THE ANNUAL SERVICES
Annual.—There were several annual services appointed for observance in the tabernacle, recurrent “three times a year”—which might seem a contradiction. How could they be annual if held three times a year? The answer is, each of the three was special in itself, and came only once a year: the passover, the reaping of the firstfruits, and the ingathering of the harvest, which included the feast of tabernacles. The particulars may be learnt in Num. 28 and 29; Lev. 23; and Exod. 23:14–16.
The annual is the largest natural cycle recognized in the tabernacle services. Other periods enter into the administration of the law in temporal things, such as the six years of service or debt, ending in liberty: or forty-nine years of exile ending in unconditional restitution; but these are not natural periods; that is, they are not measured by the movements of the heavenly bodies, and there was no provision for their recognition in the ritual of the sanctuary. The year is a natural period, and the longest natural period in the life of man. His life is but a repetition of years. The year, therefore, would naturally stand as the symbol of his whole life.
That “once a year” certain things should be done was an intimation that the things signified stood related to his whole life, that is, that the will of God required these things in paramount recognition in the lives of those who would be acceptable to Him.
- The Passover.—The passover was for the whole congregation to keep. But there was a special observance in the tabernacle. During the seven days of the feast, while the people were living on unleavened bread (” sincerity and truth”—1 Cor. 5:8), the priests were to offer every day, in addition to the daily morning and evening sacrifice, “two young bullocks, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year” without blemish as a burnt offering, and “one goat for a sin offering” (Num. 28:19)-along with their appointed meat offerings, already considered. If the burnt offering means, as we seemed to see a chapter or two back, the absorption of the mortal by the flaming-power of the Spirit, then two bullocks (double strength, or all our strength): one ram (natural fatherhood): seven lambs (the very perfection of child-like innocence, sweetness, and simplicity) would be an intimation that man could only attain the immortal in a complete dedication to God of natural powers and relationships, in a perfect submission to His will as the law of life. Christ in all this conformed to the foreshadowing of the law, and we conform to him when we obey him as called upon to do (Heb. 5:9). “The goat for a sin offering” shows us the antitypical sacrifice of sin’s flesh—a pushful, masterful thing—which was put to death on Calvary, “that the body of sin might be destroyed” (Rom. 6:6–10); though in Christ, its pushful masterful tendencies were all overcome beforehand—as Jesus said, “I have overcome”—that the sacrifice (without blemish) might be accepted for us. Thus was blended with the Passover celebration, the typification of a perfect submission to the will of God as a basis of reconciliation.
There is something significant in this association of the highest spiritual attainments with the annual celebration of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, for we must not forget that the primary object of the feast was to keep this event in national memory (Exod. 12:14–27). The modern attitude is that of unbelief concerning the divine nature of the plagues: the death of the firstborn; and the opening of the Red Sea for Israel’s escape; and lo, here, not only is the historic reality of these things Linked with a feast which has been kept by Israel in all their generations ever since to the present day, but involved in their celebration is the shadowing of the highest final achievements of God’s purpose in Christ. The world’s scepticism in the matter is an insult to reason. Moses and Christ are the two poles of God’s great work. The miracles of Moses and the miracles of Christ are the two ends of a great historic fabric; they make one piece. If Moses foreshadows Christ, Christ embodies, authenticates, and proves Moses. They are inseparable. The idea of a man believing in Christ without believing in Moses is the monstrous outcome of ignorance. Christ celebrated the passover with his disciples: in this he held up Moses and the firstborn to our view: for the passover had no meaning apart from the Lord passing over the blood-sprinkled houses of the Israelites in Egypt on the night that he went through the land and destroyed the firstborn in every house in Egypt. Christ said the passover would be “fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16) which implies the typical nature of the passover feast, in harmony with Paul’s teaching that Christ is our passover, sacrificed for us (1 Cor. 5:7). Thus, Christ in the kingdom and Christ on the cross unite with Moses in Egypt on the night of the exodus—which may enable us to understand why the final song of salvation is “the song of Moses and of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3).
