Chapter 23 is a listing and description of all the feasts the Israelites were expected to keep. These all commemorated something God had done for them during the exodus or when they arrived in the land. Passover was a reminder of the tenth plague that killed the firstborn in Egypt. First fruits was a thanksgiving for the fertile land that they’d been given.
The festival of weeks was a harvest festival celebrated 50 days after the prior feast. Today this feast is called Shavuot, and Christians call it Pentecost. In later years it would also come to be symbolic of the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai because that occurred at this time from the events of Passover.
The feast of trumpets comes in the fall and is now knows as Rosh Hashanah and is the civil new year for Jewish people around the world. It is followed 10 days later by the Day of Atonement, known today as Yom Kippur. This was the holiest day of the year for the Israelites, and continues to be for Jewish people today.
That is followed a few days later by the Festival of Booths, now called Sukkot. This feast is characterized by the usage of booths where all meals are eaten and where the men of the house will sleep in for the duration of the 7 day feast. This dwelling in tents is to be an annual reminder and reenactment of the time when all of Israel dwelled in tents in the desert while journeying to the promised land.
In the 24th chapter we see one of these penalties for an offense of the law carried out. During a fight with another man, a half-Israelite half-Egyptian man curses God and blasphemes against him. For this he is taken out of the camp and stoned to death.
We finish up in the 25th chapter today and God is giving a couple of very interesting principles to Moses for the Israelites to follow in perpetuity. The first is a sabbath year; just like a sabbath day that comes every seventh day, the sabbath year is the seventh year and has rest as its primary aim, but rest for the land. For six years they were to plant and harvest as normal, but in the seventh year they were to let their fields go fallow, with neither planting or harvesting happening.
In modern farming this is somewhat similar to crop rotation, where a farmer will divide a field into several parcels. He’ll then plant different crops in those parcels and rotate them each season so that a different crop is grown on each parcel until after a certain time period the starting crop comes back around in the rotation to the parcel it began on. Sometimes they’ll even throw in a parcel that is left fallow or vacant. The reason for this is because the plants deplete the nutrients in the soil, with each type of plant using a different share of the various nutrients available, and the ground needs time to recover. So God is mandating that they give their fields a year of recovery every seventh year, just like they give themselves a day of recovery every week.
Another purpose for the sabbath year is it’s an act of trust and obedience to God. He promised them that the year before this rest he would provide a crop that was three times more than what they needed, and it would sustain them through the sabbath year unscathed. This is just like when he’d allow them to gather extra manna on the sixth day so they’d have enough to eat on the sabbath when there’d be no manna coming from heaven.
Eventually Israel will fail to observe this sabbath year, and so when they go off into exile in Babylon they’ll be gone for 70 years and that’s how many sabbath years they didn’t observe. So instead of laying desolate for one year every seven for 490 years, the land will get that rest all at once.
The second principal laid out in this chapter is the jubilee year. This comes every fifty years and was a time where debts were forgiven and slaves were released. There was a lot of what kind of property got released and how much it cost to be redeemed, but essentially debts weren’t forever under this system. The purpose of taking someone’s property when they owed you a debt wasn’t to get rich off their expense but to be fair to you because they had a debt they couldn’t pay, but you were only holding their land as collateral and had to return it if they redeemed it or at the jubilee year.
The same with slaves who sold themselves to you for a debt, after 50 years they were released. Technically it wasn’t a whole 50 years, because you could give yourself up into slavery in year 48 and then you’d be released in a couple of years.
Imagine a society like this, where God is the king and all the people live together fairly and free, but this utopia never did come about because the people never do follow God’s law exactly, and they never could. Not until Jesus came along at least.
The whole law of Moses, as we’ve read in Exodus and now Leviticus, and will continue on through Numbers and Deuteronomy, only defines the boundaries of moral acts and immoral acts. It only gives definitions and clarity to what is good and what is evil, but it does nothing to restrain the people from choosing evil over good. Paul says in Roman’s that the law increased the trespasses of Israel because they now knew what was wrong and were unable to stop winning without divine help. And that was the purpose of this whole code of law, to make the people realize how much sin they had in their lives, and how apart from God’s grace they were wholly unable to stop.