Day of the First Fruits
Perhaps you’ve come up against “the Great Controversy” regarding which Shabbat determines the Feast of Firstfruits; the weekly Seventh Day Shabbat; or the annual Shabbat of Chag HaMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread)? Yom Omer (day of the sheaf) is the day that we begin to count the omer (sheaf as in quantity of barley: 1/10 of an ephah–about 2 litres) that leads up to Shavuot (Feast of Weeks -Gk-Pentecost) fifty days later. Regardless of how we understand this let’s be straight up and recognize that it is a complex issue that runs through a LOT of threads. I’m putting some information here for your consideration and I trust each of us will respect the choices of others, but let’s put as much on the table as we can and let the Ruach (Spirit) guide us and help us seek the unity of the Body.
Scripture says we are to begin the count on the “morrow after the Shabbat” during the Feast of Unleavened Bread;
“And you shall count unto you from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven Sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall you number fifty days;”
Shavuot is a Shabbat unto YHWH, no work is to be done, therefore it is important to know which day we are to begin the count. The Pharisees opted for the first Shabbat of Chag haMatzah (the Feast of Unleavened Bread), this Shabbat occurs annually, one marks the beginning of the seven days of Unleavened Bread another Shabbat marks the end of Chag haMatzah. The Sadducees marked the day after the weekly Seventh Day Shabbat, but, of course those who follow Mashiyach aren’t that interested in following religious traditions from either camp, so what do we do?
Most believe Mashiyach presented himself to the Father as the wavesheaf offering of Firstfruits, the day after the weekly Shabbat. It was on the first day of the week (a Sunday) when Y’shua said to Miriam in John 20:17 “do not touch me because I have not ascended to my Father,” but later that day he had returned and appeared to other disciples. Y’shua also stated that he would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. He was put in the grave on the eve of the preparation day, just before the first Shabbat of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, not a weekly Shabbat but the Shabbat of the Feast. Pesach was on a Wednesday and he was put in the tomb just before sunset on Wednesday afternoon. Three days and three nights later means that he resurrected before sundown on the end of the weekly Shabbat. Y’shua said he would be in the tomb three days and three nights as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish, he said and meant three days and three nights. A Tuesday, Thursday or Friday Pesach doesn’t work for that scenario.
Pesach would have had to fall on a Wednesday if Mashiyach was up out of the tomb before Firstfruits which many believe was on that following Sunday. If Pesach were to fall on a Thursday or Friday we could NOT have a full three days and three nights. Neither would Y’shua say “don’t touch me” if he had already presented himself when he was first seen on Sunday morning. Obviously Y’shua did this for good reason, this testimony made it into the written record so we know when he fulfilled the Firstfruits offering after presenting himself to YHWH. But the belief that Firstfruits was on Sunday for that very reason, isn’t the only argument that can be made.
It’s not a “goyish” or “Christian” thing only, as some posture, to hold Yom HaBikkurim as the day after the weekly Shabbat. Sadducees, Karaites and Essenes are Jewish sects who concluded that Shavuot falls on Sunday. The Essenes though, waited until the following Shabbat after the Chag, rather than the first weekly Shabbat during the Chag before they began counting the omer. Granted all three Jewish sects have their own pagan and Gnostic and reprobate elements that don’t lend much to their credibility or Torah accuracy. But when it came to Y’shua as Mashiyach they were all much the same frame of mind as the Pharisees in condemning Y’shua, much like the Karaites of today borrow Pharisee rhetoric against Y’shua.
According to the testimony of Josephus and Philo (both Pharisees), the counting of the omer (first fruits) began on the 16th day of Abib, the day after the first Shabbat of Chag haMatzah. If this is consistent with Torah, and Y’shua was a full three days and nights in the tomb, then FirstFruits would have been on a Friday and he would have resurrected the next day on Shabbat afternoon and then presented himself to the Father on Sunday. This is one of the reasons many opt for a Thursday Pesach, Friday would have been Chag HaMatzah, and with the weekly Shabbat that would have been two Shabbats back to back, so Yom haBikkurim because no work is allowed on Shabbat, would be held over until Sunday. The Thursday scenario works fine except that three days and three nights in the tomb would have to be truncated to fit into that scenario.
