Firstfruits and Unleavened Bread
In addition to the command to eat unleavened bread at Passover and during the 7-days of Unleavened bread, bread for the sanctuary had to be made every week of the year and the priests could eat the week-old bread:
“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the LORD. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the LORD. Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the LORD regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the LORD's food offerings, a perpetual due.” (Leviticus 24:5-9) [ESV accept as noted]
A prohibition not to eat grain conflicts with the requirements to eat unleavened bread on the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and to eat the Bread of Presence in the sanctuary.
Firstfruits (barley) and Shavuot (wheat) celebrated harvests of two different crops. Even though the command to avoid grain is explicit only in the instructions for the barley harvest of Firstfruits, logic applied the same standard to the wheat harvest of Shavuot:
According to the Bible, it was forbidden to eat the new barley crop until the barley Firstfruits (omer) were offered on the Feast of Firstfruits. The same principle applied to the wheat crop. Therefore, the numerous meal offerings and showbread for the sanctuary were not made from the new wheat crop until after the wheat Firstfruits were presented on Shavuot.
As practiced, the conflicts were resolved by taking the instructions as speaking about the new harvest. That is, none of the new years grains would be eaten until after the ceremonies of Firstfruits (for barley) and Shavuot (for wheat).
Also, the word קָלִי which is commonly translated as "parched" means something roasted, parched, i.e. grains of wheat, or barley roasted in the ears. It describes a method of cooking, not a type of grain. There are parallel instructions for the lamb and bread at the time of Passover. The lamb was to be roasted not boiled or eaten raw (Exodus 12:9); the grain was to be ground, mixed with water and baked as bread, not roasted and eaten as (raw) kernels of grain.
Day of Observation
The command to observe Firstfruits does not specify a day by number:
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)
Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal state this led to different interpretations:
The Sadducees, and later Karaite Jews, understood it to refer to the first weekly sabbath (Saturday) which occurred during the week of Passover season. However, the word sabbath also designated any holy day on which work was prohibited, no matter which day of the week it occurred (Lev. 23:24, 32, 39). The majority opinion, held by the Pharisees, was that the sabbath in question was Nisan 15, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That day was to be "a holy convocation" (Lev. 23:7) on which no work was performed. This same description was given to the weekly sabbath (Lev. 23:3) and to holy-day sabbaths held on other days of the week (Lev. 23:24-25, 28, 32, 36, 39).
Ancient Jewish observances agreed with this interpretation. Josephus, the first-century historian, wrote: "But on the second day of unleavened bread, which is the sixteenth of the month, they first partake of the fruits of the earth, for before that day they do not touch them" (Antiquities of the Jews 3.10.5).
Thus the chronology of the Passover season consisted of Passover (Nissan 14), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (7days, Nissan 15-21), and the Feast of Firstfruits (Nissan 16). The second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Nissan 16) was also Firstfruits, a day shared simultaneously by both holidays.
As noted, the Pharisees observed Firstfruits on Nissan 16, which would be the second day of Unleavened Bread. If the alternate method was used, the day of the month would vary depending on which day the weekly Sabbath after the Passover fell. Since the Passover was Nissan 14, the earliest weekly Sabbath would be Nissan 15 and the latest would be Nissan 20. In this system, Firstfruits could be as early as Nissan 16, and as late as Nissan 21.
Regardless of which method was used the first day on Unleavened Bread is always Nissan 15 and will never be the same day on which Firstfruits is observed.
Like Firstfruits, the instructions on Shavuot do not specify a specific day of the month:
‘And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:15-16 NKJV)
The 50th day would follow the decision on when Firstfruits was observed. If Nissan 16, then the day of the week on which Shavuot falls will vary each year. However, if Firstfruits was observed on the day after the weekly Sabbath, Shavuot would always fall on the day after the Sabbath.
While the Pharisees interpreted the instructions to mean Firstfruits always fell on Nissan 16, there are good reasons why this was likely a mistake:
- Instructions for Shavuot are clear: the day is to follow the Sabbath and there is no other Sabbath at this time of year other than the weekly Sabbath (and the day of Shavuot). Thus Firstfruits must follow the weekly Sabbath in order for Shavuot to be observed 50-days later.
- Every other Feast day or period which is to be observed based on the monthly calendar is specifically stated: Passover is on Nissan 14, Trumpets on Tishri 1, Atonement on Tishri 10, Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, and Unleavened Bread on Nissan 15.
3 If the LORD had intended Firstfruits always be observed on Nissan 16, He would have said so. The apparent uncertainty on which day of the month Firstfruits is to be observed is a natural consequence of following a weekly Sabbath.
The first and seventh month calendars are symmetric:
1 First day of year 1 Blow Trumpet
10 Select Passover Lamb 10 Day of Atonement
14 Passover 14 Build Booth
15 Unleavened Bread begins 15 Booths begins
21 Unleavened Bread ends 21 Booths ends
[Note: the 15th and 21st days of both months were days of no work
therefore, a booth must be built before the 15th.]
If Firstfruits followed the weekly Sabbath, then so would Shavuot. In this case the Firstfruits/Shavuot observations would be symmetric as are the first and seventh month days:
Weekly Sabbath Weekly Sabbath
Every day has a corresponding partner, either in the seventh month or following the seventh weekly Sabbath after observing the Passover.
1. Kevin Howard and Howard Rosenthal, The Feasts of the LORD, Thomas Nelson Inc, 1997, p. 91
2. Ibid., p. 76
3. Exodus 12:18 also identifies the ending date of Unleavened Bread as Nissan 21.