The Feast of Firstfruits
Springtime means feast time for Israel and the Jewish people. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread take center stage, but the Feast of Firstfruits teaches us a crucial lesson about humility and remembering to thank our God for the good gifts He gives. Chris takes us to Leviticus to learn about this feast.
The Feast of Firstfruits was meant to cause the Israelites to stop and remember to thank God for His provision, as all He had given them belonged to Him anyway. We should do the same! God has given us good gifts, and we must remember to thank Him for these blessings. And as an added benefit, this holiday also features a beautiful picture of Jesus’ resurrection we should celebrate at this time of year. Take the lessons of the Feast of Firstfruits to heart with this week’s show!
Steve Conover: Welcome to the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover and with me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka.
Chris Katulka: Steve, we've got a great program lined up. We've been going through the spring feasts of Israel actually. As we've entered in April, we've celebrated Passover earlier this month and that leads us right into the Feast of Unleavened Bread which brings us into what we're going to be talking about today which is called the Feast of Firstfruits. It's all found in Leviticus 23. We're going to highlight the historical component of it, but then we're also going to look at what it means in Christ and prophetically as well.
Steve Conover: Can't wait. I hope you stay with us, but first in the news, Israel Central Bureau of Statistics recently released Jewish population stats. According to the CBS, there are 15.2 million Jewish people globally. Israel is home to 45% or 6.9 million. The United States is home to the next largest Jewish population with six million. Rounding out the rest of the field are France, Canada, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Russia, Germany, and Australia.
Chris Katulka: Steve, number one, it's something that should be noted, that only since 1948 since Israel's been a country have they even had their own place, the Jewish state. Now, they are the largest place when it comes to Jewish population which is just amazing. That's taken place in less than 100 years, but on top of that, it's mind-boggling to think of all that the Jewish people have done to contribute to the world from science, mathematics, philosophy, or even our Western culture. It's all rooted in the Bible, God's revelation to the Jewish people, and yet 15.2 million, that makes up less than 1% of the world's population. It's just a great reminder that God didn't choose Israel because of their great size, their intellect or knowhow. No, instead He chose a small group of people to magnify His name so that the world may know the one true God through his Son, Jesus, the Messiah.
Chris Katulka: When I was a kid growing up before dinner, we would start by bowing our heads and reciting a prayer. It goes like this. "God is great and God is good. Let us thank him for our food. By his hands, we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen." Maybe that's a prayer that you prayed growing up or even your family prays today. It's a prayer that we do with our kids at our table before we eat dinner. My wife grew up reciting that same prayer, but at the end, they throw in a little, "Praise the Lord." I love that one. This prayer is something that's meaningful because it gives thanks to God for the blessing of his provision in our lives.
I just wrapped up a Passover tour around the Midwest. It was a fantastic time of connecting Christians with the history of the Jewish Passover and to show Christ as our Passover lamb. All throughout the Passover, there are moments where you stop and you say a blessing for God's grace in providing that which brings nutrition to our bodies. In Hebrew, the prayer is “Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Haolam, borei pree ha’adamah.” Which is, "Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, King of the universe who created the fruits of the earth.” The King of the universe who holds all things in his grip considers us and provides for us and everything that we need. Now, in the Jewish calendar, we've moved through two holy days pretty quickly. There are the seven biblical Jewish holy days according to Leviticus. The first is Passover and then it's the Seven Days of Unleavened Bread. Those two are behind us now. The next Jewish festival is the Feast of Firstfruits.
Let me read from Leviticus 23:9-14 which is the portion of the law that connects us to the Feast of Firstfruits. It says this: "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 will wave it and on the day that you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb, a year old without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord. And the grain offering with it shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the Lord with a pleasing aroma. And the drink offering shall be a fine wine, a fourth of hin. You shall eat neither bread nor grain, parched or fresh until the same day until you have brought the offering of your God. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.’"
Now, there are some who argue that Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits all flow together with uniformity, almost like one large festival. However, like many, I tend to see it as three distinct festivals. They are very close to one another, they have a lot of significance, and they have special meanings, but they're separate festivals as they're divided up in Leviticus 23. The Feast of Firstfruits is associated with the first harvest of the year. It was definitely a grain harvest of barley. The harvest began the day after the sabbath in the week of the celebration of Unleavened Bread.
