Three times you shall keep a feast to me in the year.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Exodus 12:3-20; Exodus 13:3-10). It pleased the Divine Legislator at this time to add to that festival two others, and to make all three equally obligatory. There is some reason to suppose that, in germ, the “feast of harvest” and the “feast of ingathering” already existed. All nations, from the earliest time to which history reaches back, had festival seasons of a religious character; and no seasons are more suitable for such festivities than the conclusion of the grain-harvest, and the final completion of the entire harvest of the year. At any rate, whatever the previous practice, these three festival-seasons were now laid down as essential parts of the Law, and continued—supplemented by two others—the national festivals so long as Israel was a nation. In other countries such seasons were more common. Herodotus says that the Egyptians had six great yearly festival-times (ii. 59); and in Greece and Rome there was never a month without some notable religious festivity. Such institutions exerted a political as well as a religious influence, and helped towards national unity. This was more especially the case when, as in the present instance, they were expressly made gatherings of the whole nation to a single centre. What the great Greek panegyries, Olympic, Pythian, &c., were to Hellas, that the three great annual gatherings to the place where God had fixed His name were to Israel—a means of drawing closer the national bond, and counteracting those separatist tendencies which a nation split into tribes almost necessarily developed.Exodus 23:14. The passover, pentecost, and feast of tabernacles, in spring, summer, and autumn, were the three times appointed for their attendance; not in winter, because travelling was then uncomfortable; nor in the midst of their harvest.Exodus 12; Exodus 13:but the two others are here first named. The whole three are spoken of as if they were familiarly known to the people. The points that are especially enjoined are that every male Israelite should attend them at the sanctuary (compare Exodus 34:23), and that he should take with him an offering for Yahweh, presenting himself before his King with his tribute in his hand. That this condition belonged to all the feasts, though it is here stated only in regard to the Passover, cannot be doubted. See Deuteronomy 16:16.Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)14. times] Heb. regâlîm, lit. feet, i.e. foot-beats, fig. for ‘times’; so besides only Numbers 22:28; Numbers 22:32-33 (also E). In v. 17 the more ordinary Heb. word is used (pe‘âmîm).
keep a pilgrimage] The word (ḥag) means a feast accompanied by a pilgrimage (see on Exodus 10:9): there were only three of these in the Jewish year. Ḥag is to be carefully distinguished from the wider term mô‘çd (rendered variously in RV. set feast, appointed feast, solemn [i.e., like the Lat. solemnis, stated, recurring] feast, solemn assembly, solemnity: see e.g. Leviticus 23:2; Leviticus 23:4; Leviticus 23:37; Leviticus 23:44, Hosea 2:11; Hosea 9:5; Hosea 12:9, Isaiah 1:14; Isaiah 33:20, Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 1:15; Lamentations 2:6-7, Ezekiel 36:38; Ezekiel 44:24; Ezekiel 45:17; Ezekiel 46:9; Ezekiel 46:11), which means properly a fixed time or season, and is applied to any fixed sacred season (including e.g. the Day of Atonement and New Year’s Day), whether observed by a pilgrimage or not (see esp. Leviticus 23, which, as vv. 2, 4 shew, is a Calendar of such mô‘ădim).
14–17. The three annual pilgrimages, at which every male was to appear before God at a sanctuary. These pilgrimages were festivals which marked originally stages in the agricultural operations of the year: they were the occasions of thanksgiving to Jehovah, the Owner of the land, for the gifts of the soil—the festivals of Maẓẓoth and Harvest celebrating the beginning and close of harvest, and the feast Ingathering the completion of the vintage and olive-gathering. In later times a historical significance was attached to them, and they were regarded as commemorative of events connected with the Exodus; in the case of Maẓẓoth and Ingathering this character is attached to them in the OT. itself, in the case of the feast of Harvest (or of weeks), it is first met with in the post-Bibl. literature (see on v. 16a). The present passage, with the nearly verbal parallel in Exodus 34:18; Exodus 34:22 f., contains the earliest legislation on the subject: the festivals are already recognized institutions; and the Israelite is merely commanded to observe them. The later codes prescribe the ritual with which, as time went on, they gradually came to be celebrated: see Deuteronomy 16:1-17; Leviticus 23 (H, expanded in parts from P); Numbers 28-29 (P); and (for Maẓẓoth) Exodus 12:14-20 (also P).
14–19. Further ceremonial regulations (cf. Exodus 20:24-26, Exodus 22:29-31).Verses 14-17. - Law of Festivals. "The sanctification of days and times," says Richard Hooker, "is a token of that thankfulness and a part of that public honour which we owe to God for admirable benefits, whereof it doth not suffice that we keep a secret calendar, taking thereby our private occasions as we list ourselves to think how much God hath done for all men; but the days which are chosen out to serve as public memorials of such his mercies ought to be clothed with those outward robes of holiness whereby their difference from other days may be made sensible" (Eccles. Pol. 5:70, § 1). All ancient religions had solemn festival seasons, when particular mercies of God were specially commemorated, and when men, meeting together in large numbers, mutually cheered and excited each other to a warmer devotion and a more hearty pouring forth of thanks than human weakness made possible at other times. In Egypt such festivals were frequent, and held a high place in the religion (Herod. 2:58-64:). Abraham's family had probably had observances of the kind in their Mesopotamian home. God's providence saw good now to give supernatural sanction to the natural piety which had been accustomed thus to express itself. Three great feasts were appointed, of which the most remarkable features were -
1. That they were at once agricultural and historical - connected with the regularly recurrent course of the seasons, and connected also with great events in the life of the nation;
2. That they could be kept only at one spot, that namely where the tabernacle was at the time located;
3. That they were to be attended by the whole male population. The three festivals are here called -
1. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (ver. 15), the early spring festival, at the beginning of barley harvest in the month Abib (Nisan), commemorative of the going forth from Egypt;
2. The Feast of Harvest (elsewhere called "of weeks") at the beginning of summer, when the wheat crop had been reaped, commemorative of the giving of the law; and
3. The Feast of Ingathering (ver 16) in Tisri, at the close of the vintage, when all the crops of every kind had been gathered in, commemorative of the sojourn in the wilderness. The first of the three, the feast of unleavened bread, had been already instituted (Exodus 13:3-10); the two others are now for the first time sketched out, their details being kept back to be fined in subsequently (Leviticus 23:15-21, and 34-36). Here the legislator is content to lay it down that the great feasts will be three, and that all the males are to attend them. Exodus 23:6, a warning against perverting the right of the poor in his cause; in Exodus 23:7, a general command to keep far away from a false matter, and not to slay the innocent and righteous, i.e., not to be guilty of judicial murder, together with the threat that God would not justify the sinner; and in Exodus 23:8, the command not to accept presents, i.e., to be bribed by gifts, because "the gift makes seeing men (פּקחים open eyes) blind, and perverts the causes of the just." The rendering "words of the righteous" is not correct; for even if we are to understand the expression "seeing men" as referring to judges, the "righteous" can only refer to those who stand at the bar, and have right on their side, which judges who accept of bribes may turn into wrong.
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