(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)
to Moshe, "Tell the people of Isra’el: ‘The designated times of ADONAI
which you are to proclaim as holy convocations are my designated times."
"ADONAI said to Moshe, "Tell the people of Isra'el, 'After you enter the land I am giving you and harvest its ripe crops, you are to bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the cohen. He is to wave the sheaf before ADONAI, so that you will be accepted; the cohen is to wave it on the day after the Shabbat. On the day that you wave the sheaf, you are to offer a male lamb without defect, in its first year, as a burnt offering for ADONAI." (Leviticus 23:9-12)
The Feasts of the LORD are very important times on the calendar. Accordingly, this third event of the Pesach Season would carry with it truths pertinent to the spiritual well being of the young Nation of Isra’el. But this was not just any calendar--this was the calendar of the Creator of all men! They are rightly called "Holy Convocations", for intrinsically there is nothing special about one day against any other day. Yet when the LORD of Holiness sanctifies a day--sets it apart as holy--the day becomes holy without question. By divine decree it is holy. Since God recognizes it as such, it is only a matter of obedience that we do likewise.
The event know as "Bikkurim" (say "Bee-koo-reem"), stems from the Hebrew word "bakkar" which describes the action which first breaks the matrix of the female womb. In other words, this root word always refers to the "firstling". This event is also known by the title "Lag b’Omer", that is "Counting the Omer", based on its furthering instructions given in verse 15. The Hebrew word for "sheaf" is "omer". This counting leads to the well-known event called "Shavu’ot", or Pentecost, as it is more widely recognized. A biblical principal worth remembering, which carries significant truth down to this very day is that the "first" always belongs to HaShem. It is this theme that I want to explore throughout this commentary.
There are seven festivals mentioned on the biblical calendar of Leviticus 23. Each festival carries a similar aspect which ties it into the complete cycle of yearly gatherings. In every single feast except one, we can observe that the instructions to "have a holy convocation" are given. The one that is singled out as not being identified as a convocation (gathering) is HaBikkurim. What could the Holy One possibly be conveying to us here? The following explanation will serve as a personal drash (homiletic application) on the calendar and this day that follows the Shabbat. It is not to be understood as the objective interpretation of the text rather, it is identifiably subjective. I base my understanding, however, on the objective findings of the text itself.
Isra'el was destined to be great among the surrounding nations. Their’s was a call to holiness, vividly demonstrated by their unique, God-given calendar. Surely, the many cultures and peoples that they interacted with had calendars of their own, identifying their various holy days and such. Yet Isra'el was to showcase the heavenly reality, through earthly means, that there was only One, True God under heaven worthy to be identified and worshipped as Creator. Isra'el was to teach the surrounding nations--by their own lifestyle--that "God is One" (Deut. 6:4).
During this period of the TaNaKH God usually worked his truth out by means of object lessons. His children would "do" things which the surrounding nations were not "doing"; similarly, his children would also "abstain" from the things which the surrounding nations were "performing". In this way, the surrounding nations would catch a glimpse of the difference between what God identified as "clean and unclean", "holy and profane", "life and death". This was Isra'el’s "special call", and as such, identified her unique "chosen-ness" (read Deut 4:1-20, specifically for this commentary, vv. 19-20).
Sun worship has been rife in the earth sins the days of the Tower of Bavel. The ancient myths tell of a supernatural being--a messiah, born of a woman, and born of the very rays of the sun itself! This supernal being was killed by his enemies during the Winter Solstice, only to be resurrected on the first day of the Spring Equinox. This interpretation arose out of the belief that the sun was in fact a god, which slept in death during the cold winter months, and arose to new life at the start of spring. Because its worshippers needed the sun’s vital, life-giving energy, they revered it as such in various pagan rituals and ceremonies. Sun worship was therefore, in many pagan cultures, mandated for survival itself.
One of the chief ceremonies involved "greeting" the sun as it made its way victoriously back from the underworld of the dead. Its followers would meet their deity as he made his reappearance from the wintry death that held him captive for a season. The day chosen to represent this glorious awakening would become known as the first day of the Spring Equinox. And to ensure that the themes and symbols would forever be established among their adherents, an unforgettable name was granted to this very special day. Thus, "Sun-day" was born.
Now at this point in my commentary, it should be rather obvious by now that the event that I am describing bears a remarkable resemblance to our modern-day Easter celebration. This should be no surprise, as the origins of Easter can indeed be traced back to this very legend! Christianity in its infancy swelled to overflowing with former pagans, in an effort to establish itself as a viable religion in the 3rd and 4th centuries. It was (mis)understood that Judaism had failed, in that its lack of recognition of the Messiah placed it in a place less-favored--nay rejected--by the Holy One himself! Christianity would take its rightful place among believers as the True expression of Christ-worship.
