Leviticus 23-24:9: The Progression of, not towards, Christ – in the Jewish Feasts

We’ve considered many new things since the Day of atonement in Leviticus 16, all of which can be under the banner of cleanness to holiness of both the layperson and the priest to enjoy the only true privileges of being part of the church of Israel.  The progression is indeed intentional: and the progression of Christ through the layout of the gospel story so far in the first three books of Moses, rather than the progression towards Christ (as if Christ was not preached nor revealed until the New Testament) is again embodied by the famous Jewish festivities.

Many non-Christian cultures celebrate special days and events – and today, the Gregorian calendar (the calendar we use in the majority of the world today) is filled with all types of random days commemorating significant moments in history; from Jimi Hendrix’ birthday, which is coincidental to mine (November 27th), to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles to remember the end of the First World War on the 11th of November, 1918, to the catastrophic September 11th.

Each day is thus filled with its respective significance and the western calendar used today is therefore a mark of western anthropology; just as the Chinese lunar calendar’s timing of the Mid-Autumn festival is a time of celebrating the Chinese myth of the love story between a damsel on the rock orbiting the earth.  The calendar itself speaks of culture and ideology.  The Chinese calendar marks the myths, superstitions and religions of the Eastern Orient; the Gregorian now speaks of post-modernism, relativism and a global cultural melting pot.

What of the Jewish calendar which the LORD established?  Here, we find one of the most engaging and interesting aspects of Christianity, and how much the Calendar, the dates, and the feasts reveal the progression OF Christ.

Progressive Revelation of, not towards Christ in the Feasts

Just a cautionary note and perhaps a little bit of side-tracking: the title of this post is “The Progression of, not towards, Christ”.  The reason I say this is because of the relatively modern establishment of the concept of ‘progressive revelation’, which speaks of Christ as if the saints only, over time, knew that the God they trusted in was actually the Son of God.  The implications behind this, is that Adam had no idea he believed in the Son of God, and believed (as far as he is concerned) in a mono-theistic God; then David, in Psalm 110, had spiritual foresights and glimpses into the Trinitarian behaviour, but they are merely glimpses; Isaiah, only when he is filled with the Spirit, was literally possessed by the Spirit when he wrote his book – the clarity of the Trinity was not apparent to Him even as he was writing the verses about the future non-acceptance of Christ in Jerusalem (thus the common phrase: “they wrote better than they knew”); and only until the time of the gospel writers, no one had the clearest and most revealed concept of Jesus Christ as Son of God and mediator in the Trinity.

With much respect to those who struggle or hold strongly to this view, the progression towards Christ seriously frustrates me on many levels.  Primarily, the arrogance of our assumption that Adam had no faith in Christ.  Let me explain: Adam had faith in the Seed (Genesis 3:15), called his woman Eve (the mother of all living despite being cursed with death in the same chapter!), who in turn called their son Cain the LORD-man (mistakenly and prematurely, which simultaneously reveals their mentality of their faith).  If anything, his faith isn’t in the generic God – his faith is in the Seed considered as LORD-man, manifested through the burnt offerings which he taught his sons Cain and Abel as well (although the former forsook it).  I am not opposed to progression per se, because I am not saying that Adam knew where exactly Christ is born, what exactly Christ’s name is.

What I am proposing however is the progression of Christ, which is an important distinction.  The progression towards Christ, is a progression towards allowing Christ the role he plays – that being the Redeemer and Mediator between us and the Father (and himself, for the matter, for both are our Judges).  This makes the assumption that in the Old Testament, none knew consciously they needed a mediator – their concepts were vague at best, but not explicit.  This simply has no scriptural warrant (Job 19:25).  What progression of Christ means the different manifestations of God’s sacraments towards man; the different expressions of God towards man (be they Noah’s ark; rainbow; circumcision; Passover; manna; Tabernacle; Mosaic Law), they continue to express the same Mediator, the same Truth, the same Redeemer – Christ.  Thus, there is a progression of Christ towards his incarnation, and these expressions, shadows and signs have always pointed towards the fulfillment of the incarnation.

