Questions From Readers

Since the harvest officially began when all male Israelites were attending the Festival of Unfermented Cakes, who harvested the firstfruits of the barley that were brought to the sanctuary?

The Mosaic Law instructed the Israelites: “Three times in the year every male of yours should appear before Jehovah your God in the place that he will choose: in the festival of the unfermented cakes and in the festival of weeks and in the festival of booths.” (Deuteronomy 16:16) From the time of King Solomon onward, the place of God’s choosing was the temple in Jerusalem.

The first of the three festivals was held in early spring. Called the Festival of Unfermented Cakes, it began the day after the Passover observance took place on Nisan 14 and continued for seven days until Nisan 21. The second day of the festival, Nisan 16, marked the start of the first harvest of the year based on the sacred calendar. On that day, the high priest was to take “a sheaf of the firstfruits” of the barley harvest and wave it “to and fro before Jehovah” at the sanctuary. (Leviticus 23:5-12) Since all the males were required to be present at the Festival of Unfermented Cakes, who harvested this offering?

The command to offer the firstfruits of the harvest to Jehovah during the Festival of Unfermented Cakes was given to the entire nation. Each individual was not required to start the harvest and bring firstfruits for himself to the sanctuary. Rather, the nation was commanded to do so representatively. Hence, the cutting of the sheaf for the Festival of Unfermented Cakes could be done by a delegation sent to a nearby barley field. Commenting on this, the Encyclopaedia Judaica states: “If the barley was ripe it was taken from the vicinity of Jerusalem; otherwise it could be brought from anywhere in Israel. It was reaped by three men, each with his own scythe and basket.” A sheaf of barley would then be brought to the high priest, who offered it to Jehovah.

The requirement to offer firstfruits of the harvest gave the Israelites an excellent opportunity to express their appreciation for God’s blessing on their land and harvest. (Deuteronomy 8:6-10) More than that, though, the ceremonial offering was “a shadow of the good things to come.” (Hebrews 10:1) Significantly, Jesus Christ was resurrected on Nisan 16 of 33 C.E., the day for offering the firstfruits of the harvest to Jehovah. Concerning Jesus, the apostle Paul wrote: “Christ has been raised up from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. . . . But each one in his own rank: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who belong to the Christ during his presence.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) The sheaf of firstfruits that the high priest waved to and fro before Jehovah foreshadowed the resurrected Jesus Christ​—the first one ever to be raised from the dead to everlasting life. Jesus thus opened the way for the liberation of mankind from sin and death.

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