Early Israel celebrated three major annual festivals requiring the presence of all males at the sanctuary: Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths (Deuteronomy 16:16). The second of these provides the setting for the close of Deuteronomy's central law code (chapters 12-26). Some confusion arises from the variety of names associated with this important festival: "first fruits" (Numbers 28:26) and "feast of ingathering" (Exodus 23:16) refer to its nature as a harvest festival; "Festival of Weeks" refers to its occurrence seven weeks after Passover; "Pentecost," from the Greek word for "fiftieth," refers to the fiftieth day after Passover.
Essentially a festival celebrating the wheat harvest (Deuteronomy 16:9-12), on this day each Israelite was required to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the sanctuary to thank God for the land they have been given "as an inheritance to possess" (26:1) and to testify that God's promise to Abraham had been realized. Embedded within the ceremony is a marvelous historical summary recited by the worshiper (vv. 5-9) in which three decisive moments in their history, resulting in their possession of the land, are recalled:
The gifts brought by the worshiper provide incontrovertible proof of the productivity of the "land flowing with milk and honey," which becomes the basis of the worshiper's thanksgiving.
This testimony, offered by the worshiper, has sometimes been seen as Israel's earliest creed, an outline of Israel's history of salvation, and the backbone of Genesis through Joshua. Such claims are usually regarded as extreme these days. Nevertheless, the annual celebration of God's gift of the land, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, remains a compelling articulation of Israel's faith.
26When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us. 4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me. You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011