Because this Shabbat (Sabbath) falls during Chag HaMatzot (Feast of Unleavened Bread), a special reading is inserted into the regular Torah reading cycle (for week 14/4/17). Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach (The Intermediate Sabbath of Passover) Exodus 33:12–34:26; Numbers 28:16–25; Ezekiel 37:1–14; Luke 24.
The Hebrew term "Chol HaMo'ed (חול המועד)" refers to the intermediate, non-holy days of a biblical festival. Only the festival of Unleavened Bread and the festival of Sukkot contain such days. The Torah designates the first day and the seventh day as days of holy convocation on which work is prohibited. The intervening five days are chol HaMo'ed, intermediate days. They are not festival Sabbaths or holy convocations, but they are still part of the festival. The term chol HaMo'ed (חול המועד) means "non-sacred [days] of the appointed time." The intermediate days are "non-sacred" only when contrasted against the days of holy convocation on which work is prohibited. Intermediate festival days still retain the sanctity of the festival season and the special commandments of the festival. For example, the Torah forbids leaven through all seven days of Passover, and it requires the native-born Israelite to live in a sukkah for all seven days of the festival of Sukkot. Nevertheless, the intermediate days of those festivals are less sacred than the days of holy convocation because the Torah permits us to work on them. Outside of the land of Israel, traditional Judaism doubles the festival Sabbaths—a vestige from an era of calendar uncertainties. The doubling of the holy days reduces the number of intermediate days by one. Many Messianic believers, however, do not follow the Diaspora custom of doubling holy days. With the internet and other methods of instantly knowing when the new moon is sighted, there is no need to double up days.
A regular seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath that falls on a day of chol HaMo'ed is called Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed. Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed is not really chol (non-sacred); instead, the holiness of the Sabbath sanctifies it. We regard it as non-sacred only in respect to the appointed time, but the holiness of the weekly Sabbath is greater than the holiness of the festivals.
“You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Chag HaMatzot]. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread [matzah], as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Aviv, for in the month Aviv you came out from Egypt.” (Exodus 34:18). The Parasha (Scripture portion) for this Shabbat occurs in the middle of the Passover week and begins by describing the holy days of Pesach (Passover) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot), which lasts seven days; making a total of eight days. These two special events are most often blended into one and just called Passover, but there is a crucial difference between the two, which we will explore in today’s study.
During the Passover time frame, there are three distinct events that represent three unique spiritual states or conditions of the soul:
- Passover represents salvation: we are saved from the wrath of God by faith in the blood of the Passover Lamb. Just as Israel needed saving from Egypt’s bondage. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29). When Israel left Egypt, they were called out, not taken out. Some could have refused to leave if they liked Egypt. Indeed soon after leaving they wanted to go back. They were called to a Promised Land; but most did not make it due to not keeping YHWH’s commandments. Similarly, we are called out of the world today to keep God’s commandments. Most do not yield to the call and come out. Many who do respond to the calling go back into the world (Mark 4:14-19). Only a very few may actually get the saving if endure to the end (Mat_22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen. Mat_7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Yahshua (called Jesus by many) was slain on Passover as the perfect fulfilment of the lamb that saved the Israelites on the very first Passover: “And when I see the blood I will pass over you.” (Exodus 12:13).
- Unleavened bread, also called matzah or the bread of affliction, represents sanctification.
Matzah is flat because it is devoid of yeast (chametz), which represents wickedness, pride, and that which causes us to be puffed up or to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.
“Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch as you really are. For Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:6–7). Chametz is closely related to the Hebrew word chamutz, which means sour. Yeast is a souring agent. Likewise, sin causes bitterness in our soul. “Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread [matzah] of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:8).
The week of unleavened bread, therefore, represents sanctification accomplished through affliction, trials and testing, and the purging of pride in order to teach us humility and obedience by the things we suffer in our wilderness experiences.
“And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” (Deuteronomy 8:2).
- First Fruits, also called Bikkurim in Hebrew, which occurs the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread (although there is some disagreement as to the timing), represents resurrection. Just as the barley is offered up to YHWH as the first crop after winter, so Yahshua was also raised from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits. “But now the Messiah is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
From these distinct elements within Passover, we can understand that between the events of salvation and resurrection is a process of sanctification.
