The annual feasts appointed by the law were to be celebrated, like the sacrificial meals, at the place which the Lord would choose for the revelation of His name; and there Israel was to rejoice before the Lord with the presentation of sacrifices. From this point of view Moses discusses the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, assuming the laws previously given concerning these festivals (Ex 12; Lev 23:1, and Num 28 and 29) as already known, and simply repeating those points which related to the sacrificial meals held at these festivals. This serves to explain the reason why only those three festivals are mentioned, at which Israel had already been commanded to appear before the Lord in Exo 23:14-17, and Exo 34:18, Exo 34:24-25, and not the feast of trumpets or day of atonement: viz., because the people were not required to assemble at the sanctuary out of the whole land on the occasion of these two festivals.
(Note: That the assembling of the people at the central sanctuary is the leading point of view under which the feasts are regarded here, has been already pointed out by Bachmann (die Feste, p. 143), who has called attention to the fact that “the place which Jehovah thy God will choose” occurs six times (Deu 16:2, Deu 16:6, Deu 16:7, Deu 16:11, Deu 16:15, Deu 16:16); and “before the face of Jehovah” three times (Deu 16:11 and Deu 16:16 twice); and that the celebration of the feast at any other place is expressly declared to be null and void. At the same time, he has once more thoroughly exploded the contradictions which are said to exist between this chapter and the earlier festal laws, and which Hupfeld has revived in his comments upon the feasts, without troubling himself to notice the careful discussion of the subject by Hävernick in his Introduction, and Hengstenberg in his Dissertations.)
Israel was to make ready the Passover to the Lord in the earing month (see at Exo 12:2). The precise day is supposed to be known from Ex 12, as in Exo 23:15. פֶּסַח עָשָׂה (to prepare the Passover), which is used primarily to denote the preparation of the paschal lamb for a festal meal, is employed here in a wider signification viz., “to keep the Passover.” At this feast they were to slay sheep and oxen to the Lord for a Passover, at the place, etc. In Deu 16:2, as in Deu 16:1, the word “Passover” is employed in a broader sense, and includes not only the paschal lamb, but the paschal sacrifices generally, which the Rabbins embrace under the common name of chagiga; not the burnt-offerings and sin-offerings, however, prescribed in Num 28:19-26, but all the sacrifices that were slain at the feast of the Passover (i.e., during the seven days of the Mazzoth, which are included under the name of pascha) for the purpose of holding sacrificial meals. This is evident from the expression “of the flock and the herd;” as it was expressly laid down, that only a שֶׂה, i.e., a yearling animal of the sheep or goats, was to be slain for the paschal meal on the fourteenth of the month in the evening, and an ox was never slaughtered in the place of the lamb. But if any doubt could exist upon this point, it would be completely set aside by Deu 16:3 : “Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it: seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith.” As the word “therewith” cannot possibly refer to anything else than the “Passover” in Deu 16:2, it is distinctly stated that the slaughtering and eating of the Passover was to last seven days, whereas the Passover lamb was to be slain and consumed in the evening of the fourteenth Abib (Exo 12:10). Moses called the unleavened bread “the bread of affliction,” because the Israelites had to leave Egypt in anxious flight (Exo 12:11) and were therefore unable to leaven the dough (Exo 12:39), for the purpose of reminding the congregation of the oppression endured in Egypt, and to stir them up to gratitude towards the Lord their deliverer, that they might remember that day as long as they lived. (On the meaning of the Mazzothy, see at Exo 12:8 and Exo 12:15.) - On account of the importance of the unleavened bread as a symbolical shadowing forth of the significance of the Passover, as the feast of the renewal and sanctification of the life of Israel, Moses repeats in Deu 16:4 two of the points in the law of the feast: first of all the one laid down in Exo 13:7, that no leaven was to be seen in the land during the seven days; and secondly, the one in Exo 23:18 and Exo 34:25, that none of the flesh of the paschal lamb was to be left till the next morning, in order that all corruption might be kept at a distance from the paschal food. Leaven, for example, sets the dough in fermentation, from which putrefaction ensues; and in the East, if flesh is kept, it very quickly decomposes. He then once more fixes the time and place for keeping the Passover (the former according to Exo 12:6 and Lev 23:5, etc.), and adds in Deu 16:7 the express regulation, that not only the slaughtering and sacrificing, but the roasting (see at Exo 12:9) and eating of the paschal lamb were to take place at the sanctuary, and that the next morning they could turn and go back home. This rule contains a new feature, which Moses prescribes with reference to the keeping of the Passover in the land of Canaan, and by which he modifies the instructions for the first Passover in Egypt, to suit the altered circumstances. In Egypt, when Israel was not yet raised into the nation of Jehovah, and had as yet no sanctuary and no