The Bible


Exodus 23:14-19 : The Three Annual Festivals

Study the Inner Meaning


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 drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 329, 412, 661, 725, 865

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Exodus 12:10, 15, 13:3, 4, 22:28, 34:17, 18

Leviticus 23:6, 9, 10, 17, 34, 39

Numbers 15:21, 18:12, 13, 28:26

Deuteronomy 14:21, 16:1, 26:10

1 Kings 9:25

Nehemiah 10:36

Psalms 42:3

Proverbs 3:9

Ezekiel 44:30, 46:9, 48:13, 14

Micah 6:6

Luke 2:41

Bible Word Meanings

The Writings talk about many aspects of life using the philosophical terms "end," "cause" and "effect." The "end" is someone’s goal or purpose, the ultimate...

"Keeping" in the Bible generally has to do with controlling the actual actions of life, though in some cases it can mean holding something away...

For something to be “unleavened” means that it's been made without yeast. Since yeast is what makes bread rise and take on its airy texture,...

Unleavened bread
'Unleavened bread' signifies the holiness of love, or the holy of holies, so, pure love. The baking of unleavened bread is purification.

When we eat, our bodies break down the food and get from it both energy and materials for building and repairing the body. The process...

The number 'seven' was considered holy, as is well known, because of the six days of creation, and the seventh, which is the celestial self,...

The expression 'even to this day' or 'today' sometimes appears in the Word, as in Genesis 19:37-38, 22:14, 26:33, 32:32, 35:20, and 47:26. In a...

To command is to give an order that something must be done, and is directed to an individual, or a group. It is an imperative,...

'A month' has respect to the state of truth in a person. 'A month' signifies a full state. Month,' as in Genesis 29, signifies the...

The Passover, and the beginning of the Exodus from Egypt, happened during the month Abib, in the Hebrew calendar. Abib signifies the beginning of a...

'Mizraim' signifies the same thing as Egypt.

In most cases, the meaning of "before" is pretty straightforward, both as a way of assessing relative time, and in its use meaning "in someone's...

'A harvest' symbolizes the state of the church with respect to Divine truth. The reason is that a harvest yields the grain used to make...

When we have a desire to be good people and to do good things, the natural first questions are "What does that mean?" "What should...

To gather, as in Genesis 6:21, refers to those things which are in the memory of man, where they are gathered. It also implies that...

To gather, as in Genesis 6:21, refers to those things which are in the memory of man, where they are gathered. It also implies that...

the Lord
The Bible refers to the Lord in many different ways, which from the text seem indistinguishable and interchangeable. Understood in the internal sense, though, there...

In most cases, a "master" in the Bible refers to truth: knowledge, an understanding of the situation at hand, an understanding of the Lord's wishes,...

The internal meaning of “blood” is a little tricky, because Swedenborg gives two meanings that seem quite different. In most cases, Swedenborg links blood with...

Leaven' signifies evil and falsity, which should not be mixed with good and true things. In Leviticus 2:11, it says, 'no meat offering which ye...

Fat signifies the celestial principle. Fat things, full of marrow, signify goodnesses. Fat and blood signify interior goods and truths, and hence the Israelites, prior...

Morning comes with the rising of the sun, and the sun – which gives life to the earth with its warmth and light – represents...

In the Word, "beginning" doesn't just mean the beginning of something in time. In the inner sense, it means the initial phase of a spiritual...

As with common verbs in general, the meaning of “bring” is highly dependent on context, but in general it represents an introduction to a new...

A "house" is essentially a container - for a person, for a family, for several families or even for a large group with shared interests...

house of the
'The house of the prison' denotes the vastation of falsity, and also falsity itself.

When the Bible speaks of "Jehovah," it is representing love itself, the inmost love that is the essence of the Lord. That divine love is...

'To seethe' signifies destroying truths and goods by falsities.

'A kid' signifies the truth of the church. 'A kid,' as in Isaiah 11:6, signifies the genuine truth of the church and also innocence and...

