Shavuot (Leviticus 23:9-22)

“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap to the furthest corners of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Rather you are to leave them for the poor and for the outsider. I am the Lord.” (Lev. 23:22).

This portion of Scripture is part of the instruction for the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot/Pentecost), the festival that happens fifty (50) days after the Sabbath following Passover. There is a thematic shift that occurs as these two festivals unfold. At Passover, we are to eat unleavened bread and bring the firstfruits of the barley harvest; while at Shavuot (Pentecost), we are to bring two leavened loaves of bread before the Lord and the firstfruits of the wheat harvest. At Passover we remember our deliverance by the Blood of the Lamb (Yeshua/Jesus); while at Shavuot we remember the gifts of the Torah and the Holy Spirit.

Leviticus chapter 23 addresses many of the intricate details of the feasts of the Lord; yet there is, what at first glance, what might appear to be an afterthought concerning Shavuot. As we read above, the Lord directs the children of Israel concerning the way in which they will harvest their fields, “you are not to reap to the furthest corners of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.” They were to leave portions of their field, their produce, unharvested; and that which they attempted to harvest, but overlooked, would be left untouched as well. The rabbis understand that the Lord, by this ruling, rendered both the corners and the gleanings of the field ownerless. In their ownerless condition, the children of Israel were directed “to leave them for the poor and for the outsider. I am the Lord.”  The poor, stranger, widow and orphan could then, legally, harvest the corners and gleanings, as it was the Lord’s supply for them. We read of this history in the Book of Ruth, which is traditionally studied on Shavuot.

Shavuot is essentially a harvest festival. Still, at its heart there is something much deeper that the Lord is revealing to his covenant people. When the Lord accepted the firstfruits offering of the harvest, it ensured that the full harvest would be accepted as well (Ex. 23:19; Deut. 26). The Lord in both Covenantal records spiritualizes the firstfruits concept (Jer. 2:3; Ro. 11:16; 1 Cor. 15:2-28; Jas. 1:18); and as followers of Messiah Yeshua we are referred to as those “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (Ro. 8:23).

Deuteronomy 26, again addressing the subject of firstfruits, gives a detailed proclamation that those bearing firstfruits were to recite before the Lord, which ended with, “nor have I forgotten” (Deut. 26:13). Forgotten what? To “blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens” (Deut. 25:19). Amalek is a spirit (still active in this world) that seeks to embitter and destroy the hope of the poor, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. This is a call, by the offering of the firstfruits to the Lord, to a life of generosity, care, and self-sacrifice – the fullness being found in the messianic faith (2 Cor. 9:6-9). Evidence of the spirit of Amalek at work is visible in many third-world countries, and in the impoverished communities and neighborhoods in the Western World.

The Lord calls those who are living firstfruits by the Holy Spirit to a life of generosity, of giving cheerfully, or willingly. Those who are in Messiah are called to be as a “living sacrifice” (Ro. 12:2). We are now alive in Messiah by the Spirit, being conformed to Messiah by the Spirit, carrying the Cross of Messiah by the Spirit, and using the gifts bestowed (Altar gifts) by the Spirit for vertical worship to the Lord by horizontal service to the human other  (Ro. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12—14).

Shavuot (Pentecost) is a yearly reminder of who we are in him. It is a feast that commands the children of Israel to bring their firstfruits to the Lord. Are we bringing our firstfruits to the Lord? Or are we giving our last fruit – the remainder? What exactly are we using our gifts for? There is a Torah principal called the Law of First Things – the first things always belong to the Lord. Shavuot reminds us that we are to bring our firstfruits to the Lord – this isn’t a gift of money or produce in Messiah – we give to him what we are – firstfruits. On this holy feast we give him ourselves, as we are his firstfruits in the Spirit (Ro. 8:23).

We give ourselves to the Lord, and surrender our life and strength for the benefit of the human other as an act of worship unto the Lord, so that one day we can say in Messiah before the Throne of Grace, “nor have I forgotten.”

Be well, Shalom

Dr. J.D. Elwell