Three times you shall keep a feast to me in the year.…
To forget is far easier than to remember. Festivals are like posts to which we can fasten the cords of memory, so that, securely fastened, we may not drift down the stream of Lethe. To forget facts is to ignore the duties to which facts prompt us. We must leave undone what we ought to do, unless we take measures to keep us in remembrance. The great fact which the Israelites needed to remember was the relation of dependence in which they stood to God. He had freed them from slavery, he had provided them with food, he had given them, besides, the means of enjoyment - wine and oil - above all that they could ask or think. By means of the three great annual festivals threefold security was given against forgetfulness of this fact. To keep the festivals was to realise the relation, and to strengthen it by practical acknowledgment. Consider -
I. THE FEAST OF FREEDOM. In this connection (ver. 15) the unleavened bread is the point emphasised - to be eaten for seven days, a full week, at the commencement of the sacred year. As a reminder it suggested -
1. Past slavery. The tyrannous oppression of Egypt; hopeless condition ere God looked upon them; life but a synonym for bare existence; even sustenance depending upon the caprice of others.
2. Past deliverance. The paschal night; unleavened bread the accompaniment of the first paschal feast; food a very secondary consideration when freedom was in question.
3. Present duties. God had delivered them from slavery that they might serve him as his free people; an inner slavery worse than the outer; a purification needed in the heart even more important than that in the home. The leaven of malice and wickedness must be sought out and put away; so long as they retained that, freedom was but a nominal privilege.
II. THE FEAST OF FIRST-FRUITS. Linked on to the second day of unleavened bread. God would have his children look forward; and so he makes the first blessing a seed in which are enwrapped others. Freed by God, the people could appropriate, as his children, the promise made to children (Genesis 1:29, as modified by the fall, Genesis 3:19). The gift of food was God's gift, but their cooperation was needed for its fruition; it was to be the fruit, not the creation of their labours. Familiarity breeds forgetfulness as often as it breeds contempt. A reminder needed that human labour can, at most, work up God's raw material. [The cerealia, or corn plants, well called "a standing miracle." Apparently a cultivated grass, yet no known grass can be improved into corn by cultivation. Corn can be degraded by artificial means into a worthless perennial; as it is, it is an annual, exhausting itself in seeding, needing man's labour to its perfection and preservation.] To get his food, man is constantly reminded that he must be a fellow-worker with God.
III. THE FEAST OF INGATHERING. As the year rolls on, it exhibits more and more of God's goodness and bounty. It calls for ever fresh acknowledgment of that love which gives "liberally and upbraideth not." Freedom a great gift, the capacity to work for one's own livelihood; so, too, food, the means through which that capacity may find exercise; further, God gives all the fruits of the earth in their season, so that man through his labour may find not merely health but happiness. Naturally this was the most joyful of all the festivals - the blossoms which glorified the stem springing from the root of freedom. To rejoice in the Lord is the final outcome of that faith which enables us to realise our sonship. Conclusion. - These festivals have more than an historical interest. They teach the same truths as of old, but for Christians their meaning is intensified. Unleavened bread is associated with Calvary, freedom from the tyranny of sin (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8). Linked to this is our first-fruits festival; Christ, the first-fruits (1 Corinthians 15:20), made our food through the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. The feast of ingathering is not yet, but we may rejoice in it by anticipation (1 Peter 1:6). The final festival is described for us by St. John in the Revelation (Revelation 7:9-17). Blessed are they who, with robes washed white, shall share the joy of that feast of Ingathering. - G.
Parallel VersesKJV: Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year.