Even though our word feast probably does not exactly carry the modern definition to describe these seven holy days, for convenience sake, and since they are commonly called that in our translations of the Bible, we will also continue to use it. Primarily, we have been thinking what these feast days were to teach the ancient Israelites, but more importantly for us today, what they are to teach us.
The Feast of the Passover was the first of these feast days. It commemorated the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. This remembrance took place on the fourteenth day of the first month of Nissan. Following that, on the fifteenth day, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread began. This feast was a seven-day event. The primary teaching of this feast is the importance of preserving the purity in our spiritual lives.
On the sixteenth day of the first month, which was also the second day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, another feast began. This one was called the Feast of the Firstfruits—a one day event. This is the feast we will look at today.
These are the instructions given to Moses concerning this holy day:
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say, ‘When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you are to bring to the priest a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest. And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD so that it may be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath.
On the day you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a year-old lamb without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD, along with its grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil—an offering made by fire to the LORD, a pleasing aroma—and its drink offering of a quarter hin of wine.
You must not eat any bread or roasted or new grain until the very day you have brought this offering to your God. This is to be a permanent statute for the generations to come, wherever you live. (Leviticus 23:10-14 BSB)
Of course, Moses did not know this when God spoke to him about this feast. He no doubt thought that he would one day be celebrating this event at the end of the journey to the land. But it was not to be. In the book of Joshua, we read these words:
On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while the Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they kept the Passover. The day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate unleavened bread and roasted grain from the produce of the land.
And the day after they had eaten from the produce of the land, the manna ceased. There was no more manna for the Israelites, so that year they began to eat the crops of the land of Canaan. (Joshua 5:10-12 BSB)
This was the first observance of this Holy Day of the Feast of the Firstfruits.
For forty years, God had fed his people as a parent feeds his small children. The Israelites were not required to plant or to harvest. They did not go on hunting expeditions to provide meat for the people. God gave them their daily bread as manna, appearing every morning like the dew that forms on the grass. He sent quail to them on the wind. They drank water from a rock in that arid land.
In every way their needs were provided. Nehemiah, a later governor in Judea wrote of God’s provision during the wilderness years: “For forty years You sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell” (Nehemiah 9:21 BSB).
God taught them about his provision. His daily provision was intended not only to sustain them in the wilderness, but also to teach them faith—faith in the fact that God would provide in every circumstance.
Now, with this Feast of the Firstfruits, God intends to continue in his teaching of faith.
Forward in Faith
Faith, by its very nature, is forward looking. It does not place security on present circumstances. As we know, present circumstances are often very grim. The Israelites in the wilderness had no food, so they complained. They had no meat to eat, so they murmured. They had no water, so they lost hope.
We discover we have a difficult medical condition, so we fear. We find that our savings has taken a big loss, so we worry. Looking at the present only will lead one to despair.
But faith does not regard the present as determining the level of our hope. Faith is believing the words of Jesus when he tells us, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31, 33 BSB).
Faith is agreeing with Paul when he writes, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 BSB).
The Bounty to Come
The Feast of the Firstfruits is forward looking. As I said, the instructions for it were given forty years in anticipation of when it would be celebrated for the first time. At the time when God spoke of this feast relating to harvest, Israel did not even have any fields. They were living in a barren wilderness, wandering from place to place like a man who had lost all purpose or direction in life.
But when God gave the instructions for the Feast of the Firstfruits, he gave the Israelites hope of the bounty which they would eventually experience. The Feast of Firstfruits represented abundance. It represented a harvest that must have seemed unimaginable to a people living in the sand and breathing dusty air. The feast represented a hope to come which the Lord of the harvest would bring.
Lessons in Agriculture
Actually, agriculture itself is forward looking. Seeds are planted in the ground with no assurances whatsoever of a harvest. For weeks, the dried and dead-looking seeds seem to lie idle beneath the surface of the soil, with no outward sign that anything is happening. Then, one by one, tiny sprouts of green begin to appear above the ground.
After they emerge, the farmer nurtures his crop the best that he can, but the tender shoots have many enemies. Drought can dry them to a crisp. Excessive rains can drown them. Hail can tear them into shreds. Insects and animals can come a devour them. Fire can burn them entirely.
The farmer protects and nurtures the best that he can, but he also comes to realize that in the end, it is God who provides the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).
In ancient Israel, as today, the first seeds of the year are planted in the harshness of winter. Certainly, the winters there are not the same as they are in our own northern climate. The winter there could probably be compared to what we might consider cool spring weather. As the seeds were planted in the winter months, by the time of the Feast of the Firstfruits, the first sheaf a barley was ready to be tied up with a twine and to be presented to the Lord.
Typically, this first sheaf was not a randomly cut example of barley plants taken from an already ripe harvest. Rather, it was from carefully selected individual plants that had been the first to mature. It is these that were cut, one by one, and tied together with a string to present before God.
