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Holy Day Offerings

Holy Day Offerings, Special offerings, passing the plate, HDO, Church of God offerings, three times a year,

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For many years the main non-Jewish group honoring the annual festivals of the Creator has collected special offerings on the seven annual holy days.  These collections are done twice during Unleavened Bread, once at Pentecost, once on the day of Trumpets, again on the day of Atonement, once during the Feast of Tabernacles and finally again on the Eight Day following the Feast of Tabernacles.  The main scripture used in support of these offerings has been Deuteronomy 16:16.

"Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.  17 Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you."

A surface reading of this verse would lead one to assume that the Creator requested Israel gather and give an offering only three times.  However, over the years a number of reasons have been put forward that appear to indicate more than just three offerings should be given.  This document hopes to bring up all these various explanations and examine them.  To this author the straightforward reading is indeed what the Creator intended.  It is clear from the text, clear in light of other scripture and clear from history. 

Frequently it will be explained that 'three times' means 'three seasons'.  However, if one actually checks the meaning of "pa'am". the Hebrew word in question, in a Hebrew lexicon one will probably not find ‘seasons’ has any association with "pa’am".  That meaning is certainly not mentioned in roughly 15 lexicons checked by this author, including: The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Vol. 3) by Ludwig Hocklen and Walter Baumgartner translated by M. Richardson (1994), the Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by William Gesenius, translated and edited by Edward Robinson, the Brown, Driver & Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1981, edited by Francis Brown, with cooperation of S.R. Driver & Charles Briggs, or The Complete Word Study Old Testament, published by AMG International.  The word 'seasons' does not appear anywhere under the definition of "pa'am" in any of these sources.

The above lexicons generally agreed that the word really means, "stroke, beat, step, foot or occurrence".  This makes perfect sense since the scripture is talking of the occurrence of the; "Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles".  (see also Ex 23:14 & 17)  No particular day is specified on which the offering is to be given except possibly on the occasion of the Feast of Weeks. 

I can understand that 'season' could be stretched to be equivalent to 'occurrence', but that is not my impression of how those who claim biblical authority for collections on all annual holy days have used it.  After being present during at least 280 of these occasions my impression is they have used 'season' to designate spring, summer and fall.  This is stretching the meaning of occurrence and then stretching it again into season of the year.  This is unjustified by the ancient Hebrew original.

This connection with season of the year also strikes me as odd since nothing else in the Old Testament seems to recognize spring or fall at all.  The only seasons mentioned somewhat equivalent to what we call seasons, are summer and winter.  Actually in a few cases the NKJV uses the term 'spring', as in 2Chronicles 24:23.  However the original Hebrew is 'end of the year' as the KJV specifies.  If anything, this is an indication that the ancient Hebrews didn't recognize spring as we know it.  Where modern translators understand 'spring' to be appropriate, the original writers did not think of it that way.

This is somewhat reinforced by Song of Solomon 2:11, "For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over [and] gone".  The rains being past indicated winter was over, not the equinox.  Also, "Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first [month]." (Joel 2:23 KJV)  When they were obedient the rain continued during the first month.  So what we consider the 'spring' Holy days were probably in what they considered the end of winter, the season of the latter rain.

This use of 'seasons' is evidently supposed to allow the inclusion of Trumpets and Atonement in the offering instruction of Deuteronomy 16:16.  However considering that Hebrew speakers frequently repeat their thoughts in their speaking, or use what are called parallel expressions, there appears to be no justification for the inclusion of Trumpets and Atonement.  Deuteronomy 16:16 is being quite clear that there are three occasions when all the males are to appear and those occasions are Unleavened Bread, Pentecost and Tabernacles. 

Where Deuteronomy 16:16 mentions the three ‘feasts’ the Hebrew word is ‘chag’ or ‘hag’.  Similar instruction in Exodus 23:14-16 uses ‘chag’ as a verb and instructs Israel “Three times you shall ‘keep a feast’ (Heb ‘chagag’) to Me in the year”.  A ‘chag’ is a joyous festival.  Although Leviticus 23 in many translations indicates many more occasions are ‘feasts’ the word used there is not ‘chag’, but “mo’ed”.  It indicates special appointments of the Creator, but not necessarily joyous occasions.  Atonement, for instance, is really a solemn occasion, not a time to have a festival.  Deuteronomy 16 and Exodus 23:14-17 are focusing on the joyous occasions.  All the ‘chag’s are mo’edim, but not all mo’edim are ‘chag’s.  Israel was expected to travel to God’s house for the ‘chag’s.  

