Bikkurim (First Fruits)
Understanding God’s Command for the Wave Sheaf
The commands of God for the Wave Sheaf as recorded in Leviticus 23 are very specific. The fulfillment of these commands is directly connected to the crossing of the Jordan River when the children of Israel began to conquer the land of Canaan also. There is a connection between these commands and the beginning of the Exodus, from the land of Egypt. Understanding these commands, how and when they were fulfilled, is the foundation for understanding how to properly count to the Feast of Pentecost. This eye-opening publication reveals the significance of their historical fulfillment for Christians today.
The offering of the wave sheaf was required by God each year before the spring harvest was reaped. This annual offering was always waved before God on the first day of the week, or “the morrow after the Sabbath.” The day of the wave sheaf is significant for God’s people today because it commemorates the ascension of Jesus Christ and His acceptance by the Father as the “first of the firstfruits.” This epochal event was required in God’s plan of salvation before the harvest of spiritual firstfruits could begin. This spiritual harvest is symbolized by the Feast of Pentecost, which will ultimately be fulfilled by the “reaping” of the saints into eternal life as glorified children of God. Just as our eternal salvation is based upon the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, so the Feast of Pentecost is based upon the day of the wave sheaf.
The Feast of Pentecost is unique among God’s holy days because it does not fall on a fixed date on the Hebrew Calendar. It is the one annual holy day of God which must be calculated. In order to know when to observe this holy day each year, God’s people must follow the instructions that God has given in His Word. These instructions are recorded in Leviticus 23, where we find God’s commands for observing all of His annual holy days.
When we read God’s instructions in Leviticus 23, we find that the count to Pentecost must begin with “the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering…”(verse 15). It is clear that the day of the wave sheaf is the day that God established to begin the count toward Pentecost. We cannot observe the Feast of Pentecost on the correct day, as commanded by God, unless we understand when the day of the wave sheaf occurs. Like Pentecost, the wave sheaf day is not a fixed date on the Hebrew Calendar. It must be determined each year by following God’s instructions in the book of Leviticus.
Let us examine God’s command concerning the wave sheaf, as recorded in Leviticus 23. We find this command immediately after God’s instructions for observing the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (verses 4-8). Here is God’s command for the wave sheaf offering:
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, THEN ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: ON THE MORROW AFTER THE SABBATH the priest shall wave it” (Leviticus 23:10-11, emphasis mine throughout).
Because this command follows God’s instructions for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it has generally been assumed that the “Sabbath” designated in Verse 11 is the weekly Sabbath that falls within the seven Days of Unleavened Bread. In most years, there is no question that this weekly Sabbath is the day that determines the wave sheaf. But in those occasional years in which the Passover day is also a weekly Sabbath, there is great difference of opinion over which Sabbath should be used to determine the day of the wave sheaf. In such years, the weekly Sabbath that occurs during the Feast of Unleavened Bread falls on the last holy day.
If this weekly Sabbath is used to determine the wave sheaf, then the wave sheaf day falls outside the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For this reason, some believe that in these years the Passover day is the weekly Sabbath which should determine the wave sheaf. Others claim that “the Sabbath” in God’s command for the wave sheaf is strictly limited to the weekly Sabbath which falls within the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But is this interpretation of God’s command in Leviticus 23 correct? Must the weekly Sabbath that precedes the wave sheaf always fall within the Days of Unleavened Bread? It is vital to resolve this controversy in order that God’s people may be able to determine the true wave sheaf day and know when to begin the count to Pentecost.
Various solutions have been proposed to settle the question of how to interpret God’s command for the wave sheaf. Some have placed emphasis on what the Sadducees or Pharisees have historically done. Others have sought proof as to whether or not there was conflict between the early New Testament church and the practices of these religious factions. These approaches, however, are based upon secular history, which is always influenced by the opinions of men. Such reasoning only produces more controversy.
Many have relied on symbolism. While symbolism can be helpful in understanding Scriptural truth, symbolic meaning can also be wrongly attributed or misinterpreted. We should not base our understanding of God’s command for the wave sheaf on symbolism. Conclusive proof of how to correctly determine the day of the wave sheaf is clearly revealed in God’s Word.
God’s Word is truth. He made the truth so plain that all who are called of Him would be able to understand it. However, as we know, He purposely conveys His truth in such a way that we must be willing to diligently study to obtain this knowledge and understanding. As Isaiah declared, “Whom shall He teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isa. 28:9-10). We must earnestly desire the pure truth of God’s Word. “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psa. 12:6).
