We sometimes hear the weekly Sabbath day referred to as the “first of the Lord’s feasts.” These feasts are joyous times that we look forward with great anticipating to celebrating at their appointed time. This most certainly describes the weekly Sabbath. But should the Sabbath be thought of as the first of the feasts?
There are two main reasons why people will describe the Sabbath day as the first feast. In the Torah in Leviticus 23 we find all of the appointed times the Lord has instructed us to observe. Yes, there are other feasts and fasts mentioned in Scripture with no prohibition against them, but these are the ones he has established. In this passage, the weekly Sabbath is the first one mentioned.
The second reason we might call the Sabbath the first of the feasts is because it is the first observance mentioned in Scripture. In the creation story in Genesis 2:3, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.”
The Hebrew word most frequently translated as “feast” is chag (Strong’s Hebrew word number 2282). If you thought that you were going to see moed (Strong’s Hebrew word number 4150), you are not alone. Many refer to the feasts as the moedim (plural of moed), and that isn’t wrong. In the King James Version and many other mostly older translations, moed is translated as “feast” in Leviticus 23:2.
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts (Leviticus 23:2 KJV).
A more accurate rendering of moed would be “appointed time” as demonstrated in Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon:
מועדה / מעד / מועד
mô‛êd / mô‛êd / mô‛âdâh
1) appointed place, appointed time, meeting
1a) appointed time
1a1) appointed time (general)
1a2) sacred season, set feast, appointed season
1b) appointed meeting
1c) appointed place
1d) appointed sign or signal
1e) tent of meeting
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 NASB).
In the first five books of the Bible (the Torah), the KJV translates moed as “congregation” much more frequently than it is translated “feast,” as can be seen in the phrase “tabernacle of the congregation.” Modern translations render this phrase as “tent of meeting,” again more accurately expressing the idea of an appointed time.
So, the moedim are the appointed times of the Lord. They are, as mentioned above, listed for us in Leviticus 23. Is the weekly Sabbath one of – the first of – these appointed times?
Interestingly, outside of Leviticus 23, the weekly Sabbath is never called a moed. When the Sabbath is mentioned with these other celebrations, it is listed separately. Consider this from King Solomon:
Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the LORD my God, dedicating it to Him, to burn fragrant incense before Him and to set out the showbread continually, and to offer burnt offerings morning and evening, on Sabbaths [shabbatot] and on new moons and on the appointed feasts of the LORD our God [moedey Yahweh Eloheinu], this being required forever in Israel (2 Chronicles 2:4).
You can find similar phrasing in 1 Chronicles 23:31, 2 Chronicles 8:13 and 31:3, Ezra 3:5, Nehemiah 10:33, Ezekiel 45:17, and Lamentations 2:6.
So I am going to suggest to you – hold on, now – that the weekly Sabbath should not be called “the first of the feasts,” and actually isn’t one of the moedim – appointed times – at all. Please, don’t stop reading and I will explain further.
The Structure of Leviticus 23
If you look at where the Hebrew word moed (moedey, moedim, moedam) is used in this chapter, you will find it in the following verses:
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: For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings. These are the appointed times of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the times appointed for them (Leviticus 23:2-4).
These are the appointed times of the LORD which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, to present offerings by fire to the LORD–burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each day’s matter on its own day– besides those of the sabbaths of the LORD, and besides your gifts and besides all your votive and freewill offerings, which you give to the LORD (Leviticus 23:37-38).
So Moses declared to the sons of Israel the appointed times of the LORD (Leviticus 23:44).
Verse 2 introduces the list of moedim,
Verse 3 then proclaims the weekly Sabbath, without calling it a moed,
Verse 4 introduces again the list of moedim,
Verse 37 tells us we have reached the conclusion of the list, and
Verse 44 concludes the chapter.
I believe this chapter could be summarized like this:
(2) Here is a list of the appointed times of the Lord.
(3) Before we start, there is the weekly Sabbath day, but it is separate.
(4) So here we go with the list – (verses 5 through 36).
(37) There, you have the list (38) besides the Sabbath itself.
You may or may not agree, and that is OK. I see this chapter as setting the Sabbath day apart from the rest of the days mentioned. This does not diminish the Sabbath. In fact, I believe it gives the weekly Sabbath a higher position than the moedim (feasts).
The instructions regarding work on the Sabbath day are stronger than those of the moedim, with the exception of Yom Kippur. On the Sabbath day, we are told in Leviticus 23:3 and a number of other passages that no work at all is to be done. On most of the other days listed in this chapter (again, excepting Yom Kippur) the instructions say to do no regular work – literally, work of service or as the KJV puts it, no servile work. Some days even make no mention of not working.
The Seventh Day
So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed (Exodus 31:16-17).
A most important distinction regarding the Sabbath day is the cyclical manner in which it is observed. In the creation, God established signs in the heavens by which we are to determine the moedim, the appointed times.
Then God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons [moedim] and for days and years (Genesis 1:14).
By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made (Genesis 2:2-3).
Unlike the moedim, the seventh day – the Sabbath – is not dependent on the sun, moon or stars, which were themselves created on the fourth day. The Sabbath is simply every seventh day, independent of the phase of the moon.
But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you (Exodus 31:13).
This verse is taken from the New American Standard Bible, stating “You shall surely observe My Sabbaths.” Other translations render this as, “You must observe My Sabbaths” (NIV, HCSB), “Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep” (KJV), and “Take care to keep my Sabbaths” (NAB). In the Hebrew text, the word ak (Strong’s Hebrew word number 389) precedes the words for “my sabbaths you shall keep.” Here is what the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says about the word ak:
This particle primarily conveys emphasis and often is not translated. When it is translated, the sense is either an emphatic affirmative (Gen 26:9; 29:14; Ex 31:13,13; Jer 16:19; Lam 2:16 etc.) or an emphatic restrictive (Gen 7:23; 9:4; 18:32; Ex 12:16; Lev 11:4; Num 22:20; Josh 22:19; 1 Sam 8:9; etc.).
The English Standard Version considers this little word ak and renders the passage like this:
You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths (Exodus 31:13a ESV).
Whether or not this is the best translation, I think it properly states the primacy of the weekly Sabbath. I guess that makes it “first.”
I encourage you to study this for yourself and to put into practice what you discover.