Question: "What are the Lord's appointed times (Leviticus 23)?"
Answer: In Leviticus 23:1–2, the Lord told Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: These are my appointed times, the times of the LORD that you will proclaim as sacred assemblies” (CSB). “Appointed times” were the holy days, feasts, and festivals that God required the people of Israel to set aside as consecrated to the Lord and to observe faithfully throughout the year.
Part of ancient Israel’s commitment to worship and holy living involved the proper observance of sacred days and annual religious gatherings. The appointed times corresponded with the Jewish calendar and were tied to lunar and solar cycles.
The Lord called these solemn observances “my appointed times,” indicating that the focus of the gatherings would be on Him. They included the weekly Sabbath and the monthly new moon festival. The annual spring festivals were the Lord’s Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Firstfruits, and the Feast of Weeks, which was called Pentecost in the New Testament. The fall festivals consisted of the Feast of Trumpets or New Year’s Day, the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, and the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths.
The Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3) was an important religious celebration for the Hebrews because it was observed every week as a sign of Israel’s covenant relationship with God (Exodus 31:12–17). On the Sabbath, the Israelites were forbidden to do any work at all, whether plowing or reaping (Exodus 34:21), baking or food preparation (Exodus 16:23), lighting a fire (Exodus 35:3), or gathering wood (Numbers 15:32–36). Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word that means “to rest, to cease from labor.” The Sabbath remembered God’s rest on the seventh day following the six days of creation (Exodus 20:11) as well as God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15).
The new moon observance marked the first day of every new month. During the new moon festivals, several different sacrifices were offered (Numbers 28:11–15), trumpets were blown (Numbers 10:10), all labor and trade were suspended (Nehemiah 10:31), and feasts were enjoyed (1 Samuel 20:5).
The appointed time of the Passover (Leviticus 23:4–5) was at the beginning of the bright season of the year when the moon was full in the first month of spring. The name Passover originates from the Hebrew term pesach, meaning “to leave or spare by passing over.” This great festival commemorated Israel’s salvation and deliverance from Egypt. Along with the Feast of Weeks and Tabernacles, it was one of three annual pilgrimage festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16) in which all Jewish males were required to travel to Jerusalem to worship.
The seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6–8) immediately followed Passover and was always celebrated as an extension of the Passover feast. During this week, the Israelites ate only unleavened bread to commemorate Israel’s hurried departure from Egypt. On the second day, Israel incorporated the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9–14) when the priest presented the first sheaves of grain from the spring harvest as a wave offering to the Lord. The Jews could not partake of their crops until the first fruits had been given. This act symbolized that the first and the best of everything belongs to God and that Israel would put the Lord first in every part of life. It was also an expression of thanksgiving for God’s gift of the harvest and for supplying their daily bread.
The next appointed time on the Jewish calendar was the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 15—22; Deuteronomy 16:9–10), which fell in late spring, on the fiftieth day (or a full seven weeks) after the Feast of Firstfruits. In the New Testament, this commemoration is called “Pentecost” (Acts 2:1), from the Greek word meaning “fifty.” As one of the harvest feasts, the Feast of Weeks involved offering the first loaves of bread made from the wheat harvest to the Lord. On this day, the Israelites also read from the book of Ruth and the Psalms.
The Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:23–25; Numbers 29:1–6) or Rosh Hashanah (New Year’s Day), which was observed in the fall, marked the start of a new agricultural and civil year in Israel. This appointed time was announced with the blast of trumpets, commencing ten days of solemn dedication and repentance before the Lord.
The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26–32; Numbers 29:7–11) or Yom Kippur was the highest and holiest day of the Lord’s appointed times, falling ten days after the Feast of Trumpets. This day called for solemn fasting, deep repentance, and sacrifice. Only on this day, once a year, could the high priest enter the holy of holies in the tabernacle or temple and make an atoning blood sacrifice for the sins of all the people of Israel. As a complete Sabbath, no work was done on the Day of Atonement.
Five days later, Israel celebrated its most joyous appointed time of the year with the fall harvest festival (Sukkot), also known as the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33–36, 40, 42–43; Numbers 29:12–40) or Feast of Booths. During this week-long celebration, the Jewish people built small, makeshift shelters where they lived and ate their meals as a reminder of God’s provision and care during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness when they lived and worshiped in temporary tents.
The Lord’s appointed times were celebrations of God’s divine protection and provision. Each one recognized different aspects of God’s work of salvation in the lives of His people. Ultimately, these holy days, feasts, and festivals found their fulfillment in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. Together, these observances prophetically convey the message of the cross, the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and the glorious promise of His second coming. As we gain a richer, fuller understanding of the Lord’s appointed times, we are rewarded with a more complete and unified picture of God’s plan of salvation as presented throughout the whole of Scripture.