The sacrificial endorsement of the passover in the permanent annual services of the tabernacle is an intimation that a continual recognition of God’s work in Egypt is part of our acceptable qualification before Him. How utterly does this consideration condemn our generation which treats lightly and doubts the works He did in the land of Ham. In what an odious light must our flippant, unbelieving contemporaries appear in the eyes of the Eternal, who has condescended to do and record all these mighty works, only to be laughed at by their conceited mediocrities—under the leadership, too, of their clerical leaders! There is a pungent force little suspected in the question of Christ: “If ye believe not the writings of Moses, how shall ye believe my words?” The tempest of his anger will presently awake them to their senses, when he fulfils His promise: “According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I show (again) marvellous things. And the nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: and they shall … move out of their holes like worms of the earth… and shall fear”
- The Feast of Firstfruits.—This differed from the first anniversary celebration, in being founded upon an institute of nature, and not upon a divine interposition in the nation’s affairs. Yet we shall find it no less spiritual in its uses, whether in its proximate and literal bearings; or its typical and remote significances.
As regards the first, it was a recognition of the divine beneficence in providing so bountifully for human need in the products of the soil—which even the Gentiles are reasonably expected to discern as the testimony of nature. As Paul told the inhabitants of Lystra, though God had left all nations to walk in their own ways, God, who made heaven and earth and the sea and all things therein, “left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:15–17). But the “witness” is only faintly discerned—and mostly not discerned at all. Men use the divine goodness as the creatures crunch their oats and turnips, with a gastric satisfaction merely, without taking thought of the exquisite wisdom and superb goodness that have contrived and provided such suitable substances for the sustenance of man and beast. Israel were not to be like the nations in this respect. They were to make the harvest an occasion of joyful recognition of the goodness of God. It was to be a long-drawn-out festivity beginning “from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to thy corn” (Deut. 16:9) and lasting till “thou hast (fully) gathered in thy corn and thy wine”—a festivity tempered with the sobrieties of worship, and therefore lacking the tendency to surfeit and weariness which belong to the mere revel of Gentile celebrations. They were to come and bring in their hand “a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee: and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there.”
But the feast of the firstfruits was not to be confined to an acknowledgment of the goodness of God in nature: it was to be associated also with the history of their divine origin as a nation in the wonders of the exodus from Egypt. They were formally to bring that history into view in their observance of the feast. A speech was specially provided for them with which they were to address the priest on bringing the firstfruits for presentation. They were to say: “A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous: and the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage: and when we cried unto the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labour, and our oppression: and the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders: and he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God” (Deut. 26:5–10).
Thus, again, is the modern mood of mind rebuked that would class the Egyptian deliverance among myths and legends. Natural men can see a mild beauty in making the yearly harvest an occasion of thanksgiving: but to mix up with it an explicit acknowledgment of the Mosaic miracles is nauseous to their superior wisdom. There is no true wisdom at the bottom of their intellectual aversions. Harvests are lovely, but if we had only harvests to trust to for hope as to futurity, we should be in darkness. It is the open participation of divine power in human affairs, as authenticated in Israel’s history, that gives us that “strong consolation” of which Paul speaks, and therefore furnishes a reasonable ingredient in the festal celebrations of Israel—from none of which, indeed, was it ever absent.
But it is the special service in the tabernacle, in which the feast of the firstfruits came to a ceremonial focus, as we might say, in the hands of the priests, that more particularly calls for our attention at the present time. The particulars are set forth in Lev. 23 and Num. 28. The Israelites were neither to eat bread made from the new flour, nor eat parched corn or green ears of the ripening harvest “until the selfsame day” that an offering of firstfruits was presented in the tabernacle (Lev. 23:14). This was to consist of a sheaf to be waved by the priest before the Lord, to be followed by the offering “of a he lamb without blemish of the first year”, both to be offered “on the morrow after” the first Sabbath of the harvest season. From this they were to count an interval of 50 days, or seven weeks and a day, by which time the whole harvest would be gathered in, and then they were to bring—not a sheaf, but two loaves of the new flour baked with leaven: and these were to be waved by the priest before the Lord, and accompanied by the sacrifice of “seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams” for a burnt offering of sweet sayour. They were all first to be waved before the Lord: and then offered as a burnt offering with their accompanying meat and drink offerings (before considered): and followed by the sacrifice of “a kid of the goats for a sin offering” (Lev. 23:12–21).