In general, mothers in the Bible represent the Lord's church on earth, or the church among those who know and follow the Lord. In some...

In general, mothers in the Bible represent the Lord's church on earth, or the church among those who know and follow the Lord. In some...

Water represents true ideas about day-to-day life, and other drinks and liquids in general represent different forms of truth. Milk is a drink that contains...

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.

 Feast of Ingathering
Color the pictures of the Children of Israel celebrating this feast, then attach the pictures together to display.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Memory Verse: Our Guardian Angels
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Quotes: The Lord's Fruitful Harvest
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Thanking the Lord
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Significance of Thanksgiving
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Three Feasts
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18



Three Feasts      

By New Christian Bible Study Staff

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 #9295

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)      

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9295. This second feast, which was called 'the feast of the harvest of the firstfruits of works', also 'of the firstfruits of wheat' as well as 'the feast of weeks', means the planting of truth in good. This is clear from the establishment of it, spoken of in Moses as follows,

Say to the children of Israel, When you have come into the land which I am giving you, and you reap its harvest, you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, who shall wave the sheaf before Jehovah, so that you may be acceptable; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer on that day a he-lamb 1 as a burnt offering, also a minchah and a drink-offering. But you shall not eat bread or parched ears or green ones until that very day. After this you shall count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day you bring the sheaf of the wave-offering, seven sabbaths shall there be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count fifty days, and offer a new gift to Jehovah. You shall bring from your dwellings the bread of the wave-offering; it shall be baked with yeast, as firstfruits to Jehovah. Besides the bread you shall offer seven lambs, one young bull, and two rams, as a burnt offering, together with their minchah and drink-offering. Leviticus 23:10-21; Deuteronomy 16:9-12.

(References: Leviticus 23:10-18)

[2] No one can know what the meaning is of these details except from their internal sense. In that sense the seeds which are sown in the field are truths of faith which are planted in good. Harvest means their growing ripe when forms of good develop from them; for wheat and barley are forms of good, and ears containing them are truths accordingly linked to good. A sheaf is an ordered sequence and bringing together of such truths; for the truths have been arranged into sheaf-like groups. Waving means giving life to, for truths with a person are not living ones until they are rooted in good. The priest who waved the sheaf, that is, who gave life to forms of the good of truth, represented the Lord; for He is the Source of life in its entirety. Doing this on the day after the sabbath meant the holiness of goodness and truth joined together. Their not being permitted before then to eat bread, parched ears, or green ones meant not making the life of good their own before then, bread being the good of love, parched ears the good of charity, green ones the good of truth, and eating making one's own. The requirement that from then seven sabbaths were to be counted until the feast, which therefore was held on the fiftieth day, meant a complete planting of truth in good until the first phase of a new state. Bread made with yeast which was offered then meant good not as yet completely purified. The waving of it meant giving it life. The burnt offering of the lambs, young bull, and rams, together with minchah and drink-offerings meant worship of the Lord that has all the essential characteristics of that good. These are the things that are meant by this feast and what happened then. And from all this it is evident that a second state in deliverance from damnation was meant, which was a state when truth was planted in good.

[3] Since this feast was called the feast of the firstfruits of harvest one needs to know what 'harvest' means in the Word. In a broad sense 'the field' that contains the harvest means the whole human race or the whole world, in a less broad sense the Church, in a narrower sense a member of the Church, and in an even narrower sense the good present in a member of the Church since this good receives the truths of faith as the field receives seeds. From the meaning of 'the field' it is evident what 'harvest' means. That is to say, in the broadest sense it means the state of the whole human race in respect of its reception of good through truth, in a less broad sense the state of the Church in respect of the reception of the truths of faith in good, in a narrower sense the state of a member of the Church in respect of that reception, and in a still narrower sense the state of good in respect of the reception of truth, and so the planting of truth in good.

[4] All this shows what 'harvest' means in the following places, as in Matthew,

He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world; the seed is the sons of the kingdom; the tares are the sons of the kingdom of the evil one; 2 the enemy who sows them is the devil; but the harvest is the close of the age, while the harvesters are the angels. Matthew 13:37-39.

