Sunday, August 28, 2011

The "first fruits" and "the harvest" Part 2

In the process of revealing His plan of salvation for mankind, God established His annual Holy Days around the harvest seasons in the Middle East (Leviticus 23:9-16, Exodus 23:14-16). Just as His people harvested their crops around these Festival seasons, God's was showing Israel how He would harvest people for eternal life in His Kingdom.

Israel’s first fruit offering of men and women to God is outlined in the Old Testament. The Festival of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:9-14). And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. 11 'He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 'And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the LORD. 13 'Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the LORD, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin. 14 'You shall eat neither bread, nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; [it shall be] a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

The first ripe barley was to be seen around April. It was these first ripe sheaves that were to be brought to the Lord and waved before Him as an anticipation of the harvest that was about to be reaped in the following month and a half. It also acknowledged that it was God who’ provided for them by offering back to Him first what He had given them. Lev 23:9-14 is the only passage that gives us information as to what the events were, even though there’s been much additional tradition that has been added to the celebration of the festival.

The festival - similar to the Passover, Pentecost, Trumpets and the Day of Atonement was to be of one day duration (Leviticus 23:12) at which time the sheaf of the first fruit of the barley harvest was brought to the priest and waved before the Lord so that the offerer would find acceptance (Lev 23:10-11). The priest waved the barley before the presence of YHWH on the behalf of the of the nation of Israel before after the Sabbath.

The Israelites were also not allowed to eat of the new harvest until the offering of the first fruit was brought and presented to YHWH (Lev 23:14), impressing upon them the importance of giving to God first before they thought of themselves.

In the New Testament, we find the fulfillment of this festival in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Therefore, the New Testament writers clearly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ as being the first fruit offering to God. Paul announces in I Corinthians 15:20 that ‘... Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, and, again, in Colossians 1:18 that... Christ is the firstborn from the dead...’ while Revelation 1:5 also announces to the reader that Jesus is ‘... the firstborn from the dead...’

It isn’t just that figurative language is being used to speak of Jesus’ resurrection, but that it took place on the exact same day as the festival of first fruits was commanded to be waved before God in the Temple. Just like the seed of barley that fell into the earth and brought forth a sheaf, so the seed of Christ’s body was sown in the earth and brought forth new life as it was raised in power.

Clearly, the wave of sheaf before the presence of YHWH is used as a representative of a person and all that person represented and its significant. As I noted above, the command to Israel in Lev 23:9-14 mentioned a single sheaf and it's possible that one stalk was brought to be waved as representative as the entire harvest of the nation.

If God’s original intention, was to brings home the importance of one individual being acceptable to Him and that, because of Him, the nation would be able to find acceptance the figurative type of the "first fruits" and "the harvest" was it. The New Testament writers don’t drop the ball they don’t stop at simply stating that Jesus has risen as a fulfillment of the festival since they use this as the starting point to say more about the implications of the resurrection for believers. Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:23 that Christ is the first fruits from the dead, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.’

In the eyes of the early Church, Jesus’ resurrection is the anticipation of or the promise that the final harvest of resurrected believers that will take place. Just as the sheaf waved before the Lord was the promise of the future harvest, so, too, the acceptance of Jesus into Heaven through the resurrection and ascension is the promise to all believers that there was coming a time when all those who die in Christ (His Church) will similarly be raised from the dead into a new life and be acceptable to God.

Being the beginning the sheaf offered as the first fruit was the promise or guarantee of the harvest that was about to be gathered in soon (not over 2,000 years letter ). This was the hope of Israel. (Acts 26:6-8) The whole Old Testament points to this hope During the Old Covenant era while man was separated, from God at the end of his biological life involved the withdrawal of a person’s vital power the (nepes, “soul” departing from the body). (Genesis 35:18-19) They went to a place of the dead in the Old Testament, Hebrew called Sheol. In the New Testament the Greek word is Hades and waited for the atoning work of Christ and the resurrection from the dead. The close association between the grave and Sheol has long been recognized among the Israelites.

Israel’s hope was resurrection and God delivering them from the power of death. Many of the Old Testament saints expressed this hope. The context of the book of Job, in particular, is overall a good context in understanding how the old covenant saints hoped for resurrection. For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, Then without my flesh shall I see God.. (Job 19:26 American Standard). It depends on the Version of Scripture you use. Many of them like the American Standard bible use the Hebrew text which says "without my flesh I will see God."

The psalmist knew was God's ultimate caring and power to bring spiritual life from spiritual death Psalms 34:22 The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned. Psalms49:15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, For He shall receive me. Selah. Psalms 130:7-8 O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel From all his iniquities.

There is no doubting that death was something that the Israelites wrestled with while waiting for Yahweh’s power to release them from the grip of Sheol. God promised in Hosea 13:14, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes." Paul many century’s latter quotes this scripture as God fulfills his promise. 1Corinthians 15:55-57 "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because God chose Israel as the first fruit of all the nations of the earth, He was anticipating His plan for the final harvest in which other nations would be gathered into the Kingdom of God.