common altar, the different houses necessarily served as altars. But when this necessity was at an end, the slaying and eating of the Passover in the different houses were to cease, and they were both to take place at the sanctuary before the Lord, as was the case with the feast of Passover at Sinai (Num 9:1-5). Thus the smearing of the door-posts with the blood was tacitly abolished, since the blood was to be sprinkled upon the altar as sacrificial blood, as it had already been at Sinai. - The expression “to thy tents,” for going “home,” points to the time when Israel was till dwelling in tents, and had not as yet secured any fixed abodes and houses in Canaan, although this expression was retained at a still later time (e.g., 1Sa 13:2; 2Sa 19:9, etc.). The going home in the morning after the paschal meal, is not to be understood as signifying a return to their homes in the different towns of the land, but simply, as even Riehm admits, to their homes or lodgings at the place of the sanctuary. How very far Moses was from intending to release the Israelites from the duty of keeping the feast for seven days, is evident from the fact that in Deu 16:8 he once more enforces the observance of the seven days' feast. The two clauses, “six days thou shalt eat mazzoth,” and “on the seventh day shall be azereth (Eng. Ver. 'a solemn assembly') to the Lord thy God,” are not placed in antithesis to each other, so as to imply (in contradiction to Deu 16:3 and Deu 16:4; Exo 12:18-19; Exo 13:6-7; Lev 23:6; Num 28:17) that the feast of Mazzoth was to last only six days instead of seven; but the seventh day is brought into especial prominence as the azereth of the feast (see at Lev 23:36), simply because, in addition to the eating of mazzoth, there was to be an entire abstinence from work, and this particular feature might easily have fallen into neglect at the close of the feast. But just as the eating of mazzoth for seven days is not abolished by the first clause, so the suspension of work on the first day is not abolished by the second clause, any more than in Exo 13:6 the first day is represented as a working day by the fact that the seventh day is called “a feast to Jehovah.”
With regard to the Feast of Weeks (see at Exo 23:16), it is stated that the time for its observance was to be reckoned from the Passover. Seven weeks shall they count “from the beginning of the sickle to the corn,” i.e., from the time when the sickle began to be applied to the corn, or from the commencement of the corn-harvest. As the corn-harvest was opened with the presentation of the sheaf of first-fruits on the second day of the Passover, this regulation as to time coincides with the rule laid down in Lev 23:15. “Thou shalt keep the feast to the Lord thy God according to the measure of the free gift of thy hand, which thou givest as Jehovah thy God blesseth thee.” The ἁπ. λεγ. מִסַּת is the standing rendering in the Chaldee for דַּי, sufficiency, need; it probably signifies abundance, from מָסַס = מָסָה, to flow, to overflow, to derive. The idea is this: Israel was to keep this feast with sacrificial gifts, which every one was able to bring, according to the extent to which the Lord had blessed him, and (Deu 16:11) to rejoice before the Lord at the place where His name dwelt with sacrificial meals, to which the needy were to be invited (cf. Deu 14:29), in remembrance of the fact that they also were bondmen in Egypt (cf. Deu 15:15). The “free-will offering of the hand,” which the Israelites were to bring with them to this feast, and with which they were to rejoice before the Lord, belonged to the free-will gifts of burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, drink-offerings, and thank-offerings, which might be offered, according to Num 29:39 (cf. Lev 23:38), at every feast, along with the festal sacrifices enjoined upon the congregation. The latter were binding upon the priests and congregation, and are fully described in Num 28 and 29, so that there was no necessity for Moses to say anything further with reference to them.
In connection with the Feast of Tabernacles also, he simply enforces the observance of it at the central sanctuary, and exhorts the people to rejoice at this festival, and not only to allow their sons and daughters to participate in this joy, but also the man-servant and maid-servant, and the portionless Levites, strangers, widows, and orphans. After what had already been stated, Moses did not consider it necessary to mention expressly that this festal rejoicing was also to be manifested in joyous sacrificial meals; it was enough for him to point to the blessing which God had bestowed upon their cultivation of the corn, the olive, and the vine, and upon all the works of their hands, i.e., upon their labour generally (Deu 16:13-15), as there was nothing further to remark after the instructions which had already been given with reference to this feast also (Lev 23:34-36, Lev 23:39-43; Num 29:12-38).
In conclusion, the law is repeated, that the men were to appear before the Lord three times a year at the three feasts just mentioned (compare Exo 23:17 with Exo 23:14, and Exo 34:23), with the additional clause, “at the place which the Lord shall choose,” and the following explanation of the words “not empty:” “every man according to the gift of his hand, according to the blessing of Jehovah his God, which He hath given thee,” i.e., with sacrificial gifts, as much as every one could offer, according to the blessing which he had received from God.