see Deuteronomy 16:1-17; Leviticus 23 (H, expanded in parts from P); Numbers 28-29 (P); and (for Maẓẓoth) Exodus 12:14-20 (also P).

14–19. Further ceremonial regulations (cf. Exodus 20:24-26, Exodus 22:29-31).

Verses 14-17. - Law of Festivals. "The sanctification of days and times," says Richard Hooker, "is a token of that thankfulness and a part of that public honour which we owe to God for admirable benefits, whereof it doth not suffice that we keep a secret calendar, taking thereby our private occasions as we list ourselves to think how much God hath done for all men; but the days which are chosen out to serve as public memorials of such his mercies ought to be clothed with those outward robes of holiness whereby their difference from other days may be made sensible" (Eccles. Pol. 5:70, § 1). All ancient religions had solemn festival seasons, when particular mercies of God were specially commemorated, and when men, meeting together in large numbers, mutually cheered and excited each other to a warmer devotion and a more hearty pouring forth of thanks than human weakness made possible at other times. In Egypt such festivals were frequent, and held a high place in the religion (Herod. 2:58-64:). Abraham's family had probably had observances of the kind in their Mesopotamian home. God's providence saw good now to give supernatural sanction to the natural piety which had been accustomed thus to express itself. Three great feasts were appointed, of which the most remarkable features were -

1. That they were at once agricultural and historical - connected with the regularly recurrent course of the seasons, and connected also with great events in the life of the nation;

2. That they could be kept only at one spot, that namely where the tabernacle was at the time located;

3. That they were to be attended by the whole male population. The three festivals are here called -

1. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (ver. 15), the early spring festival, at the beginning of barley harvest in the month Abib (Nisan), commemorative of the going forth from Egypt;

2. The Feast of Harvest (elsewhere called "of weeks") at the beginning of summer, when the wheat crop had been reaped, commemorative of the giving of the law; and

3. The Feast of Ingathering (ver 16) in Tisri, at the close of the vintage, when all the crops of every kind had been gathered in, commemorative of the sojourn in the wilderness. The first of the three, the feast of unleavened bread, had been already instituted (Exodus 13:3-10); the two others are now for the first time sketched out, their details being kept back to be fined in subsequently (Leviticus 23:15-21, and 34-36). Here the legislator is content to lay it down that the great feasts will be three, and that all the males are to attend them. Exodus 23:14The Fundamental Rights of Israel in its Religious and Theocratical Relation to Jehovah. - As the observance of the Sabbath and sabbatical year is not instituted in Exodus 23:10-12, so Exodus 23:14-19 do not contain either the original or earliest appointment of the feasts, or a complete law concerning the yearly feasts. They simply command the observance of three feasts during the year, and the appearance of the people three times in the year before the Lord; that is to say, the holding of three national assemblies to keep a feast before the Lord, or three annual pilgrimages to the sanctuary of Jehovah. The leading points are clearly set forth in Exodus 23:14 and Exodus 23:17, to which the other verses are subordinate. These leading points are משׁפּטים or rights, conferred upon the people of Israel in their relation to Jehovah; for keeping a feast to the Lord, and appearing before Him, were both of them privileges bestowed by Jehovah upon His covenant people. Even in itself the festal rejoicing was a blessing in the midst of this life of labour, toil, and trouble; but when accompanied with the right of appearing before the Lord their God and Redeemer, to whom they were indebted for everything they had and were, it was one that no other nation enjoyed. For though they had their joyous festivals, these festivals bore the same relation to those of Israel, as the dead and worthless gods of the heathen to the living and almighty God of Israel.

Of the three feasts at which Israel was to appear before Jehovah, the feast of Mazzoth, or unleavened bread, is referred to as already instituted, by the words "as I have commanded thee," and "at the appointed time of the earing month," which point back to chs. 12 and 13; and all that is added here is, "ye shall not appear before My face empty." "Not empty:" i.e., not with empty hands, but with sacrificial gifts, answering to the blessing given by the Lord (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). These gifts were devoted partly to the general sacrifices of the feast, and partly to the burnt and peace-offerings which were brought by different individuals to the feasts, and applied to the sacrificial meals (Numbers 28 and 29). This command, which related to all the feasts, and therefore is mentioned at the very outset in connection with the feast of unleavened bread, did indeed impose a duty upon Israel, but such a duty as became a source of blessing to all who performed it. The gifts demanded by God were the tribute, it is true, which the Israelites paid to their God-King, just as all Eastern nations are required to bring presents when appearing in the presence of their kings; but they were only gifts from God's own blessing, a portion of that which He had bestowed in rich abundance, and they were offered to God in such a way that the offerer was thereby more and more confirmed in the rights of covenant fellowship. The other two festivals are mentioned here for the first time, and the details are more particularly determined afterwards in Leviticus 23:15., and Numbers 28:26. One was called the feast of Harvest, "of the first-fruits of thy labours which thou hast sown in the field," i.e., of thy field-labour. According to the subsequent arrangements, the first of the field-produce was to be offered to God, not the first grains of the ripe corn, but the first loaves of bread of white or wheaten flour made from the new corn (Leviticus 23:17.). In Exodus 34:22 it is called the "feast of Weeks," because, according to Leviticus 23:15-16; Deuteronomy 16:9, it was to be kept seven weeks after the feast of Mazzoth; and the "feast of the first-fruits of wheat harvest," because the loaves of first-fruits to be offered were to be made of wheaten flour. The other of these feasts, i.e., the third in the year, is called "the feast of Ingathering, at the end of the year, in the gathering in of thy labours out of the field." This general and indefinite allusion to time was quite sufficient for the preliminary institution of the feast. In the more minute directions respecting the feasts given in Leviticus 23:34; Numbers 29:12, it is fixed for the fifteenth day of the seventh month, and placed on an equality with the feast of Mazzoth as a seven days' festival. השּׁנה בּצאת does not mean after the close of the year, finito anno, any more than the corresponding expression in Exodus 34:22, השּׁנה תּקוּפת, signifies at the turning of the year. The year referred to here was the so-called civil year, which began with the preparation of the ground for the harvest-sowing, and ended when all the fruits of the field and garden had been gathered in. No particular day was fixed for its commencement, nor was there any new year's festival; and even after the beginning of the earing month had been fixed upon for the commencement of the year (Exodus 12:2), this still remained in force, so far as all civil matters connected with the sowing and harvest were concerned; though there is no evidence that a double reckoning was carried on at the same time, or that a civil reckoning existed side by side with the religious. בּאספּך does not mean, "when thou hast gathered," postquam collegisti; for בּ does not stand for אחר, nor has the infinitive the force of the preterite. On the contrary, the expression "at thy gathering in," i.e., when thou gatherest in, is kept indefinite both here and in Leviticus 23:39, where the month and days in which this feast was to be kept are distinctly pointed out; and also in Deuteronomy 16:13, in order that the time for the feast might not be made absolutely dependent upon the complete termination of the gathering in, although as a rule it would be almost over. The gathering in of "thy labours out of the field" is not to be restricted to the vintage and gathering of fruits: this is evident not only from the expression "out of the field," which points to field-produce, but also from the clause in Deuteronomy 16:13, "gathering of the floor and wine-press," which shows clearly that the words refer to the gathering in of the whole of the year's produce of corn, fruit, oil, and wine.

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