This means that Jesus is clearly known, through these teaching tools.  The people did not only trust in the signs and shadows – they trusted in what the signs and shadows pointed towards, being Christ!  The New Testament is therefore not a book of ‘revelation’ – it is a book of fulfillment of the work of the Anointed One.  It is what the Old Testament had always pointed towards.  These feasts are simply a good way to express what the sacrifices could not – a school teacher if you will, like the rest of the Mosaic law.

What makes the feast stand out is for this reason:  it is tempting to look at the animal sacrifices and literally think they save them.  It is even tempting to think you are saved by your physical circumcision, and your diligence in obeying the law, despite the constant reminder from Moses not to be tempted to think so (c.f. Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6).

But where is such a temptation when you’re looking at the Jewish Calendar?  What can YOU possibly do about these calendar dates?  They are absolutely external to us; these days were established from the LORD alone; and ALL of them pointed towards Christ and his work on the cross.  Like the sacrament of the rainbow, let this calendar speak of the extra nos (outside of ourselves) of Christ’s work.  However, this did not stop people from being self-righteous from the observing of the days and months and seasons and years (Galatians 4:10) – and Paul is exactly making the same point I am making about the spiritual significance of these significant periods.

This is a great opportunity dive into the Jewish calendar which I’ve touched briefly upon in Exodus chapters 23 and 34.

1.  Introduction to the Jewish Calendar

2.  The feasts (Leviticus 23)

3.  Oil and bread (Leviticus 24:1-9)

4.  Progression of Christ and the Three Pilgrimage Festivals

1.  Introduction to the Jewish Calendar

Taken from here:

Hebrew English Number Length Gregorian Equivalent
Nissan (in Hebrew) Nissan 1 30 days March-April
Iyar (in Hebrew) Iyar 2 29 days April-May
Sivan (in Hebrew) Sivan 3 30 days May-June
Tammuz (in Hebrew) Tammuz 4 29 days June-July
Av (in Hebrew) Av 5 30 days July-August
Elul (in Hebrew) Elul 6 29 days August-September
Tishri (in Hebrew) Tishri 7 30 days September-October
Cheshvan (in Hebrew) Cheshvan 8 29 or 30 days October-November
Kislev (in Hebrew) Kislev 9 30 or 29 days November-December
Tevet (in Hebrew) Tevet 10 29 days December-January
Shevat (in Hebrew) Shevat 11 30 days January-February
Adar (in Hebrew) Adar I (leap years only) 12 30 days February-March
Adar II (in Hebrew) Adar (called Adar II in leap years) 12 (13 in leap years) 29 days February-March

Now, we must not look at the Jewish calendar is if it is identical to the Gregorian one which we use.  Although there are parallels to be made in identifying the corresponding Gregorian month to the Jewish month, there are additional months added in leap years (or literally, pregnant years).  The beginning of the month is normally established from observing the first teal of the moon, after the darkened moon – and therefore, each month is approximately 20-30 days, hence the discrepancy in some of the months.  However, the period between Nisan and Tishri are stable and unchanging: which means that the feasts and festivals and days of remembrance remain the same throughout those months.

Secondly, the ‘first’ month may be Nisan on the ecclesiastical year, but the actual first month of the Jewish year starts on the ‘seventh’ month – Tishri/Tishrei.  This is akin to the ‘school year’ of the Gregorian month, which begins often in September; for the Jews, Tishri is the ‘first month’ of the year – it is often referred to as a month of many significant days, from Rosh Hashanah on the 1st and 2nd of Tishrei (marking the beginning of the Jewish civil Year, as opposed to Nisan being the beginning of the Jewish ecclesiastical year), to Yom Kippur on the 10th (Day of Atonement), to the Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) beginning on the 15th.

The 1 Tishri is very significant.  It marks the same day where Adam and Eve were created; the sending of the dove after its return with the olive branch on Noah’s ark; the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22.  With such a small taster of the significance of the day, each day bears its own significance in preaching the truth of Jesus.

