All of us need a break now and then – a time to step away from the daily routine, to relax and to be refreshed. Our Father knows that, and has determined certain days when He wants us to do just that. Some people think of these days as the Jewish Feasts. Many have referred to them as the Feasts of Israel. God just calls them His Appointed Times.
Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “The LORD’S appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations–My appointed times are these” (Leviticus 23:2). The single Hebrew word translated as “appointed times” in the New American Standard Bible and other translations, or as “feasts” in the King James Version, is mo-ed (mowadeey Yahweh “appointed times of Yahweh” and mowadaay “my appointed times”).
There are some important terms used in the Hebrew text to describe and make distinctions between the Appointed Times. Not all of them are to be observed in the same way.
The Appointed Times – Leviticus Chapter 23
Here are the Appointed Times mentioned in this chapter:
The Weekly Sabbath (23:3)
The Passover (Pesach) (23:5)
The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Matzot) (23:6-8)
The Wave Sheaf of First Fruits (Omer) (23:10-14)
The Feast of Weeks (Shavuot, Pentecost) (23:15-21)
The Day of Blowing Trumpets* (Yom Teruah) (23:24-25)
The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) (23:27-32)
The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot, Booths) (23:34-43)
The Eighth Day (23:36,39)
The first of the Appointed Times is distinctly different from the others. The first one listed is the seventh-day Sabbath, a weekly occurrence. All of the remaining Appointed Times are annual. This allows for the possibility, then, that one or more of the annual days could also fall on the weekly Sabbath. Should that occur, which observance takes precedence?
A Time To Gather Together
There is a common term used to describe many of these Appointed times. The Hebrew words miqra qodesh, or “Holy Convocation,” are used to describe the Sabbath, the first and seventh day of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, the Day of Blowing Trumpets*, the Day of Atonement, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Eighth Day. Miqra, Strongs Hebrew word #4744, means a convocation or sacred assembly. Qodesh, Strong’s Hebrew word #6944, is the Biblical word translated “holy.”
Passover and the day of the Wave Sheaf are not called a “holy convocation.” It should be noted that Passover is intended to be celebrated in homes, not in the assembly. There is also no command given regarding work on these days. They are not treated as “Sabbath” days, unless of course they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath. I believe the passage shows that the day of the Wave Sheaf is always on the first day of the week (Sunday).
All of the remaining Appointed Times are called miqra qodesh, a “holy convocation.” On these times, we are to come together with others as an assembly to observe the day. These Appointed Times also have instructions regarding work, though not all have the same instruction.
A Sabbath of Complete Rest
Two of these Appointed Times, the weekly Sabbath and the Day of Atonement, are called shabbat shabbatown, a “Sabbath of complete rest.” This phrase is only used in Scripture to describe these two days (Exodus 16:23, 31:15, 35:2, Leviticus 16:31, 23:3, 23:32) and the seventh year rest for the land (Leviticus 25:4). On these two days, one weekly and one annually, no work is to be done. The Hebrew looks like this:
כל־מלאכה לא תעשׂו
“kal- malakah lo ta-asuw”
“all work not shall you do”
In addition, the Hebrew uses forms of the verb anah, Strong’s #6031, and tells us to “afflict your souls” on the Day of Atonement, usually interpreted as a command to fast. That sets this Appointed Time apart from all the rest.
The Other “Sabbaths”
On the remaining Appointed Times – the first and last days of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, the Day of Blowing Trumpets*, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Eighth Day – the instruction is to “not do any laborious work” (NASB). The NIV says “no regular work” and the KJV reads “no servile work.” The Hebrew looks like this:
כל־מלאכת עבדה לא תעשׂו
”kal- maleket avodah lo ta-asuw”
“all work of bondage/service not shall you do”
The difference seems to be from what kind of work we are to abstain. On the Sabbath and on the Day of Atonement, no work of any kind is permitted. On the other Appointed Times, the instruction appears to prohibit what is normally done to make a living, allowing for other types of “work.”
It is interesting to note that another passage describing the first and last days of Unleavened Bread, Exodus 12:41, says “no work at all shall be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you.” Perhaps on all of these remaining Appointed Times, the only work that is permitted is to prepare food. Some have also interpreted this passage to indicate that food preparation is not permitted on the weekly Sabbath where the instruction is “no work.”
Another interesting observation about the remaining Appointed Times is the use of the Hebrew word shabbat, or Sabbath. While the weekly Sabbath and the Day of Atonement are called shabbat shabbatown, or a Sabbath of complete rest, only the Day of Blowing Trumpets*, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Eighth Day are called shabbat, or Sabbath. This term is not used to describe the first and last days of Unleavened Bread or the Feast of Weeks, even though the description regarding work and assembly are the same.
So, knowing now the descriptions of these days in the Hebrew text, what should we do when one of the annual Appointed Times falls on a weekly Sabbath? I believe in these instances, the command to “afflict your souls” on the Day of Atonement, one of the two “holy convocations” were we are told to do no work at all, takes priority over all others. However, on the other days I believe the instruction for the weekly Sabbath, a shabbat shabbatown “Sabbath of complete rest” where no work is to be done, would always take precedence over the annual celebrations in which some work is permitted.
Don’t Lose Sight of the Prize
Of course, these instructions are not the point of the celebrations; they are given so that we can, for a while, rest from those things that we have to do. Isn’t it just like us that we have to be told to rest? Pause, and realize these are reminders God’s provision in the past. They are also prophetic of things to come in the future. Overall, they reveal His plan for us. Resting from our regular work routine lets us focus on the real meaning of the Appointed Times.
Why does He hold the weekly Sabbath in such high regard, a day that Yeshua said “was made for man” and not the other way around (Mark 2:22)? What does He want us to see and experience in this “Sabbath of complete rest?” How do each of God’s Appointed Times reveal His character and His plan of redemption and restoration? These are things that we grow into as we study and seek the face of our Father.
* The word for “trumpets” does not actually appear in Hebrew in Leviticus 23:24-25.