Our reading today begins with God continuing to give commands for the ministry of the priests. In 22:3, we see that the penalty for an unclean person touching something holy to the Lord is to be cut off from God’s presence. He says plainly here what He has implied when He speaks about being cut off from God’s people, because God’s presence is among His people. We see in verses 4-5 the recalling of various restrictions that make a person unclean. Whether it is leprosy (chapters 13-14), a discharge (chapter 15), touching the dead (chapter 21), or a swarming thing (which is a food law, chapter 11) – unclean is unclean.
Verses 17-25 show how an acceptable sacrifice for sin (both the burnt and peace offerings) must be without blemish. It cannot be accepted as a sacrifice otherwise. This points us to the perfect sinlessness of Christ. But also notice that the freewill offering is the exception (v. 23). That offering does not have to be perfect, but minor blemishes are allowable. This is because the sin offering, peace offering, etc. are provided by God ultimately in Christ, but what we offer to God will never be perfect. And yet, He accepts what we freely offer.
In the rules about killing young animals, we see that even in offerings, there needs to be a reverence for life. Irreverence for life makes one unclean. The chapter closes with God commanding obedience (v. 31). To disobey profanes the name of God (in the Bible, the name of God often means God Himself). Obedience, then, sanctifies God. But this again comes back to Who God is. He is the God Who saved His people (v. 33), but He is the God Who still saves His people (through sanctification – v. 32). Their obedience, their sanctifying God in their hearts – and ours – it is about Who God is and what He does.
Chapter 23 gives commands for the required feasts (in the Hebrew, the word is usually translated as “meeting”) or religious holidays. First is the weekly Sabbath (v. 3). Then comes the annual Passover, which includes the Feast of Unleavened Bread (vv. 4-8). God here details the Feast of Firstfruits (vv. 9-14), which was an offering of the first of the harvested winter wheat. This would be the day after the Sabbath spoken about in verse 7 that is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is the day after Passover.
Next is the Feast of Weeks (vv. 15-21), or Pentecost (so called because it takes place on the fiftieth day after the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread – v. 16). A grain offering is required on the first day of Pentecost (v. 16), which God calls “firstfruits” (v. 17). This is what was known as the “latter first fruits.”
So I would like us to note the chronology here. On the fourteenth day of the month, Passover begins. The lamb is killed to represent how the blood of the lamb saved them from God’s judgment. On the fifteenth day of the month, the feast of unleavened bread begins. On that first day of the feast, the day after Passover begins, there is a holy convocation and no work is done – it is a Sabbath to the Lord. On the day after the Sabbath, which would be the sixteenth day of the month, you had to bring your firstfruits of grain to the priest and offer it to the Lord.
So here is what happens: day one, Passover – day two, Sabbath – day three, firstfruits. The lamb is slain on Passover, and on the third day the firstfruit are offered. This points us forward to Christ’s death on the cross, and His resurrection on the third day, which the Bible calls the firstfruits (1 Cor 15:20). And then on the day of Pentecost, we have the latter first fruits offered. This points us to the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost which sealed us, the latter first fruits, for the day of redemption (Eph 4:30) when we will be raised like Christ, the firstfruits (1 Cor 15:23).
In verses 26-32, God recounts the command for the annual Day of Atonement, which points us to the once for all Day of Atonement on Calvary. Verses 33-43 records the commands for the Feast of Tabernacles, where Israel was to live in tents to remember their living as sojourners when God brought them out of Israel. This points to the reality of our sojourning in this world, which is not our home (Phil 3:20).
In chapter 24 begins with God telling Moses to command what He told him he would command back in Exodus 27:20-21 (24:1-4). Then, He does the same for the Bread of the Presence which He commanded in Exodus 25:30. Then in verses 10-16, we have the story of a man executed for blasphemy, which God prescribes as normative (v. 16). Here is a violation of the third Commandment (Ex 20:7). It would be wise to remember that Christ explains the heart sins that violate the commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. Blasphemy starts in the heart, and so violates the greatest commandment: to love God.
In verses 17-23 God reiterates commands about lawful retaliation. Verse 17 appears to be a command for capital punishment. However, it is grouped with the laws that are meant to limit retaliation. It is this allowance for retaliation that Christ says (also in the Sermon on the Mount) that we should willingly give up (Matt 5:38-42). I am neither arguing for or against capital punishment. I am just encouraging us to think about where we draw our own lines between command and allowance.