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Vayikra/Leviticus 23:2 These are the appointed times of Adonai ... these are they: My appointed times.
This verse starts the chapter containing the full feast sequence for a whole year, bar the later additions of Purim and Hanukkah. They are known as , the feasts or appointed times, twice here in this verse as "the feasts of the L-rd" and "My feasts". Derived from the root , which according to Davidson means "to appoint, as a place or time, to betroth", the festivals are more than a holiday but carry the sense of being a divine appointment where - by agreement - G-d and His people meet together, both to spend time in each other's company and also to conduct spiritual business: the offerings of worship and sacrifice. By the repetition of the word in this verse, the text emphasises both the purpose and the ownership of these times: G-d has appointed these times and they belong to Him; while the people will enjoy coming together and meeting their friends and relations, the main object is for the people of Israel - as a people - to meet with G-d and - as a people - to worship Him.
Sforno makes two points about this verse. First, he talks about what people will actually do on or during the day. Noting that some festivals require a complete abstention from all work, while others require only a cessation of servile work, he goes on to ask how the day is supposed to be spent. Perhaps with children in mind - for although adults may be able to concentrate for long periods of time, it is children who are likely to find a long serious day more of a struggle, if not a burden - he draws attention to a debate in the Talmud between Rav Eliezer and Rav Judah. Quoting from two verses: "on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the L-rd your G-d" (D'varim 16:8, NASB) and "on the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly" (B'Midbar 29:35, NASB) Rav Judah concludes that the days are to be divided: "devote half to G-d and half to you" (b. Pesachim 68b). This is taken to mean that although half the day should be spent in worship and study, half the day should also be spent on family relationships: visiting friends and family, playing with children, simply relaxing and having family time time together before the L-rd in the time that He has set apart for us.
Sforno's second point concerns the difference between G-d's appointed times, which He desires, and "mundane gatherings devoted to the transitory pleasures of men." Whereas the former are to be proclaimed as holy convocations, days set apart by G-d and including time to be used for study and worship, Sforno quotes from the prophet Isaiah: "I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me" (Isaiah 1:14, NASB). From this we learn two things - that the feasts of the L-rd are of greater significance than those called by men, and that the time must be set apart or dedicated to G-d even if we use part of the time to relax and enjoy ourselves. Prayer meetings should be meetings where people pray, not just meet, gossip and schmooze; worship times should feature significant worship, not just tuning up, rehearsal and chit-chat between a few nice songs. Social activity is essential and G-d intends us to have plenty of it, but the focus is supposed to be on Him. He knows that when we worship, pray and study, putting Him first both in our individual lives and in our times together as His people, then the rest of our lives - together and individually - will be in the right proportion.
Rav Sha'ul wrote, "So don't let anyone pass judgement on you in connection with eating and drinking, or in regard to a Jewish festival or Rosh Chodesh or Shabbat" (Colossians 2:16, CJB). These things are all a question of calling and are not to be the subject of criticism between one believer and another. Jewish believers in Messiah are called to observe the Feasts of the L-rd as part of our covenant responsibilities before G-d as a part of the Jewish people - G-d's chosen people - the remnant of faith within the Jewish community today. Gentiles, unless living within and part of a Jewish community, are not called to observe the Feasts of the L-rd although they are welcome to participate by invitation; and by so doing, to give a powerful testimony of unity in the body of Messiah of Jews and Gentiles worshipping together. However the Feasts are kept, let them focus on G-d first and also allow time for celebration, rejoicing and play!
Further Study: Lamentations 1:4; Nahum 1:15; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33
Application: Are you consistent it setting time aside for the L-rd? Do you set aside both study and worship time as well as relaxation and play time before Him? Do you make specific provision to include children and young adults in both worship and play on those days? Ask G-d to show you the balance He wants in your life and in your congregation so that all His people may be built up and encouraged.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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