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Which Came First

by Tim O'Hearn

We are a people who seem obsessed with firsts. We remember the first man on the moon (Armstrong), the first steam ship (the Clermont, although Fulton never actually named the vessel), the first President of the United States (Washington). Sometimes we even break things down into several firsts in one category. The first woman, the first black, the first black woman to do something. We even call people first in their field, even if they are the fourth or the fortieth person to hold that distinction—i.e. the Prime (first) Minister. God also likes firsts. Maybe that is because he properly insists on being first in all things.

Shavuos (Pentecost), which falls on June 9 this year, was Godís designated day for the ďfirst fruits.Ē It was a day to remind farmers that their crops were to come from God.

Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year. Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:) And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field. Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD. (Ex 23:14-17)

Actually, the feast of the firstfruits is not the first time in the year when the first of the fruit of the land was to be presented to God. On the day after Pesach (Passover)—or possibly the Sabbath after Passover—the Jewish people were to bring their firstfruits.

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the LORD. (Lev 23:10-11, 15-17)

Thus the feast of the firstfruits was the culmination of a fifty-day celebration of Godís bounty. The real celebration began at Passover, was counted day-by-day for fifty days, and ended with Pentecost.

Maybe it is because we are much less of an agricultural society, but we donít celebrate Godís bounty to us for fifty days. We are sometimes lucky to celebrate it on any given day. The American celebration of Thanksgiving may serve a similar purpose to that of Shavuos, but it really is not the same. Thanksgiving is a celebration after the harvest. It is a thanksgiving for what God has given us. Shavuos came before the final harvest. It reminds us before the fact that God will provide. It is easy to thank God for what he has given us. It is harder to thank him for fifty days for what he has not given us, but will.