Deuteronomy 16:1-2 The Lord decreed that three times yearly all Israelites needed to go up to Jerusalem to present themselves to Him. The first was Passover observed in the month Abib (mid-March to mid-April), also known as Nisan (Exod 12:2; 13:4). Before the first Passover, the new year was observed in the fall, in the month Tishri. This was the celebration of the anniversary of creation, this is where the name Rosh Hashanah is derived literally “head of the year”. Since creation fell in sin God wanted Israel the New Year not to celebrate creation but on new birth of God’s holy nation, Israel. Passover and the related festival of Unleavened Bread (Exod 12:15; 23:15; 34:18) were by now well-known and clarified in Lev 23:4-8; Num 28:16-25. This passage in Deuteronomy adds some further details, first is the reminder that the Passover offering must be sacrificed “at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name” (v. 2). This points to the central sanctuary where the Lord’s presence will abide (Deut. 12:5, 11, 13). The need for three pilgrimages when they settled in the land would promote the unity of God’s people. Together the entire nation would gather to look to the Lord who was their King and redeemer. While in the wilderness on their journey to the promised land they were together, but when they entered the land God wanted His people to celebrate once again as family. Together they would celebrate their birth and deliverance from bondage and slavery and be reminded of God’s great deliverance. No day more than Passover foreshadowed the great redemption that was to come. To this day Passover is a beloved and unifying holy day.
Deuteronomy 16:3-4 Once they were in the land and settled new habits and patterns of living would develop. The pilgrim holy days was to cause Israel to focus on the Lord and remember that they were to consider themselves as pilgrims on earth like their fathers. On Passover only unleavened bread could be eaten as a reminder of the haste in which they left Egypt (Exod 12:11) it is also called the bread of affliction here so they would remember their time in Egyptian slavery. In the New Covenant leaven is likened to sin (Mark 8:15; 1 Cor. 5:6-8). The Passover sacrificial animal must be consumed on the evening of Passover to bring to mind the Exodus that occurred on the night of the Passover. Furthermore, leaven and unconsumed meat suggested decay and spoilage which contradicts holiness for which Israel was now to be removed (Lev 6:14-17; 7:15-18).
Deuteronomy 16:5-8 The central place of worship is emphasized as opposed to observing in any town that God’s people might choose. This was again so that Israel as a community would gather together at His sanctuary. The date of this gathering would always be on the fourteenth of Nisan, the anniversary of the first Passover (Exod 12:6), and the offering was to be made at sundown. The allusion to tents speaks of the dwelling of pilgrims who came to the central place of worship. Hundreds of thousands would have had to take tents with them so they could “camp out” in those days. This passage suggests that Israel stayed awake through the night to remember how the Lord had kept watch over them. Today it is observed by the religious by study Scripture and the Talmud (Jewish commentaries on Torah). Jesus transformed Passover into the Lord’s Supper, a recognition of the redemption that he would bring through his death and what Passover foreshadowed (Luke 22:1,7, 13, 15-20). Passover/Unleavened Bread lasted for six more days with an assembly on the seventh day (v. 8; Exod 12:18). This “sacred assembly” as it is called in Lev 23:21, 36, was observed as a Sabbath, a day of rest and holy to the Lord.
Deuteronomy 16:9-10 The second pilgrim holy day follows 50 days after the offering of First fruits which follows the day after the first sabbath of Passover. This means that it always falls on the first day of the week rather than on a particular date. The name Shavout (weeks) is named for the number of weeks following the offering of the First Fruits outlined in Lev. 23:9-13 which always followed the day after the first Sabbath after Passover and was know as Bikkurim (first fruits) The difference between the earlier first fruits or Bikkurim was that the former was the Barley harvest and Shavout/Pentecost was for the main harvest beginning with wheat but also the other fruits and vegetables that would be harvested. The reason it is the fiftieth day, Pentecost in Greek, is that the festival occurred the day after the seventh Sabbath (Lev 23:16), a detail not listed here in Deuteronomy. The Feast of Weeks was the day that the church began or the first fruits of the new kingdom of God (Acts 2:1).
