The Bible

Exodus 23:14-19 : The Three Annual Festivals

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14 Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year.

15 Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)

16 And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field.

17 Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD.

18 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning.

19 The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Main explanations:

Arcana Coelestia 9285, 9286, 9287, 9288, 9289, 9290, 9291, ...

Other references to this text:

Arcana Coelestia 1001, 2342, 2405, 2788, 3519, 4262, 7906, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 623, 939

References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 329, 412, 661, 725, 865

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

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Three Feasts

A loaf of homemade bread.

The Children of Israel were told to keep three feasts each year - the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of first fruits, and the feast of ingathering. Should we still do that?

In Exodus 23:14-16, Moses receives the instructions about these feasts. Those three verses in Exodus comprise our brief story. Their inner meaning is explained in Arcana Coelestia 9286-9296.

There are three feasts. In the Word, the number three represents a completeness, a sense of things being covered from beginning to end. Our thankfulness to the Lord is supposed to keep going - to endure.

The first feast, of unleavened bread, stands for worship, for our thankfulness for the Lord's action in our minds to get rid of false ideas. That enables us to start to receive good loves.

The second feast, of first fruits, relates to the planting of true ideas in that "soil" of initial loves for doing good.

The third feast, of harvest, or ingathering, stands for the time when, by applying our true ideas, we receive real good - loves of the neighbor and of the Lord - that become the middle of our lives. This is the state of rebirth, where we have - by working through the year (our lives), and enduring in thankfulness, allowed the Lord to get rid of our false ideas, and push our evil loves to the periphery, so that good can work, and be fruitful.

These feasts, then, represent the progress of our spiritual lives. In some manner, we need to keep them.

From Swedenborg's Works

Arcana Coelestia #9293

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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9293. 'And My face shall not be seen empty-handed' means the reception of good out of mercy, and thanksgiving. This is clear from the meaning of 'Jehovah's face' as good, mercy, and peace, dealt with in 222, 223, 5585, 7599; and from the meaning of 'not being seen empty-handed', or not coming without a gift, as bearing witness because good has been received, and thanksgiving. For gifts which were offered to Jehovah meant the kinds of things that are offered to the Lord by a person from the heart and are accepted by the Lord. The situation with those gifts is as it is with all a person's deeds. A person's deeds are merely acts performed by the body, and when regarded in isolation from his will are no more than variously regulated, so to speak articulated movements, not unlike the movements of a machine, and so are lifeless. But deeds regarded together with the will are not like those movements. Rather they are outward expressions of the will displayed before the eyes, for deeds are nothing other than witness-bearers to such things as compose the will. They also derive their soul or life from the will. Therefore something similar may be said of deeds as of movements, namely that nothing in deeds has life apart from the will, just as nothing in movements has life apart from endeavour. Mankind also knows this to be so, for someone endowed with intelligence pays no attention to a person's deeds, only to his will, the source, the means, and the reason for the deeds. Indeed someone endowed with wisdom scarcely notices the deeds but rather sees in the deeds what his will is like and how great it is. The same applies to gifts, in that in them the Lord looks on the will. So it is that by 'gifts' offered to Jehovah, that is, to the Lord, such things as are present in the will or the heart are meant, 'the heart' being what the Word calls a person's will. From all this it is also evident how to understand the teaching in Matthew 16:27 that everyone will receive judgement in the next life according to his deeds or works, namely that he will receive it according to what is in his heart and consequently his life.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 222-223)

[2] It is evident from the Word that such things are meant by 'gifts offered to Jehovah', as in David,

Sacrifice and gift You have not desired; burnt offering and sin-sacrifice You have not sought. I have delighted to do Your will, O My God. Psalms 40:6, 8.

In Moses,

Jehovah your God, He is God of gods, and Lord of lords, who shows no partiality 1 and does not accept a gift. 2 Deuteronomy 10:17.

And in Matthew,

If you offer your gift on the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, you shall leave the gift there before the altar, and go away. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24.

From this it is evident that gifts offered to the Lord served to bear witness to things offered from the heart, which are those of faith and charity. 'Being reconciled to a brother' means charity towards the neighbour.

