By Dr. Mark Scott
A milestone festival for Israel was the Festival of Weeks—an interesting name since it was just a one-day celebration. Israel had many high holy days in their yearly calendar. Those were the weekly Sabbath, the Passover, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles (all described in Leviticus 23). But the three most important were Passover, Pentecost (Festival of Weeks), and Tabernacles. The first two were celebrated in the spring, and the last one was celebrated in the fall. Passover celebrated Israel’s deliverance by God from Egypt. Pentecost celebrated Israel’s provision from God in the new land. Tabernacles celebrated God’s watch over Israel’s wilderness wanderings.
Counting & Worshipping
The Festival of Weeks was observed following the fiftieth day of the Passover Sabbath (the Sabbath that followed Passover). It was called the Festival of Weeks because it had been weeks since that last holiday. Counting seven sets of seven days each plus one day meant that this festival always fell on Sunday, which is important when we come to the New Testament.
Since Passover was observed in the spring, 50 days after that would be the end of May or the first part of June. The early harvests (barley and wheat) would be ready. God wanted Israel to offer him some of the firstfruits to teach Israel to always honor the Lord first, as well as to remind them that if they put the Lord first he would provide more for them in the days ahead.
Israel would not be allowed to merely waltz into his presence with their firstfruits. Coming before the Lord to acknowledge his provision still demanded a pure heart. So God gave specific prescriptions about how that worship was to take place.
Offerings were part of Israel’s worship. From the early harvest Israel was to bring wave or grain offerings, drink and food offerings, plus burnt offerings, sin offerings, and fellowship (or peace) offerings. These grain offerings and animal sacrifices were combined as sacred offerings to the Lord in worship. Sin must be atoned for before worship is acceptable to God. Therefore for Israel, worship consisted of bringing something to God. The list for the burnt offering and grain offerings was: two loaves of bread, seven perfect male lambs, one young bull, and two rams. The list for the sin offering and the fellowship offering was: one male goat and two lambs.
Some of the offerings were burned up and some would serve as food for the priests. Both grain offerings and animal sacrifices were waved before the Lord to acknowledge that God was good and that God had provided (and would provide) yet again for his people.
Ceasing & Giving
Leviticus 23:21, 22
Earlier, in Leviticus 23:3, God had reminded Israel about keeping the Sabbath. “There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord.” That command is repeated in regard to a special Sabbath in conjunction with the Festival of Weeks. Sabbath means “to cease.” Israel was to cease its work on this special day and proclaim a sacred assembly. The purpose was twofold: to thank God for the beginning of harvest and to thank God in advance for the prospect of more harvest. This was to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.
True worship always shows up in a tangible way. The celebration of the Festival of Weeks was to make a difference in the billfolds and purses of Israel. As commanded earlier in the Law (Leviticus 19:9, 10) Israel was to leave some of the harvest in the field. This was God’s means of providing for the poor and for the foreigner. They were expected to do the gleaning, but the owners of the fields were to feel their responsibility toward the poor and outsiders. In fact, God’s identity shines through (I am the Lord your God) when this kind of giving takes place.
Some believe that the Festival of Weeks was the anniversary of the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai. For our purposes it is best to connect this festival to Pentecost, the birth of the church. In the same way that God provided for the Israelites, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was just the beginning of God’s blessings on his people in the New Testament.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.