The Feasts of Unleavended Bread and Firstfruits
Brian Clatworthy, Newton Abbot, Devon, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
2. The Feast of Unleavened Bread - Sanctification.
Suggested readings, Deut. 16.1-8; Num. 28.17-25; Exod. 12. 4-20; 13. 3-10; i Cor. 5. 6-8.
The second of the feasts of Jehovah is very intimately connected with the first and has sometimes been used to describe both feasts although the clear distinction is made throughout the Old Testament. This feast commenced on the fifteenth day of the month Abib and lasted for seven days, whereas the passover was celebrated on the fourteenth day. In Matthew 26. 17 and Mark 14. 12, the passover is called the first day of unleavened bread, because of its intimate connection with it, and on the evening of the passover the feast of unleavened bread did actually begin. We are left in no doubt as to what the spiritual significance of this feast represents to the people of God. If the passover speaks of the death of Christ and accomplished redemption, then the feast of unleavened bread underlines the need for practical holiness in the life of the individual believer and also has its bearing On God's people as a whole. We notice from the historical account of this feast given in Exodus 12 that the leaven was to be put away on the first day of the feast, and for those who disobeyed the word of the Lord to be cut off was the inevitable penalty. The feast was again introduced to the people in Exodus 13, where God also stipulated that this feast as well as the passover was to be committed to each successive generation of the nation of Israel. Notice, too, that this feast was to be a token to the nation according to Exodus 13. 9. The Hebrew word for sign or token is oth and this is translated in Genesis 4. 15 by the word "mark". Thus the mark of this feast was to characterize the lives of the people of God. In Exodus 13. 9:
"Upon thine hand" - Consecrated to God; Holy hands; having the hands full. Holy Priests, 1 Pet. 2. 5.
"Memorial between thine eyes" - A record before them to be a separated people, Isa. 52. 11; 2 Cor. 6. 17.
"Lord's law may be in thy mouth" - A verbal expression of obedience to the Word, 1 Pet. 1. 15-16.
The basis of Israel's deliverance from Egypt was the passover, but the effect of their deliverence is seen in the feast of unleavened bread. The apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 1. 4 that the Lord Jesus gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us out of this present evil age. Egypt is typical of this present evil age. It is the age which is essentially evil, and to save us God would deliver us out of this age. Now that we have been plucked out of the age in which evil abounds, and morally linked with the age in which God will be glorified, Gal. 1. 5, God will have His people to be separated from this world, and separated unto Himself. The character of the children of God was to be one of separation and holiness. They were to be a holy nation.
The feast of unleavened bread speaks of the separated and sanctified life of the child of God. The feast lasted for seven complete days and thus the people were to eat unleavened bread for that period. The child of God is to maintain a course of holiness in his whole Christian life from the moment of his salvation to the time when he leaves the body. Once the import of the death of Christ is realized in the soul (the passover), then the correct foundation is laid for the development of a practical sanctified life in the believer. Notice at the institution of this particular feast in Exodus 12. 8 that the children of Israel were commanded to feed upon the roast lamb in addition to eating unleavened bread. Fellowship with God is always based upon redemption which leads to feeding on Christ, and will result in holiness of character and separation from evil. Here., then, in Leviticus 23 we see God's will for His children's moral welfare being clearly emphasized, and when we read the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4. 3-4, we realize as bomagain believers, that God's ways do not change for His people whether earthly or heavenly.
Again when we read Leviticus 23 we see that no servile work was to be done on the first day of the feast nor on the seventh day of the feast, but the children of Israel were to bring an offering made by tire unto the Lord. Practical holiness in the life of the believer should never be servile work. It was not a question of what man could do, but it was the odour of the sacrifice of much greater labour that ascended to the throne of God. The presentation of the life of Christ to the throne of God will exempt the believer from any legalistic traits. Notice that the unleavened bread is referred to as the bread of affliction* Deut. 16. 3. The thought here conveyed by the bread of affliction, writes C. A. Coates, is the severity of the exercise which is called for to maintain an unleavened character in the land. No servile work but a constant awareness and exercise on the part of the believer in living a sanctified life is essential. Flesh, no matter how refined, will never rise higher than flesh, and we are always to be self-controlled.
It is important for us to notice that, in the account of this feast contained in Deuteronomy 16, we look at the collective truth of sanctification. The whole nation of Israel are to be participants in the set feast. Such is the teaching of the New Testament. The assembly of God's people must ever be characterized by holiness. Unleavened must be the condition of the local church. In 1 Corinthians 5 the assembly is viewed as a homogeneous lump; thus if there is unjudged sin in the house of God it will always mar the fellowship. It is not a question that a little leaven might leaven the whole lump, but the fact that it does leaven the lump. Therefore sin in the assembly must be judged according to the righteous ways of God, that holiness might again be established in His assembly. The Spirit of God uses two words to translate the word leaven here. In verse 3 the Hebrew word used is chamets, signifying a leaving or remainder, because it was in fact a lump of dough left from a former time, anything leavened or fermented, whereas in verse 4 a second Hebrew word, seor, is used simply meaning leaven. The apostle Paul also, in 1 Corinthians 5, clearly teaches that the life of the believer should be one characterized as a festival or holy day (that is, keep the feast, or rather, keep festival. The tense of the verb "to keep festival" is the present continuous, signifying that which should be going on all the time). It should be wholly separated from the old leaven, that is, the lump left from a former time. It is always the work of Satan to seek to introduce the old leaven into the new life. Paul also exhorts that, not only should the old leaven be excluded from the festival of holy living, but also any bad qualities.