Whatever undiscoverable significances may be concealed in these details, some things are too plain to be missed. Reserving for a moment their counterpart in Christ, and taking the proximate application first, what can be plainer than the teaching of the waved sheaf that it is God’s pleasure that we should actively serve Him in the use of the goodness He confers upon us? the sheaf representing the God-given bread of the field, and the waving signifying action, and the place—in the tabernacle before the Lord —denoting His service. This is the first thing that strikes the mind in contemplating the allegorical teaching of the ceremony. The second thing is still more apparent. Why should the expression of gratitude to God for creature mercies and willingness to consecrate their use to His service, be mixed up with the offering up of slain animals?—seven lambs, a bullock, two rams, and a goat? Herein, as we have before seen, is the allegorical enunciation of a truth concerning the relations of God and man that is very distasteful to natural religionists of every kind: viz., that God will not be approached by sinners, even for the presentation of thanksgiving, apart from the acknowledgment of their position as proclaimed in blood-shedding, and of His righteousness and holiness in requiring this of them. But it is more. The animals offered were to be without blemish. It was a prophecy that God would provide an acceptable sacrificial approach in a man without sin, though bearing (in the nature to be sacrificed) the sin of all his people—Adam included. This prophecy centres in Christ, who proclaimed himself “the way”, and plainly declared, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me”.
The ritual of the feast of firstfruits is, therefore, the enforcement of that most unpalatable truth,—that sinners are in no position to approach God even in harvest thanksgiving until invested with the name of him in whom sin was condemned, and by whom it was taken away. How they are to be invested with that name has been revealed in the teaching of the apostles. The belief and obedience of the gospel in baptism brings the obedient sinner into relation with him who was the antitype of all these animals. Without this relation, they are strangers and aliens—sharing the goodness of God in nature, “whereof all are partakers”, but without hope concerning the life to Come; and without a standing in His presence for the loving communion of worship.
When men quarrel with this negative bearing of the divine institutions upon them, they act either in ignorance or forgetfulness of the holiness, majesty, and prerogative of God. They are like savages who would resent the enforcement of etiquette if they happened to stray into the courts or passages of a palace. Enlightenment recognizes that man is unfit for fellowship with God, and gladly welcomes and conforms to the conditions which the goodness of God has prescribed for the acquisition and enjoyment of so great an honour as to be “called the sons of God”—invited to come boldly to His throne for favour through Christ—and Christ alone.
In addition to these general significances, there is an interesting personal shadowing of Christ in the ordinances of the feast of firstfruits, and of the relation of his work to his people. Christ is expressly called “the firstfruits” in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “Christ the firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:23): “the firstfruits of them that slept” (verse 20) which connects the subject with the resurrection. “The first that should rise from the dead” (Acts 26:23): “the first begotten of the dead” (Rev. 1:5); “the first born of every creature” (Col. 1:18). Not only is Christ called the firstfruits, but the term is applied also to his people (James 1:18; Rev. 14:4). In this there might be confusion if we did not remember that in an important sense, he and they are one—one Christ in head and body.
But this is not the whole explanation. They are both the firstfruits, at two separate stages, recognized in the type. How they are literally so, we may discern as we look forward to the accomplishment of the purpose of God upon the earth. This accomplished purpose shows us the earth occupied by an immortal population as the result of the work of the Kingdom of God; and this immortal population, considered as a life-harvest, we perceive to have been preceded by two preliminary firstfruits of that harvest: Christ, as the individual victor over the grave, exalted to God’s right hand to die no more; and the saints who are glorified at his coming and united to him, as a bride is to her husband, and associated with him in the work of rearing the rest of the family of God during the thousand years; they (Christ and the saints) are both firstfruits in relation to the harvest to be gathered in at the close of that period.
