Messianic Education Trust
    Vayikra  
(Lev 1:1 - 5:26(6:7))

Vayikra/Leviticus 2:14   And if you bring a grain offering of firstfruits to the L-rd - first ripe grains, roasted in fire, broken from plumpness

The second chapter of Vayikra deals with the regulations for grain offerings (or meal offerings - the Hebrew word is , meaning gift or tribute) that are brought either with another offering or by themselves as a free-standing offering. These offerings must include olive oil and frankincense, may not include leaven or honey, but must be salted. The grain may be baked in an oven, cooked on a griddle or in a pot and in all cases the memorial portion of the grain offering and all the frankincense are offered by the priest on the altar, while the rest of the grain offering belongs to the priest. The last three verses of the chapter focus upon , firstfruit offerings. The need for oil and frankincense is unchanged and the method of offering is identical; only the method of preparation is different. Two issues need exploration: whether this applies to any firstfruit offering brought by anyone at any time or is specifically tied to the firstfruits offering brought as a nation; and what the special preparation might be and mean.

The word , here translated 'firstfruits', comes from the root that has meanings from "produce new fruit" to "regard as firstborn" and has derivative nouns for a firstborn son or daughter and early figs.1 The Day of Early Firstfruits, , is mentioned in B'Midbar 28, the parallel list of feasts to Vayikra 23. In the latter, the offering of the firstfruits is by means of a wave offering and a burnt offering accompanied by a grain offering of "choice flour with oil mixed in" (Vayikra 23:13, NJPS), which must have come from the old crop; in the former, a more elaborate set of burnt offerings is made, each with their grain offering - again of "choice flour with oil mixed in" (B'Midbar 28:28, NJPS), from the old crop rather than the new. On that basis, it would seem that our text and the formal firstfruits offering are not connected. Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra insists that it is correct to translate as "and if" rather than "and when" as while there is a requirement - "The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the L-RD your G-d" (Shemot 23:19 and 34:26, NJPS) - "to bring choice first fruits, anyone who wants to bring an offering of others of the first fruits may do so if he wishes."

Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi takes the opposite point of view. He says that " should be translated as 'when' not 'if' as the verse speaks of the meal-offering of the omer, which is an obligation." A number of commentators notice that the word used for "first ripe grains" is , which is the name given to the first month in the (religious) year, when Pesach is held. The early rabbis were carefully ambiguous in their suggestion - grain in season ( What Is ...

Sifra: an early halakhic midrash to the book of Leviticus (also sometimes known as Torat Kohanim); thought to have originated in the school of R. Akiba, with additions belonging in part to the school of R. Ishmael, and finally edited by R. Hiyya; "provides, in so far as it has been preserved intact, the text of the Book of Leviticus with a running halakic commentary which explains or turns almost every word into a source for a halakic maxim"
Sifra) - while Rashi explains that "this comes from nearly ripe ears at the time of the ripening of the barley crop" and cites the verse "Now the flax and barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud" (Shemot 9:31, NJPS. John Hartley affirms, "while 'bikkurim' may include the first produce of the ground and trees, it specifically stands for grain. The term aviv, 'fresh, young ears', refers to the just ripening grain"2 and David WhiIs(Left, Kimhi) points out that "the word really refers to the ear along with the stalk on which it grows." Mark Rooker, too, agrees with this position: "the grain offering of firstfruits was distinguished from the other grain offerings in that the grain offering of the firstfruits marked a particular occasion (firstfruits)."3 Who Is ...

Gersonides: Rabbi Levi ben Gershom, Gersonides or Ralbag (1288-1344 CE); famous rabbi, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer/astrologer; born at Bagnols in Languedock, France; wrote a commentary on the Torah and a parallel to Maimonides' Guide For The Perplexed
Gersonides makes the interesting observation that "the text says 'if' since it is obligatory only if conditions in the land are such that it is possible to bring the offering."