Now, here's what would happen. An Israelite, I want you to imagine you're an Israelite living during this time. You're a farmer. You are required as your barley harvest came to the point where it was time to harvest all the barley, you would be required to cut an omer or a sheaf of barley and bring it to the temple along with the sacrifice. As the worshiper, you would arrive at the temple and you would hand the priest this sheaf as the Mishna states during the days of Jesus in the Second Temple period. You would take your sheaf of barley to the priest and the priest would take it under his two hands and he would hold it and he would wave it back and forth and up and down in front of the altar. The reason the priest would wave it all around was so that the sheaf would be seen by God and accepted by him. The waving of the barley, it's interesting, actually the physical waving of it back and forth draws God's attention to the sacrifice.
But why would God demand ... Think about this. Why would God demand an Israelite farmer to go into his barley field just before harvest, cut a portion of it, bring it to the temple, and offer it to God? Well the Feast of Firstfruits is a way to give glory to God for the abundant harvest to come. It's really just simply a way to say thank you to God for his blessing of the harvest that's going to feed countless people. It signifies that all gifts and sacrificial items come from God and belong to God. In our modern Western culture, we're extremely individualistic. Phrases like, "Well I built that" or "It's all mine" or "I did that on my own," God is reminding the Israelites that 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. The Feast of the Firstfruits is a reminder each year for the Israelites that the land of Israel itself, the very land is a gift and blessing to them. Israel isn't receiving the land because they deserve it. No, it's a gift given to them by God's faithfulness to Abraham.
In the same way, my family stops before we eat and we say thank you to God for providing this meal. In a very small way, we're acknowledging to God and to one another that all gifts that we have do not originate from ourselves. "I built that. It's all mine. I did it on my own." No, it doesn't just come from us, but in many, many ways, it originates from God. It belongs to God. It's from God and belongs to him. For that reason, the only thing that we can say is, "Thank you, God." Just think about it too. God isn't asking for much, a sheaf. In Hebrew, it's an omer which literally means an armful of the entire harvest. God's not asking for 50% of the cut of the harvest. He's not even asking for 10% of the harvest. It's an equivalent of what one sickle could cut, an armful of barley to show him thanksgiving, an offering to give him. None of the barley may be harvested or eaten, think about this, until the Firstfruits have first been offered to the Creator God. The Israelites devotion to the Feast of Firstfruits was an affirmation that God is the owner of the land and the Lord of the people. Since God is Lord, the first yield of the crops, the best, it must be given to him.
Now, much of Leviticus is about distinguishing between clean and unclean, what's holy and what's secular. It was the duty of the priests of Israel to educate the distinctions between the two. So think about this. After God receives the Firstfruits of the harvest, something considered holy, that omer, that sheaf that was offered to the priest which was then waved up and down before the Lord, that was holy to the Lord. He then in turn, God, gives permission to use the rest of the harvest that's out there waiting for the Israelite farmer to come back to his field to harvest, the rest can be used for the people or better yet, the secular reasons for the harvest, to eat and sustain yourselves with food.
It's just an amazing reminder for me and I hope for you that everything that we receive as we process this, everything that we receive from God is a gift from him. Every time we get paid for our labor, do we stop and say, "Thank you, God, for your provision?" Every time we lay our heads down at night and we are protected from the outside elements, from the wind, the rain, the cold, even the heat, we should stop and say, "Thank you, God, for your protection." From the clothing we wear to the food we eat, it all belongs to God, the creator of all. For that reason, He desires the simple acknowledgement that we all know it comes from him.
Firstfruits is a challenge to our culture where everyone thinks they deserve whatever they wish because someone else has it. A challenge to our culture that says, "I built this so I should benefit," or "I earned this degree from college or university. Therefore, I deserve the best job or the best pay," or "I paid for this house on my own or this car or whatever it is." Yes, your hard work is certainly paid off, but who gave you the intellect to go to college to earn a degree? Who gave you the ability to get up in the morning and work? Where did all the food come from that you put on your table to feed your family or the roof over your head? Firstfruits is a reminder that all of it comes from God. Whether you're Jeff Bezos who builds a global business or you're a farmer tilling the land or you're a teenager living in your parents' home, it all comes from the Lord. For that reason, we should give glory to him by returning thanks and offering our best to him.
Now, listen. In a moment, I want to share with you how the apostle Paul takes the Feast of Firstfruits and connects it to Jesus and prophecy.
