INTRODUCTION The Torah refers to two events that have reference to Firstfruits. One is celebrated at Pesach (Passover), and the other at Shavuot (Pentecost); we are concerned with the latter. Shavuot occurs on the day after the seventh Shabbat folowing Pesach. The terms used of the Festival are many:
- Hag Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) - Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10
- Yom-ha-Bikurim (Day of the Firstfruits) - N;umbers 28:26
- Hag ha Kazir (Harvest Feast) - Exodus 23:16
In our text from Leviticus 23:15-17, God commands His people about the new grain offering at Shavuot. These loaves were accompanied by blood-sacrifices. The sheaf of the wave-offering refers to the sheaf of barley that we read about in verses 10-11, and have to do with Passover. The new grain offering in the above passage refers to the wheat harvest, and has to do with Shavuot.
In the second century C.E, the rabbinic writings began to associate this Festival with the giving of the Law at Sinai (Exodus 19-20). In some communities the children began school at this time of year.
LAWS AND CUSTOMS:
In the synagogue it is customary to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot. The Book records the blessings that God bestowed on Ruth, a Gentile woman who took the God of Israel for her God, who found protection and provision among His people,and who was redeemed from childlessness and widowhood by her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. Some worshippers also chant the famous Aramaic hymn called 'Akdamut', composed by Meir B. Isaac Nehorai of Orleans (11th century). It has been translated into English, as follows:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
Were every blade of grass a quill,
Were the whole world of parchment made,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain that ocean dry
Nor would the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.
There are prayers of thanksgiving for the harvest, and in Israel the people present their produce in a colourful parade with singing and dancing. This is one of the times of the year when people show practical charity toward the needy. We find an echo of this in the life of Rav Shaul (Paul), who 'was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost' (Acts 20:16). He gave the reason when defending himself before Felix the Roman governor, saying, 'Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation (Acts 24:17). Shavuot, then, is the time to distribute to the needy, as are Pesach and Sukkot (Tabernacles). We learn
by this custom to share our good things with the less fortunate.
THE BIBLICAL PICTURE:
In the future the spiritually restored nation of Israel will again celebrate this Festival - 'For on My holy mountain, on the mountain height of Israel, says the Lord GOD, there all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, shall serve Me; there I will accept them, and there I will require your offerings and the firstfruitss of your sacrifices, together with all your holy things' (Ezekiel 20:40).
The typical meaning of Shavuot is that Jews and Gentiles are united in a common faith, and accepted by God, as represented by the two leavened loaves. The leaven in the loaves represents our sinful imperfections, but that does not hinder God from accepting us because of the sacrifice that accompanies the offering. 'But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father' (Ephesians 2:13-18).
All believers have the firstfuits of the Spirit, and await the full harvest of redemption: 'We also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagely waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body' (Romans 8:23).