The Feast of the Unleavened Bread was said to not have passed until 50 days after its commencement. Then it just merged into Pentecost. Jewish tradition was unanimously received at the time of Christ, and they thought that the day of Pentecost was the anniversary of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. This was what the Feast of Weeks was intended to commemorate. Thus the dedication of the harvest commenced with the presentation of the first omer on the Passover. This was completed in the thank-offering of the two wave-loaves at Pentecost, so that the memorial of Israel’s deliverance appropriately terminated in that of the giving of the Law. This was in comparison to the Passover sacrifice of the Lord Jesus being completed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Jewish tradition has it that on the 2nd day of the third month, Moses ascended the Mount and communicated with the people on the 3rd day. Then he reascended the mount on the 4th day and the people sanctified themselves on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of Sivan. They thought that the Ten Commandments were actually given to them on the 6th. Accordingly, the days before Pentecost were always deemed the first, second, third, etc., since the presentation of the omer.
Maimonides wrote that: ‘Just as one who is expecting the most faithful of his friends is wont to count the days and hours to his arrival, so we also count from the omer of the day of our Exodus from Egypt to that of the giving of the Law, which was the object of our Exodus, as it is said: “I bare you on eagle’s wings, and brought you unto Myself.” And because this great manifestation did not last more than one day, therefore we annually commemorate it only one day.’
Exactly 50 days after the presentation of the omer on the 16th of Nisan, commenced the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. No servile work was to be done, all males were to appear before Jehovah in the Temple, and the appointed sacrifices and offerings were to be brought. It was called the Feast of Weeks because of the time that had to elapse before Pentecost could start.
The festive sacrifices for the day of Pentecost are given in Numbers 28: 26-31. They were: two young bullocks, one ram, seven lambs no more than one year old for a burnt-offering, along with their appropriate meat-offerings; and one kid goat for a sin-offering. All of these were in addition to the usual morning sacrifice. The thing that gave the feast its distinctiveness, though, was the presentation of the two loaves and the sacrifices which accompanied them.
From the narrative of Acts 2, we can think that maybe more people came to Jerusalem for Pentecost than any of the other festivals. Jews from distant countries came to Jerusalem during this time. The season of year may have also accounted for the great attendance, because Pentecost always happened in early summer. Most of their harvest had already been reaped and during this time there was a period of rest from so much hard work for them. On the day before Pentecost the pilgrims began flocking to the city.
It must have been an extremely busy time for the priests. After dark as the stars shone brightly in the sky, the blasts of the trumpets announced the commencement of the great feast. In the first watch, the altar had been cleaned and immediately after midnight the Temple gates were thrown open. Before the morning sacrifice at daylight, all of the burnt- and peace-offerings which the people had brought for themselves as sacrifices had to be examined by the priests. Since there was a huge number of people, there was a lot for them to do before it was announced that the first morning light could be seen from the direction of Hebron. This was the signal for the start of the regular morning sacrifice.
Then the festive offering prescribed in Number 28: 26-30 were brought – first, the sin-offering, with proper placement of the 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. The flute began and ended the song, which gave it a soft sweetness. There was also beautiful singing by selected voices from the children of the Levites. They stood below their fathers and led songs as the people either repeated or responded.
The Two Wave-Loaves
It was now that the peculiar offering of the day was done – 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; then there was to be one kid goat for a sin-offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace-offerings. The omer for the 16th of Nisan was from barley, so the two wave-loaves were prepared from wheat grown in the best district of the land under strict conditions that were set out for the preparation.
Also there were three seahs (three pecks and three pints of wheat), that were cut down, brought to the Temple, thrashed like other meat-offerings, ground, and passed through twelve sieves. From this flour was obtained the two omers that were used to prepare the bread. What was left of the flour could be used for any purpose. Great care was taken that the flour for each loaf should be taken separately from one and a half seahs, that it should be separately kneaded with lukewarm water, and separately baked in the Temple itself. The loaves were made on the evening before the festival. If this was a Sabbath, they were made two evenings before.
They were long and flat in shape, 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 it contained exactly one omer of flour (5.1 pints, or almost 4 lbs weight). The dough, then would weigh about 5 3/4 lbs, which would yield 5 1/4 lbs when baked. This made 10 1/2 for both loaves.
The Wave-Loaves Were Leavened
This was contrary to the common rule of the Sanctuary, but these loaves were leavened as were all thank-offerings. There were several explanations as to why they had leaven in them: one was because they represented the ordinary food of the people. This was the most common belief. They felt that they expressed the part of the Lord’s Prayer that said “Give us this day our daily bread.’ It was also true, though, that the two loaves, with the two lambs that formed part of the same wave-offering, were the only public peace- and thank-offerings that were considered as ‘most holy.’ Hence they were leavened because even the most holy of Israel’s offerings were representing people that were imperfect and sinful, and that needed a sin-offering.
This idea of a public thank-offering was borne out further by the rest of the services of the day. First, the two lambs were ‘waved’ while they were still alive. Then after their sacrifice, the breast and shoulder, or principal parts of each, were laid beside the two loaves and waved forwards and backwards, and up and down. After the fat was burned, the flesh belonged to the priests. They had to eat the meat within the Temple, though, and anything left after midnight could not be eaten or kept. One of the wave-loaves and lambs went to the high-priest and the other belonged to all the officiating priesthood.
Lastly, after the ceremony of the wave-loaves, the people brought their own freewill-offerings. Each person brought as the Lord had prospered them. The afternoon and evening were spent eating a festive meal to which strangers, the poor, and all the Levites were counted as the Lord’s welcome guests. Because of the huge number of sacrifices, the Feast of Weeks was usually carried out for at least a week. This also coincided with the offering of firstfruits. It was an intensely busy time for every priest.
The Later Significance of Pentecost
Even though all the sacrifices like this have ceased, the Day of Pentecost still has special significance for us today. It was during this time that the people went from only hearing God speak to certain people, and then even only maybe once or twice during their whole life, to being given a better law that was not written on stones, but was written on the tables of their heart. The Holy Spirit came to live in the Christian’s heart forever and to be their guide. They had the Spirit of the Living God living inside them and the world exploded with this great event that changed Christianity forever.