Now, in the type, there are two phases of the firstfruits which we shall probably not err in identifying with these two phases of the completed work of God upon earth. There is first, the single sheaf, at the beginning of the feast, to be waved before the Lord “on the morrow after the Sabbath”, and offered with a single he lamb with meat and drink offering; and then seven weeks afterwards, two loaves, made out of the flour yielded by the sheaves, and baked with leaven, and accompanied by the sacrifice of seven lambs, one bullock, two rams, and one kid of the goats.
The single sheaf we may take to be Christ personal and the offering of a he lamb, his own sacrifice for himself as a fellow-sufferer with his people; the meat and drink offering, the strength and gladness growing out of his painful submission to death. The “morrow after the Sabbath” the very period of the week—namely, on the morning of the first day of the week, Sabbath being past, that he rose and ascended to the Father (John 20:17). Exactly seven weeks afterwards, “when the day of Pentecost had fully come” (Acts 2:1), that is, when the feast of the firstfruits had arrived—the second phase of the firstfruits was exhibited in the public divine endorsement of the friends of Christ by the outpouring of the Spirit fitly represented by two leavened loaves—two to represent their plurality as distinguished from the individual Christ loaves, as a product of the sheaves, to signify the friends of Christ who are a product of him; and leavened, to denote that they are not “without blemish”, as Christ was, but stand before God as forgiven sinners.
There is a little lack of chronological correspondence in so far as the sacrifice of Christ corresponded with the night of the passover, and not with the presentation of the first sheaf of harvest, which was seven weeks after. This presentation began the feast of weeks on “the day of Pentecost”, and coincided, not with the individual Christ but with Christ in his body as represented by the company of his friends that “stood up with Peter and the rest of the apostles” on that memorable day. One would have expected that the presentation of the personal Christ would have corresponded with the presentation of the sheaf of firstfruits as the sacrifice of the antitypical lamb corresponded with the slaying of the passover and that the presentation of the Christ firstfruit community would have corresponded with the offering of the two loaves at the end of the Feast of Weeks, seven weeks afterwards. But, perhaps, there was design in a departure from chronological exactness which admitted of Christ and the passover coming into conjunction in point of time, and at the same time allowed of his synchronizing in his people with the offering of the sheaf of firstfruits’ for they are both one, and both described as firstfruits. Such a distribution of the meanings of the types in their fulfilment allowed of the right relative place being given to the next great annual celebration.
- The Feast of Ingathering.—“Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine” (Deut. 16:13). This was the most elaborate and intricate of all the feasts of the year, combining equally with the others, the two elements of national gratitude for bountiful goodness, and the national recognition of Egyptian deliverance, but exercising Israel much more deeply and setting forth in much more detail the conditions of human acceptability with God, and the foreshadowing of His purpose finally to abolish all curse.
Noticeably, the seventh month was the month of its celebration —which of itself points to completeness and finish, and therefore, to the end of God’s work. The first day of the month as the day of the new moon was already under the law a monthly observance, at which we looked in the last chapter, but in this seventh month, the first day appears to have been emphasized above the first days of the other months. Israel were commanded to observe it as “a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation”, or gathering of the people, who were to do no secular work on that day, but to assemble in endorsement of the special offerings to be made in the tabernacle that day—at which we have already looked. Then after an interval of eight days—namely, on the tenth day of the month, they were to have a day of special consecration to God, a day of atonement, a day of solemn gathering, a day on which they were to refrain from ordinary employment, and concentrate their minds upon God in penitence, a day in which they were to” afflict their souls”—a fast day, in fact, from evening to evening. The law of the day was very stringent. “Whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work on that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people.” Then in five more days, they were to take “boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook”, and make booths, in which “all that are Israelites born shall dwell for seven days, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:40–43).