There are some good arguments on both sides of this issue, but for me Yom haBikkurim, or the counting of the omer, begins on the Shabbat of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, not the weekly Shabbat for a few reasons.
If the Shabbat of Unleavened Bread were intended, as some have tried to point out, it may have read miqra kodesh in Torah, rather than “Shabbat” but there is plenty of Scripture that goes against that. In Vayikra / Leviticus 23:3-11 we discover “Shabbat” is is mentioned for either the first miqra kodesh of Unleavened Bread, nor the last, but notice that the Day of Atonement is clearly referred to as a Shabbat;
For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you,
to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before YHWH.
It shall be a sabbath (Shabbat) of rest (Shabbaton) unto you,
and you shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.
Notice that the First and Eighth days of Feast of Tabernacles are also Shabbats;
Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a feast unto YHWH seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.
Notice that the Yovel (Jubilee) year is also referred to as a Shabbat;
But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land,
a sabbath for YHWH: you shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard.
And as we read to Vayikra/Leviticus 23:15, 16 we discover;
And you shall count unto you from the morrow after the Shabbat1, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven Shabbats2 shall be complete: Even unto the morrow (next day) after the seventh Shabbat3 shall you number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meat offering unto YHWH.
Notice how there are three mentions of Shabbat in these two verses? It’s interesting to note that some Messianic Bible translators like David Stern and others retain the first Shabbat1 but have removed the second and third “Shabbat” and inserted the word weeks2 and week3, but Torah uses “Shabbat” throughout. Torah does not say shavuot (weeks) or shavua (week) but Shabbat in all three occurrences.
David Sterns translation reads, “until the day after the seventh week” which may be confusing. Which seventh week? Well that means the seventh week after the beginning week which started the day after the Shabbat so which was it, the weekly Shabbat or the first Shabbat of Chag HaMatzah? The texts says, the day after “the seventh Shabbat.” Again, we can’t assume from this that Shabbat means either a period of a week, or the weekly Shabbat because Shabbat literally means to “seventh thyself”. Anyone who tries to use this to argue either way isn’t being consistent, because it applies in both scenarios. Throughout Scripture we see the use of Shabbat as an interval of a 7 day period, a week, a weekly Shabbat and annual Shabbats as in “from one Shabbat to another and from one New Moon to another all flesh will come to worship me says YHWH”.
And you shall number seven Shabbats4 of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven Shabbats5 of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.
Oops! Some of the “Messianic” translators, like David Stern, did NOT translate this as “weeks” but Shabbats4&5, why? Here Torah says seven Shabbats, NOT seven weeks! Why not make a consistent translation? It would literally be “seven weeks of years” which might be a bit confusing, but why not have seven Shabbat of days if it applies equally as seven Shabbats of years?
The commandment to number “seven weeks” is mentioned in D’varim/Deuteronomy 16:9;
Seven weeks shall you number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.
The Hebrew word here is NOT Shabbat, but shavua (weeks) after you “…put the sickle to the standing grain.” But some Torah students take shavua (week) from this verse and overlay it over Shabbat in Vayikra/Leviticus 23:15, 16, why? Tradition. In reality no one is going to put their sickle to the standing grain (harvest) on a weekly Shabbat or a Shabbat of the Feasts; therefore if we follow the Shabbat of Unleavened Bread argument it still would not be possible that First Fruits ever fall on a weekly Shabbat, in that scenario it would ALWAYS fall on the next day, on a Sunday.
Furthermore, Jeremiah 5:24 reads;
Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear YHWH our Elohim, that gives rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserves unto us the appointed weeks (shavua) of the harvest.