I want to connect you with a DVD that I think is going to enlighten you when it comes to studying the feasts of Israel from Leviticus 23. The DVD is called The Appointed Times: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel. The spring and fall feasts are a time of rest, remembrance, and renewal in the Jewish world, but what makes each feast unique and important? Well that's why this DVD is going to be helpful because you're going to be able to journey through the land of Israel in this four-part series as you explore the historical, agricultural, sacrificial, and prophetic meaning behind these feasts. You'll get more than knowledge of Jewish customs. You'll get to see how these feasts connect to Christ's death, burial, and resurrection and how that applies to you even today. Enjoy this colorful view of these Jewish feasts with insightful commentary and vivid visuals. You're not going to want to miss it. Steve, how can our listeners get a copy of their DVD, The Appointed Times: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel?
Steve Conover: To learn more or to purchase your copy of The Appointed Times DVD: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel, visit foiradio.org. That's foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: So we've been looking at the Jewish festival that follows Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread and really even sets the timer for the next feast to come, Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks or as Christians we know from Acts 2 as Pentecost. We're continuing our study on this Feast of Firstfruits and as I mentioned earlier, the Feast of Firstfruits was the day when an Israelite farmer would go into his barley field and cut an armful of barley to take it to the temple where the priest would present it to God as a way for the farmer to say, "God, I know everything I have, even this barley harvest, all comes from you." Now, after the Firstfruits are presented at the temple, then the farmer could return home to harvest the full crop. But the idea, think about this, the idea, that concept of harvest was actually even extremely prophetic in the minds of Jewish people during the days of Jesus.
Joel 4:13, Isaiah 27:12 are prophetic passages where God connects the end times with a harvest. It even happens in Revelation 14:14-16. A harvest is used to describe the end times. In John 4:35, it says this. Jesus is speaking during the moment that He's with the Samaritan woman and He says, "Don't you say there are four more months and then comes the harvest? I tell you, look up and see that the fields are already white for harvest." Now, when Jesus says “white for the harvest,” He's talking about the barley harvest from the Feast of Firstfruits. The barley harvest actually makes the fields look white, but what's interesting is that Paul says something about a harvest and the Feast of Firstfruits in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul is talking about Jesus' resurrection from the dead and he says this in 1 Corinthians 15 starting in Verse 20. "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the Firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."
So what does Jesus, Firstfruits, resurrection, and harvest all have in common? Well Paul is demanding us to think about the fact that Jesus' resurrection in light of prophecy and this idea of the great harvest is yet to come, that Jesus' resurrection gives us a picture of the greater harvest coming. Jesus, Paul says, is the Firstfruits of the resurrection. He's the first harvest of the resurrection. He's that special piece, that omer, that armful, the sheaf that was offered to the Lord. The omer is just the beginning of the entire harvest to come. Paul is saying that Jesus is our Firstfruits of the resurrection. First, He resurrected, literally the first one to be resurrected and offered up to God, but there's still more to come. All those who believe who are asleep, as Paul says, just another concept, a Jewish concept for death, all of those who are dead will one day wake up in the resurrection.
Paul is using the Feast of Firstfruits to show that what happened to Jesus when He came bursting out of the tomb, defeating death, will actually one day happen to us. We will resurrect just like Jesus. That's our hope. That's because our Passover lamb, Jesus Christ, through him, we can have eternal life. We will be resurrected just as He was, Christ, our Firstfruits. Do you see what Paul is doing there in 1 Corinthians? He uses the phrase “Passover lamb” and the fact that Jesus is our Passover lamb. Now, Jesus is our Firstfruits. What a great reason, everybody, to stop and to just say thank you to God for all the blessings that He's given to us, not only the physical blessings that we talked about earlier but the spiritual blessings for those who have placed their faith in Christ Jesus. So we say thank you, Lord.
Steve Conover: Israel, on the verge of becoming a state, a teenaged Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know his search for a new life in the Holy Land would lead him to the messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine, Israel My Glory. While Zvi is now in the presence of his Savior, his collected writings from well over 50 years of ministry continue to encourage believers worldwide. Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life of Zvi.