This in the mellow days of autumn, in a warm climate like Syria, would be a pleasant sequel to the severe exercises of the first part of the feast. The annual encampment of the volunteers in August, which all who take part in it find to be such a season of zestful and healthful change, may give some idea of the delight that this feast of tabernacles or booths was calculated to afford only that instead of being limited to male adults, it embraced the whole population, and gave the families and even the servants a taste of the pleasure of a week’s camping-out, with special food supplies, under aromatic tree branches: and instead of being associated with horseplay and ribaldry, it was connected with the most ennobling exercises of the mind of which man is capable.
While Israel were to be seven days thus pleasantly encamped, a special series of sacrifices was to be offered in the tabernacle with a singular variation from day to day. On the first day of the encampment in booths (15th of the month) the burnt offering was to consist of 13 young bullocks, two rams, and 14 lambs, without blemish, with their appropriate meat and drink offerings, and a kid of the goats for a sin offering—besides the daily burnt offering: on the SECOND DAY, the same, except that the number of young bullocks was to be 12 instead of 13; on the THIRD DAY, the same, except that the number of young bullocks was to be I l, instead of 12; and so on, the number of young bullocks diminishing by one each day, till the seventh day, when the number of the day and the number of the bullocks had come level—seven bullocks on the seventh day; finishing on the eighth day with a grand assembly of the people, and only one bullock, one ram, seven lambs, and one goat.
We shall probably find the meaning of this in the contemplation of this feast of ingathering as the type of the final harvest of life eternal, of which Christ is the individual, and his people the collective firstfruits. To this harvest all the work of God had been working forward from the beginning. That it should be foreshadowed by the last of all the feasts of the year is fitting; and that this feast should be held on the seventh month is in the same line of harmony, also that it should commence on the first day and last nearly the whole month, is striking. That it should begin with a joyful trumpet blast is suggestive of the great joy with which the arrival of the day of God will be hailed. That this should be succeeded by a day of affliction, in which everyone should be bound on pain of death to take part, is in agreement with the revealed fact that after the joy caused to the people of God by the Lord’s reappearance in the earth and “the marriage supper of the Lamb”, there will immediately ensue a time of trouble in which the nations of mankind will learn the righteousness of submission by the things they will suffer. And then the encampment in arboreal booths for seven days, during which they were to “rejoice before the Lord in the abundance of all good things which God had given them” is nothing but a splendid adumbration of the rest and gladness of the Kingdom of God following on the terrible events connected with its setting up.
But what are we to make of the greater number of sacrifices offered in the tabernacle and the gradual dwindling in the number of young bullocks—more action, more elaborateness in this the last of all the feasts of the year, and yet a feature pointing to curtailment? We may see the meaning of this if we consider that the kingdom will be a time of much more activity in purely divine service than at any previous period of the world’s history, and yet that as it draws to a close, the world is getting nearer the time when all sacrificial work of reconciliation—whether in type or antitype (for there will be both in the kingdom) will have served its purpose, and the seven bullocks (perfected work) will coincide with the seventh day (perfected time) and the work of God will be finished.
The grand assembly on the eighth and finishing day of the feast—when the sacrifices were reduced to one bullock, one ram, seven lambs, and one goat, may be taken to denote the crowning feast of worship and praise that will mark the close of the kingdom when the unwritten in the book of life having been given over to the second death, there will remain none upon earth but the innumerable multitude of those who, during the whole history of man from Adam’s expulsion from Eden downward, have been “foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, and glorified”, according to the definition of the process by Paul in Rom. 8:29–30. They are, thenceforth, the happy occupants of this noble planet for ever.
The sacrifices shrink to one in the final ceremony, because they are about to disappear, the lambs, however, remaining seven, because the lamb character (harmlessness, innocence, simplicity) is the perpetual basis of all: “charity never faileth”, The bullock (human strength): and ram (the dignity of mankind): the goat (the self-assertion of the flesh)—all vanish in the change which consumes and transmutes flesh and blood into spirit-nature: but the Lamb remains for ever the distinguishing symbol of the perfected community of the guileless and loving and rejoicing sons of the Lord God Almighty.