What are some of your Thanksgiving traditions? I suspect many Americans dutifully are thankful and many in fact, thank God and celebrate God’s goodness to them. Some, out of a sense of wanting to give back, might even go to a rescue mission and help out. But then we plunge right into Christmas and the whole spirit of gratitude quickly subsides because we have parties to go to, things to do and people to shop for. There is something here in this next feast that should speak to us regarding having the right perspective in our lives. This is the Feast of Weeks or as it was also called, the Feast of Pentecost, and thankfulness and obedience are the themes here. It is important to be thankful, but it is even more important to express our thankfulness in obedience and in sharing with others. Let’s read Leviticus 23:15-22.
I. The timing of this feast is seen in verses 15-16.
Let’s see where we are in the calendar of Jewish feasts. Remember last week was the Feast of Firstfruits where the first of the grain was harvested. The very first sheaf of grain was brought to the priest and given to the priest. It was a sign of the harvest to come. Now we are 50 days later in the calendar and this is the end of the harvest of the grains. The feast is called the Feast of Weeks because it is determined by counting off the weeks from the harvest of the Firstfruits. In that part of the world, the barley is harvested first and then the wheat later on. Now in May or June, all the grain has been gathered in.
It was in essence similar to our Thanksgiving Day which celebrates the end of the harvest. But now imagine that instead of having Christmas a month after Thanksgiving, we had another Thanksgiving Day to thank God for the abundance that the harvest brings. The whole time would be focused on giving thanks to God. That is what happening here only the time frame is 50 days instead of 30 days. This feast was a great celebration of how God had provided an abundant harvest for the people once again.
But there is another aspect in Jewish history that is often overlooked when it comes to this feast. Exodus 19:1 states that the giving of the Law at Sinai began in the third month after Passover and so later Jewish tradition related this feast to the giving of the Law at Sinai. Thus later on during the Feast of Weeks at the time of Jesus, the synagogue prayers would refer to this feast as “the time of the giving of our law.” The Passover and Pentecost were linked then as salvation and gratitude in the people’s lives. They recognized that while God saved them from Egypt, without obedience to the law it meant nothing.
Later Judaism would transform this principle of expressing gratitude for the Law into the bondage of obedience to the law as a way of being good so that God would accept them. Nonetheless, there is a strong emphasis in Jewish tradition to this day of associating this Feast of Weeks with both the harvest and the blessing of God’s law given to us. God’s Word is indeed a rich blessing to us, but we must focus on the message more than the book. Before the invention of the printing press, each copy of the Bible was painstakingly written out by hand and as a result was very valuable and much appreciated.
- Handwriting a Bible makes no sense in the 21st century. Far easier to pick a computer-generated font, scan the text and electronically transmit it to a printer, which will turn out thousands of copies in a few days. But the Benedictine monks at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, want to create a work of art, a theological and artistic masterpiece. That's why they've commissioned the first illuminated Bible since the printing press was invented, more than 550 years ago. Working with Welsh artist Donald Jackson, known as the queen's calligrapher because he's scribe to the Crown Office at the House of Lords, St. John's hopes to make the word of God live on the page for generations to come.
Now while such a project shows appreciation for the book, what we need above all is an appreciation of the Word of God. The feast helped the people realize that without the God’s Word, they would be lost. Do we recognize that and thank God for that as well?
II. Let’s look at specific details of this Feast.
This is once again a feast in which the people are to gather together to celebrate. For this feast they are to bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord. This is the same amount of flour as with the Feast of Firstfruits but now it is to be mixed with yeast. They are to bring baked loaves of bread and not the unleavened bread. Along with this they are to present seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. These were to be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. When this offering is compared with that in the Feast of Firstfruits in verse 12, it becomes apparent that this was a huge sacrifice. The wave offering means that it is not burned up but set aside for use by the priests who had no land to farm.
