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This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

The Feasts of the Lord


The practice at the time of the Messiah called for a special delegation from the Sanhedrin to visit the barley fields the afternoon before the Passover and identify the location where the first sheaf was to be harvested. It would be bound in sheaves while it was still standing. The place and time of the ritual (the evening before the Feast of Firstfruits) would be publicized so that a crowd would gather and the sheaf could be harvested with great ceremony. Either one man with one sickle and one basket, or three men with three sickles and three baskets, would be allocated to perform the task. The ceremony included the involvement of the spectators. The agent of the Temple would ask the onlookers, “Has the sun set yet?” They were required to answer, “Yes”. This was repeated twice more. Then he would ask, “With this sickle”, and again they would answer “Yes”. This would also be repeated twice more. The ceremony would continue with the question, “With this basket”, with its answer “Yes”, and lastly “Shall I reap” with its response, “Reap”. Everything was repeated three times. In the Temple the ears were threshed and parched, winnowed and ground and sieved through thirteen sieves before oil and frankincense were added. Then one omer (5.1 pints) was offered to the Lord. The rest of the harvest could not be brought in until after the offering of the omer. Once the ceremony had been completed, the count of the fifty days to the Feast of Weeks could begin. This period is known as ‘the counting of the Omer’.


The main passage dealing with this feast is Leviticus 23.15-21. Called the Feast of Weeks (Shavu’ot) it took place the day after the seventh Sabbath after the Feast of Firstfruits. Seven weeks plus one day equals 50 days, which gave rise to the name Pentecost, which name is used for this feast in the book of Acts. This festival, like the Feast of Firstfruits, was an agricultural festival. It was the celebration of the beginning of a harvest, but this time, it is the start of the wheat harvest not the barley harvest, and its place in the timetable of the feasts of YHWH make it the concluding festival of the spring cycle. Thus, its name in Talmudic literature is often ‘Azereth’, the concluding festival to Passover.

At this festival, several offerings were to be brought to the Lord. Burnt offerings, drink offerings and meat offerings. Seven lambs, one bullock and two rams together with their meat and drink offerings. “Among the offerings were two yearling lambs offered as a well-being offering (‘shelamim’). This is the only such offering made on behalf of the public. It functioned as a communal offering of thanksgiving.” There were also sin offerings and peace offerings, but unique to this festival is the offering of two loaves of bread for a wave offering. These loaves were baked from the grain of the first sheaves of the wheat harvest. Unlike the bread at Passover, they were to be baked with leaven. Leaven was not normally permitted in the offerings to YHWH. This prohibition was repeated several times in the Pentateuch, especially “No grain offering which you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the LORD made by fire.” (Lev.2.11) So when the Lord’s instruction to Moses required it, “You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD,” (Lev. 23:17), there must have been a strong reason.

Moses identified this feast as an opportunity to bring a freewill offering to the Lord, which should reflect the blessing received from God. “Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you.” (Deut. 16:10) The character of the feast was to be one of rejoicing.


At the time of the Messiah, this festival was one of the most popular, with large groups of pilgrims traveling from all over the Roman Empire. For the Jewish people, Jerusalem was the centre of the world, and the Temple their holy shrine. They converged on the city from every direction. Coming from many countries and traveling together, for them, all roads led to Jerusalem.

The Feast of Weeks is a one-day festival. The Mishnah describes the order of the events. On the morning of the feast an official from the town where the priests of the main priestly course were staying would say, “Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to (the house of) the Lord our God”. (Jer. 31:6) Carrying the fruit of the land, they followed an ox whose horns had been overlaid with gold. Accompanied by the music of the flute and decorating their baskets of fruit as they walked, they traveled towards Jerusalem. When they came near the city, the high officials and tradesmen of Jerusalem met them. Continuing their journey, still accompanied by music from the flautist, they proceeded to the Temple. On reaching the Court of Prayer and then the Court of the Priests, the Levites sang, “I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up, And have not let my foes rejoice over me”. (Psalm 30:1) With the basket of fruits still on his shoulder the leading Israelite read a Torah portion – Deuteronomy 26.3-11, beginning with, "I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the country which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.” On reaching verse 5, “A wandering Aramean was my father”, he took the basket of fruit from his shoulder, which was then waved before the Lord. The rest of the Torah portion was read, the basket placed next to the altar, and with a bow the offerer left. Then the ceremony of the ‘wave offering’ took place, when the two loaves of leavened bread were waved before the Lord.

As the day continued, the rich brought their fruit in baskets made of silver and gold, while the poor brought their fruit in baskets of peeled willow. Both baskets and fruit were given to the priests.

Over time, this festival attracted many traditions. These added to its character on several levels.

It was celebrated as the anniversary of the giving of the Law. From the information provided in Exodus chapter nineteen, the Rabbis calculated that the Mosaic code had been delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai on the date that coincided with the Feast of Weeks. The earliest references that make that connection are in the Talmud (Shabbat 86b; Pesahim 68b) but David Stern quotes from the Encyclopedia Judaica where Louis Jacobs suggests that “the transformation into an historical feast took place before the present era”. Maimonides makes the connection of the counting of the Omer with the giving of the Torah. He wrote, “We count the days that pass since the preceding Festival, just as one, who expects his most intimate friend on a certain day, counts the days and even the hours. This is the reason why we count the days that pass since the departure from Egypt and the anniversary of Lawgiving. The latter was the aim and object of the exodus from Egypt.”

The Pharisees associated the date of this festival with a number of other events that were involved in the history of the relationship between YHWH and humankind, events that include covenant agreements. The book of Jubilees places the covenant with Noah at this time, and the renewal of the covenant with Abraham, the birth of Isaac and the renewal of the covenant with Jacob, so the association of this date with the giving of the Law is easily understood. On the feast day they would reference that event by reading pertinent extracts from the T’nach. Readings included Exodus chapters 19 and 20. Since the appearance of God on Mount Sinai was a theophany, further readings from Ezekiel chapters 1 and 2 and Habakkuk 3 were added. Present Jewish practice encourages the study of key passages of the Torah the night before the celebration of the festival.

The date of this festival also coincided with the anniversary of the death of Israel’s greatest king, David. Because of this, a number of Psalms were read, as well as readings from the book of Ruth, David’s ancestor. The readings from Ruth were especially appropriate because the events of the book of Ruth took place during the period from the Feast of Firstfruits to the Feast of Weeks and beyond. Furthermore, the history of Ruth tells of a Gentile fully embracing Jewish culture including the Law.

More Next Time

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