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Full seven weeks after the Passover day, counting from the presentation of the omer on the 16th of Nisan, or exactly on the fiftieth day (Lev 23:15,16), was the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, 'a holy convocation,' in which 'no servile work' was to be done (Lev 23:21; Num 28:26), when 'all males' were to 'appear before Jehovah' in His sanctuary (Exo 23:14-17), and the appointed sacrifices and offerings to be brought. The names, 'Feast of Weeks' (Exo 34:22; Deut 16:10,16; 2 Chron 8:13) and 'Feast of the Fiftieth Day,' or 'Day of Pentecost' (Jos. Jew. Wars, ii. e, 1; Acts 2:1; 20:16; 1 Cor 16:8), bear reference to this interval from the Passover. Its character is expressed by the terms 'feast of harvest' (Exo 23:16) and 'day of firstfruits' (Num 28:26), while Jewish tradition designates it as 'Chag ha Azereth,' or simply 'Azereth' (the 'feast of the conclusion,' or simply 'conclusion'), and the 'Season of the giving our our Law.'
The festive sacrifices for the day of Pentecost were, according to Numbers 28:26-31, 'two young bullocks, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year' for a burnt-offering, along with their appropriate meat-offerings; and 'one kid of the goats' for a sin- offering--all these, of course, irrespective of the usual morning sacrifice. But what gave to the feast its distinctive peculiarity was the presentation of the two loaves, and the sacrifices which accompanied them. Though the attendance of worshippers at the Temple may not have been so large as at the Passover, yet tens of thousands crowded to it (Jos. Antiq. xiv. 13, 4; xvii. 10, 2). From the narrative in Acts 2 we also infer that perhaps, more than at any of the other great festivals, Jews from distant countries came to Jerusalem, possibly from the greater facilities for travelling which the season afforded. On the day before Pentecost the pilgrim bands entered the Holy City, which just then lay in the full glory of early summer. Most of the harvest all over the country had already been reaped, * and a period of rest and enjoyment seemed before them.
As the stars shone out in the deep blue sky with the brilliancy peculiar to an Eastern clime, the blasts of the priests' trumpets, announcing the commencement of the feast, sounded from the Temple mount through the delicious stillness of the summer night. Already in the first watch the great altar was cleansed, and immediately after midnight the Temple gates were thrown open. For before the morning sacrifice all burnt- and peace-offerings which the people proposed to bring at the feast had to be examined by the officiating priesthood. Great as their number was, it must have been a busy time, till the announcement that the morning glow extended to Hebron put an end to all such preparations, by giving the signal for the regular morning sacrifice. After that the festive offerings prescribed in Numbers 28:26-30 were brought--first, the sin-offering, with proper imposition of hands, confession of sin, and sprinkling of blood; and similarly the burnt-offerings, with their meat-offerings. The Levites were now chanting the 'Hallel' to the accompanying music of a single flute, which began and ended the song, so as to give it a sort of soft sweetness. The round, ringing treble of selected voices from the children of Levites, who stood below their fathers, gave richness and melody to the hymn, while the people either repeated or responded, as on the evening of the Passover sacrifice.
The Two Wave-loaves
Then came the peculiar offering of the day--that of the two wave- loaves, with their accompanying sacrifices. These consisted of seven lambs of the first year, without blemish, one young bullock, and two rams for a burnt-offering, with their appropriate meat- offerings; and then 'one kid of the goats for a sin-offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace-offerings' (Lev 23:19). *
As the omer for the 16th of Nisan was of barley, being the first ripe corn in the land, so the 'two wave-loaves' were prepared from wheat grown in the best district of the country--under conditions similar to those already noticed about the Passover-sheaf. Similarly, three seahs, or about three pecks and three pints of wheat, were cut down, brought to the Temple, thrashed like other meat-offerings, ground, and passed through twelve sieves. *
* In the case of the first omer it had been thirteen sieves; but both specifications may be regarded as Rabbinical fancifulness.
