In a second giving of these in instructions from the book of Deuteronomy (the name which actually means “second law,” or “repetition of the law), we read these instructions for the Feast of the Weeks:
You shall count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as the LORD your God blesses you. (Deuteronomy 16:9-11 NAS)
The words that we have written in our Bibles as “seven weeks,” are actually “seven sevens.” That is, we could write the instructions as, “You shall count out seven sevens for yourself.” The Hebrew phrase for this is shiv’a shavuot, which is where the Jewish community, who still celebrate this holy day, get their name for the day as Shavuot.
You may remember that in the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, this number of seven days was also important, God saying to Moses, “You must not eat leavened bread with [the sacrifice]; for seven days you are to eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left the land of Egypt in haste—so that you may remember for the rest of your life the day you left the land of Egypt. No leaven is to be found in all your land for seven days” (Deuteronomy 16:3-4 BSB).
To continue with the instructions that God gave to Moses concerning this Feast of Weeks, we read the following from the book of Leviticus:
Bring two loaves of bread from your dwellings as a wave offering, each made from two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with leaven, as the firstfruits to the LORD.
Along with the bread you are to present seven unblemished male lambs a year old, one young bull, and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the LORD, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—an offering made by fire, a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
You shall also prepare one male goat as a sin offering and two male lambs a year old as a peace offering. The priest is to wave the lambs as a wave offering before the LORD, together with the bread of the firstfruits. The bread and the two lambs shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.
On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly, and you must not do any regular work. This is to be a permanent statute wherever you live for the generations to come.
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 23:17-22 BSB)
You will notice that, like the Feast of Firstfruits, in these instructions for this Feast of Weeks, there is also an offering of the first fruits of a crop. We might wonder how this offering, given fifty days after the first firstfruits, can also be called a firstfruits offering.
It is because fifty days earlier, it was the first fruits of the barley crop that was offered as a sacrifice, and this one is the first fruits of the wheat crop. The barley matured well before the wheat, which only has come to harvest at this time, at the Feast of Weeks.
These fifty days between the barley and the wheat are the traditional harvest days of the spring crops in Israel. This is the harvest of the cereal grains, which primarily are barley and wheat. Besides this spring harvest, there is also a summer or fall harvest. That harvest is of the fruit crops: grapes, olives, dates, figs, pomegranates and numerous others.
The harvest of the Feast of Weeks, taking place at the conclusion of the spring harvest season, is also the culmination of what is sometimes called the four Passover feasts. These are the four holy days that began with the observance of the Passover, continued with the Unleavened Bread and the Firstfruits, and now concludes with this Feast of Weeks. After this group of four, there is a lengthy interlude or pause in the celebrations before there is the final group of the three additional holy days of the year.
Two Leavened Loaves
Although the offering of the first fruits in this Feast of Weeks in some ways is similar to that of the offering in the Feast of the Firstfruits, in other ways they are unlike one another. In the offering of the barley fifty days prior in the previous feast, it was a sheaf of barley stems with the mature heads of grain that was presented before the Lord. In the offering of the wheat at the Feast of Weeks, it is not the stems and heads of grain, but it is two loaves of baked bread.
The difference extends beyond that fact that they are baked loaves of bread and not a sheaf, but this is also bread that was made mixed with leaven. This presence of the leaven is also distinct from an earlier feast—that of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
You may remember that in that previous feast, great emphasis was placed on bread that was to contain no leaven at all, and in fact, equally great effort was to be placed in assuring that there was no leaven to be found in the entire house and even in the entire region. All leaven was to be eliminated!
You may also recall that the reason for this prohibition of leaven in that previous holy day was at least partially because in Scripture, leaven is in some ways symbolic of the corruption of the world in the lives of God’s people. It speaks of an outside influence that has been allowed to enter an otherwise pure mixture, and then to grow, out of sight and almost undetected, until it has spread throughout the entire person or entire community.
Why then, are these loaves that are offered to the Lord to be baked with leaven?
We are not told the reasoning behind this inclusion of the leaven in this offering, so any answer that anyone can give for it must necessarily include some aspect of speculation. Nevertheless, I believe that it is helpful to see what God said in closing these instructions for the Feast of Weeks. After giving Moses instructions how this feast was to be observed, God includes a general statement regarding not only this particular harvest of the wheat, but for the harvesting all crops.