Passover → Unleavened Bread → First Fruits
Salvation → Sanctification → Resurrection
The Intermediate Sabbath, Losing Heart in the Wilderness
When the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, they also had to go through a sanctification process, which took them through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Even though the Israelites entered into a covenant with God in the wilderness and came to understand their identity as God's treasured possession there, sometimes they responded to hardship and barrenness of the wilderness with discouragement. In the wilderness, they also lost heart, lost hope, longed for Egypt, grumbled, murmured, and complained. For that reason, all perished but two adults, Joshua and Caleb who followed YHWH wholeheartedly and kept the faith. The bodies of the other Israelites lay scattered across that vast wilderness. Even Yahshua spent time in the wilderness. The Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) led Him there to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1–11). Yahshua overcame the darts of the devil through knowledge of the scriptures (Deut 8:3, 6:13, 16, 10:20). Likewise we are called to overcome the devil’s darts (Eph 6:14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with TRUTH, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; Eph 6:16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. Eph 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the WORD OF GOD (Old Testament):
The wilderness is not a punishment, but a necessary stage in our spiritual journey. It is often God who leads us into our wilderness experiences to humble us, to test us, to refine our faith, and to teach us perseverance and endurance. Moses, John the Baptist and Yahshua all went into the wilderness. If we come out of it alive, we do so “leaning on our beloved” instead of relying on our own strength or limited sufficiency. Pro_3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. The wilderness can be our spiritual university where we learn to trust in and depend upon YHWH and only God knows how long that lesson will take and how long the exam. If we can quickly know and act according to the scriptures, it could be as short as Yahshua’s. For Believers, in the vast space between salvation and the resurrection lies the wilderness, a dry and thirsty land where water is scarce. That is where we are sanctified. Because it is so easy to lose heart in the wilderness, our sanctification process, our response to the trials and challenges will determine how well we make it through to the resurrection. (Mat_24:13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved). Discouragement during our wilderness is an especially powerful weapon of the enemy because of its enfeebling, demoralizing effect. This is not so with hatred, jealousy, fear, and other negative states that may cause us to act foolishly, to fight, or to run. With these emotional attacks, at least we act. Discouragement on the other hand, hurts us the most because it ultimately saps the energy right out of us, causing us to sit down, pity ourselves, and do nothing. Discouragement causes us to give in to the temptation of the enemy who whispers, "Just give up" or do it this way, God will understand, that is why he changed His laws. All which are untrue. Hopelessness is a very dangerous state of being. In fact, Scripture tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12).
When Hope Is Lost, The Day With No Name
The Scripture reading between Passover and Bikkurim is simply called “Intermediate Sabbath” (Chol HaMo’ed). It doesn’t even have a name like the other study sections. It describes a time of hopelessness for Israel, wandering the nations without God's blessing to protect them, as if they were living in a valley of dried up bones. In our own valleys of dried up dreams and desires, when all hope seems lost, we wonder if everything has been in vain, if the sun will ever shine again in our grieving hearts.
Israel asked the same question in the Prophetic reading (Haftarah)ing for this intermediate Sabbath. The dry bones, which represent the whole house of Israel, say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off” (Ezekiel 37:11). Sometimes we feel that we have been cut off from hope itself. But so often when we feel the darkness is closing in on us, at that moment God is doing His greatest work.
“Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord… And I will put My Spirit [Ruach] in you, and you shall live.” (Ezekiel 37:13–14). Ruach, the Hebrew word for spirit, is the same word used in verses 5 and 6 that is translated breath: “I will cause breath [Ruach] to enter into you and you shall live.”
In the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), Yashua miraculously foreshadows the fulfilment of this Word. Yashua arrived four days after His friend Lazarus had died and been placed in the tomb. Everyone's hope in Lazarus being raised from the dead was completely lost. Why did Yahshua wait for four days? Jewish tradition holds that a person’s soul hovers around its physical body for three days, but after this time period, the soul leaves. Therefore, the Jewish people who witnessed Lazarus' death were convinced on the fourth day that the situation was completely and totally without any hope whatsoever! Even the soul of the deceased had departed. But Yahshua called out to Lazarus, TZEH HAHUTZAH! COME OUT! And Lazarus came up out of his grave and he lived! One thing, however, needed to be done before Lazarus could come out of the tomb, the stone had to be rolled away. Somebody had to do it, and it wasn’t Yahshua.
While He could have easily rolled it away Himself or even commanded the heavy stone to move and it would have obeyed Him, He called upon the people to participate in the miracle. Yahshua said to them, “Take away the stone” (John 11:39).
