“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.
12 “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.
13 “Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.
14 “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. 15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. 16 You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. 17 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God.
18 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning.
19 “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.
“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 23:10-19)
After providing His people with a couple chapters worth of mainly case laws, God now commands His people to take specific Sabbath rests and specific feasts. He also gives commands, within these, about offerings, for resting and feasting was as much about giving those things as it is receiving those things. So we’ll look at these three categories today: resting, feasting, and offering. But before we do, note the larger progression of redemptive history. God has taken the Hebrew people from perpetual servitude and toil with no rest in Egypt, to a nation under God with regular Sabbaths and Feasts. They were not even provided straw with which to make bricks in Egypt, but now God will provide plentiful firstfruits for the offerings of which they are to give to God.
The first Sabbath law here is in regard to a Sabbath rest for the land on the scale of years. God commanded His people that they sow and work the land for six years, and on the seventh they give a year of rest for the land and refrain from sowing on it, also including their vineyards and olive orchards. As we’ve seen God teaching His people in all of these laws here in Exodus, God is Lord of all of their lives, and all of their lives are to be lived under God’s rules, wherein they find true liberty and rest. Every area of their lives are to be subject to living by God’s rules which are for everyone’s good. The Sabbath rest for the land for a whole year in the seventh year was an emblem of the weekly Sabbath rest, but on a much larger scale. As the weekly Sabbath taught them to trust God’s provision in resting from their labor one day in seven, so the year long sabbath in the seventh year taught them to practice even greater trust in God to provide, as well as responsibility and diligence in preparing for that seventh year.
Not only was this to teach them trust in God, but it was also a way of God caring for the poor among them, as the poor were to be allowed to glean the land during this year, and whatever was left by the poor, the animals could graze, showing God’s care for all of His creation, for the total society of His people.
For those of you who do some type of farming, you probably know the importance on a practical level of giving your land rest for health and replenishment of the ground for the good of your crops. The necessity of rest for most fruitfulness is built into creation itself. Thus a refusal of the people to abide by this Sabbath rest for the land would result in less productivity and fruitfulness which were covenant sanctions for covenant breaking. So while we are not under the Old Covenant, the principle of the necessity of rest for maximum fruitfulness remains a reality.
In Egypt, both the people and the land were worked into the ground without relief and it resulted in the desolation and destruction of the land by God’s judgment. So now God is teaching His people proper rest and refreshment which would result in God’s covenant blessing, or cursings if they failed to obey.
Then in verse 12 we have a reiteration of the weekly Sabbath rest that God required of them. The Sabbath command in the Ten Commandments emphasized the ceremonial element of worship, keeping it Holy to the Lord, while the weekly Sabbath here emphasizes the benefit of rest from the weekly Sabbath, to them, to their animals, to their servants, and to the foreigner. It is that they may rest and be refreshed. Certainly we see the contrast between Pharaoh the slavedriver, and Yahweh, the God and Father of His people. Devotion to false gods such as the Egyptian gods or the Canaanite gods were all-consuming slavery and toil – religions of death – while the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is a God of life. The taskmasters of Egypt and their gods had no regard for life, while the God of Israel and His laws are all about the protection of life. Even the Sabbath laws were good for that.
But even the legitimate rest gained from these Sabbath laws, were but an anticipation of the ultimate rest all of God’s people have in Jesus Christ, in the New Covenant, wherein all the blessings of work and rest are sufficiently procured for us by the work of Christ. Christ is our eternal Sabbath rest, wherein we rest entirely in His finished work. By finding our rest in Christ, we gain the ultimate fruitfulness and covenant blessing. And just as God provided Old Covenant Sabbaths that extended to every person, animal, servant, and alien, this beautifully typifies, that in Jesus Christ, every person may come and have everlasting rest from their labors – the free, the slave, the sojourner, all the nations, and even creation, the land itself, which groans to be freed and redeemed from the curse put upon it by Adam’s sin.