Mike Kellogg: Every year, my home is completely full on Passover evening. Before the readings, I gave a short testimony about the meaning of Passover. My children played music and everyone sang. The feast lasted until 1:00 AM and many of our neighbors, after hearing the music and singing, stood outside listening also. The unbelievers thought they were going to see and hear things completely different from their own celebration, but they were surprised to learn we believe in the same God and what's more, we followed the real Passover lamb, Jesus. Leviticus 17:11 clearly depicts the atonement. "For the life of the flesh is in the blood and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls." The only difference between their feast and mine was that I put meaning into it, emphasizing the Pesach Lamb which is the real atonement.
I read from the Bible and told them our celebration is all about that Lamb. This was very hard for them to understand. I read to them only from the Old Testament such as Job 19:25. "For I know that my redeemer lives and he shall stand at last on the earth." This was the first time they had heard about the resurrection. Then someone asked the age-old question, "How can we know this when no one has ever come back from the grave?" I replied, "The Lord rose from the grave." "No," the questioner said. "We don't want to hear that example. We want to hear from the Bible, but not from the New Testament." So I quoted the prophet Daniel who wrote, "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt." You can have the Lord's mercy. You can have real atonement through his death and resurrection.
They did not understand how God could be born, die, and come again. I told them the Bible speaks of all these things. Micah 5:2 and Isaiah 9:6 foretold his birth. Isaiah 53 foretold his suffering. Zachariah 12:10 foretold his death. King David prophesied of his resurrection in Psalm 16:10 and Daniel 7:13 predicts his Second Coming. I showed them all of these things without once opening the New Testament because God has given us a very clear picture of the Lord, our Savior, and our Passover in the Old Testament. I then told my visitors, "You can see the way we have celebrated the Passover today. It's not taken from our imaginations, but from the Holy Bible, the same Bible you read. The Lord has promised He will come again and He has told us to watch and pray so we will be ready for his coming." By the end of the evening, some of my guests had changed their minds about me and we all sang together the popular song of the Passover taken from Psalm 118. It was truly a blessed Passover feast.
Chris Katulka: The impact of Zvi's life and ministry in Israel, it didn't end when he went home to be with the Lord. In fact, Zvi's legacy lives on. Our Friends of Israel Ministry representatives continue to share the gospel in Jerusalem, Israel, and really all throughout the world. We also serve Holocaust survivors and their families. We provide free food, medicine, and clothing and we even promote the safety and security of the state of Israel and the Jewish people everywhere. So when you give to The Friends of Israel, your donation actually allows us to advance the gospel of our Messiah, Jesus. You can give online by visiting foiradio.org. Again, that's foiradio.org. You can click right there on our donate link. Also, be sure to let us know where you listen when you contact us.
Steve Conover: Thank you for joining us today. If you liked this week's program, would you contact us? We want to create content that we know is enriching your lives and drawing you closer to the Lord and a deeper understanding of his Word and program for Israel. You can reach out to us on the contact form at foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: Also, Steve, for our podcast listeners on Apple, would you please take the time to rate our program? Your comments and ratings will expose The Friends of Israel Today to new listeners. So if you believe it's important to teach about Israel and the Jewish people, please leave a comment so that others can benefit from the Friends of Israel Today. Now next week, we're going to have Dr. Mike Stallard and Dan Price on to talk about what's going on in Ukraine. They oversee our international work and have had their hands on exactly what's going on in Ukraine and how we are reaching out and trying to bless the Jewish people during this very difficult time.
Steve Conover: Be with us then. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold. And I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. And one last quick reminder to visit us at foiradio.org. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
The Appointed Times: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel DVD
The spring and fall feasts are times of rest, remembrance, and renewal in the Jewish world. But what makes each feast unique and important? Journey through Israel in this 4-part series as you explore the historical, agricultural, sacrificial, and prophetic meaning behind these feasts. You’ll get more than knowledge of Jewish customs—you’ll get to see how these feasts connect to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection and how that applies to you today. Enjoy this colorful view of these Jewish feasts with insightful commentary and vivid visuals!
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Apples of Gold: The Pesach Lamb
Zvi’s Passover celebration was always a blessed feast. Sometimes it would go into the early hours of the morning. Many of his neighbors would listen outside expecting the Kalishers’ Passover to be different than what they are used to. But to their surprise, it was the same! When Zvi tried to show them how the Messiah is our Passover Lamb, they asked him to only show them from the Old Testament. Zvi did just that and they were amazed, giving him a chance to share his faith in Jesus with them.
The Friends of Israel Today theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
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