Essay: Joshua 5 does NOT support a 43-day count to Pentecost
Paul Yoos and his wife, Christine, consider themselves members of the Berean Church of God of Scripture (Acts 17:10-11). The Yooses receive mail at 164 S. Main St., Thomaston, Conn. 06787, U.S.A.
By Paul Yoos
THOMASTON, Conn.--Most of the Churches of God--regardless of which calendar they use--calculate the day on which to observe Pentecost by first determining which day is to be considered the wave-sheaf day. The wave-sheaf day, which is the day the priests in ancient Israel were to "wave the sheaf [of the firstfruits of the harvest] before the Lord" during the time of the Days of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:10-16), is the day from which most of the Churches of God begin the count of 50 days toward the Day of Pentecost.
Some, on the other hand, follow modern Pharisaical tradition and use Nisan 16, the second day of Unleavened Bread, as day No. 1 of the count, no matter which day of the week this 16th of Nisan might happen to be.
Before May 1974 the Worldwide Church of God used the "morrow after the Sabbath" (Leviticus 23:11, 15) during the Days of Unleavened Bread as the starting point for the count. This day, always a Sunday, was reckoned as the wave-sheaf day. The 50 days toward Pentecost were counted from this day.
The term the Sabbath in this verse was understood to mean the weekly Sabbath that falls during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Since there are seven days of Unleavened Bread, there is always one and only one weekly Sabbath within that week-long period.
I am writing this article to show that the decision made in 1974 that changed the observance of Pentecost to Sunday also included a little-known and -understood provision that--in some years--altered the week Pentecost was to be observed. This was because the wave sheaf was erroneously determined in 1974 to fall always on the Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread, thereby throwing off the count toward Pentecost in some years by a whole week.
The Sadducees, the priests who controlled temple worship before the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, used the correct method to determine the wave-sheaf day.
In the years that Nisan 14, the Passover, falls on the weekly Sabbath, this method allows the weave-sheaf day to fall outside the seven days of Unleavened Bread, but always on a Sunday, the first day of the week.
In 1974 the WCG began counting from the Sunday within the Days of Unleavened Bread, even when that Sunday did not follow the Sabbath that occurred during the Days of Unleavened Bread. This change means the count in some years can begin seven days earlier, and the wrong day is observed as Pentecost.
Including 1974, the Nisan 14 Passover has occurred on a weekly Sabbath four times since the WCG made the change. The Nisan 14 Passover will occur this way again in 2001, 2005 and 2008, according to the calculated Hebrew calendar.
The change to the Sunday within the Days of Unleavened Bread as the starting point for the count towards Pentecost is based on an erroneous interpretation of Joshua 5, specifically verses 10-12. In the King James Version these verses read: "And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the 14th day of the month at even [ba ereb] in the plains of Jericho. And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day. And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year."
The WCG and many of its offshoots say these three verses can mean only that the eating of unleavened cakes and parched corn "on the morrow after the Passover" (they consider this morrow to be Nisan 15) could occur only if this day were wave-sheaf Sunday. Thus the Passover day, which they assume to be Nisan 14, must have occurred on a weekly Sabbath in the year the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River.
Leviticus 23:10 reads: "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest."
Some believe this command was fulfilled in that first week after the Israelites crossed the Jordan. Those who follow this interpretation of Joshua 5:10-11 believe, therefore, that it is correct to use the Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread as a reference point instead of the Sunday that follows the Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread in the determination of the wave-sheaf day. Does Scripture support this 20th-century interpretation? Absolutely not!
The WCG and many of its offshoots erroneously believe the "Passover on the 14th at even" describes a repeat of the activity detailed in Exodus 12:1-10. They then assume that the "morrow of the Passover" is Nisan 15, also known as the first day of Unleavened Bread.
Some also assume that the "old corn" is actually new grain that the Israelites harvest for themselves on Nisan 15, an annual Sabbath. Not only do the Israelites supposedly reap the new grain (cutting it free with a sickle), but they thresh it (loosening the grain from the husk), winnow it (sifting the grain from the straw and chaff), grind it into flour, then knead the dough with many gallons of water brought from the wells and finally bake it into cakes over fires made with wood they gather.
Joshua 4:12-13 tells us that "40,000 prepared for war" of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh and led the children of Israel westward over the Jordan. A census of the men of war was taken before the crossing of the Jordan "from 20 years old and upward . . ., all that are able to go to war in Israel . . . in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho" (Numbers 26:2-4).
Many acres for a million people
Numbers 26 details the number of the men of war from each tribe: a total of 601,730 (verse 51). The Levites are counted separately; the males from 1 month old and upward total 23,000 (verse 62). No males from the other 12 tribes younger than 20 years of age are counted. If we were only to double the number that represents the numbered males--that is, 624,730--we would have more than a million children of Israel who crossed over the Jordan River.
Many acres of standing grain would have needed to be reaped to feed all these people. All this was supposedly done on a Sabbath day (the first day of Unleavened Bread) by people who were put to death if they picked up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36) or worked on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2) and were deemed to be lawbreakers if they sought out manna on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:27-28).
