The Bible is the most astonishing book on the planet. The intricacies, hints, patterns and themes woven through it would take many life times to discover, from the vast expanse of time it describes to the meaning behind each letter of ancient Hebrew. Of particular interest to me is how the specific and oftentimes bizarre-sounding instructions God gives the Hebrews in the Old Testament contain important lessons for us today. For example, feast days.
There are seven major feasts described for the Hebrews, but three particularly important ones: the feast of unleavened bread (including Passover), the feast of weeks (Pentecost, first fruits) and the feast of booths. God requires all men to gather together to give offerings on these occasions (Deuteronomy 16:16). These festivals coincided with the early Spring harvest, and then the final Autumn harvest – the larger of the two, when all remaining crops were gathered in and there was a time of celebration and abundance.
During the first harvest, the very first sheaf of barley is given as an offering and lifted up by the priest before God. It is accompanied by a lamb without blemish. (Leviticus 23:10-12) It represents Jesus. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
During the feast of first fruits, the early wheat is brought in, and the offering is turned into two loaves of leavened bread. Leaven is well known to represent sin in Judaism. These loaves are also lifted towards God, along with various animal “sin offerings”. So, we have some party being represented, who has sin within them that requires concurrent sin offerings in order to be acceptable, and yet they are counted as “first fruits” and therefore are privileged or pre-eminent in some way. This represents God’s chosen people, the holy nation. Previously Israel, now believers in Christ. (James 1:18)
This is where most Christian analysis that I have seen finishes. A wonderful shadow of the Messiah as firstborn from the dead, followed by his people who are made right with God through His sacrifice. But that isn’t the end of the story! Haven’t we forgotten something? There is one important festival left! And what is that?
The final in-gathering. The biggest harvest. (Exodus 23:16) The time when all crops are brought in to the barns, and there is a solid week of feasting. How insane would it be if after the small early harvest, the Hebrew people simply forgot about or burned the biggest harvest of the year? Not only are all the crops gathered in, but the feast is specifically designated to be shared by everyone – “you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the widow that are within your gates.” Deuteronomy 16:13-15
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” All will ultimately be gathered in. Those who count themselves children of God now are in a privileged position but that is not the end of the story.