God told him, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:22 BSB).
He said much the same thing earlier, telling Moses, “Speak to the whole congregation of Israel and tell them: Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy…When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You must not strip your vineyard bare or gather its fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:1, 9-10 BSB).
We can see that the common phrase in both of these scriptures is “Leave [the gleanings] for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.”
God has always had a heart for those who are in some way oppressed. We see this for a second time in the “Second Law,” in the instructions for the feast in the book of Deuteronomy:
Do not deny justice to the foreigner or the fatherless, and do not take a widow’s cloak as security. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you from that place. Therefore I am commanding you to do this.
If you are harvesting in your field and forget a sheaf there, do not go back to get it. It is to be left for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
When you beat the olives from your trees, you must not go over the branches again. What remains will be for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow.
When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you must not go over the vines again. What remains will be for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. Therefore I am commanding you to do this. (Deuteronomy 24:17-22 BSB)
We saw that in the instructions given in Leviticus, the twice repeated phrase is, “Leave [the gleanings] for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.”
Here in Deuteronomy, the subject of leaving the gleanings for the people in need is accompanied by different phrase, this one also twice repeated: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.”
Then God adds, “And the LORD your God redeemed you from that place. Because of this, I am commanding you to do this.”
The Poor and the Foreigner
In both of these instances, the gleanings of the crops were to be left for “the poor and the foreigner” to gather. The stalks of grain that remained after harvest were to be left for people who owned no fields, had no agricultural land, and who had no resources of their own to produce their own food. There were no conditions placed on who could gather this food. Nothing, such as nationality or ethnicity, was placed on who the gleaners should be. This provision was not only for the Israelite people. The gleanings were left for all who had need: for orphans, for widows, and for foreigners.
Leaving gleanings in a field for someone to gather food for themselves is not the same as simply giving them food. It is not showing up at their door every morning with a basket of their needs for the day. Of course, doing this is very appropriate and the compassionate thing to do in a desperate or emergency situation, but it is not suitable as a permanent arrangement for someone who is able to care for themselves.
When a farmer leaves the edges of his field for the gleaners, he is providing for those who are in need the means to feed themselves. Those in need must come and work the fields. They must gather the food that they need for themselves. Not only must they gather for themselves, but they must put in quite a lot of effort in doing so.
Typically, the best examples of the plants of the crop are not found on the edges of the field. It is on the edges where the crop does not receive the full nutrients of the fertilizer, and where the plants have to compete with whatever is growing of the field edges. These are also the grains that are most susceptible to animals, and even to people who pass by and help themselves to some of the produce.
Leaven as Shared Grace
When we spoke of the leaven in the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, we learned that the leaven in the bread seemed to be symbolic of the influences of sin and of the world in the life of the people of God. The leaven in that case spoke of evil that is allowed to enter into someone’s thinking and to spread throughout a life.
Here however, in the Feast of Weeks, the leaven in the two loaves certainly cannot represent the same thing. As these two leavened loaves are waved as a thanksgiving before God, signifying that they have been provided by God, it is unthinkable that the leaven could represent sin.
Since in the two scriptures that we have regarding the Celebration of the Weeks, we read that through the principle of the gleanings, the Lord’s provision is not intended only and exclusively for the Israelite people, but for all people. This being true, it seems reasonable to consider the leaven present in this wave offering to represent not impurity of a life, but rather inclusion of all peoples in the plan of God.
In this case, in the Feast of Weeks, one could say that the presence of the leaven in the bread is a reflection of the heart of God who desires to show his grace and provision extended to all people—not only to a few. It is offered to all who are oppressed: to the orphan, to the widow, and to the foreigner. It is offered to all who would gather.
Although at the time, God was showing special grace to the people of Israel, he also wanted them to know that there was nothing special about them as a people, nothing that made them unique among the other people of the world. It was not because they were mighty that the Lord chose to bless them. It was not because they were more righteous.
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt,” Moses had told them, “And the LORD your God redeemed you from that place.”
