[Photo courtesy of jewornotjew.com, in their discussion on Monty Hall.]
[Note: This is the prepared text for a sermonette given to the United Church of God congregation in Portland, Oregon on May 11, 2019.]
How many of you here have ever watched or heard of the television show “Let’s Make A Deal?” Occasionally on the show, a contestant would be given the chance to pick a door, and behind the wrong door would be a goat if they chose unwisely. Today I would like to talk about the counting of Pentecost. And I want you to keep the goat behind the door in mind, because throughout history there have been a wide variety of methods to count Pentecost, and most of them have goats behind the door. Today I would like to examine why this is the case, and what lessons we can learn from this and apply to other areas of reading and applying and understanding the Bible.
We find out about the counting of Pentecost in Leviticus 23:9-14, so let us turn there. These verses discuss the most obscure of the festivals commanded by God, the festival of the firstfruits, or the wave sheaf offering, which marks the first day of the count for Pentecost. Leviticus 23:9-14 reads: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord. Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the Lord, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin. You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” It is verse eleven here that tells us that the counting is to be on “the day after the Sabbath.”
Continuing on from this, the following passage begins with a discussion of the unique procedure of counting the days to Pentecost in verses fifteen and sixteen of Leviticus 23, which read: “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord.” There several obvious questions that follow this particular method of counting. Which Sabbath are we to count from? And is the Pentecost to be kept on the 50th day of the count or on the next day? What is the point of counting anyway? These questions provide us with a series of doors, and behind most of them are goats of various kinds. For example, the Pharisees and their successors count the Sabbath from the first day of unleavened bread, and so they always keep the Pentecost on the 6th day of the third month. Here the goat behind the door is somewhat obvious. The counting procedure for the Pentecost requires that the fiftieth day of the count is on the day after the seventh Sabbath, and the vast majority of the time this will not be true for the counting of the Pharisees, which is a good clue that they are doing it wrong. Pentecost is the only festival that does not have a day and a month attached to its celebration, and that should give us a clue to ponder whether the Bible provides any other examples of the same kind of counting.
Fortunately, we do not have to look far to find the answer. Leviticus 25:8-10 tells us about the counting of the Jubilee year, and we find that it mirrors the counting of the Feast of Weeks. Leviticus 25:8-10 reads: “And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.” If you continue reading through Leviticus 25, you will see that this particular jubilee year is of great importance. Slaves were freed and lands were restored to their original families, giving Israel a fresh start where the sins of the fathers would have their effects wiped out and generations would be able to regain what their foolish ancestors had lost. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we find the theme of new beginnings in the events that surround the day of Pentecost, most notably the giving of the law from Mt. Sinai in the Old Testament and the giving of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Church of God in the New Testament. Given the connections of the Sabbath cycles of seven days per weekly Sabbath and seven years for every land Sabbath, it makes sense that seven cycles of seven would be a record of fullness, with the next day or year after that marking a chance for new beginnings. And it is here where we can see the goat behind the door of those who would keep the Pentecost on the second day of the week instead of the first. It is the day after the seventh week of seven days and the year after the seventh week of seven years that are set aside by God for the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost on the one hand or the Jubilee year on the other hand. If we note this importance of the day after the Sabbath, an eighth day in a cycle of sevens, we can similarly understand the importance of the eighth day following the seven day Feast of Tabernacles as similarly involving new beginnings, in this case the new heavens and new earth that follow the great white throne judgment. This is a pattern we can use to better understand God’s use of time.
As we have already discussed most of the ways that the Pentecost counting can go wrong, but there is one more possibility to account for. Joshua 5:10-12 gives us insight as to which Sabbath is to be counted in the case where the first day of unleavened bread and the first day of the week in the counting of the Pentecost coincide. Joshua 5:10-12 reads: “Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho. And they “ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day. Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.” Here we see that the people of Israel ate unleavened bread for the First Day of Unleavened Bread and parched grain from the harvest of the promised land on the same day because the First Day of Unleavened Bread and the wave sheaf offering at the feast of the firstfruits happened on the same day. So those who believe that the Sabbath before the counting must be within the Days of Unleavened Bread are mistaken.
It is fortunate that we have an example of the Sabbath count recorded in scripture for us. Let us turn to Luke 6:1 and briefly discuss the way that the counting for the Feast of Weeks is recorded. Luke 6:1 reads: “Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands.” Recently, Mr. Dick cited this passage when talking about the events around Passover during the ministry of Christ, and noted that this “second Sabbath after the first” is also known as the second Sabbath of the first magnitude. We may also note that this Sabbath is the second Sabbath of the Feast of Weeks, where the hungry apostles plucked heads of grain by rubbing them in their hands as it was part of the grain harvest that takes place between Passover and Pentecost, marking this as one of the few cases in the Bible where the counting of the Feast of Weeks is done, noting again that this counting takes place on the weekly Sabbath and that Bible translators who do not keep the Feasts of God have a hard time translating accurately.
What lessons can we gain from this sort of discussion? The Bible gives us sufficient information, as we have previously seen, for us to understand that Pentecost is to be counted from the day after the first weekly Sabbath that takes place on or after the Passover. Furthermore, we have seen that the fiftieth day is to be celebrated, also occurring on the first day of the week, just like the feast of the firstfruits that begins the counting for Pentecost. We have also seen that the counting of Pentecost relates to the themes of new beginnings that also mark the Jubilee year and the eighth day that marks the end of the Feast of Tabernacles by taking place on the day after a seventh day or year. A few lessons appear somewhat obvious. For one, there are many ways that counting can go wrong, by starting from the wrong day or not understanding when one is to finish the count. For another, the Bible provides patterns that we can use to gain insight into the reasons why we are instructed to mark biblical time in a particular way. And there is still another lesson we can learn, namely that the desire to distinguish ourselves from those around us who worship normally on the first day of the week can lead us astray if it influences how we determine the counting of Pentecost. In the case of counting Pentecost, there are quite a few doors to choose from, and sadly all but one of them end up having goats behind them.