In Leviticus 23:1-2, the Lord told Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: These are My appointed times, the times of the Lord that you will proclaim as sacred assemblies.
The name ‘appointed times’ is self explanatory. These are times appointed by the Lord for a specific purpose.
The Hebrew word is “Mo-ahd”, and is often translated “appointed time” to set an appointment, “to repeat”, and can mean “a signal as appointed beforehand” as in a set time or season, for a specific assembly or festival. The Lord appointed times throughout the year so the Jewish people would remember and know that the Lord is faithful, their provider. They were holy days set aside for observance and celebration, with the expectation “what is the Lord going to do”. Thereby the Lord initiated a calendar beginning with the weekly Sabbath and the monthly new moon festival. This set the baseline for the appointed times. These times were appointed for specific reasons, at specific times of the year.
Sabbath and New Moon
The Sabbath and the New Moon appointed times are often overlooked as we pay special attention to the Spring and Fall/Autumn festivals. But the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3) was an important religious celebration for the Israelites because it was observed every week as a sign (Ex. 31:12-17) between God and them, and observed throughout the generations so that they would know that it was Yahweh who sets them apart. On the Sabbath, the Israelites were forbidden to do any work at all, whether ploughing or reaping, baking or food preparation, lighting a fire or gathering wood. Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word that means “to rest, to cease from labour”, and the Sabbath was for remembering God’s rest on the seventh day following the six days of creation, as well as God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
The new moon observance marked the first day of every new month. During the new moon festivals, several different sacrifices were offered and trumpets were blown (Num. 28:11-15, Num. 10:10).
Besides the Sabbath and the New Moon appointed times, the Israelites celebrate four Spring festivals and three Fall/Autumn festivals.
The annual spring appointed times or festivals were the Lord’s Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Firstfruits, and the Feast of Weeks, which is called Pentecost in the New Testament.
Passover and Unleavened Bread
The appointed time of the Passover (Leviticus 23:4–5) was at the beginning of the year when the moon was full on the 14th day in the first month of spring (Nisan). The name Passover originates from the Hebrew term pesach, meaning “to leave or spare by passing over”. This great festival commemorated Israel’s salvation and deliverance from Egypt. Ever since on the 10th day of the first month a lamb was chosen and set apart to be inspected for any blemishes or spots that might disqualify it as a sacrificial lamb. At the appointed time the passover lambs were slain by the whole congregation of Israel. This is a remembrance of the Exodus when the blood of a lamb was applied to the doorframe of the houses so that the angel of death would pass over.
The seven-day feast of unleavened bread (Hag HaMatzot) (Leviticus 23:6-8) immediately followed Passover and was always celebrated as an extension of the Passover feast. During this week, the Israelites ate only unleavened bread to commemorate Israel’s hurried departure from Egypt.
On the first day after the Sabbath during the week of Unleavened Bread, Israel was to incorporate the Feast of First Fruits (Yom Habikkurim) (Leviticus 23:9-14), when the priest presented the first sheaves of grain from the spring harvest as a wave offering to the Lord. The Jews could not partake of their crops until the first fruits had been presented. This act symbolised that the first and the best of everything as belonging to God, and that Israel would put the Lord first in every part of life. It was also an expression of thanksgiving for God’s gift of the harvest and for supplying their daily bread.