With this background knowledge, we can turn to the feasts.

2.  The feasts (Leviticus 23)

The progression of the festivals/feasts is as follows:

Feast/Festival

Hebrew Name

Dates

Christological sign

Passover

פֶּסַח, Pesach

14th of Nisan

Blood and death of Christ

Unleavened Bread

מצּה, Matstsah

15th– 21st of Nisan

The need for redemption, and that we are in the world but not of it

Firstfruits/Weeks

שבועות, Shavuot

6th of Sivan

Resurrection of Christ

Pentecost

Πεντηκοστή (the word ‘Pentecost’ is actually from the Greek, not Hebrew), and seen as a continuation of the harvest – Shavuot

50 days after 6th of Sivan

Giving of the Holy Spirit

Trumpets

זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה, zichron teruah; ראש השנה Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Yr)

1st of Tishri

The return of Christ and the victory revealed

Day of Atonement

וֹם כִּפּוּר, Yom Kippur

10th of Tishri

Renewal of the entire creation

Tabernacles/Booths

סוכות, Sukkot

15th – 21st of Tishri

Waiting for this new creation

Sabbath (23:3)

“Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.”

Before the festivals and the feasts, we begin with the remembrance of the first creation of 6 days (Exodus 20:11), ending with the seventh day of Sabbath, reminding Israel of the initial rest which the LORD took, before undertaking the work of new creation from the 8th day (John 5:17) onwards.  A new week, a new start. Deuteronomy 5:15 explains that this model of 6 days, then the seventh, is a model of our salvation as symbolised through the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.

The Sabbath is therefore a symbol of looking forward to the peace, the resting, of New Creation.  Do you take your Sabbath seriously?  Do you over-spiritualise it, and work every day without remembering that the LORD is in complete control and that our work is temporary on earth, for what-ever work we undertake is of two natures: the curse of Genesis 3 (the toil); or the Godly work of bringing people to the House of the Redeemed?  The former is temporary, and the latter is merely something we partake – for it is His work entirely, and not ours.  If even He rests on the Sabbath, what right do we have to work on the Sabbath?

Passover (23:4-5)

Lev 23:4-5  “These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them.  (5)  In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the LORD’s Passover.

So the first month of the ecclesiastical year begins with the Passover – but remember that the Jewish year begins with Tishri, not with Nisan – month number 7 is the ‘first month’ of a new year, not month number 1. This is the day that Christ went to the cross and died, and significantly so.  I have already considered the importance of the Passover in my exposition of Exodus 12.

Feast of Unleavened Bread (23:6-8 )

Lev 23:6-8  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.  (7)  On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.  (8 )  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.”

I’ve already looked at the importance of the feast of the unleavened bread, where one’s waiting of leaven is the symbolism of one’s attachment to the world (during the Exodus of Israel – Exodus 12:39).  This is a period of the onlooking hope of full-redemption by arriving at the spiritual Canaan (1 Corinthians 5:8 ).

Firstfruits (23:9-14)

Lev 23:9-14  And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  (10)  “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest,  (11)  and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.  (12)  And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD.  (13)  And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the LORD with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin.  (14)  And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

This is a time of harvest; and the very first of the harvest is offered to the LORD as they waited for the full harvest to be gathered later on.  This is a reminder of birth of the new life through the seed; the day of the seed, the third day (and also Day 3 of creation – Genesis 1:11-13), on which Jesus rose again is a perfect example of new life (John 12:23-24).  Jesus is the Seed which gives life to the firstfruits (2 Thess 2:13).

Feast of Pentecost (23:15-22)

Lev 23:15-22  “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering.  (16)  You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.  (17)  You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the LORD.  (18 )  And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.  (19)  And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings.  (20)  And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.  (21)  And you shall make proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.  (22)  “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”

Out of the ecclesiastical year, this is the first feast which is so fulsome –

(a) a grain offering (v.16)

(b) two loaves of bread to be waved, baked with leaven as firstfruit (v.17)

(c) seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bullock and two rams (as burnt offering v.18 )

(d) male goat for sin offering, two male lambs a year old as sacrifice as peace offering (v.19)

So this feast is one representative of the arrival at the Promised Land – for now, there is time to use yeast!