'The good seed' is the truths of faith received from the Lord; 'the Son of Man' is the Lord in respect of the Church's truths; 'the world' which 'the field' stands for is the entire human race; 'the sons of the kingdom' whom 'the seed' stands for are the Church's truths of faith; 'the sons of the kingdom of the evil one' whom 'the tares' stand for are the Church's falsities of faith; 'the devil' whom 'the enemy' stands for and who sows them is hell; 'the close of the age' which 'the harvest' stands for is the final state of the Church in respect of the reception of the truths of faith in good; and 'the angels' whom 'the harvesters' stand for are truths from the Lord. That such things are meant by those words spoken by the Lord may be recognized from their internal sense indicated throughout this explanation of them. All this also shows the manner in which the Lord spoke when He was in the world, namely by the use of images that carried a spiritual meaning, and the reason why He did so was in order that the Word might exist not only for the world but also for heaven.

[5] In Revelation,

An angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, Thrust in 3 your sickle and reap, for the hour of harvesting has come for you; for the harvest of the earth has become dry. The one sitting on the cloud therefore thrust 4 his sickle into the earth, and the earth was harvested. Revelation 14:15-16.

'The harvest' here also stands for the final state of the Church in respect of the reception of the truths of faith in good. In Joel,

The priests have been mourning, the ministers of Jehovah. The field has been devastated, the land has been mourning because the grain has been laid waste, the new wine has failed, the oil languishes. Farmers have been put to shame, vinedressers have wailed over the wheat and over the barley, for the reason that the harvest of the field has perished. Joel 1:9-11.

This describes the ruination of the Church in respect of truths of faith and forms of the good of charity by means of such things as belong to the field, vineyard, and olive-grove. The Church itself is 'the field', and its final state, which the Lord called 'the close of the age', is 'the harvest'.

[6] In the same prophet,

Send out the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down, for the winepress is full, the vats overflow - for great is their wickedness. Joel 3:13.

Here also 'the harvest' means the close of the age or final state of a Church laid waste. In Jeremiah,

Cut off the sower from Babel, and the one handling the sickle in the time of harvest. Jeremiah 50:16.

In the same prophet,

The daughter of Babel is like a threshing-floor; it is time to thresh her. Only a little while, and the time of harvest comes [to her]. Jeremiah 51:33.

'The time of harvest' stands for the final state of the Church there.

[7] In Isaiah,

Wail, O ships of Tarshish! For Tyre has been laid waste, so that there is no house nor anyone to go in. The inhabitants of the island are silent, O merchant of Sidon passing over the sea; they have replenished you. And through the great waters the seed of Shihor is the harvest of the Nile, her produce, to be the merchandise of nations. Isaiah 23:1-3.

The holy things of the Church that are described in these verses cannot be known to anyone except from the internal sense. Everyone knows that the holy things of heaven and of the Church are present throughout the Word, and that for this reason the Word is holy. The literal sense of those verses describes things connected with the commerce of Tyre and Sidon, but without a holy and more internal sense those descriptions are not holy. What their meaning is in this more internal sense is evident if they are brought to the surface. 'Ships of Tarshish' are doctrinal teachings about truth and good; 'Tyre and Sidon' are cognitions or knowledge of goodness and truth; 'no house, so that there is not anyone to go in' means that there is no longer any good in which truth can be planted; 'the inhabitants of the island who are silent' are more remote forms of good; 'the seed of Shihor' is true factual knowledge; and 'the harvest of the Nile, her produce' is good resulting from that knowledge, outside the Church.


1. literally, son of a lamb

2. The Latin means the sons of that of the evil one. Swedenborg derives this wording from the Latin Bible of Sebastian Schmidt. The Greek means simply the sons of the evil one.

3. literally, Send

4. literally, sent


(References: Exodus 23:16)

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   Study this Passage
From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 9325, 9372, 10083, 10137, 10227, 10669, 10670

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 163, 175, 946

   Swedenborg Research Tools

Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.