These pilgrimage festivals were the occasions an offering was to be brought.  In an agrarian society this only makes sense.  They harvested the crops, made the pilgrimage and gave an offering.  At Unleavened Bread, if they didn't have any new harvest, they probably had a surplus from the previous year.  Why go to the trouble to give part of their offering on the first of Unleavened Bread and then another portion on the last day of Unleavened Bread?  Their offering was probably decided at the time they left home at the start of their journey.  It would make little sense to withhold some of it just so they would have something to give again a few days later.  That would have only multiplied the work.

The fact that we are not generally an agrarian society does not require that things be done differently.  Yes, most of us can divide our offering into multiple pieces depending on how many collections are being taken.  Does that mean that multiple collections should be taken?  The answer seems self-evident.  No it does not.

Actually it makes more sense that the offerings were not given on the Holy days at all.  What chaos that would have been to have literally every head of household in the country show up at once on the Holy day to drop off their sheep, ox, cow, doves or pigeons and multiple sacks of multiple grains and dried fruit.  That would have made the moneychangers in Messiah's day look like amateurs. 

Perhaps if we thought about this we could come up with a much better system.  A box in the back of the auditorium would allow everyone to more freely give as opposed to being subject to a collection.  This would eliminate work and free up the time taken from services.  It would also allow everyone to actually hear the message instead of needing to count the profits like money changers.  It would also put the responsibility for making the gift more squarely on the one responsible for giving.  Finally it could eliminate almost entirely the need to handle this on the Holy days.

Passing the plate by everyone in a church service is an act of intimidation to a certain degree.  The Creator is not looking to intimidate His people into obedience.  He wants us to willingly live to His expectation. The instruction in Deuteronomy is to the people to give, not to the ministry to extract an offering.  The heart of each person is evident when they are allowed to give.  It is not so evident when there is intimidation involved.

The tradition at the “Fall” Holy days seems to have little in common with what the scripture says.  Where one offering is specified the tradition dictates four.  One is during the Feast of Tabernacles as specified and three others not on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles.  Certainly for an agrarian society this makes no sense at all.  If I have one calf to give, how do I do that?  If the ancient examples are for our benefit it appears they are being ignored.  All in all this author is baffled trying to reconcile this practice to scripture and the historical record.

Even for modern society the offering on the 8th Day makes little sense.  Since the offering is to be based, "according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you." (Deut 16:17bc)  How many who have attended the entire eight day festival have had a significant additional unexpected blessing for which it would be appropriate to give another offering?  Certainly the Feast is a blessing of itself, but this should not be any great surprise to anyone.  The blessing in verse 17 seems to be referring back to verse 15, "because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands so that you surely rejoice."  We are to give according as God has blessed what we have produced.  Generally this would be based on our income.  Many earn no income while they are attending the Feast.  So why should there be a second offering?

Because of the nature of travel, only those living a great distance from Jerusalem arrived very early.  Anyone living in Israel itself could walk to Jerusalem in a few days.  Most would not "appear before the Lord" until about the time of the Feast.  Were those that arrived in Jerusalem early required to give an offering on Trumpets and Atonement, but those that came on time were not?  Or did they give it in their home areas?  If so, why did they have to go to Jerusalem to appear before the Lord?    In any case did they save part of their offering for the Last Great Day?  Why bother with that?  It makes more sense that they gave it as they arrived, before the Holy day or possibly after.  They then had to concern themselves about it no more.

The offering on Atonement is particularly troubling.  Absolutely no work was to be done on that day.  Yet the tradition would have ancient Israel loading up their grain, animals and dried fruit and trucking it to the temple to be sorted, arranged and stacked by the Levites.  Granted cash and checks are not heavy, but typically they are counted, checked and balanced immediately after the offering.  So is the work of an accountant the only exception to God's direction of Leviticus 23:28-32?  How do we know that to be so?

