15 “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. 17 You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord. 18 And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 19 And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. 20 And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. 21 And you shall make a proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.
22 “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 23:15-22 ESV
The Feast of Firstfruits was to mark the beginning of the spring harvest season for the nation of Israel. It was a time to express thanks to God for His gracious provision of produce in the new land. But Moses was given instructions to establish yet another holy convocation to take place 50 days later when the final crops of that harvest season would be gathered in.
This festival was called the Feast of Weeks or Shabuoth (Exodus 34:22). Sometime during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek and this came to be known as the Septuagint. In the Septuagint, the Feast of Weeks became the Feast of Pentecost because of the 50-day timeline reference. The Greek word, pentekostos means “the fiftieth day.”
Nearly two months after the wave offering was presented (Leviticus 23:12), the Israelites were to bring another offering that marked the end of the harvest season. This feast was intended to celebrate the rich bounty that God had provided. At the beginning of the season, they had given God a small portion of the initial harvest that represented the first and best of the land’s produce. But 50 days later, when the last of the grain was harvested, the people were to look back in gratitude for all that God had given them. He had blessed them richly.
The harvest season was to be bookended by two different grain offerings. The first was an offering most likely consisted of barley grain because it was one of the first crops to ripen. This was presented in the form of a sheaf that was waved before the Lord by the priest. It was accompanied by the sacrifice of a single unblemished one-year-old lamb along with a food and drink offering. But the grain offering given during the Feast of Weeks was to consist of wheat grain that had been made into loaves of bread.
“From wherever you live, bring two loaves of bread to be lifted up before the Lord as a special offering. Make these loaves from four quarts of choice flour, and bake them with yeast. They will be an offering to the Lord from the first of your crops.” – Leviticus 23:17 NLT
This one-day feast was intended to celebrate the generosity that God had shown to His covenant people. He had brought them into the land as He had promised and blessed them with homes, fields, and vineyards. The faithfulness of God was visibly demonstrated by the fruitfulness of the land. All their needs had been met and, in grateful response, they were to celebrate their gracious God.
As the text makes clear, this celebration included a greater number of sacrificial animals. Through a tangible display of generosity, the Israelites would demonstrate the true extent of their gratefulness. They were required to offer a one-year-old lamb, a young bull, two rams, a male goat, and two additional one-year-old lambs. There were also food and drink offerings that were included in the day’s ceremonies.
One of the interesting differences between this feast and the Feast of Unleavened Bread that marked the beginning of the festival season, was the presence of yeast in the baking of the bread. The Israelites calendar year began with Passover, and the day after Passover began the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
“The Lord’s Passover begins at sundown on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the next day, the fifteenth day of the month, you must begin celebrating the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This festival to the Lord continues for seven days, and during that time the bread you eat must be made without yeast.” – Leviticus 23:5-6 NLT
But 50 days later, the people were given permission to bake bread with yeast.
“…bring two loaves of bread to be lifted up before the Lord as a special offering. Make these loaves from four quarts of choice flour, and bake them with yeast.” – Leviticus 23:17 NLT
The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were intended to commemorate the Israelites’ release from captivity in Egypt. In the inaugural Passover, God had instructed His people to prepare bread made without yeast.
“This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time. For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast. On the first day of the festival, remove every trace of yeast from your homes. Anyone who eats bread made with yeast during the seven days of the festival will be cut off from the community of Israel.” – Exodus 12:14-15 NLT
And God had been adamant about the prohibition concerning yeast.
“The bread you eat must be made without yeast…” – Exodus 12:18 NLT
“During those seven days, there must be no trace of yeast in your homes.” – Exodus 12:19 NLT
“Anyone who eats anything made with yeast during this week will be cut off from the community of Israel.” – Exodus 12:19 NLT
“During those days you must not eat anything made with yeast.” – Exodus 12:20 NLT
“Wherever you live, eat only bread made without yeast.” – Exodus 12:20 NLT
The idea was that the people of Israel needed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. When God got ready to deliver them, they would have to move quickly. There would be no time to wait for their bread to rise. So, as the book of Exodus reveals, “The Israelites took their bread dough before yeast was added. They wrapped their kneading boards in their cloaks and carried them on their shoulders” (Exodus 12:34 NLT).
And that event was to be celebrated every year at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But 50 days later at the Feast of Weeks, the rules changed. There was no longer any prohibition against yeast because there was no longer any need to leave the land. They were home. The Egyptians had been defeated. The promised land had become a reality. And the Israelites were enjoying the bounty and blessing of God in their new homeland. They had plenty of time to harvest their wheat, mill the grain, make the dough, and wait for the yeast to do its work. Then they could bake the bread and enjoy the fruits of their labor. All because of the goodness of God.
It’s interesting to note that, centuries later, the apostle Peter would preach a sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the very same feast day described in Leviticus 23. On that day in the city of Jerusalem, Peter and his companions had been waiting in an upper room just as Jesus had told them to do, and something incredible happened.
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. – Acts 2:1-4 NLT
Some 50 days after the Passover, Peter and the disciples were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had promised them.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT
And, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter preached a sermon to the crowd that had gathered in the streets of Jerusalem. And as a result of his message, more than 3,000 people came to faith in Christ, and the church of Jesus Christ was born. And Luke notes that this new community of Christ-followers was marked by their fellowship and unity.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. – Acts 2:42 NLT
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. – Acts 2:46-47 NLT
Don’t miss the reference to bread. God had delivered these 3,000 individuals from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ. They were new creations and were living in the “promised land” of salvation that was rich and bountiful. They were “feasting” on the bread of life.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV
All their needs had been met in Christ. Their sins were forgiven. Their iniquity had been replaced with the perfect righteousness of Christ. Those who had once been enemies of God were now His adopted children and heirs. God had graciously provided for all their needs through the gift of His Son.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.