[3] In the same gospel,

Wise men from the east came, and they offered gifts to the new-born Lord - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:1, 11.

'Gold, frankincense, and myrrh' means all forms of the good of love and faith offered to the Lord, 'gold' being forms of the good of love, 'frankincense' forms of the good of faith, and 'myrrh' forms of both in external things. The reason why 'wise men from the east' offered them was that among some in the east there remained from ancient times the knowledge and wisdom of the people of old, which consisted in their understanding and seeing heavenly and Divine realities within things in the world and on earth. For it was well known to the ancients that all things had a correspondence and were representative, and therefore had a spiritual meaning, as is also evident from the gentiles' oldest books and their monuments. This was how they knew that gold, frankincense, and myrrh meant the forms of good that should be offered to God. They knew also from their prophecies, which were those of the Ancient Church and which have been spoken of in 2686, that the Lord would come into the world, at which time a star would appear to them, about which also Balaam, who likewise was one of 'the sons of the east', prophesied, Numbers 24:17 - see 3762. 'A star' furthermore means cognitions or knowledge of internal goodness and truth, which come from the Lord, 2495, 2849, 4697.

[4] In David,

The kings of Tarshish and of the islands will bring a gift, the kings of Sheba and Seba will bring a present; and all kings will bow down [to Him], and all nations will serve Him. Psalms 72:10-11.

These things were said in reference to the Lord. 'Bringing a gift' and 'bringing a present' mean the good of love and faith. For 'Tarshish' means doctrinal teachings about love and faith, 1156; 'Sheba and Seba' cognitions or knowledge of goodness and truth, 1171, 3240; 'kings' the Church's truths, 1672, 2015, 2069, 3009, 4581, 4966, 5044, 5068, 6148; and 'nations' the Church's forms of good, 1159, 1258-1260, 1416, 1849, 4574, 6005, 8771; from all of which meanings it is evident what 'all kings will bow down and all nations serve' is used to mean.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1258, 1260)

[5] In Isaiah,

They will announce My glory among the nations. At that time they will bring all your brothers from all nations as a gift to Jehovah, on horses, and in chariots, and in covered wagons, and on mules, and on fast runners, 3 to My holy mountain, Jerusalem, even as the children of Israel bring their gift in a clean vessel to the house of Jehovah. Isaiah 66:19-20.

A person unacquainted with the internal sense of the Word may think that these things were said of the Jews who were to be brought in such a manner to Jerusalem by gentile nations. But forms of the good of love to and faith in the Lord are what those prophetic words describe and what 'a gift' is used to mean. 'Horses', 'chariots', 'covered wagons', 'mules', and 'fast runners' on or in which they were to be brought mean intellectual concepts, doctrinal teachings, and factual knowledge of truth and good, as is evident from the meaning of these carriers - for example, from that of 'horses', 2760-2762, 3217, 5321, 6125, 6401, 6534, 8029, 8146, 8148; from the meaning of 'chariots', 5321, 5945, 8146, 8148, 8215; and from the meaning of 'mules', 2781.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 8248)

[6] In Malachi,

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and purge them like gold, and like silver, in order that they may bring to Jehovah a gift in righteousness. Then the gift of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to Jehovah, as in the days of old, and as in former years. Malachi 3:3-4.

Since 'a gift offered to Jehovah' means the good of love and faith, it speaks here of their 'bringing to Jehovah a gift in righteousness' and of a gift 'acceptable to Jehovah'. 'Purifying the sons of Levi and purging them like gold and silver' means purifying goodness and truth from evils and falsities, 'the sons of Levi' being those who have faith and charity, thus who belong to the spiritual Church, 3875, 4497, 4502, 4503, and 'Judah' being the good of celestial love, thus those with whom that good exists, 3654, 3881.


1. literally, does not accept faces

2. i.e. a bribe

3. i.e. dromedaries or swift camels


(References: Arcana Coelestia 4502-4503; Exodus 23:15)

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   Study this Passage
From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 10666

References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 946

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