These first mature stalks of barley were presented to the Lord by the act of waving them through the air, symbolizing that they were a gift from God. Since the day God gave the directions on how the presentation of this offering was to take place, many additional and superfluous rituals have been added. This seems to happen in every ancient ceremony and custom. But God’s only words to Moses was to “Wave the sheaf before the LORD so that it may be accepted on your behalf.”
This was the Feast of the Firstfruits. It was a forward-looking feast to teach faith in the provision of God. This type of forward-looking faith was not only intended to involve agriculture crops, but every aspect of life.
It has also to do with our lives. In fact, for us, it has meanings that go even beyond the present. This type of forward-looking faith has to do with trusting God not only in this life, but in eternity.
Firstfruits in the New Testament
In the teaching of the Feast of the Firstfruits to Moses, the theme was centered on agricultural crops, but as we saw, the teaching would extend to other areas of life concerning the provision of God.
As we turn the pages from the Old Testament to the New, we see that the Apostle Paul applies the lesson of the firstfruits to something that may seem almost startling.
Here is what he writes to the church at Corinth: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
What could Paul possibly mean by this statement?
We begin to see the connection that Paul is making when we realize that even the practice of agriculture can teach us much about our own destiny. Each tiny seed, withered and dried, and from all appearances—dead, are placed in the ground with hopes of new life springing from them. The very act of planting a dead seed and expecting life to come from it can teach us much about new life springing forth for us in the resurrection.
Jesus was speaking of his own impending death when he explained to his disciples, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Then Jesus adds these words: “Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever despises his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).
I am pretty sure that when the disciples heard what Jesus was saying, they did not know quite what to make of it. Certainly, they did not understand completely, because when Jesus was crucified, they fell into despair. The disciples gathered together in small groups and hid themselves behind locked doors, afraid of what might happen next. After Jesus was placed in the tomb, they were expecting nothing more from the one whom they had once called “Rabbi”—their teacher.
But after the dead body of Jesus lay in the tomb for three days, startling reports began to be circulated. Mary of Magdalene seems to be the first of them who began to spread the word. It was early in the morning on the day after the Sabbath that she ran to where the disciples were hiding. “I have seen the Lord!” she announced.
The disciples did not know what to make of this message. A delusion from an over-emotional woman? A mistaken identity?
They did not know, but later that same evening they were still behind locked doors, afraid of their own fate. Then suddenly, and to their certain shock, Jesus stood in their midst. He did not knock at the door. He did not enter by any way that they could see, but there he was, standing before them. They thought that they must have been seeing a spirit.
But Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you!”
Then to give them peace that it was indeed him, he showed them the nail scars in his hand and where the spear had been trust into his side by the Roman soldier. He again said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so also I am sending you.”
This is the first indication of the firstfruits about which Paul later wrote. We see it in the resurrected body of Jesus. He was a dead and withered seed that was put into the tomb. When the body of Jesus was shut up in the tomb, the disciples saw this as the end, but Jesus saw it as the beginning.
“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life… As the Father has sent Me, so also I am sending you.”
Oh Death, where is Thy Sting?
Death is of the old creation. That is the creation in which we live today. In this life everything can only lead to death. Flowers grow for a time, but then die. We build magnificent buildings, but all eventually are victims of deterioration and fall to the wrecking ball or to implosion. We enjoy the vigors of a young and healthy body, only to soon suffer from failing health, knowing that it all will eventually lead to our death.
But as this creation leads to death, there remains an opportunity of a new life through Christ. It is the process demonstrated to us by the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Paul puts it: “It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:43-44).
The process of death that has come to creation began with Adam. When Adam allowed himself the evil thought of a life independent from God, what he discovered was not life, but death. What he discovered is that there actually is no life apart from God.
Life was introduced to us again with Jesus Christ. What Jesus teaches us is that true life can only come through death to our old nature, which is our old life, and following that death, a resurrected life to the new nature. He himself came into the world, died to it, and was resurrected to a new life, all in order both to provide the means to that resurrection. Also however, he did it to demonstrate to us the reality of new life. This is the way that Paul puts it:
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits; then at His coming, those who belong to Him.
The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so also are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so also shall we bear the likeness of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:21-23, 47-49 BSB)
This is the lesson of the Feast of Firstfruits for us in this day. The meaning of the feast is trusting God for temporal provisions certainly, but even more importantly than that, it is trusting God for eternity.
Paul continues in this chapter of 1 Corinthians 15, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead: What is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (42-43).
What does all of this mean for those of us who are putting our faith in what we see as the firstfruits of Christ?
“Behold, I tell you a mystery” Paul writes.
We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come to pass: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O Death, is your victory?
O Grave, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin…But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast and immovable. Always excel in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:51-58)
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