Sermon Notes

May 10th 2018

Thoughts on the Sunday School Lesson May 13th

Bringing First Fruits — Leviticus 23:9-14, 22 (NRSV/MSG)

23 9-14 God spoke to Moses: “Tell the People of Israel, When you arrive at the land that I am giving you and reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain that you harvest. He will wave the sheaf before God for acceptance on your behalf; on the morning after Sabbath, the priest will wave it. On the same day that you wave the sheaf, offer a year-old male lamb without defect for a Whole-Burnt-Offering to God and with it the Grain-Offering of four quarts of fine flour mixed with oil—a Fire-Gift to God, a pleasing fragrance—and also a Drink-Offering of a quart of wine. Don’t eat any bread or roasted or fresh grain until you have presented this offering to your God. This is a perpetual decree for all your generations to come, wherever you live.
22 “When you reap the harvest of your land, don’t reap the corners of your field or gather the gleanings. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners. I am God, your God.”

INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND ON THE LESSON

The book of Leviticus is, above all, concerned with the worship of God as the Holy One and the purity of Israel as God’s people. As the priestly writers that penned Leviticus assert, because the Lord is holy, then God’s people are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the holiness of their God.
In chapters 17-27, also known as the Holiness Code, it is noted that everything the people of God experience and come in contact with—food, drink, clothing, homes, familial activities, marital relations, funeral rites and even religious observances—must be consecrated to God. Further, God’s people are “called to act, think, and live holy lives patterned after the norm established by the character of God.” As the book of Leviticus states over 150 times, holiness to the Lord is of the utmost importance. God’s holiness seeks to shape the children of Israel into a holy nation that will vividly and wholeheartedly represent God’s character in the land of Canaan where Israel is currently headed.
In Leviticus 23, Moses tells the people that holiness extends to personal and communal behavior during the Sabbath and the religious festivals of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Weeks (later known as Pentecost.) In the printed lesson, Moses shares God’s commandments concerning the submission of harvest offerings once the people have possessed the Promised Land. Because the Lord will bring Israel into a land flowing with rich natural resources, then Israel must offer God first fruits in thanksgiving. The first fruits of the harvest represent Israel’s finest and that which is most precious. To give God anything less than the first and the best is not an offering at all.

INTO THE LESSON

9-11 So God spoke to Moses: “Tell the People of Israel, When you arrive at the land that I am giving you and reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain that you harvest. He will wave the sheaf before God for acceptance on your behalf; on the morning after Sabbath, the priest will wave it.
In verses 9-11, Moses details the importance of communal worship activities on one particular day within the festival of Unleavened Bread. The people are not left to determine their own methodology for corporate worship. Instead, God outlines the specific rituals that are to be observed. On the morning immediately following the Sabbath, the people are instructed to cut a single sheaf, or armful, of barley which is first grain to ripen during spring harvest and place it before the Lord (as indicated in Leviticus 2:14.) This sheaf symbolically represents the fruit of Israel’s physical labor tilling the soil, and the dedication of their entire harvest to the God which made harvest possible. Once the symbolic sheaf was presented to the Lord, on the Wave Sheaf Day the priest would then seek God’s approval of the grain by waving or elevating the sheaf before the Lord. The elevation offering symbolized Israel’s invocation of God’s blessing on the entire crop and indicates that all of Israel can now partake in consuming the harvest because it has been accepted by God.
12-14 On the same day that you wave the sheaf, offer a year-old male lamb without defect for a Whole-Burnt-Offering to God and with it the Grain-Offering of four quarts of fine flour mixed with oil—a Fire-Gift to God, a pleasing fragrance—and also a Drink-Offering of a quart of wine. Don’t eat any bread or roasted or fresh grain until you have presented this offering to your God. This is a perpetual decree for all your generations to come, wherever you live.
In verses 12-14, Moses instructs the people to observe three additional offerings in as they submit the wave offering. First, the Whole-Burnt-Offering or olah in Hebrew is a complete sacrifice as it is wholly consumed on the altar. This offering required an unblemished male animal that was cut-up and all the pieces placed onto the altar. Representing Israel’s atonement of sin, biblical scholars believe the whole-burnt offering was later replaced by the sin offering. For Christians, the olah represents Christ’s sacrificial death for our sins. Second, the Grain-Offering or minha in Hebrew is a sacrifice that usually accompanied a burnt offering and represents Israel’s acknowledgement of God as the supreme authority in their lives. The minha, along with the burnt offering, produced a pleasing aroma to God. The grin offering above all symbolized Israel’s dedication of its labor to God, it also signified Israel’s remembrance of God’s mercy and blessings. Third, the Drink Offering, also mentioned in Exodus 29: 38-42, involved presenting a quart of wine to God representing the fruit of the vine. For Christians, the drink offering prefigures Christ’s sacrificial blood.
22 “When you reap the harvest of your land, don’t reap the corners of your field or gather the gleanings. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners. I am God, your God.”
This final verse of the printed lesson outlines that Israel should always consider the less fortunate. Both the poor and the stranger likely did not have the economic means to provide for themselves. Because God as the I AM lovingly provided for Israel, they must take care of the least, lowly and left-out by leaving the harvest gleanings. This verse reminds Christians that we best exemplify the loving character of God through compassion.

1) See Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Book of Leviticus: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003) p. 520.
2) See Lester L. Grabbe’s article, “Leviticus” in John Barton and John Muddiman’s The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 104-105.

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