While other grain offerings are made with "fine flour" (Vayikra 2:1, ESV) or "choice flour" (NJPS), firstfruits are parched or roasted over fire. Rashi explains that "they dry it over fire in a grain-roaster's cylinder because otherwise it cannot be ground in a mill because it is too moist." It is then ground while it is still damp enough for the kernels to remain plump. The noun is probably misspelled from the root , "to crush, grind"4 as used in "He has broken my teeth on gravel, has ground me into the dust" (Lamentations 3:16, NJPS). Rashi again provides an explanation: "he crushes it in a grist-grinder's mill."

As believers in Messiah Yeshua, we hold - as Walter Kaiser writes - that "the crushing or bruising of the 'firstfruits' will play a large role in the typology of both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures."FootNooteRef(5) Rav Sha'ul identifies Yeshua as "the first fruits of those who are asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20, NASB). We also see the typology working that in the same way as the firstfruits offering sanctified the whole harvest, so Yeshua offered Himself to make us holy, as He said, "for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth" (John 17:19, ESV). Kaiser continues, "the one to whom 'firstfruits' pointed was Messiah, who was 'bruised' (or 'crushed') for our iniquities: 'he was wounded because of our sins, crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, And by his bruises we were healed' (Isaiah 53:5, NJPS)." Yeshua's resurrection was so significant "because His resurrection signalled the possibility of the resurrection of others."6 The whole of the harvest that Yeshua speaks of to the disciples - "Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest" (John 4:35, ESV) - becomes sanctified, holy, set apart for G-d, through the acceptance of the firstfruits sacrifice, proven by the resurrection.

Hartley takes a different tack and suggests that, "there may be a connection between the grain offering and Yeshua's claim 'I am the bread of life' (John 6:35,48-51)."7 This would mean that as the firstfruit offerings, bar the memorial portion which is offered on the altar, is eaten by the priests, so Yeshua's body and blood are to be eaten by the new priesthood in Messiah, bar His memorial portion offered on the cross. This casts a new light on Yeshua's words: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh" (v. 51, ESV). Yeshua is neither the fine flour of the grain offerings offered alongside every burnt offering day after day, nor is He the matzah, the unleavened bread eaten alongside the Pesach sacrifice each year, for they are both made with flour, the old crop. Instead, because Yeshua is alive, those who feast on Him - those called from the nations to join the Commonwealth of Israel "to be a holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5, ESV) - not only have eternal life as their individual life, but participate in the proclamation of the kingdom of G-d as their collective life.

Going back to the original text, Stephen Sherwood very properly notices an important point: "The implied reader will know that the bringing of firstfruits honours the L-rd as 'landlord' - the true owner of the land to whom rent must be paid."8 There is not one of us who owns the land. Either we are "slaves of sin" (Romans 6:17), not knowing G-d, but made and created by Him nevertheless, or we have been "bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 7:23), redeemed for G-d by Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross. We too offer Him our firstfruits, the work of our hands, the sweat of our brows, both in the physical labour that we do to earn a living and the spiritual labour that we do to develop and encourage the kingdom of heaven. We focus on G-d, in Yeshua, who has given us the land where we live and work, the field in which we labour, and we work to produce a harvest which will be holy to Him. As each seed sprouts, we designate it as firstfruits and although not yet fully ripe, we commit it to G-d, recognising that each living shoot, sprout and grain comes from Him and holds His life.

1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 47.

2. - John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992), page 32.

3. - Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 99.

4. - Clines, page 71.

5. - Walter C. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 538.

6. - Ibid., page 540.

7. - Hartley, page 33.

8. - Stephen Sherwood, Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry - Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), page 50.

Further Study: Luke 22:18-19; 1 Peter 2:21-25

Application: What are the firstfruits that you bring each day, each week, to G-d as the token of your work in His field? How could you honour Him as the 'landlord' of that field today, so that in due time the whole harvest may be pure and holy to Him?

Comment - 01:17 22Mar20 BC: Well.....Right now the field is all ploughed up. But I get encouraged because I'm thinking that if He has ploughed, then it is because He intends a harvest. And so, I have hope.

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© Jonathan Allen, 2020



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