Instead of believing what is erroneously assumed to be contained within Joshua 5, let us look at what God's Word tells us. Exodus 12:18 reads: "In the first month on the 14th day of the month at even [ba ereb, Strong's No. 6153], you shall eat unleavened bread until the one and twentieth day of the month at even [ba ereb]."
This describes Nisan 15 through Nisan 21, which we acknowledge to be the seven days of Unleavened Bread. This tells us that the "14th day of the month at even" is the beginning of Nisan 15, which is the first day of Unleavened Bread, a holy day.
We also see this "at even" (ba ereb) used for the Day of Atonement.
Leviticus 23:32 says: "It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even [ba ereb] from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath." Verse 27 explains that Atonement is on the 10th day of the seventh month.
In Joshua 5:10 this first day of Unleavened Bread is called the Passover. It is not the same activity described as the Passover in Exodus 12:1-10. Deuteronomy 16 also uses the word Passover to describe the first day of Unleavened Bread. Luke 22:1 says, "Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover."
Same word, two meanings
The use of Passover in some places to identify Nisan 14 and in other places to describe the first day of Unleavened Bread has caused much confusion among Bible students. If we look past the word Passover itself and focus on the other details given in the same chapter, we can identify what is being described by the term Passover.
We can ascertain which day of Nisan is this Passover mentioned in Joshua 5:10-12, but we do not see even a hint as to what day of the week this might be. According to the calculated Hebrew calendar (the one used by most Churches of God), this first day of Unleavened Bread can occur only on a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday or seventh-day Sabbath. Whether the Israelites followed this calculated Hebrew calendar or some other calculated calendar or whether they did not follow a calculated calendar is a separate issue.
Joshua 5:10-12 tells us the Israelites kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread, starting with the beginning of Nisan 15, by eating manna. They continued on Nisan 16 (called "the morrow after the Passover") by preparing and eating unleavened cakes and parched corn. They used the "old corn" (Strong's No. 5669) confiscated from the storage places of the already-captured cities on the east side of the Jordan or of the soon-to-be-displaced inhabitants of the land on the west side of the river.
So the Israelites rested on the holy day and ate manna on that day. They prepared "old corn" on the second day of Unleavened Bread and ate manna again and began to eat only the "fruit of the land" starting on the third day of Unleavened Bread. All the work involved in preparing this "fruit of the land" for consumption was entirely lawful to do on the second day of Unleavened Bread.
Let us take a closer look at some of these details. The "old corn" mentioned above is defined by Strong's dictionary (No. 5669) as abuwr, the same as No. 5668: "passed" or "kept over; used only of stored grain: KJV--old corn." This describes what was carried over from last year's harvest or carried over from the eastern side of the Jordan. Either way, this old corn is not newly harvested grain.
This Hebrew term translated "old corn" is used only in Joshua 5. It does not appear anywhere else in the Old Testament. The word translated "fruit of the land" or "increase" or "fruit" is an entirely different word: Strong's No. 8393.
Leviticus 23:10 does not require the Israelites to offer a wave sheaf before they eat the old corn. In addition, the non-Israelitish inhabitants of the land, and not the invading Israelites, had harvested the old corn, so it could not be called "your harvest," as Leviticus 23:10 requires it to be before a wave sheaf is necessary.
In Exodus 23:16 God defines what He means by "your harvest." Verse 16 reads: "And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field."
Where to offer
Let us look at the details of what God required of the Israelites upon their entrance into the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 12 contains many of them. The Israelites are to destroy the pagan worship sites completely, and they must have safety and rest round about (Deuteronomy 12:2-3, 10-11). Then and only then are the Israelites to do all as God has commanded. (See Numbers 33:50-54; Deuteronomy 3:20; 7:1-5, 25-26; 26:1-2.)
Deuteronomy 12:11 clearly limits the Israelites as to where they may bring their offerings: "Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord."
The first altar and offerings are not even mentioned until Joshua 8:30.
In fact, the Israelites could not have chosen to have a wave-sheaf offering; it would have been illegal for them. Would someone else's harvest be acceptable as an Israelite's wave-sheaf offering? Not to God.
Notice His clear command in Leviticus 22:2425: "Ye shall not offer unto the Lord that which is bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut; neither shall ye make any offering thereof in your land. Neither from a stranger's hand shall ye offer the bread of your God of any of these; because their corruption is in them, and blemishes be in them: they shall not be accepted for you."
Also, in Leviticus 18:24-30we read:
"Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God."
What to do on the day
Let us look at the requirements of the wave-sheaf offering. What were the Israelites actually commanded to do on the wave-sheaf day? Leviticus 23:10-13:
"Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the Lord. And the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the Lord for a sweet savour: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of an hin."
This offering, the male lamb and its accompanying meat offering (that is, grain), mingled with oil, needs an altar upon which to be burned. No altar was built until after the destruction of the cities of Jericho, Ai and Bethel as detailed in Joshua 6-8.