Why? Perhaps He wanted to teach us that we are not to be completely passive and expect God to do everything for us.
Maybe there is a stone standing between us and our miracle. Perhaps, all that is needed is to draw upon the faith and strength within us to “take away the stone” under God's direction. Then we will witness God perform a resurrection in our own life! That stone could be our reluctance to keep certain of God’s commandments which He clearly instructed to be kept (Ex 20:8, Lev 23) even though we may be keeping others.
Like the people around Lazarus who thought Yahshua came too late, sometimes we find ourselves in an utterly hopeless situation where it is so tempting to give in to despair and depression. This is exactly when we should be reaching out for a miracle to the One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Before our situation became hopeless, we may have been counting on God to show up to perform a miracle; but it seems that He did a "no-show," and the relationship or the business or the whatever we were hoping for died. That is when deep disappointment sets in. “Where was God?” we ask. “Where was His power when I needed Him?” We could sit there, looking at that stone, crying and thinking it’s just too heavy or too hard to move, or we can just move away the obstacle, let God in, and see miracles come forth.
May we hear the voice of our Good Shepherd and obey what He tells us to do to see that miracle happen even if it doesn’t make sense, the world is doing some other things as traditions or seems impossible in the natural.
But We Were Hoping
Yahshua’s disciples also knew hopelessness and utter despair. At Passover, after Yahshua’s death on the cross, it looked like all hope was lost and that the forces of evil had triumphed. His disciples wandered about in confusion and sorrow.
They had hoped that this finally was the “real deal.” After so many false Messiahs, they believed that He was truly the Mashiach who would redeem Israel from Roman oppression and restore the Kingdom of Israel. After Yahshua’s execution, two disciples were travelling to a village seven miles from Jerusalem. They walked together, chatting and reasoning about the event with quite sad demeanours. Then Yahshua came near and walked with them along the road. Still, their eyes were restrained and they did not recognize Him (Luke 24:16). Yahshua’s disciples had a certain expectation of how God was going to work things out. Even though things didn’t happen the way they thought it should, this was God’s greatest triumph over darkness. In their darkest hour, in their utter hopelessness, they couldn’t see that Hope was walking right alongside them! For Yahshua is a Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3–4). Isn’t this just like us when we’ve experienced a disappointment? We have just got to find somebody to talk to about it. We try to reason the thing out, to somehow make sense out of something that just doesn’t make sense. This often only causes more sorrow.
When things do not work out the way we had hoped they would, it could be that redemption is right there with us, walking alongside us. Sometimes that Living Hope is right under our noses; but we do not perceive it because it comes in a form we did not quite expect. In our darkest hours, we must remember that God never leaves us, for He safeguards our soul as we travel through the wilderness where we are sanctified. There in our wilderness, our ultimate hope is in Yahshua and His resurrection. “You who are the Hope of Israel, its Saviour in times of distress.” (Jeremiah 14:8).
"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put My laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds." (Hebrews 10:16).
In this reading we read about the replacement tablets of stone. Two verses fromn the section to note are Exo 34:5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. Exo 34:6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
Exo 34:12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: Exo 34:13 But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: Exo 34:14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
Exo 34:21 Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest. Exo 34:22 And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end. Exo 34:23 Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel. Exo 34:24 For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year. [God promises to keep our possessions safe during the time when we observe His feast days].
Ezekiel, Prophetic Reading
In this section, Ezekiel describes his vision of a valley filled with dry bones. YHWH asks him if the bones can live again? Ezekiel does not know. YHWH tells him to prophesy to the bones and to the wind, telling the bones to grow bodies and the wind to return breath to the bodies. Ezekiel does, and the bones come back to life. YHWH tells Ezekiel that, in the future, He will unlock the graves of His people and bring them back to life and return them to the land of Israel. Then they will know that God is the LORD.
From an apostolic perspective, the reading cannot be separated from the historical recollection of our Master's resurrection. Depending on how one reckons the chronology of Yahshua's passion week, the Saturday after his crucifixion coincided with either the first day of Unleavened Bread or Shabbat Chol HaMo'ed. In either case, the first Sabbath to fall within the seven days of Unleavened Bread is the anniversary of our Master's sojourn in the grave. According to Matthew 28:1, He rose from the grave that Saturday night, as the Sabbath concluded and the first day of the week began (1st day starts at sunset).