According to Jewish tradition in the Talmud only on the weeks of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost and Tabernacles were all the courses of the priests present in Jerusalem to handle the increased workload. “At the three Feasts all twenty-four Courses of priests were present at the Temple and shared equally in the offerings.”(Sukkot 5.6, footnote 13 of  The Mishnah translated by H. Danby)  Of the annual festivals, only on the pilgrimage festivals was there an offering that was determined by the people. “The following are the things for which no definite quantity is prescribed.  The corners [of the field], first fruits, [the offerings brought] on appearing [before the Lord at the three pilgrim festivals]…” (Pe'ah 1, The Babylonian Talmud translated by Dr. S. Lehrman). 

It should be noted that all the priests were at hand for the entire week around Pentecost.  There would have been no need for everyone to show up with their offering on the Holy day itself.  Because of many differences in our practice and the minimal amount of effort required to handle a Holy day offering it might not be contrary to the spirit of God’s instruction to give the offering on the actual Holy day.  On the other hand it would not be contrary to mail it somewhere either.  In any case a box in the back of the meeting hall with the contents organized after the Sabbath would certainly be superior to a collection during the service with the offering organized and rushed to the bank at the earliest possible moment.

According to the Talmud, the priests expected only one offering for each festival.  "He who did not bring his festal offering on the first festival day of the Feast, may bring it during the whole of the Festival even on the last festival day!": (Babylonian Talmud - Chagigah 17a, Soncino, Ed. Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein).

On each of the Holy days Leviticus 23 specifies that ‘no customary work’ should be done except one.  That one day is Atonement.  On that day absolutely no work of any sort was to be done (except of course what was required for the high Priest and the Atonement ceremony).  This prohibition is repeated three times, once in each of the following verses; 28, 30, 31.  Did all Israel show up on that day with an offering for the priests to handle?  God forbid!  Yet this tradition has been to not only collect an offering, but have a group of members waiting in the back room to count and organize it for banking, immediately after it is collected.

Is it wrong to give to God?  Certainly not.  However we are to honor God the way he wants to be honored, not how we, or the leadership in the church corporation wants to do it.  What we do must be in harmony with God’s way.  To suggest that people give extra on the occasion of the Holy days would not be a problem.  However if one claims that the word of God says we are to give multiple times during a festival or on a day that is not one of the three festivals, one is miss-speaking for God.  This is called taking the name of God in vain!  It misrepresents His published will.

I have heard some suggest that because offerings were offered on the altar on each Holy day, we take up a collection on each Holy day.  Actually an offering on the altar made by fire was done every day of the year. (Num. 28:3)  So these specifically designated offerings on the altar are not unique to the Holy days at all.  Extra offerings were offered on the Holy days, but extra offerings were also offered on the non-holy days during Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles too.  If these extra offerings are the reason for the collections on all the Holy days, in order to be consistent an offering should also be collected on every day of Unleavened Bread and every day of the Feast of Tabernacles too, if not every day of the year.

If the reason for our holy day offerings are these extra specifically prescribed offerings what does Deuteronomy 16:16 have to do with our offering?  Why do we read it almost every time we take up an offering?  It is concerned with the free will offerings from all the people.  17 "Every man shall give as he is able.."  What does that have to do with the " offering made by fire" each sacrifice of which was dictated specifically by God in Numbers 28-29 and was performed exclusively by the Priests?  There is really no connection between the freewill offering of Deuteronomy 16:16 and the precisely prescribed offerings 'made by fire'.

In the time of Hezekiah, he contributed the offerings made by fire all year, not the common people.  "[He appointed] also the king's portion of his substance for the burnt offerings, [to wit], for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feasts, as [it is] written in the law of the LORD" (II Chr. 31:3).  This practice of the ruler providing the special offerings is affirmed in Ezekiel 45:17.

All things considered this tradition of collecting offerings on all annual holy days has no basis in scripture.  It is a twisting of the instruction of the Creator.  It is also a testament to the intransigence that can form when men put their trust in themselves and other humans instead of their Creator.