Only in Joshua 8:30 do we learn that an altar is finally erected, according to the instructions given by Moses to the elders to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 27:1-6). No other altar was erected before this time.
Deuteronomy 12:13-14 and 26:2 tell us where offerings may be brought: "Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee."
What confirmation do we have that this altar was indeed the first altar built by the Israelites after they crossed over the Jordan River? Joshua 22:10-29 shows the war that almost erupted between Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, when the other Israelites thought the altar, which Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had erected, was to serve as an alternate place for burnt, meat or peace offerings (verses 27-29, 34).
This altar would not serve as a location for such offerings. It was to serve only as a witness. If anyone else had attempted to build another altar to serve as a location for offerings to be burned, a serious conflict would have erupted at that time.
A second place is mentioned as a possible site for an altar. The tabernacle was erected, as detailed in Joshua 18:1. This probably held the brazen altar, but the events of chapter 18 occur much later than the events in chapter 5. The brazen altar was therefore not available for use at the earlier time.
At what point did the Israelites cease their war-making activities and begin to put down roots in the land? They did not formally receive a tribal inheritance until Joshua 14. Numbers 32:18-32 shows that Reuben, Gad and Manasseh only conditionally received their inheritance before the other tribes received theirs. In Joshua 22:1-4, these two and one-half tribes are shown to have fulfilled their obligation to fight alongside their brethren after they subdued the land on the west side of the Jordan.
In Joshua 21:43-45 and 22:1-4 we see that now all the tribes have rest and can cease their war-making activities and begin to cultivate the land. It is only now that the Israelites are both required and permitted to fulfill all the commands of God concerning offerings, as detailed in Deuteronomy 12.
Caleb of the tribe of Judah is the first to receive his inheritance (Joshua 14:9-14), although the soon-to-be-expelled inhabitants still control it.
Chapters 14-22 describe how the land on the west side of the Jordan is subdued and divided among the tribes. By this time they have spent six years in the Promised Land.
How do we know it has taken so long for them to inherit the land? In Joshua 14:7 Caleb says he was 40 years old when he spied out the land during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
Numbers 9:1; 10:11; and 13:2 tell us the Promised Land was searched in the second year of the Israelites' sojourn in the wilderness. Thirty-nine years later they entered the Promised Land. In Joshua 14:10 Caleb is 45 years older than he was when he spied out the land; he is now 85. He and the others have now been in the land for six years, "yet there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance" (Joshua 18:2).
So even at this time the Israelites were not fully settled in the land. God had predicted it would be a slow process, as Exodus 23:29-30 tells us: "I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land."
The wave-sheaf offering also needed oil and wine offered with it. The word oil does not even appear in the book of Joshua. The word wine appears only in Joshua 9:13-14, but in this account it is the property of non-Israelites. As we already noticed in Leviticus 22:24-25, the product of a stranger's harvest would not be acceptable as an offering to God.
As has been detailed in this article, some of the Churches of God use Joshua 5 to support a belief that can be supported only if the plain meaning of Scripture is ignored. Verses 10-12 do not state that either a harvest or a wave-sheaf offering occurred. When the first day of Unleavened Bread occurs on a Sunday, the last day of Unleavened Bread falls on the weekly Sabbath. The "morrow after the Sabbath" would then be the Sunday after the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This Sunday would be the true wave-sheaf day.
Verses 10-12 do not support using the Sunday that is the first day of Unleavened Bread as the wave-sheaf day. As previously stated, there is only one weekly Sabbath that falls within the Days of Unleavened Bread, and we must use it to determine which day is the "morrow after the Sabbath" and thus the true wave-sheaf day and the beginning of the count toward Pentecost.
So that God's Word may give us understanding and teach us sound doctrine, we are to put "precept upon precept; line upon line, . . . here a little, and there a little " (Isaiah 28:13).
God cautions us: "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2).
Also in Joshua 1:7 we read: "Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest."
Lest we think these Old Testament verses do not apply to us, let us keep in mind that you should "study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
The result of diligent obedience is stated in the last chapter of Scripture: "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city" (Revelation 22:14).
1. Starting with this day, the Jews count 49 days, then on the 50th day they observe Shavuot (Pentecost). Arthur Spier, The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar (New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1986), p. 11.
2. See Ambassador College Correspondence Course, Lesson 35, 1969, for more information on the WCG's Pentecost teaching before May 1974.
3. "About the time of Christ there was a dispute between certain Pharisees and Sadducees. Some of the latter contended that Pentecost was to be always on the day after a weekly Sabbath because they insisted that the wave sheaf, from which the 7 weeks were counted, should be offered on the day after the weekly Sabbath that fell during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Talmud-Menahoth 65a)." Siegfried H. Horn, Ph.D., Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Dictionary (Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1979), p. 863.
4. Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago, Moody Press, 1988), p. 415.
5. This occurred in 1974, 1977, 1981 and 1994, according to the current calculated Hebrew calendar.
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