Before we leave this feast it should be noted that the next feast (firstfruits) occurred during the period of the feast of unleavened bread. The significance of this is clear. The primary truth connected with firstfruits is resurrection power and life; thus holy living can only be achieved and enjoyed in the power of resurrection life, Rom. 6. 4; Col. 3. 1.
Finally to enjoy the truth of positional sanctification is every believer's heritage, but God also requires His people daily to be actively engaged in a life of practical sanctification, 1 Pet. 1. 15-16.
3. The Feast of Firstfruits - Resurrection (also termed "firstfruits of thy labour, first of the firstfruits"), Lev. 23. 9-14. Suggested readings: Exod. 23: 16; 34. 26; Deut 16. 9; 1 Cor. 15.
The feast of firstfruits (or the first of the firstfruits) could not be kept in the wilderness, but only after Israel's entry into the promised land. The nation was to learn obedience through the things that they suffered in the wilderness, though God's purpose for them was ever the land of fulness and plenty. But not only were they to learn the sufficiency of their God in wilderness experience, but they were to acknowledge His munificence continually when the land was possessed. Before the standing corn could be harvested, the offering of firstfruits must be brought to the priest to be waved before the Lord for acceptance.
The first month of the religious year corresponds to the seventh month of the civil year (see paper 1) and in this month, known as Abib, the barley harvest ripened. The month Abib (English calendar, March-April) is the time of the latter or spring rains in Israel. It is the time when the barley is harvested and the green ears of corn are collected. The word "Abib" means "sprouting or green ears*', but instead of being left to ripen in the cool breeze under a genial sun, they are withered up by a scorching fire. The feast of firstfruits was very simple yet it taught a great truth. The nation was not acceptable to God in the land until the first-fruits had been waved, and our only acceptance before God as believers is that the Risen Christ has been accepted by God. The apostle Paul speaks in Romans 4. 25 of Christ being raised for our justification. In the law court of heaven we have been justified because our firstfruits, Christ Himself, has already been accepted. Thus the antitype of this feast is the Risen Christ, the Firstfruits from among the dead, and because Christ has been raised from the dead and His work presented and accepted by God, it is the pledge of the future harvest, 1 Cor. 15. 20. Notice how the Holy Spirit has so delineated this feast that it is easy to see the shadow of resurrection. When Israel entered the promised land the corn of wheat had already died, for in the book of Joshua we read that they ate parched corn, 5. 11. The seed had been cast into the ground; it had died, but now it springs up and brings forth fruit. The sheaf (or homer) of the firstfruits which was representative of the whole harvest was to be waved on the morrow after the Sabbath. Since the passover (14th day of Abib) was the day directly preceding the Sabbath day (15th day of Abib) then the 16th day would immediately follow the Sabbath. Now the word Sabbath in Matthew 28. 1 is plural indicating that the old sign of relationship had been displaced by a new one - a resurrection day. Clearly the third day teaches the resurrection of Christ and new beginnings. The resurrection of Christ is a cardinal truth of Christianity which is propounded by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. The resurrection of Christ is important because of the following issues and implications:
i. The resurrection of Christ gives irrefutable proof of His deity and Sonship, Rom. 1. 4; John 2. 18-22.
ii. The resurrection of Christ proves His Lordship, Rom. 14. 9.
iii. The resurrection of Christ is the subject of Old Testament prophecy, Psa. 16. 10; Acts 13. 34-37.
iv. The resurrection of Christ was for our justification, Rom. 4.25.
v. The resurrection of Christ is the pledge and surety of the resurrection of believers who have died, 1 Thess. 4. 13-16; 1 Cor. 15. 23; Rom. 8. 11.
vi. The resurrection of Christ teaches a selective resurrection from among the dead, which was an entirely new concept to the Jews, Gal. 1. 1; Phil. 3. 11 (the out resurrection).
vii. The resurrection of Christ assures the judgment of the world in righteousness, Acts 17. 30-32.
As previously remarked (see notes on the feast of unleavened bread), the feast of firstfruits was celebrated mid-way through the feast of unleavened bread. Thus the power to live a sanctified life before God is resurrection power. The same power that raised the Lord Jesus from the dead is the power that we can know in our experience down here. Paul wanted to know this power in his life and tells the Philippian believers of his desire, 3.10. When writing to the Colossians Paul shows that a life revealing heavenly characteristics is the life which is lived in the knowledge of the resurrection, 3. 1-4. May we then live our lives as those who have put off the old man, and have put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness, Eph. 4. 22-24.
On the same day that the sheaf of firstfruits was waved before the Lord, a burnt offering, meat offering and drink offering were offered. These offerings were for a sweet savour and all speak in type of the value of the Person of Christ and His work at Calvary, Eph. 5. 2. No sin offering is required for this feast, for the work of Christ has already been accepted by God, and we approach the throne of grace in the sweet savour of that finished work, Eph. 1. 6; Heb. 10. 12.
In conclusion, notice that the children of Israel are forbidden to eat any part of the harvest no matter in which way it is procured, Lev. 23. 14, until the firstfruits had been offered. The life of the believer should be governed by a constant desire to present our Lord Jesus Christ to God before we appropriate Him in our lives.
AUTHOR PROFILE: He is an elder and active member of a pioneer assembly work in Newton Abbott. For many years he has been welcomed as a ministering brother in the south of England and has written a number of articles for the magazine. He is married and has two children.