Everybody knows that a week begins on Yom Rishon (the first day) and ends on the Seventh Day Shabbat. Had the duration of time (i.e. 50 days) been the focus rather than the seven “Shabbats”, we might have seen the 50 days more prominent in Scripture, but it is only referenced one time. Yet here in Jeremiah we clearly see that YHWH is referencing “weeks” not Shabbats”. And here in Exodus we see that Shavuot (which means weeks) is referred to as the “feast of weeks”.
And you shall observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end. (Exodus 34:22)
Shavuot is a mini type of the Yovel (Jubilee) cycle. Both the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) and the Yovel have very significant agricultural directives that are used to prophetically teach us about the plan of redemption. The Yovel is based on “seven weeks of years”, seven year cycles, that begin and end on a Shabbat year. The Shabbat year culminates on a shmittah, where the land is given a Shabbat rest. There are seven shmittah (land rests) that culminate in the seventh cycle which is 49 years, then the following year is a Yovel (Jubilee).
If we count the “weekly Shabbats” from the day after Shabbat, and celebrate Shavuot on the day after the weekly Shabbat, we are following the same pattern, and we are reminded of the Yovel. However, everyone knows that we’ve jumped from either the weekly Shabbat or the Shabbat of Chag haMatzah from which to begin the count of the omer. So in either scenario we can’t take an authoritative ruling because they apply in both scenarios equally.
The “non-proof” of Joshua 5:10-12
And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept Pesach on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho. And they did eat of the old grain of the land on the morrow after Pesach, unleavened cakes, and parched [corn] in the selfsame day. And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
This Scripture indicates that Pesach was celebrated on the 14th as commanded in Vayikra/Leviticus 23:5 not the 15th of Nissan as came to be known according to the Pharisees (Orthodox) tradition. The morrow after Pesach is the 15th of Nissan which is the first day of Chag HaMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread) a day of rest according to Vayikra/Leviticus 23:6-8. They are clearly eating old grain on this first annual Shabbat of Chag haMatzah. Notice that the Scripture says OLD GRAIN which means that they had not celebrated FirstFruits. They could NOT eat the NEW GRAIN until they offered the Wave (lifted up) Offering to YHWH. So although this verse is used as a proof text, the text says OLD GRAIN which really doesn’t give us any definitive proof at all. There was no such thing as “Pharisees” when the children of Israel encamped at Gilgal so we should not attempt to use modern Pharisaical halakha to override the ancient record.
Joshua 5:10-12 proves nothing in regards to whether Yom HaBikkurim begins on the day after Chag haMatzah or according to the weekly Shabbat. But it may shed a bit of light on why the Pharisees were said to have kept the 15th as their Pesach rather than the 14th. Again in this verse it states that Israel “kept Pesach on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho” they kept Pesach at the end of the fourteenth day. The lamb was slaughtered and prepared on the 14th day and eaten at “even” which would then put the celebrations over into the 15th.
There are factors that might lead one to believe that Yom Omer begins on the morrow after the weekly Shabbat. For Y’shua to fulfill the First Fruits wave sheaf offering according to most Christian and Messianic reckoning the FirstFruits offering would have had to be on yom rishon (the first day of the week). When we take three days and three nights as a literal period of time, extracted from Jonah’s experience in the belly of the great fish and factor this span of time into the week of Y’shua’s sufferings. Y’shua would have risen before sunset on the weekly Shabbat. He would have been in the tomb for three full days and three full nights and then on the 4th day presented himself to The Father.
For us who are followers of Mashiyach Yeshua there is another element that we must consider. If Y’shua would have observed Feast days on a different calendar than the Pharisees we can be quite sure that they would have accused him of breaking Torah or their halakha. Y’shua was never painted into the camp of the Sadducees or Essenes by the Pharisees, and the Karaites never came into existence until the 9th Century (the Karaites have much more in common with the Samaritans than they do with Scribes or Sadducees), so we clearly see that Y’shua was practising Torah more along the lines of Pharisee halakha than the other Jewish sects.