The Firstfruits marked the beginning of the harvest, as Pentecost marks the end of it; the firstfruits looked at salvation of those from the beginning of the world until Christ’s second advent – and every Christian in this period is seen as ‘firstfruits’.  However, the Pentecost looks at the fulness of this redemption – the revealing of all the sons of God in new creation (Romans 8:19).

However, how are we made the firstfruits?  By the power of the Spirit – which, unsurprisingly, is the day on  which the Spirit was given to Gentile and Jew alike in Acts 2.  Now, and not later, do we have the intimacy and fellowship with God in Christ.  We may not ‘feel’ it, or ‘experience’ it daily, but we taste the firstfruits of it.  The true intimacy we will experience with our new bodies in New Creation, but now we already know God because he knew us first (John 17:3); we already love God because he loved us first (1 John 4:19).

Out of all the feasts, this is the only one that required fellowship/peace offering.  Let’s work through the progression: first burnt offering, then sin offering, then peace offering – it is tracing the work of salvation.  Christ’s propitiatory work on the cross as burnt offering, his blood as our sin offering, and then the Spirit given as peace and fellowship offering.  Only by the power of the Spirit do we now that true communion with God, and this fellowship consists in the form of eating with God (hence the feast of Pentecost).  That is why we are a son of God, through the Sonship of Christ.

This does not end the analogy, for the latter parts of Acts 2 displays a sharing of the property of the believers.  “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need”.  This is a parallel to v.21 – 22.  Do not do any work, as a mark of rest; and you shall not reap to the edge of the land as a form of provision to the poor and the sojourner.

Day of Trumpets (23:23-25)

Lev 23:23-25  And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  (24)  “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation.  (25)  You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the LORD.”

This marks the coming of Christ, as the trumpet blast has signified so often throughout both OT and NT.  The ram’s horn was sounded in Exodus 19; then again in Joshua 6:13, v. 16, v. 20; Isaiah 18:3, 27:13; Ezekiel 33:5; 1 Thess 4:16; Revelation 11:15.

Note in the references above that the trumpet is a two-fold sign: a sign of rejoicing for those in Christ, but a sign of dread and punishment for those without Christ – rightly so; are we going to be under God’s wrath, or hiding in the cleft of the Rock?

Day of Atonement (23:26-32)

Lev 23:26-32  And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  (27)  “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the LORD.  (28 )  And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God.  (29)  For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people.  (30)  And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people.  (31)  You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.  (32)  It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.”

Some observations about this day –

(a)  No work (v.28 )

(b)  Who does not deny himself will be cut off (v.29)

(c)  Who works on that day will be destroyed (v.30-32) as a Sabbath.

It is quite clear that the Day of Atonement is a day of rest, combined with the significance of the Day of Atonement as a symbol of the death, resurrection and primarily the ascension of Christ, as well as the second advent of Christ (the High Priest’s return from the Holy of Holies).  This is a hope of new creation, with no regular work – it is a celebration of Sabbath rest for the whole of creation – this theme is repeated consistently between v.26-32.

Feast of Tabernacles (23:33-44)

Lev 23:33-44  And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  (34)  “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD.  (35)  On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.  (36)  For seven days you shall present food offerings to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work.  (37)  “These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the LORD food offerings, burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day,  (38 )  besides the LORD’s Sabbaths and besides your gifts and besides all your vow offerings and besides all your freewill offerings, which you give to the LORD.  (39)  “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest.  (40)  And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.  (41)  You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month.  (42)  You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths,  (43)  that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”  (44)  Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed feasts of the LORD.

v.37-38 acts as summary verses for chapter 23, and now we move on to the Feast of Tabernacles.

On the eighth day they hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the LORD – it is a solemn assembly without ordinary work.