When confronted with questions about the correct time to observe God’s feast days, God’s people must seek out the truth that is revealed in His Word. We should not rely on the traditions or opinions of men to interpret God’s commands for us. God has preserved in His Word detailed records of the original fulfillment of these days to show us how to interpret His commands. We can gain understanding by examining the Scriptural records of these original events. For example, the original Passover account in Exodus 12 shows how the ordinances that God commanded for the Passover were actually carried out. This detailed record gives us understanding in how to observe the Passover correctly. Likewise, to properly observe Pentecost, God’s instructions in Leviticus 23 must be understood in the light of the Scriptural facts which are recorded in Joshua 4 and 5. These two chapters relate the sequence of events at the time of the original wave sheaf day, which began the count to the first Pentecost observed by Israel in the Promised Land. Remember that God’s command to offer the wave sheaf was to be fulfilled “when you be come into the land which I give unto you” (Lev. 23: 10). The wave sheaf was originally offered by the children of Israel in the year that they crossed the Jordan River and entered the land God had promised to give them.
To help us understand His command to offer the wave sheaf on “the morrow after the Sabbath,” God has furnished a chronological record of the fulfillment of this command when Israel entered the Promised Land. The question of how to determine the wave sheaf day when the Passover falls on a weekly Sabbath can be resolved by carefully examining the Scriptural chronology of the original wave sheaf offering. The inspired account of Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land reveals how and when God’s instructions in Leviticus 23 were carried out according to God’s divine will and purpose.
Let us turn to the book of Joshua and learn what God’s Word reveals about Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land. We will find that the chronology of events recorded by Joshua provides a conclusive answer to the question of how to interpret God’s command for the offering of the wave sheaf.
Preparing to Enter the Promised Land
The first chapter in the book of Joshua records God’s command to Israel to prepare to cross the Jordan River, which marked the eastern boundary of the Promised Land.
Here are God’s instructions to Joshua and the people of Israel: “Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel” (Josh. 1:1-2).
God admonished Joshua to be mindful to observe all that He had commanded through Moses, which included His command for the wave sheaf in the book of Leviticus:
“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Josh. 1:7-8).
Upon receiving God’s commands, Joshua sent officials throughout the camp to announce the crossing. Joshua instructed these officials to tell the people of Israel that in three days they would pass over the Jordan: “Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the LORD your God giveth you to possess it” (Josh. 1:11). The Companion Bible explains that the phrase “within three days” in Joshua 1: 11 actually means “AFTER three days,” as it is correctly translated in Joshua 3:2.
As the children of Israel prepared to move to the edge of the Jordan, Joshua sent two men to spy out the city of Jericho in the promised land: “And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there” (Josh. 2:1). The distance from Shittim to Jericho was about sixteen miles. The two spies that Joshua sent out could easily have reached Jericho the same day. The second chapter in the book of Joshua recounts the events that befell the spies in Jericho and their safe return to the camp of Israel after three days of hiding.
The third chapter in the book of Joshua records Israel’s departure from Shittim. The tribes of Israel moved to the edge of the Jordan, where they set up a new camp. They were able to reach the Jordan in only one day, since Shittim was less than eight or ten miles from the river, but they did not cross the river that day. They camped beside Jordan that night and then waited three additional days before crossing the river (Josh. 3:1-3). The JPS Tanakh version clarifies the length of time that Israel camped beside the Jordan before crossing. It reads, “Early next morning, Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and marched to the Jordan. They did not cross immediately, but spent the night there. Three days later, the officials went through the camp and charged the people as follows…” (Josh. 3:1-3). The RSV translation states, “…at the end of three days the officers went through the camp” (Josh. 3:2). These three days followed the first day of removing from Shittim (Josh. 3:1).
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The above chart was developed to show the timing of Passover, Unleavened Bread and the start of the Counting of the Omer to Shavuot also known as Pentecost for the Passover season in 2018. During the Passover week, the Feast of First Fruits is also observed which always falls on a Sunday during the week of Passover and Unleavened Bread. Many Jews and others observe the Feast of First Fruits on the 16th of Abib which is one day after the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread that starts on the 15th of Abib (March/April). This means that the Feast of First Fruits according to the Jews starts on the 16th of Abib and this can be on any day of the week. Passover is on the 14th of Abib and the first day of Unleavened Bread starts on the 15th of Abib. Many others have the Biblical understanding that the Feast of First Fruits always starts on the first day of the week which is Sunday. In the above chart the Feast of First Fruits falls on Sunday, April 7th.
The Seven Feasts of the LORD – The Feast of First Fruits [Gideon Levytam explains how the Feast of First Fruits speaks of the resurrection of Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah.]