Now, looking back in 20/20 hindsight, we can understand that this paradigmatic shift was not entirely complete, nor would it be permanent. It was, in fact, a shifting of responsibility of sharing the Good News with the surrounding nations, which placed Isra'el in this "less-favored" position. The students should familiarize themselves with Romans chapter eleven. But like Isra'el of old, the young Christian Church would make many significant mistakes, and mixing paganism with truth would become one of her errors which would permeate the very fabric of the Formalized Church like "tzara’at" (leprosy) down to this very day!
The damage was done.
The pagans brought their worship of the Sun into Christianity, and its traces can be observed even today. Easter is rightly recognized as the "holiest" gathering within Christianity. Billions of followers flock to sunrise services all over the world to pay homage to the True Son who was resurrected on this day--and rightfully so! Were it not for the awesome resurrection of our LORD Yeshua from the power of death, we believers--Jew and Gentile, would have no hope in this world!
Moreover, he did defeat death on that day, and we do have reason to celebrate! But do we have a biblical injunction to gather on this particular day? It is my premise that we do not. Our theology seems to be correct, yet our methodology lacks authenticity. Consider this example from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 8.
"In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign LORD came upon me there. I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain. Then he said to me, "Son of man, look toward the north." So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy. And he said to me, "Son of man, do you see what they are doing?the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable." Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. He said to me, "Son of man, now dig into the wall." So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there. And he said to me, "Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here." So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and detestable animals and all the idols of the house of Israel. In front of them stood seventy elders of the house of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising. He said to me, "Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, `The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.'" Again, he said, "You will see them doing things that are even more detestable." Then he brought me to the entrance to the north gate of the house of the LORD, and I saw women sitting there, mourning for Tammuz. He said to me, "Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this." He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east. He said to me, "Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the house of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually provoke me to anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose! Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them."
What was the problem here? Apparently Sun worship was even being practiced by ‘Am Isra'el! Oy vey! Exactly how low had God’s chosen people fallen? The traceable pattern to disobedience and error looks like this: first man misunderstands God’s purposes, then man misunderstands God’s methods. A lack of understanding of sanctification and true worship resulted in blatant disobedience of the Torah and eventually gross idolatrous practices (read vv. 17-18 again). This rabbi believes that the Organized Body of Messiah of the 21st Century is not far behind the ‘Am Isra'el of this passage….!
The pattern has remained undeniable clear: the times in which we are to gather for our mikra’ey kodesh ("holy convocations") has been given to us in the sacred pages of God’s unchanging Word. Where do we gain a misunderstanding that we have the right to add or subtract from this list--and make it doctrine? But Rabbi Ariel, didn’t even the Jewish people change God’s very calendar, to make the head of the year Tishrei (at Rosh HaShannah) instead of what HaShem clearly identified as Nisan (read Exodus 12:2)? And did not they also "add" Chanukkah to the calendar? Your observations would be correct and in my personal opinion, HaShem is NOT pleased with these alterations. To remember significant events in the history of a people is one thing; to mandate a "holy convocation" as if Scripture itself gives license is something different altogether! My people had no Scriptural authority to perform such traditional and historical changes.
Yet the damage was done.
Today, tradition still blinds us to the unchanging Truth of God’s Word--a Truth that should not be compromised! The world is watching us believers. They are observing whether or not we will make a difference between the clean and unclean, the holy and the profane, life and death! HaShem did not tell ‘Am Isra'el to "gather" on Yom HaBikkurim--the day after the Shabbat--which is Sunday itself! in order to separate his truth from the error of paganism (remember sun worship has existed since the days of Bavel). I believe that the people of the TaNaKH set the biblical example NOT to gather on that special Sunday during the Passover Week for a true heavenly reason. Why have we failed to grasp this truth?
Surely Yeshua was raised from death to life on that morning following the Sabbath! Surely he is the "firstfruits from the dead"! He is the first person to be raised unto a resurrection of incorruptible flesh! Although our flesh still houses sin, his flesh was sinless before his death on the execution stake; his resurrection demonstrates for us genuine believers what a resurrected body will be made like--raised to life everlasting! Why then do we continue to confuse this wonderful truth with our man-made traditions? Isn't it time we start demonstrating his holiness by the very days that we gather together on?
The "first" always belongs to HaShem. Why are we sharing it with paganism?
Consider these words.
"Chag Sah-meach Bikkurim!"
(Happy Festival of Firstfuits!)
For further study, read: Ex. 23:16, 19; 34:26; Lev. 2:12, 14; 23:20; Num. 18:12-15, 26; Deut. 18:1-5; 26:2-4, 10; 2 Chron. 31:5; Neh. 10:35-39; Prov. 3:9; Jer. 2:3; Ezek. 44:30; 48:14; Mal. 3:8-14; Matt. 13:37-39; Mark 4:26-29; Heb. 6:20; 7:1-8; 12:1; Jude 14; Rev. 1:7