Shavuot: The Firstfruits of Weeks
Of the three major festivals requiring pilgrimage to Jerusalem – Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot – Shavuot (or Pentecost, (June 4-6) is unique. Shavuot in Hebrew means “weeks.” Why would the festival be called that? It is not because the festival lasts for several weeks!
Shouldn’t it be called “secondfruits”?
Rather, it is because of the way you find out when it is to be celebrated. Unlike the others, the feast of Weeks is “dateless,” and the timing points us back to Passover, and ultimately, the death and resurrection of Messiah.
On Shavuot, the people of Israel were to bring a two-loaf offering as a “Firstfruits to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:17). However, there is already a “firstfruits” offering on the calendar during the week of Passover. And now there is a second firstfruits offering? At some point, one might ask, shouldn’t it be called “secondfruits”? Not at all.
Firstfruits are the portion of the crop or produce which is set apart unto the Lord, for His use only. The day after the Sabbath during Passover, the priests in the Temple gave a “first firstfruits” offering of the barley harvest (Lev. 23:10-14).
“When the Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) had fully come”
The observances could not be practiced after the Temple was destroyed in 70AD. Still, one part from that tradition remained: “the counting of the omer,” or the numbering of days until the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, was to be celebrated.
While the “first firstfruits were from the barley harvest, the firstfruits offering of Shavuot were from the wheat harvest (Exodus 34:22). The barley offering from the day after the Sabbath of Passover was considered the poor man’s food, whereas the wheat of the Shavuot offering was considered rich man’s food (Psalm 81:16).
So also, Messiah became poor that we might become spiritually rich in Him (2 Cor. 15:21-23). The second firstfruits offering is a different picture altogether. This offering is a picture of the believers in Messiah, His called-out ones. Acts 2 shows how this happened “when the Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) had fully come.”
We are presented as a “kind of firstfruits among His creatures”
Yeshua’s followers thus comprise a second firstfruits offering in Him. This is referred to in the book of James 1:18, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of firstfruits among His creatures.”
As Yeshua is the Firstfruits offering of the resurrection, so also, we are a firstfruits offering in His new creation, the Body of Messiah. We learn in Ephesians that Messiah is the Head, and we are the body (Eph. 1:23; 4:15-16). Messiah was raised from the dead to be our Firstfruits offering, and we are presented as “a kind of firstfruits among His creatures,” as the body of Messiah.
The Symbol of Firstfruits
Giving the firstfruits of the crop honored the Lord and recognized Him as Provider. Thus, firstfruits were for God’s use only, a reality which could never be changed. The significance of believers being firstfruits is that we are to be totally dedicated to the Lord: we are for God’s use only, set apart as saints unto Him.
From the original Shavuot at the giving of the Law, we learn that the “firstfruits” are the people of Israel. In Jeremiah 2:3 God declares, “Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend; disaster will come upon them.”
Just as we learn in Passover that Israel is God’s “firstborn” of the nations (Exodus 4:22-23, Israel is also the firstfruits of His increase, a nation called to be holy unto the Lord. This calling resulted in God’s foreign policy of blessing or cursing those nations based on their treatment of Israel, “I will bless those that bless you [Israel], and curse those that curse you” (Gen. 12:3).
This position of firstfruits also accounts for God’s chastening upon our people, Israel, even as it is declared in Hosea 9:10,17: I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first season. But they went to BaalPeor and separated themselves to that shame; they became an abomination like the thing they loved. …because they did not obey Him… they shall be wanderers among the nations.
Along with the privileges of being God’s firstfruits also came responsibilities, as we read in Luke 12:48, “to whom much is given, much is required.” Consequently, we are expected to live in such a way that the Lord is honored in all that we do.
The fulfillment of Shavuot firstfruits is New Covenant believers, both Jews and Gentiles. This is why the Holy Spirit was given – to empower followers of Messiah. Believers today are people of both privilege and responsibility to live faithfully for the Lord.
Through faith in Messiah, we have eternal salvation and new life as children of God. What a privilege to have the enablement for the Holy Spirit to live dedicated and holy lives to the Glory of God. Though there is “no condemnation to those who are in Messiah” (Romans 8:1), there is chastening and discipline from the Lord for every child of His that we might grow in righteousness (Hebrews 12:6-8).
As believers we are to present ourselves for God’s use only. We experience His spiritual blessings when we yield ourselves to the Lord, and in living for Him fulfill His purpose for us.
To the Final Harvest
Throughout the summer season, first fruits would be given from various harvests, culminating in the final harvest festival, Sukkot. So also in the Scriptures, pointing to a time of great tribulation, there will be a firstfruits of 144,000 Jewish believers called at that time, proving the permanence of Israel as the original Firstfruits:
“These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4). Even in the midst of the darkest period of history, God will have His holy firstfruits as lights in the world to testify to all who will believe.
Even now, as the Lord says in John 4:35, “the fields…are white unto harvest.” From Shavuot onward our work is to do what we can only do here, this side of Heaven: share Messiah. Life in Him is to be used for more firstfruits harvests!
The Holy Spirit’s work in us leads to His work through us. The Lord provides us with the full resource of the Spirit so we may live fully in Him and for Him. He doesn’t put us to work without the resource to accomplish the task. He will continue to give us the resources to be used for His purposes and His glory.