In many ways, this feast of tabernacles focuses on the lifestyle of the church on earth as we await the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, which prophesies the truth of the life of the True High Priest. Starting on the 1st day with solemn rest, and 8th day with solemn rest (therefore beginning both weeks with rest).  Additionally, one should take the fruit of splendid trees, with branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook and rejoice before the LORD for seven days (v.40).  Then, they will dwell in the tents (v.42) for those seven days – and all native Israelites shall dwell in booths to remind the surrounding nations that the sign of the booth is significant.

Firstly, the importance of the solemn rest is again a concurrent theme throughout the festivals and feasts: but then the offering is one of fruit, branches, boughs, willows.  They are all related to the trees. Numbers 33:6/1 Kings 6:32/John 12:13/Revelation 7:9 indicate that palm trees are associated with life and victory; leafy trees is also a sign towards new life (Ezekiel 20:28 ).

What of the significance of living in tents/booths for seven days?  Hebrews 11:8-10 explains it away:

Heb 11:8-10  By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  (9)  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  (10)  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

3.  Oil and Bread (Leviticus 24:1-9)

Lev 24:1-9  The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  (2)  “Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil from beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly.  (3)  Outside the veil of the testimony, in the tent of meeting, Aaron shall arrange it from evening to morning before the LORD regularly. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.  (4)  He shall arrange the lamps on the lampstand of pure gold before the LORD regularly.  (5)  “You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf.  (6)  And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the LORD.  (7)  And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the LORD.  (8 )  Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the LORD regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever.  (9)  And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the LORD’s food offerings, a perpetual due.”

The oil of the lamp is that of the Spirit, who burns regularly.  The twelve loaves of bread, representing the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles.  The frankinsence and gold (Isaiah 60:6), an indication of the coming King!  If this is a food offering to the LORD, then the gifts given to Christ in Matthew 2:11 is an indication of an offering to Christ as LORD, as God.  This, following on from the Feast of Tabernacles, is a forward looking prophecy of the coming of Christ in his office as High Priest, and the sustenance of the Holy Spirit as our deposit throughout the end of the ages.

4.  The Progression of Christ and the Three Pilgrimage Festivals

I wrote in my post on Exodus 22-24 that out of these festivals, there are three where the all males are required to attend, namely the progression of Passover/Pesach, to Pentecost/Shavuot, to Sukkot/Tabernacles/Booths. I also mentioned in that post that the Passover represented the Son.  The Pentecost the Spirit.  The Sukkot, the Father – for it is a reminder that we may have both the Son and the Spirit, but the Father remains unseen except through the Son.  We are still in necessity of a Mediator Christ, and of his power the Spirit.  The Sukkot, therefore, reminds us that we are not yet in new creation, and are looking forward to it.

Let’s look at all these festivals in their progression – the ecclesiastical year therefore begins with the Passover, the death of Christ.  Our trust in the Passover leads us to be on our spiritual Exodus from this world to the new creation (Hebrews 13:13) signified by the Unleavened Bread, looking towards the fulfillment of Christ’s resurrection displayed through the Firstfruits.  The Pentecost, the giving of the Spirit, is the progression of Christ’s death on the cross on Passover, then resurrection on the 8th day of the week (New Creation), third day since he was dead (day of the creation of seeds), and became the firstfruit of creation as we are in him, by the power of the Spirit which he gave 50 days after Firstfruits.

All Christians of all ages therefore looks forward to the sounding of the trumpet, announcing the destruction of the reprobate and the salvation of the faithful, where the Day of Atonement, akin to the Day of Resurrection, will see the full renewal of our bodies and entire creation.

This is where the sign and blueprint of God’s plan throughout the OT to the NT is displayed – and this is the progression of Christ, not towards Christ.  For if we are speaking of towards Christ, then these ‘signs’ and calendars make no sense.  They are but extremely vague shadows, and cannot be given the Christological significance Christ tells us they deserve (John 5:39).

Which is why, AFTER the establishment of these signs, God however brings us back to our current state and establishes the feast of tabernacles after telling us of these important annual dates.  He reminds us essentially to wait for the fulfillment of these signs.  Wait for the progression of Christ from these signs to the future fulfillment.  This, therefore, should be a source of hope for the Christians in the Old Testament.