Apostle Paul went to he deathbed calling himself Pharisee of Pharisees and again we have NO evidence to suggest that Apostle Paul observed Feast dates differently than the Pharisees. If we are going to be consistent, we also need to understand that the calendar the Pharisees used in Y’shua’s days was a bit different than it is among the modern Orthodox today.
If we recognize Y’shua as King of Kings we’re going to follow his halakha (way to walk) accordingly, which means, Yom HaBikkurim would be celebrated on the day after the Chag haMatzah Shabbat, rather that the weekly Seventh day Shabbat. It seems that many believers are ultimately choosing the “authority” behind the arguments (whether Pharisaic, Sadducee or Karaite) rather that Mashiyach himself. Mashiyach celebrated Yom HaBikkurim all his life, from the time he was a child. There never was a time in recorded history where Y’shua veered off from the calendar that the Pharisees used and that’s because at that time in history the Pharisees were observing the calendar exactly the way that Moshe had revealed in Torah.
Let’s also remember that the Sadducees of Y’shua’s day’s were a politically motivated sect, aristocrats, who were more interested in their ties with Roman powers who as a political party were out to distinguish themselves from the Pharisees, like the Democrats and Republicans or the Liberals and Conservatives. The same can be said of the Karaites today and those of the World Wide Church of Gawd backgrounds who are more interested in causing political divisions for their own causes that seeking the unity of the Faith that was enjoyed in the days of Y’shua and among the Apostles on this issue.
The bottom line is to beware of the leaven (false teachings and religious puffed up authority) of religious people who are simply interested in bringing us under their religious authority. The Household of Faith is plagued with leaders who have political and religious agendas to divide YHWH’s people unto themselves, under their own authority, rather than seek the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The issue of the calendar is a hot one because it is one of the most divisive issue within the Household of Faith. People are relegated to one camp or the other by which day they choose for Shavuot, or which day of the month they choose for Pesach but we know from history that this wasn’t the case with Y’shua, his followers and with Apostle Paul. There is no mention of these elements in the New Testament because they were unified and because they were unified we know that they observed the Temple calendar, not the modern World Wide Church of Gawd calendar or the calendar of the Karaites.
May you have a blessed Chag Sameach!!!
YHWH be with you,
Baruch Ben Daniel
“One man discriminates between days; and another judges all days alike. But let every one be sure, in regard to his knowledge. He that esteems a day, esteems [it] for his Master: and he that esteems not a day, for his Master, he does not esteem [it.] And he that eats, eats to his Master, and gives thanks to Elohim: and he that eats not, to his Master he eats not, and gives thanks to Elohim. For there is not one of us, who lives for himself: and there is not one, who dies for himself. Because, if we live, to our Master (Y’shua) it is we live; or if we die, to our Master it is we die. Whether we live, therefore, or whether we die, we are our Master’s.”
Note: I observe the Chag on what I believe to be the correct day, but this does not in any way prohibit me from joining with others according to their understanding and timing of Shavuot. Some believers say they would rather be wrong and celebrate on the wrong day to maintain unity with their families and congregations rather than cause division, they believe “majority” sanctifies the day. I personally believe this is a dangerous position because it is these very issues that test whether the love in our hearts for truth is greater than our social, political or religious needs. “…as it is written: That you might be upright, in your declarations; and be found pure, when they judge you” (Romans 3:4). Therefore, if you know to do good and do it not, it becomes sin unto you. It is foolish to “second guess” or to assume that we know so much about the Feasts and their importance to make judgments that overrule the Word of YHWH. On the other hand, if a person is not fully convinced either way that is good reason to fast and pray and seek YHWH for these things. This issue may not be so easy to make a definitive conclusion on, I’ve observed the Feast according to both reckonings, it is not an easy matter to resolve with Scripture alone, but at the very least we must be true to how the Ruach is leading us rather than opting for the most convenient for our job schedules… or other external religious or political matters.
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