Firstfruits - 16th day or first day of the week?

Posted in Calendar Studies

Calculating the Feasts of Firstfruits and Shavuot (aka Pentecost)

One of the ongoing debates in the feast keeping community is how to calculate the timing for the feast of Firstfruits and, by extension, the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). One school of thought is that Firstfruits is always on Aviv 16, the morrow after the first “Sabbath” of Unleavened Bread. The other school of thought is that Firstfruits is always on the first day of the week, the morrow after the first seventh-day Sabbath following the first Day of Unleavened Bread.

The Biblical reference books have employed in this study are:
1. The King James Bible
2. Strong’s Concordance
3. The Interlinear Bible
4. The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament, by George Wigram
5. The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon

What does the Bible teach? First, an understanding of the key words involved in this study is necessary. The keywords are as follows: (English word, followed by the Hebrew transliteration in parenthesis, followed by the Hebrew Strong’s number, followed by the definition in Brown-Driver-Briggs.)

• Feast (chag) 2282, festival-gathering, feast, pilgrim-feast
• Feasts (moedim) 4150, appointed time, place, meeting
• Rest (sabbaton) 7677, Sabbath observance, usually the phrase “Sabbath of sabbatic observance”. Used of weekly Sabbath (in Ex 31:15, 35:2, Lev 23:3, Ex 16:23), Day of Atonement, sabbatical year, Feast of Trumpets, and Feast of Tabernacles.
• Sabbath (Shabbat) 7676, Sabbath
• Seventh (shebebe) 7637, seventh (ordinal)
• Weeks (Shavuot) 7620, period of seven, heptad, week

Leviticus 23:9-14 details Firstfruits, and Leviticus 23:15-22 details the Feast of Weeks (aka Shauvot/Pentecost). In both sections, we are told that the key date is the morrow (Strong’s 4283) after the Sabbath (Strong’s 7676). The word for Sabbath, Strong’s 7676, is never translated as any other word than Sabbath(s), but that still doesn’t tell us if it refers to an annual Sabbath of Unleavened Bread, or the weekly seventh-day Sabbath. As the starting point to determine both appointed times, we must have a clear understanding of what the starting day it is.

We generally refer to all of YHVH’s feasts as “Sabbaths”, but the terms employed in Leviticus 23:2 are “feasts” (Strong’s 4150 “moed”) and “holy convocations” (Strong’s 6944, 4744 “chodesh mikra”). Verses 6-8, which detail Unleavened Bread, never call it a Sabbath, but rather a holy convocation. Elsewhere, it is called an ordinance (Strong’s 2708, Exodus 12:17), feast (Strong’s 2282 “chag” in Exodus 13:6, 23:15, 34:18, Leviticus 23:6, and Numbers 28:17), and a solemn assembly (Strong’s 6116, Deuteronomy 16:8). There is not one single Scriptural instance of the First Day of Unleavened Bread ever referred to as a “Sabbath” (Strong’s 7676). In fact, the terms “Sabbath” and “Unleavened Bread” only appear in the same verse one time (2 Chronicles 8:13) and it is clear that 7676 is the seventh day of the week, and 4682 (unleavened bread) is the feast day.

Of all of the holy days, the term 7676 Sabbath, standing alone, is applied only to the seventh day of the week. You will see the term “Sabbath of rest”, which is Sabbath (7676) of rest (7677 sabbaton), applied to the fall holy days and the Sabbatical years, but never is this term applied to Unleavened Bread. As such, there is no hint in Scripture to lead us to the conclusion that the word Sabbath (7676) is meant to refer to the first day of Unleavened Bread for purposes of timing Firstfruits and Shavuot. The only precedence would be to interpret it to mean the seventh day Sabbath that falls within the festival week. (To see a chart of the adjectives used in Leviticus 23, click here: http://www.nailedtocross.com/index.php/articles/holy-days-holidays/94-leviticus-23-adjectives)

People who adhere to the theory that Pentecost is always the 6th day of the third month interpret the term Sabbath (7676) as referring to any set of seven days (one week), so it could be the seven days from a Monday through Sunday, Wednesday through Tuesday, etc. Nowhere else in Scripture does 7676 mean “weeks”. In fact, Hebrew has a word that does mean any seven consecutive days, Strong’s 7620, shauvot. But that is not the term employed in Leviticus 23:16. We are not told to count seven weeks, but rather seven rests (Sabbaths). Had Yehovah intended us to count weeks that could begin on any day, rather than Seventh-day Sabbaths, would not He have specified it as such?