But remember the Jewish civil calendar as opposed to the ecclesiastical calendar.  The year essentially began in Tishri – and Tishri is the month starting with Trumpets and Yom Kippur.  Thus, the Jewish year begins on a joyous note of VICTORY!  Just as the new week starting on the 8th day is the day that Christ rose, so the new year represented new creation!  And the end of the Jewish year also ends joyously with the Pentecost, looking forward to the day when we eat bread with leaven in New Jerusalem, established by the trumpet blast.  The Tabernacles, Passover and Unleavened Bread are almost insignificantly sandwiched between – but it is Christ who has always been the alpha and the omega (Revelation 1:8 ) – even displayed through the Jewish Year!

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Leviticus 23-24:9: The Progression of, not towards, Christ – in the Jewish Feasts

Exodus 13-15: Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

1.  Unleavened Bread and the Pillars of Cloud and Fire (Exodus 13)

2.  Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death: the Parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14)

3.  Song of Moses: the Trinity explained (Exodus 15:1-21)

4.  Bitter water made sweet: prophecy of the cross (Exodus 15:22-27)

1.  Unleavened Bread and the Pillars of Cloud and Fire (Exodus 13)

Further details are given on the festival of the unleavened bread – v.12-16

12(A) you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the LORD’s. 13(B) Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every(C) firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. 14(D) And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him,(E) ‘By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of(F) slavery. 15For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the(G) LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb, but(H) all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ 16(I) It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for(J) by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”

Both animals and men are treated similarly (v.15) – every firstborn of a donkey you redeem; every firstborn of man you redeem – but also comes the sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb, “but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem”.  It shall be as a mark on your hand, or frontlets between your eyes.  The latter part of v. 16 displays the meaning of propitiation well – “I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb (the animals), but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem”.  By the blood of another, the firstborn sons are redeemed; by the blood of the Lamb, the firstborn of God the Father, our firstborns are spared.

So also, this seal shall be on our forehands, or on our hands, as the seal on our hands like the signet ring (Esther 8:8), or the mark on our foreheads to distinguish us from the non-Christians (Revelation 9:4).  This is the seal of the Holy Spirit.

Before ending this chapter, Moses and co. stop between Succoth (meaning “booths”) and Etham (meaning “fort”) on the edge of the wilderness.  The Angel of the LORD led them by the pillar of fire by night, and cloud by day.  Some people have wrongly personified the pillar of fire and cloud to be the Angel himself, but the Angel is leading the pillar of fire and cloud which follow the Angel (v.21; Exodus 14:19).  This route is considerably longer, but also safer.

What of this cloudy pillar by day and fire by night?  Some interpretation may be offered by Alexander the Great’s tradition of setting up a lofty pole placing a brazier fixed with combustible materials at the summit, kept burning over the general’s tent when encamped, and in the forefront of the moving host when on march, like a cloudy banner by day but firey beacon by night.

This pillar served as a cloud enshrining the shekinah, the glory of God; as well as being the very throne of God (resting on the ark of the covenant within the tabernacle).  Following William Brown’s view of the cloudy pillar, it being a guide (Exodus 13:20-22), light (Nehemiah 9:19), shade (Psalm 105:39), shield (Deuteronomy 1:30-31), oracle (Exodus 33:9), avenger (Exodus 14:24). Brown makes a distinction, however, not to confuse the sign with Christ himself.  Indeed, the sign of the pillar carries this six-fold characteristic of Christ himself, but it is the Angel who leads the cloud, NOT the cloud itself being the Angel.  Brown does not emphasise that distinction enough, and relies on a purely spiritual interpretation of the pillar which I think does not lend enough Christological weight to the Angel (he confuses the Angel and the cloud as synonymous in a few occasions in his chapter on the cloudy pillar in “The Tabernacle – Its Priests and Its Services”).