Now notice again the mention of the Sabbath provision. Verse 21 says, “On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work.” Again this was literally no work of labor or service. Ordinary work like farming or trading stopped and a sacred assembly was held. The purpose of the Sabbath rest here was to reinforce the fact that God is taking care of them. God had provided for them and so they could take a break from their work. The Sabbath highlighted for them that same fact: God will provide and they could rest in God’s provision. We too can rest in God and not weigh ourselves down trying to provide for ourselves.
In January 1999, the North Atlantic commercial fishing industry saw a deadly string of accidents. In a 13-day span, the Cape Fear, the Adriatic, and the Beth Dee Bob were all lost at sea off the coast of New Jersey. In all, 10 men died, five never to be found. Investigations revealed the following facts about the three separate tragedies: None involved a hull breach. All three ships were piloted by veteran captains with 10 years or more in the wheelhouse. All three ships were near the end of their journey, less than 15 miles from home. So what happened? Two of the three ships were carrying too much weight, and one was carrying its weight improperly. The Cape Fear and the Adriatic each had 10-15 tons of excess weight and the heavy seas overwhelmed them.
When we go all out without resting, we become like these ships and we carry too much on our shoulders because we think we have to do more and more. Sabbath means that we can rest securely as we trust fully that God will provide for us no matter what we may have to endure; God has us securely.
III. But there is also a social aspect that should be seen in this feast.
Verse 22 restates a law that had been given already in Leviticus 19:9-10 and that has to do with the regulation on gleaning. Remember the purpose of this feast and the prior one was to remind the people that even though they are doing the work, God is the one providing for them. They are to be working but they must remember from the first of the harvest to the end that God is the one providing for them. They are feasts of thanksgiving and trust. But part of this feast as well is a reminder for them to share with those who were poor. They were to be generous but this is more than just being generous. Helping the poor was something that was woven into the way they conducted their life and business.
That is what is seen in the law regarding gleaning. They are not to harvest all the way to the corners of their fields but leave the edges for the poor to harvest. In the pagan world, it was done to placate the gods and give the gods an offering so that they would bless the fields for the next year. Now that practice is given a new purpose and that is to take care of the poor and those who were aliens or refugees in their land. In Leviticus 19, there is a reference to the grape and olive harvest as well, but that is not mentioned here because the festival is for the wheat harvest.
So what should we do with this aspect of the feast? We need to give to the poor and helpless on a regular basis. And I believe this is beyond our regular tithes that we give. This is the gift that says that God has blessed us with an abundant harvest and we don’t need every last little bit of it. We can share with those who are the poor and those who need help. So we give to the benevolent fund and other needs that help the poor such as the families at Tusculum School. But there is also a reminder that in our time of thankfulness and celebration we should look up around us and see those who aren’t as richly blessed as we are.
Jerry Hoffman, director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, writes about attending a small- town parade with two of his grandchildren several years ago.
- “Two of my grandchildren, Anders, 8, and Katie, 6, were delighted with the prospect, as they knew that parades meant lots of candy. A couple next to us had two daughters who were 10 and 11. I heard the family devising strategies to capitalize on the candy toss. The object is to get as much candy for yourself as you can. The father told his girls, ‘You have to be aggressive. You can’t just stand and wait.’”
“Our culture is marked by a spirit of aggressive acquisition. Christ, however, promotes something much different: a spirit of sharing. The practices of good stewardship are countercultural, yet they have the capacity to be highly contagious. Greedy adults need to learn from generous children.”
God has provided far more for us than what we could imagine and we are to share that.
But there is yet another application of this feast: the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. God has provided not only material blessings; he has given us himself through the Spirit. The Holy Spirit was active and moving in the Old Testament era, but now the harvest is here and he is poured out into the hearts and lives of all who believe. And it’s time to harvest the kingdom! What greater provision could we imagine that to be filled with the very Spirit of the living God!? We have the abundance of God within us fully and we need to share the gospel of the kingdom of God with others as well!
So what is our response? We are thankful for God’s material blessings and as a result we are also obedient. But notice that this isn’t a law to make us obey but a feast to prompt us to want to obey and to thank God for the gift of his Word which guides us to life in Christ. God has abundantly provided for us and now, filled with the Spirit, we are in turn to share with others from the bounty we have received.