Earlier Moses had told them, “The LORD did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than the other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the LORD loved you and kept the oath He swore to your fathers, He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8 BSB).
The leaven in the loaves of bread during the Feast of Weeks demonstrated that all were acceptable to God, no matter race or nationality, social status or family background. All that was needed is that they would come to Him as the one who would redeem them.
The Gleaner Ruth
There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament that is often read in these days in the celebration of the Feast of Weeks. It is the story of a Moabite woman named Ruth. Ruth was not an Israelite, but her mother-in-law was. The name of the mother-in-law was Naomi.
Naomi and her husband were from the Bethlehem, but the couple had earlier settled in the land of Moab. They apparently had lived there for many years, long enough for their two sons to grow into men and to marry. One of the sons had married Ruth.
Tragically however, the two men died—both father and son. In fact, even the other son died. The mother Naomi was distraught. Feeling that she was left with nothing, she made her way back to her home town of Bethlehem. Ruth decided to go with her.
Practically speaking, Ruth would have been much better off staying in her homeland of Moab rather than dedicating herself to Naomi. Staying with her mother-in-law could offer her no prospects of a future. But Ruth insisted. When she married Naomi’s son, she had committed herself to this family, and she would not abandon her commitment.
Although Naomi tried to convince Ruth it would be better for her daughter-in-law if she would stay in Moab and marry again, Ruth refused. She said to Naomi:
Do not urge me to leave you or to turn from following you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me, and ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me. (Ruth 1:16-17 BSB)
When the two widows arrived in Bethlehem, it was true that they had no bright prospects. But it was harvest season, and Ruth went out to gather the gleanings of grain left by some of the harvesters. When the owner of the field, a man name Boaz, saw Ruth gleaning on his field and heard of her faithfulness to Naomi, he became captivated with Ruth’s story and fell in love with the young woman.
In order to rightfully take Ruth as his wife, Boaz immediately began to fulfill a series of cultural obligations. In the end, the two became married. Boaz brought a new life not only to Ruth, but also for her mother-in-law Naomi. He redeemed them from a life of poverty and sorrow.
I have condensed this beautiful story more than I should have, but in many ways, it is an illustration of the leaven in the bread of the wave offering of the Feast of Weeks. It demonstrates the result of what God told Moses about leaving the gleanings for all in need.
Through the gleanings of his field, Boaz opened the door for the redemption of a foreigner and a widow. He became their redeemer.
The Canaanite Woman as a Gleaner
Another good example of this principle is given to us in the life of Jesus. Jesus was once in the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon. While he was there, a Canaanite woman came to him, and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is miserably possessed by a demon.”
Jesus at first said nothing, so she then went to the disciples, crying out to them. The disciples grew tired of her and urged Jesus to send her away.
Jesus then answered her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” seeming to exclude her.
But the woman persisted. She again came and knelt before Him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Jesus replied a second time, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Yes, Lord,” she said, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
“O woman,” Jesus answered, “your faith is great! Let it be done for you as you desire.”
In that very same hour, her daughter was healed. (Matthew 15:21-28)
Gleaning Our Redemption
The crumbs from the table—the gleanings of what was left over. This is what brought redemption to this Canaanite woman and her daughter.
The grains from the fields of Boaz—the gleanings of what was left over. This is what brought redemption to Ruth and Naomi.
The wave offering of the Feast of Weeks. The leaven in the bread that illustrates redemption offered to all who would glean of the grace of God.
“I speak to reasonable people,’ Paul writes in the New Testament, “Judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one loaf. (1 Corinthians 10:17 BSB)
The grace of God is offered to all. It is not intended for only the few, or for only the elite. But all must gather his grace for themselves. Both in Ruth and in the Canaanite woman, we see persistence and determination. Even when life becomes bleak and cheerless, there is a commitment to dedication. They worked to glean, and they were rewarded.
Redemption will come to those who glean of the grace of God. Whatever your circumstances today, do not loose heart. Through her gleanings, Ruth brought redemption not only for herself, but also for Naomi. The Canaanite woman, in her figurative willingness to eat of left-over gleanings of the crumbs that fell from the table, found redemption and healing.
You also can find redemption from your circumstance, but you must be willing to glean. Every person must glean of God’s redemption.
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