Nonetheless, the six characteristics are indeed very helpful and fitting in understanding the personality of our God; he is indeed our Shepherd-guide, Light of lights, a cleft in the Rock as a shade from destruction, a shield from the onslaught of the enemy, a prophetic oracle of the Judgment Day, and our Judge when he avenges for all the righteous by the very pillar of fire which only refines us, but destroys all else.

2.  Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death: the Parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14)

So the LORD tells Moses and the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth (“place where the reeds grow; farmstead”), between Migdol (“fortress”) and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon (“lord of the North/Baal of the North”).

So will it be a time of trial?  Covered by the fortress, the sea, the lord of the north yet also standing in front of the place where the reeds grow… indeed, this is the place where Israel is either held captive by Egypt, or grows as a nation of global repute.  Exodus 14:13-14 shows Moses’ faith in spite of the apparently dismal situation of the Israelites, and the theological depth behind it is astounding:

’13And Moses said to the people,(O) “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For(P) the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14(Q) The LORD will fight for you, and you have only(R) to be silent.”‘

Indeed, does it say that you depend on Him and do a little bit extra yourself?  No, salvation is of the LORD.  HE is the one working the salvation.  The LORD will FIGHT for you – the very meaning of Israel – the God who fights and struggles.

Then in v. 16, God tells Moses to lift up his staff again – indeed, this is a prophetic image of Jesus’ shepherding and judgmental power.  In v.21, Moses stretches his hand over the sea and a strong ‘east wind’ (again, this is the Holy Spirit) tears the Red Sea into half as it stood up in two heaps – two walls (v. 24 and v. 29; Psalm 78:13).  Indeed, not two pitiful puddles, but two heaps and walls of water which could drown all six hundred chariots (v.6).

Paul Blackham makes an interesting observation that the people didn’t just treat Moses as a mediator, but actually treated him like God (Numbers 16).  1 Timothy 2:5 explains that there was ever only one Mediator, the man and God Jesus Christ – not Moses however ‘great’ he became for even he did not enter the Promised Land.  In v. 31 we understand this as the Israelites began to truly believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person and the very Angel who led them through the Pillar of Cloud and Fire.  They didn’t just generically believe in the LORD (God in Heaven), but they believed in the LORD-Angel who was with them!  Then again, they would be confused to SEE God, yet also understand God to be unseen.  The song of Moses in chapter 15 reveals their Trinitarian understanding of God, but let’s firstly understand whether their prophetic understanding of the Messiah is that of a divine Son of man, or just a normal human seed of Adam?

Blackham in Lamentations 4:20 explains that the original Hebrew should not be “the LORD’s anointed” (although that indeed points to Christ as LORD’s anointed, it doesn’t explain his divinity), when it really should be re-translated as “the Messiah is the LORD” or “the Anointed LORD” or “the Messiah LORD”.  Given the staunch references to God’s self-provision of the Messiah, of means of salvation and redemption shown so explicitly in Genesis whether through sacraments, typologies and above all Christophanies, it is definitely not surprising to see these Israelites actively looking forward to what the splitting of the Red Sea meant.  This is merely a physical salvation; and just a type of the true salvation to come, and a type of destruction of the fire of judgment crashing down on every unbeliever just like those continuously unrepentant Egyptians who, like us, will have to walk through the valley of death; but unlike us, will not come out unscathed (Psalm 23:4).

3.  Song of Moses: the Trinity explained (Exodus 15:1-21)

Now, let’s visualise the scene where the bodies of thousands of men and animals were either trapped in the water or floating in water.  Instead, the people of Israel broke out in song!  How insensitive are they?