So while we are under quite different covenantal stipulations in regard to Sabbaths, we would do well to recognize the natural blessing of these patterns of working and resting for our physical well being. Maybe some of us indulge ourselves in too much rest, or entertainment, or leisure, and thus maybe we ought to work more and be more productive. Others of us may be too busy and work too much, and may need to make time for physical rest, so that we may be refreshed. The guiding New Testament principle would be to make the best use of the time, redeeming the time, and stewarding well the days that God has given to us. There are so many things in our modern world that are vying for our attention and our time. There are so many things that would drain the life out of us and sap our energy. It could be legitimate work, but an even greater temptation in our society is mindless entertainment, which gives the illusion of rest, but can so easily sap the energy from us. So think about your time and your schedule. Are you working hard at things God has given you to do? The things you do for rest, do they truly refresh you, or do they sap your life strength? These are things to think through and improve upon in our lives so that whatever we do, we may do all for the glory of God.
After these Sabbath laws, verse 13 might seem to be a bit random. However, if we consider the context, it is quite relevant to what comes before and after. In one sense the Sabbaths, and the feasts that come after in verse 14 and following, are all about loyalty to God. Would the people be loyal to God by resting and keeping the Sabbath Holy and by honoring Him through the feasts and offerings they were to give throughout the year, or would they turn to other gods? Would they give their offerings from their fruitfulness to God, or would they honor and credit other false gods for the wealth they gain? Would they trust God’s Sabbath rests, or would they turn to false fertility cults seeking life and blessing? In all of these things in all of their lives, they are not let the name of other gods be on their lips, praying to them, or thanking them, but instead remain loyal to God with their lips, honoring the Creator and the giver of all good gifts and covenantal blessing.
Mentioning the names of other gods would not mean merely saying their names, but it would mean employing their names, using them in the taking of oaths, or making curses or prayers, and things like that. It would be invoking them with their name. They were not to invoke these other gods by calling out to them in any way. Their world was full of pagan fertility cults, which would invoke false gods in all sorts of rituals for the purpose of seeking a plentiful crop and things like this. This was forbidden, for it is only the God of Israel who gives life and blessing.
It seems David had this law on his mind in Psalm 16:4 where he says, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.” Indeed Israel did not always remain faithful to God in this way, and so through the prophet Hosea, when God promises to restore His people, He declares, “And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more” (Hosea 2:16-17).
In verse 14 and following, Israel is commanded three feasts a year that they are to keep to the Lord. We are not given the details of the feasts here, as they are expounded upon in other passages. Moses simply records here that they are to keep them. The first is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is one we saw earlier in Exodus that was connected to the Passover. Immediately following the Passover, the Passover would lead into the feast of Unleavened Bread. The symbolism of this feast we saw was to show that they were to leave behind, or cut off, the leaven of Egypt, as God would provide new leaven for them. This was fulfilled in Jesus when he was crucified during the Passover. He was cut off as it were. Christ is our Passover Lamb, but then when Jesus rose from the dead He rose during the Feast of Unleavened bread, signifying that He is the New Leaven, rising up from death, bringing new Life in a new covenant – the beginnings of the new leaven of the Kingdom of God beginning to be worked out in the world through His people.
You then had the feast of Harvest, which was the feast of the firstfruits of their labor from the ground; then the feast of Ingathering at the end of the year. These three feasts signified the movements of redemption. First was the Exodus, redemption, the cutting out and cutting off the old, which would have been at the beginning of their year on their calendars. Then you have the firstfruits, the Feast of Harvest, which was obviously the firstfruits of their labor, signifying the fruit of their redemption. Jesus rose during the feast of Unleavened Bread, cutting off the old and starting something new, then the firstfruits was the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the initial fruit of that being the salvation of thousands from all nations. Then you have the feast of Ingathering, which in a microcosm is seen in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD when the converted Christians obeyed Jesus’ command and fled the city and those who refused were destroyed, which is but a picture of the ultimate ingathering at the end of history when the Kingdom is completed and all God’s people are gathered in to Him, and all the wicked are destroyed.
So it is Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel which fulfills these Old covenant feasts and festivals. For the New Covenant in Christ is but an eternal feast and celebration and we are the fruits of His labor filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. So in the New Covenant we have but one ordained feast, which is a meal of remembrance, remembering the work of Jesus which is for us, the Lord’s Supper. The Old Covenant feasts looked forward to Jesus; ours in the New Covenant remembers and participates in Him.
Just as we may find benefit to our physical bodies in principles of Sabbath rest today, we might also find a benefit to times of feasting and celebration a few times a year today. We are not to go back to Old Covenant regulations, but feasting as Christians may bring us much needed refreshment as times of thanksgiving to God for all He has given us and all we have in Christ.