God, who does things with simplicity (2 Corinthians 11:3) so that even a child can understand (Matthew 18:3), and who is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), would have no logical reason to make this term mean something different (week) this one time than it means every other time it appears (Sabbath, rest). Especially when He could simply have done like He did with all of the other feasts days, and said that Firstfruits is always the 16th day of the first month, and Shavuot is always the 6th day of the third month, if that was what He meant, or when He could have said to count seven “weeks” instead of seven “Sabbaths” if that is what He meant. The only logical reason for phrasing it with the words and method He uses is if indeed, He wanted us to have to count the weeks and days to arrive at the correct date. There would be no purpose for Him to give counting instructions if He intended a set date that made the counting a moot endeavor.

NOTE: Deuteronomy 16:9 does use the term “seven weeks” (7620) instead of “seven Sabbaths” (7676), but it is also linked with counting those weeks after the day of Firstfruits, so the only time that “weeks” is used instead of “Sabbaths”, by pointing us back to the day of putting “the sickle to the grain” it still points to the morrow after the 7676 Sabbath. As such, the weeks would be from Sabbath to Sabbath, and not referring to any arbitrary period of seven days. We also see 7676 used in Leviticus 25, speaking of the Sabbath years, in the term “seven Sabbaths of years”. Some people point to this text to say that Sabbath can refer to any unit of seven, so by extension when used in timing of Firstfruits and Shavuot the 7676 can mean any set of seven days starting on any day of the week. But the phrase in Leviticus 25:8 includes not only 7676, but also the words seven and years. The 7676 does not translate as seven, nor does it translate as years. It only means rest. For timing of Shavuot, when using this Scripture as a reference, it should confirm that we are to count seven “rests” not seven “weeks” that might start at any arbitrary given point.

Those who calculate Pentecost on any day of the week other than Sunday substitute the meaning of the word Sabbath 7676 with the meaning of the word week 7620, and they add the word Sabbath 7676 to define the first holy convocation day during the festival week that Scripture never calls a Sabbath. At this time, I believe the best Biblical interpretation is to calculate Firstfruits as the Sunday (morrow) after the Sabbath (Saturday) that occurs during the week of Unleavened Bread, and that Pentecost is the Sunday (morrow) after the seventh Sabbath (Saturday) thereafter.

That being said, there is much discussion and dissention on the calendar within the feastkeeping community, with the timing of Shavuot just one dimension of this issue. There are many different calendars under discussion, and often it becomes a wall so high that no one can climb over. Some start with 30 day months beginning with the equinox, without the use of any other heavenly bodies, which leaves 5 extra days at the end of each year.  Others start with the new moon conjunction, while some start with the new moon first crescent sighting, to start 29-30 day months. Some begin the new year based on the barley while others begin the new year based on the equinox.  Some keep the seventh-day Sabbath for 24 hours from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and some keep the Sabbath for 12 hours either on Saturday, or under annual or lunar cycles it can fall on a different day each month.

What all of these systems fail to take into consideration is that we are not currently under the calendar shown from creation (30 day months/360-day years), which is the same calendar shown in the end time prophecies (1260 days = 42 months = 3.5 years). We are currently on a 365.25 day year. No wonder it is impossible to perfectly nail down the calendar.

After Israel had been in the wilderness of Egypt for 400 years and had forgotten God’s calendar, God gave them the manna to get them back on the correct Sabbath. Similarly, God’s people have been in the wilderness of Babylon confusion for 2000 years. It is reasonable to anticipate that God will give His people a calendar correction when He resets this planet to His creation calendar of 360 day years.

Until that time, we should consider the possibility that all of the various attempts to understand the calendar have some elements of truth in them, but as long as we try to calculate God’s 360-day year while living on a 365-day year planet, we are not going to be able to fully reconcile God’s timing. For now, we need to follow the calendar to the best of our understanding, and trust in two things: 1) God will correct us by the time we need the correction to be wise and understand, and 2) until then, He will wink at our ignorance as long as we are sincerely trying to follow Him as best as possible.

See you at the feasts!

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Postscript: In years in which the first day of Unleavened Bread falls on a Sunday and ends on Saturday (as happened in 2015), there are two schools of thought on when the day of Firstfruits should be. Which "Sabbath" do we take the morrow of?  The Sabbath the day before the start of the week of Unleavened Bread, or the following Sabbath which makes the day of Firstfruits not fall within the week of Unleavened Bread? Because I believe that the day of Firstfruits must fall within the week of Unleavened Bread, I tend to agree with the first interpretation. Maybe one day I'll do a detailed study on why. In the meantime, Nehemia Gordon (one of my favorite Hebrew/Jewish teachers) has done a study that addresses the timing of Shavuot, which you may find helpful in your study: http://www.nehemiaswall.com/truth-shavuot#more-1875. In an April 10, 2015 email to his supporters, he wrote: "My conclusion based on Jewish history and biblical evidence is that the count must begin on April 5, 2015, "the morrow" being the operative part of the commandment. Not everyone has agreed with this position, resulting in some counting from April 12."

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