In fact, it is a completely appropriate praise.  God has been merciful on Egypt for many years (think 400+ years!), has blessed the Pharoah during Joseph’s time, and no doubt would bless the Pharoah of Moses’ generation.  But it is the Pharoah who refused to respond to the miracles, and kept on refusing and hardening his own heart until God kept him as the tool of expressing his judgment on all unbelievers.

v.6 of the song: “Your right hand” is a synonymous term used for Christ in various occasions, the Christ who ascended to God the Father’s right hand (Psalm 17:7, 20:6, 48:10, 60:5, 77:10, 78:54, 108:6, 110:1 and 5, Matthew 26:64, Mark 12:36, Romans 8:34), although it has been referred also to God’s “dominant” hand, or even a hand of Power.  However, to limit its semantic definition to ‘dominant hand’ or ‘hand of Power’ is to limit the titles of Christ to that of Messiah, Anointed One, Second Person, Angel, and Jesus Christ – when, within the Old Testament, there are many possible titles for Him which are equally appropriate, and one of which is God’s Right Hand, where he is seated and takes his actions from the Father’s Right Hand.  v.12 goes on – God the Father stretched out his right hand, and the earth swallowed the non-Christians.  The significance of this shows that Moses’ stretching of his hand and staff is but only a symbolism, or even a witness to God’s stretching of his right hand, Jesus Christ, in completing these punishments!  And indeed, what we had in chapter 14 is the Angel of the LORD directing all of this action, the Angel who sits at the right hand of the Father!

So this is Moses’ Trinitarian understanding of God – he does not confuse the right hand from God the Father who is the ‘generator’ of the right hand per se.  The Son is after all sent FROM the Father, and thus the Son rightfully should be at the right hand of the Father and differ in number only, but not in essence (to paraphrase Justin Martyr, i.e. both are divine).

Finally v.13-18 show that Israel’s name is now reputable simply BECAUSE of God!  The Edomites and Canaanites are trembling because of what God has done, and we will later find out that this event has struck fear in the heart of many nations which remain non-Christian.

4.  Bitter water made sweet: prophecy of the cross (Exodus 15:22-27)

Justin Martyr on the log which made the bitter water at Marah (meaning “bitter”) sweet:


And when I had quoted this, I added, “Hear, then, how this Man, of whom the Scriptures declare that He will come again in glory after His crucifixion, was symbolized both by the tree of life, which was said to have been planted in paradise, and by those events which should happen to all the just. Moses was sent with a rod to effect the redemption of the people; and with this in his hands at the head of the people, he divided the sea. By this he saw the water gushing out of the rock; and when he cast a tree into the waters of Marah, which were bitter, he made them sweet…
…even as our Christ, by being crucified on the tree, and by purifying with water, has redeemed us, though plunged in the direst offences which we have committed, and has made a house of prayer and adoration. Moreover, it was a rod that pointed out Judah to be the father of Tamar’s sons by a great mystery.”

This was taken from chapter 86 of his Dialogue with Trypho which speaks of the prophetic imagery of ‘wood’ which points to Christ’s death on a piece of wood.

Therefore, after 3 days in the wilderness of Shur (meaning “wall”), they arrive at Marah and threw a piece of log (or in the ESV footnote, a tree, the translation which Martyr favours) into the waters to make the waters sweet.  v. 26 makes the theological point about this event which happened after 3 days – if you listen to the voice of God, then He will be our healer.  Many of course make the obvious connection between Jesus the healer and this event, followed by the grand imagery of the 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees, almost symbolising the establishment of the 12 tribes of Israel and 70 elders (Exodus 24) encamping in Elim (meaning “trees”).  This is a foretelling of the new Garden of Eden, although it is only a mock-representation, with water being given sweet-life again, and so many trees to give Sabbath (rest) to the hundreds of thousands of Israelites.  Indeed, these 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees may be insufficient, but what they symbolise (the 12 tribes, and 70 elders) will be enough to father the spiritual descendants to come!

However, before leaving chapter 15, an important point to make.  v. 26 says if you listen to the voice of God, whereas in other parts of Scripture you get ‘if you listen to the LORD’.  This is quite different from saying the ‘voice’‘ of God which has occurred in Genesis 3:8 (where the unusual word used is “qowl” in Hebrew is repeated here).  This ‘voice’ of God is again, the very same ‘voice’ of God who was walking in the garden!  We can therefore add to the list of names which we can refer to Christ; not only is he the Right Hand of God the Father, but he is also the Voice of God, the visible of the invisible.

Exodus 13-15: Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death