19 July 2013

Leviticus 23:9-22

“You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” (v. 16)


Two harvests are celebrated in this section of Leviticus 23. The barley harvest comes first (verses 10-14). Always the first fruits are considered to belong to God (whether grain or grape, kid goat or child) and thus the first cut of grain is offered to God in thanksgiving. The grain sheaf is raise up to God by the priest who swings the offering back and forth, most likely scattering seed over the earth as he does so. Once again an attitude of wastefulness or careless generosity is encouraged, both here and in the reference to the practice of gleaning (verse 22). Both the barley harvest and the mention of gleaning invite the figures of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz (Ruth 2) into this passage, underlying the themes of kinship solidarity and the welcome of the stranger that underlie much of these laws.

The wheat harvest (verses 15-22) is celebrated seven weeks or fifty days after the barley harvest. It is a more substantial festival with larger offerings required (although the animal offerings would probably have been made by the whole congregation together, not by each individual and family). This time is known as the Festival of Weeks or Shavuot. The Hebrew word for 'seven' is close in sound to the word meaning 'to swear' or 'to make an oath' (Gerstenberger, Leviticus, 1996, p. 345). Thus the festival became associated with a time of covenant renewal, and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, Shavuot is considered to mark the giving of the Torah (the law, the first five books of the Bible) on Mount Sinai. The harvesting of grain is bound up with study and commitment to the Torah; both are understood to be essential for life. And both are reasons to give thanks.  

To Ponder

  • How do you give thanks for the food you grow, prepare, receive or eat?
  • How do you mark time and pay attention to it?
  • What offerings might you make to God today?

Bible notes author

Rachel Starr

Rachel Starr is the Methodist tutor at The Queen's Foundation for ecumenical theological education in Birmingham, where she teaches studies in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Before that she spent three years in Buenos Aires completing doctoral studies at the Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos (Instituto Universitario ISEDET).