Deuteronomy 16:11-12 The focus of this feast was a meal in celebration of the blessings that God in provided with the start of the harvest. All the people were to join in the celebration, and was the second pilgrimage holy day. The poorest among them were especially to be a part of this great gathering. It is the teaching of the Jewish people today that this was the day God gave His covenant on Mt. Sinai. Sadly, on that day 3,000 Israelites died as they came under God’s judgment for the idolatry of the golden calf. They were, like Passovers, to remember how they were enslaved and strangers in Egypt and to invite the needy and alien to join with them in giving thanks to their God. The sign of God’s blessing was the produce gathered and a portion was to be presented to the Lord and to those in need. The amount given was in proportion to the abundance they had received. It was a “freewill offering” with a tenth being the minimum of their giving (14:22-27).
Deuteronomy 16:13-15 The third pilgrimage festival at the future sanctuary was the Feast of Tabernacles (from Heb. sukkot “booths”). This seven-day celebration of grain harvest and gathering of other produce began, according to Lev 23:34, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Tishri), in the fall (mid-September to mid-October). Where the Feast of Weeks marked the first of the harvest season for wheat, the Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the end of the harvest. At this time, all the other crops were harvested (Lev 23:40). While Deuteronomy focuses on the ingathering, it like the other pilgrim gatherings remembers the Lord’s provision for his people in their history. Leviticus 23:42-43 commands the people to live in booths for seven days so that their descendants would know that “I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt.” The section of Deut. 14:22-16:17 has to do with tribute to be given to the Lord, the Great King Israel. Over time the focus was one of thanksgiving for the rains that provided the harvest and remembered with the ceremony of the pouring of the water in the Temple. This ceremony also looked to the future when the Spirit of God would cover the earth like the waters cover the seas and looks to the ingathering of all the nations to the Lord prophesied in Zech. 14:16. In the evening there was a second ceremony of illuminating the Temple which brought to mind the pillar of fire that guided and protected Israel in the wilderness. It also looked to the future when the Light of the Lord will arise on both Israel and the nations (Isa. 60:1) Both ceremonies were fulfilled in Yeshua as we see in John 7:37 and 8:12. This last pilgrim feast day spoke of that day to come when Israel and all the nations will remember and glorify the Lord for His great blessings.
Deuteronomy 16:16-17 These verses summarize the entire section with Moses repeating that all the males of Israel were to appear before the Lord at the central sanctuary, three times a year, at the three annual feasts. While only males were required to attend females were welcome and encouraged to join in. All three pilgrimage feasts, in spite of their historical and agricultural distinctives were opportunities to present tithes and offerings to the Lord and spend time in His presence. Faithfulness to these sacred assemblies assured Israel of God’s ongoing blessings. Further they were opportunities to rededicate one’s loyalty and faithfulness to the Lord.
Deuteronomy 16:18-20 – Still a further provision by Israel’s King for His people was the appointment of judges. These judges were to be installed in all the towns that the Lord would provide for Israel (v. 18). They were to be fair, to “render righteous judgment”. The judges were here warned not to pervert judgment or show partiality to anyone. They were to reject bribes and to practice and follow hard after justice (v. 20). If Israel’s judges and her people followed just judgments, they and the Land would be blessed (v. 20). This was precisely the same promise as those who keep the commandment of honoring mother and father (Deut 5:16).
Deuteronomy 16:21-22 With the issue of righteous judgment and the blessings that would flow from those policies Moses now gives a hypothetical case on what is meant and how to achieve it. The violations described here are at the heart and fruit of being in covenant relationship with a just and righteous God. They focus on key commands in their covenant relationship, His uniqueness and the call to worship Him only. They point to who God is and how he is to be worshiped. If these sins were committed, they needed to take action. In the next chapter, Moses explains how transgressions were to be examined and prosecuted. The first deals with an Asherah pole, which was an essential element of Canaanite worship. The Asherah pole represented fertility and reproduction, for both personal and agrarian blessing. This was mentioned earlier in Deut 12:3 where obedience to the first commandment was called for by the Lord. There was a temptation to syncretize Canaanite worship with the worship of the God of Israel. The Lord hates this kind of worship which involved child sacrifice as Deut 12:31 states.