From the flour thus obtained two omers (or double the quantity of that at the Passover) were used for 'the two loaves'; the rest might be redeemed and used for any purpose. Care was taken that the flour for each loaf should be taken separately from one and a half seah, that it should be separately kneaded with lukewarm water (like all thank-offerings), and separately baked--the latter in the Temple itself. The loaves were made the evening preceding the festival; or, if that fell on the Sabbath, two evenings before. In shape they were long and flat, and turned up, either at the edges or at the corners. According to the Mishnah, each loaf was four handbreadths wide, seven long, and four fingers high, and as it contained one omer of flour (5 1 pints, or rather less than four pounds' weight), the dough would weigh about five pounds and three-quarters, yielding, say, five pounds and a quarter of bread, or ten and a half for the two 'wave-loaves.' *
* These numbers are sufficiently accurate for general computation. By actual experiment I find that a pint of flour weighs about three-quarters of a pound and two ounces, and that 3 3/4 lbs. of flour, with half a teacup of barm and an ounce of salt, yield 5 3/4 pounds of dough and 5 1/4 lbs. of bread.
The Wave-loaves Were Leavened
Contrary to the common rule of the Sanctuary, these loaves were leavened, which, as the Mishnah, informs us (Men. v. 1), was the case in all thank-offerings. The common explanation--that the wave-loaves were leavened because they represented the ordinary food of the people--only partially accounts for this. No doubt these wave-loaves expressed the Old Testament acknowledgment of the truth which our Lord embodied in the prayer, 'Give us this day our daily bread.' But this is not all. Let it be remembered that these two loaves, with the two lambs that formed part of the same wave-offering, were the only public peace- and thank-offerings of Israel; that they were accompanied by burnt- and sin-offerings; and that, unlike ordinary peace-offerings, they were considered as 'most holy.' Hence they were leavened, because Israel's public thank-offerings, even the most holy, are leavened by imperfectness and sin, and they need a sin-offering. This idea of a public thank-offering was further borne out by all the services of the day. First, the two lambs were 'waved' while yet alive; that is, before being made ready for use. Then, after their sacrifice, the breast and shoulder, or principal parts of each, were laid beside the two loaves, and 'waved' (generally towards the east) forwards and back wards, and up and down. *
* The Rabbinical statement is, that the whole offering was to be waved together by a priest; but that if each loaf, with one breast and shoulder of lamb, was waved separately, it was valid. From the weight of the mass, this must have been the common practice.
After burning the fat, the flesh belonged, not to the offerers, but to the priests. As in the case of the most holy sacrifices, the sacrificial meal was to take place within the Temple itself, nor was any part of it to be kept beyond midnight. One of the wave- loaves and of the lambs went to the high-priest; the other belonged to all the officiating priesthood. Lastly, after the ceremony of the wave-loaves, the people brought their own freewill-offerings, each as the Lord had prospered him--the afternoon and evening being spent in the festive meal, to which the stranger, the poor, and the Levite were bidden as the Lord's welcome guests. On account of the number of such sacrifices, the Feast of Weeks was generally prolonged for the greater part of a week; and this the more readily that the offering of firstfruits also began at this time. Lastly, as the bringing of the omer at the Passover marked the period when new corn might be used in the land, so the presentation of the wave-loaves that when new flour might be brought for meat-offerings in the Sanctuary.
The Later Significance of Pentecost
If Jewish tradition connected the 'Feast of Firstfruits' with the 'Mount that might be touched,' and the 'voice of words which they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more,' we have in this respect also 'come unto Mount Zion,' and to the better things of the New Covenant. To us the Day of Pentecost is, indeed, the 'feast of firstfruits,' and that of the giving of the better law, 'written not in tables of stone, but on the fleshy tables of the heart,' 'with the Spirit of the living God.' For, as the worshippers were in the Temple, probably just as they were offering the wave-lambs and the wave-bread, the multitude heard that 'sound from heaven, as of a mighty rushing wind,' which drew them to the house where the apostles were gathered, there to hear 'every man in his own language' 'the wonderful works of God.' And on that Pentecost day, from the harvest of firstfruits, not less than three thousand souls added to the Church were presented as a wave-offering to the Lord. The cloven tongues of fire and the apostolic gifts of that day of firstfruits have, indeed, long since disappeared. But the mighty rushing sound of the Presence and Power of the Holy Ghost has gone forth into all the world.