Intertwined in these feasts we also see the principle of Israel giving offerings to God. In verse 15 they are not to appear before God empty handed. Verse 17 it says the males are not to appear before God empty handed. This we see expounded upon in Deuteronomy 16:16-17, “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you.” And then in verse 19 of Exodus 23 it says, “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God.”
The offering of the feasts was a recognition that all they have received and enjoyed is from God and so ultimately belongs to Him. It is an act of trust, believing He will continue to provide and bless when they give to Him from their fruitfulness. So likewise, we are called to give generously and cheerfully, recognizing all we have is from God and that He provides for us. Ultimately verse 19 is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who was and is the best of the firstfruits from the ground, having risen from the grave and ascended into the house of the LORD. As the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” And we as Christians are the fruits of the work of Jesus and so He brings us into the House of the Lord, making us God’s possession forever. Jesus does not come before the Father empty handed, but He delivers the Kingdom to the Father. Jesus brings us before God as the fruit of His labor. As 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
We then have verse 18 and the last part of verse 19 about not boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk. Before we look at that let us consider the second half of verse 19, where the fat of the feast is not to remain until morning. This ought to remind us of the Passover, where the lamb was not to remain until morning. What was not eaten was to be burned. This shows us that there is a cutting off in the night, and in the morning is something new. This was like the Passover – the Destroyer came in the night, the morning was a new beginning. There is a transition from old to new, from dark to light. When did Jesus rise from the dead? In the morning of the third day. Three feasts a year, and the old is not to remain in the morning. This could be seen as symbolic of the transition from the old to the new covenant. The dark symbolizes the Old Covenant, which is not to remain in the morning of the new covenant when things are made new.
So what about these seemingly strange laws – they are not to offer the blood from the sacrifices with the leaven or boil a young goat in its mother’s milk? Interestingly it was a pagan fertility ritual to boil a young goat in milk, and then sprinkling this stew on the ground believing it to bring life and fruitfulness to the ground. Certainly God forbids this as He is the one who brings life and blessing to their crops. When we look at the issue biblically we find that there is more to it even than this. The idea here is that life and death are not to be mixed. In verse 18 the blood was from the sacrifice, which was death, and the leaven was new life and growth. This parallels verse 19. Boiling a goat in his own mother’s milk, which brought him life, was not to be used in his death. So instead of devouring the fruitfulness God gives, the fruit of their labor, they are to offer it to God. In looking at other passages, we find that this law was not just about young goats, but it was teaching them a greater principle, as often in the bible animals represent people. It is about the protection of life. And when at times they were judged by God, it was seen in agents of life bringing about death, which is judgment. For example, when Jerusalem is judged, Lamentations 4:10 says this about the judgment, “The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food during the destruction of the daughter of my people.” The language there is so similar to this law in Exodus. The mother boiled her own children as it were. If they were not to boil a goat in his mother’s milk, how much more their own children!
Another example of this same language is found in 2 Kings chapter 6. There, the king of Syria laid siege upon Samaria so that there was great famine in the city. And then it says this in 2 Kings 6:26-29.
Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27 And he said, “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.”
So here in judgment upon Israel, we see this same language of a mother boiling her own children. In judgment, they devoured the fruitfulness God gave them. In this sense it was Jerusalem, the mother of the promised seed who devoured her own seed – Jesus Christ – when they rejected Him and delivered Him to Pilate to be crucified. And so it was that judgment came upon them. And it is interesting to note that first century historian Josephus records that when Jeruslaem was besieged in 70 AD, the famine was so bad the Roman soldiers were disgusted and appalled to find a mother devouring her own child. Then in Revelation 17, John sees the vision of the great prostitute woman “drunk with blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:5).
Certainly today we see this judgment of mothers devouring their own fruitfulness as it were in many different ways, the chief of which being abortion, and the use of aborted fetal cells has been documented to be used in certain vaccines and other such products. This is a great judgment, but the mother church is to be a giver of life, preaching to the world that mothers are to be givers and nurturers of life, and that forgiveness can be had only through Jesus Christ, who was devoured by His own, but ultimately devoured up death and rose to give life to all who would come to Him. The church is to be as a mother through which life comes to the world through Jesus Christ by His Spirit, reversing this judgment and curse. Jesus is the Son of God whose life was given as the final sacrifice to bring life to the world, and in coming to Him by faith, the sacrifice of our children must end, and instead we offer them to God, by bringing them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.