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

Main explanation(s) from Swedenborg's works:

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

Commentary on this text:


Other references by Swedenborg to this text:

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

Apocalypse Revealed 623, 939

Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works


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 #9296

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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9296. 'And the feast of ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in [the fruit of] your labours from the field' means the worship of a thankful mind on account of the implanting of good after that, and so on account of regeneration and complete deliverance from damnation. This is clear from the meaning of 'the feast' as worship of the Lord and thanksgiving, dealt with above in Arcana Coelestia 9286, 9287, 9294, and so the worship of a thankful mind; from the meaning of 'ingathering', when speaking of the implanting of truth in good, as the implanting of good itself; from the meaning of 'the end of the year' as the end of labours; and from the meaning of 'when you have gathered in [the fruit of] your labours from the field' as the enjoyment and use of all that has been planted in good. For not only products of the field are meant by 'labours' but also those of the vineyard and the olive-grove, so that the fruits of the earth are meant, as is evident from the description of this feast in Moses,

You shall celebrate the feast of tabernacles seven days, when you gather in from your threshing-floor, and from your winepress. And Jehovah your God will bless you in all your produce, and in all the labour of your hands. Deuteronomy 16:13, 15.

And elsewhere,

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the earth, you shall keep the feast of Jehovah seven days. Leviticus 23:39.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 9286-9287)

[2] Since this feast means worshipping the Lord with a thankful mind on account of the implanting of good, and so on account of complete deliverance from damnation, what the implanting of good is must first be explained here. It has been shown in various places already that a person has two powers of life - the understanding and the will - and that the understanding is dedicated to receiving truth and the will to receiving good. For there are two realities to which all things throughout creation, both in heaven and in the world, have connection, namely truth and good. From this it is also evident that these two realities compose a person's life, that the truth of faith and the good of charity compose his new life, and that unless they have both been implanted in the person he has no new life. In what way the truth of faith is sown and implanted in a person is well known in the Church, but in what way the good of charity is, is not as yet so well known. When a person is a young child he receives good from the Lord, that good being the good of innocence as it exists with young children. This good composes the first beginnings of a new will with a person, and it develops in the next period of life in the measure that he leads an innocent life among those of his own age, behaves properly in life and does what he is told by parents and teachers. It develops more fully however with those who subsequently allow themselves to be regenerated. This the Lord foresees, and according to the state of their subsequent life He makes provision for it. For in every present moment the Lord foresees what is bad and provides what is good; He does so from the moment the person is conceived even into eternity. At a later stage, when the person has grown up and starts to think from self, then to the extent that he is carried away by the delights of self-love and love of the world that new will, that is, first beginnings of a new will, is closed, and to the extent that he is not carried away by those delights it is opened and also perfected.

[3] But in what way it is perfected through the implanting of truth must be stated next. That new will, which is formed from the good of innocence, is the dwelling-place by means of which the Lord comes in and resides with a person, rousing the person to will what is good, and from willing good to doing it. This influx is effective with a person to the extent that he refrains from evils. It gives him the ability to know, see into, reflect on, and have an understanding of truths and forms of good. The truths and forms of good occur on the level of both private and public life, and he receives that ability according to his delight in service. After this the Lord flows by way of that good into the truths the person knows from the teachings of the Church; He then summons from his memory the kinds of truths that may help him serve usefully in life, implanting those truths in the good and perfecting it. So it is that the good present with a person depends entirely on his service in life. If that service is rendered for his neighbour's benefit, that is, for the good of fellow-citizen, country, Church, heaven, and for the Lord, then that good is the good of charity. But if his service in life is rendered solely for the sake of self and the world, then those first beginnings of a new will are closed. Below them a will is formed from the evils of self-love and love of the world, and arising from this an understanding from falsities. This will is closed above and open below, that is, it is closed in heaven's direction and open in the world's. All this shows in what way truths are planted in good and give it form. It also shows that when a person is governed by good he is in heaven with the Lord; for as stated above, the new will, where the good of charity resides, is the Lord's dwelling-place and is therefore heaven with a person. And the new understanding extending from it is so to speak a tabernacle or booth through which people pass in and out.

[4] These kinds of things in general and in particular were represented by this feast, which was a feast of ingathering of the fruits of the earth, and was called the feast of tabernacles. The establishment of this feast, spoken of in Moses as follows, shows that this is so,

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the earth, you shall keep the feast of Jehovah seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day a sabbath. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a fine tree, 1 fronds of palm trees, and the bough of a thick tree, and willows of the powerful stream; and you shall be glad before Jehovah your God seven days. You shall dwell in tabernacles seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in tabernacles, that your generations may know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in tabernacles when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. Leviticus 23:39-44.

And elsewhere,

You shall celebrate the feast of tabernacles seven days, when you gather in from your threshing-floor, and from your press. You shall be glad in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male slave and your female slave and the Levite and the sojourner and the orphan and the widow who are within your gates. And you will be altogether glad. Deuteronomy 16:13-15.

(References: Deuteronomy 16:13-16; Leviticus 23:39-43)

[5] The state when good has been implanted by the Lord through truth, thus the state when heaven resides with a person, was represented by this feast. This is evident from the internal sense of all that is mentioned in these passages, which is this: The fifteenth day of the seventh month means the end of the former state and the beginning of a new state. (That this is the meaning of the fifteenth, see Arcana Coelestia 8400, and also of the seventh, Arcana Coelestia 728, 6508, 8976, 9228.) The fruit of the earth, which had been gathered in by then, means the good of charity, Arcana Coelestia 43, 55, 913, 983, 2846, 2847, 3146, 7690, 7692. Gathering in from the threshing-floor and from the press has a similar meaning. For grain, which is a product of the threshing-floor, is the good of truth, Arcana Coelestia 5295, 5410; wine, which is a product of the press, is truth derived from good, Arcana Coelestia 6377; and oil, which is also a product of the press, is good which is a source of truth, Arcana Coelestia 886, 3728, 4582, 4638. A sabbath on the first day and a sabbath on the eighth day mean the joining of truth to good, and in a reciprocal manner the joining of good to truth, the sabbath meaning truth and good joined together, Arcana Coelestia 8495, 8510, 8890, 8893, 9274. The reason why the eighth day too was called a sabbath is that eighth meant the beginning of a new state, Arcana Coelestia 2044, 8400 (end).

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2846-2847)

[6] The fruit of a fine tree which they were to take on the first day meant festivity and joy because good had been implanted, which is why the words you shall be glad before Jehovah follow; fronds of palm trees meant internal truths of that good, Arcana Coelestia 8369; the bough of a thick (or tangled) tree meant relatively external truths of good, or known facts, Arcana Coelestia 2831, 8133; and willows of the powerful stream meant rather more external truths, which belong to impressions received by the bodily senses. The tabernacles in which they were to dwell seven days means the holiness of love received from the Lord and offered in return to the Lord, Arcana Coelestia 414, 1102, 2145, 2152, 3312, 3391, 4391, 4599, also the holiness of union, Arcana Coelestia 8666. Native Israelites means those governed by the good of charity, and therefore also means - in the abstract sense - that good, Arcana Coelestia 3654, 4598, 5801, 5803, 5806, 5812, 5817, 5819, 5826, 5833, 6426, 7957. The rejoicing of all at that time meant the joy such as that felt by those who are governed by good received from the Lord, thus such as that felt by those in heaven. For one who is governed by the good of charity received from the Lord is in heaven with the Lord. These are the things on account of which that feast was established.


1. literally, a tree of honour


(References: Deuteronomy 16:13-16; Exodus 23:16)

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