And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.”[Leviticus 23:9-11]
Following the blood sacrifice of the Passover and during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the LORD commemorated another holy convocation for the children of Israel to observe each year — Firstfruits. As with all of the Feasts of the LORD, Firstfruits is brimming with symbolic significance concerning the coming of Messiah, more specifically with His resurrection from the dead.
The Feasts of the LORD directly are connected to the Promised Land of Israel and subsequently to the produce of the land. Everything revolves around the seasons of planting and harvest in an agricultural society, and the LORD knew that the symbolic word pictures in the feasts could best be communicated to His people through the natural rhythms of agrarian life.
What are ‘Firstfruits?’
The concept of firstfruits is a thread that runs consistently throughout Scripture. Abel understood the importance of bringing his firstborn and choicest portions from his flocks as an offering to the LORD (Genesis 4:4). The LORD required the Israelites to consecrate every firstborn son uniquely to His service (Exodus 13:1-2) and also set apart the sons of Levi for lifetime service to the priesthood.
The Israelites were expected to bring the firstfuits of their harvest as a tithe (tenth) to the LORD, which would be used to feed the poor, sojourners, orphans, and widows in the land (Deuteronomy 26). The LORD later rebuked the Jews in Malachi’s day for “robbing God” by holding back the best of their flocks and grain offerings (Malachi 1, 3).
The principle of firstfruits is simple. God expects His people to give their very best to Him FIRST as an act of obedience and worship, while trusting in His promise to provide and bless. Of course this principle can be applied today in any number of ways. We are called to give the LORD the firstfruits of our time, talents, and treasures. Anything less than our very best is unacceptable because the LORD God is worthy to receive our very best.
Waving the Sheaf of Firstfruits
The Feast of Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits occurs in the spring of the year just when the barley harvest is beginning to ripen. God instructed the Israelites that before reaping the barley harvest they were to take a sheaf of the first grain to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord as an offering.
As the priest waved the sheaf of firstfruits to the left and the right, it was representative of the crop throughout the entire land. They did this to acknowledge and thank the Lord in expectation for the coming harvest and to ask His blessing upon it. It was a joyous occasion and an expression of faith in God who provided the firstfruits, believing He also would provide the future harvest.
As we will see later, the Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) and the fall feasts are also connected to firstfruits and the coming harvest.
Waiting Patiently for the Coming Harvest
The Apostle Paul reminds us that laboring in the kingdom is much like laboring in the fields. He says that some are called to plant seeds, while others may come along and water, but only God causes the growth.
“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”[1 Corinthians 3:7-9]
The Lord Jesus also spoke of the “summer season” of waiting until the coming harvest.
“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.”[Matthew 13:37-40]
One of the lessons we learn from the Feast of Firstfruits is the valuable lesson of learning how to wait patiently in hopeful expectation of good things to come. The summer is long and often hard, but the harvest will come. As God’s people, we must regularly be reminded of this essential truth.
“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”[Romans 8:23-25]