Leviticus 23 details the holy times of Israel’s calendar.
There is first the Sabbath day, a day so holy that no work of any kind was to be performed by anyone living in Israel. The penalty for violation was death. In our own time when “days off” include not only a day or two a week each week, but also at least ten special national holidays and personal days and sick days, the idea of taking a day off may not seem earth shattering. But in the ancient world, where a man worked every day for enough to feed his family that day, days off were unusual. So much so was this true that Josephus, the Jewish historian claimed Judaism was the beginning of a regular rest. He wrote: “There is not one city, Greek or barbarian, nor a single nation to which our custom of abstaining from work on the seventh day has not spread.”
The Sabbath observance was once a week.
The Passover observance occurred on the fourteenth day of the first month and introduced a week dedicated to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The feast occurred at the very beginning of the barley harvest and also included the “firstfruits” offering. The Feast of unleavened bread began and ended with an assembly of Israel and while necessary work was allowed, regular work was not.
Pentecost or the “Feast of Weeks” occurred fifty days later and comprised the second “assembly” of Israel. The seventh month was the fullest in Israel’s calendar. It began with the Festival of trumpets on the first day, involving an assembly of Israel. The tenth day was the Day of Atonement. It was to be celebrated as a sabbath and Israel was to assemble together for worship. On the fifteenth day of the month began the Feast of Tabernacles, closing the harvest season and lasting a week.
Note that the chapter is not addressed to the priests, who would be in charge of the sacrifices, but to the people. The religious nature of these assemblies was not left to the clergy to plan and execute. All Israel was held responsible.
Gathering as God’s people is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. The responsibility for gathering does not belong to the leaders of the Church today, but is the responsibility of all God’s people.