Every year during the start of the annual cycle of biblical feasts, as determined in Leviticus 23, there is a question that starts to show up in all the Messianic circles – “Will the barley be abib?” For people,new to this walk, it is at first a very strange way of determining the year. Once you get to know the agricultural base of the biblical calendar, these do start to add up.
However, where does this frantic barley search come from? Is it a scriptural commandment for us to search for the barley, or is it simply a tradition that we have seen from the Karaites and also decided to do it? This article will investigate if there is any biblical foundation for this search.
Before we can dig into the details of showing you why this is an acceptable practice, we again need to put some fundamentals in place. We need to ensure that we shift our mindset to the biblical times, to align ourselves with the context of the period and while doing this time warp, we also need to change jobs to become a farmer living off the land. This was the occupation for most people during the time the Scriptures were given. Let us get started.
The calendar described in the Bible is based on both the lunar (moon) and solar (sun) cycles (The Gregorian calendar is based purely on the solar cycle). Lunar cycles (time for the moon to circle the earth) indicate the months (Rosh Chodesh) and solar cycle (time for the earth to circle the sun) indicates the seasons and the years. In order for us to ensure that the Lunar months stay aligned with the solar cycle it is necessary to add a 13th month in some years. If we do not do this, we could be celebrating Pesach in the winter after a number of decades. The Hillel 2 calendar, followed by Rabbinic Judaism, uses calculated cycles rather than actual evidence from nature (e.g. the new moon). However, we actually have a lot of instructions already contained in the Scriptures on these topics. YHVH has built into His Scriptures a way for us to ensure the alignment between these two cycles:
1 Now YHVH said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.
18 “You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you came out of Egypt.
The initial instruction shows that the month that the Israelites left Egypt must be the first month of the year. Nowhere else are we given any other month as the first month. For more details, please read the earlier article on the Sabbatical year where I discussed this in more detail. In Exodus 34:18 we are told to celebrate the first feast of the annual cycle in the first month of the year. This month needs to be the month of abib. This does not mean that the name of the month must be abib, but that it must be the month the grains are in the abib stage. This agrarian reference is in line with the agricultural alignment of the main events in Scripture, which tends to align all the appointed times with the agricultural season. We have archaeological proof of the agricultural cycle that was being practiced in the biblical times. This proof is provided to us by findings like the Gezer Calendar.
The Gezer Calendar, dated by archaeologists to 925 b.c., contains a list of the tasks required throughout the agricultural year. It was discovered in excavations of the ancient Canaanite city of Gezer, 20 miles west of Jerusalem, Israel in 1908 by R.A.S. Macalister. Although the seven lines of the script are difficult to read, the current opinion is the following translation:
“two months of ingathering (olives)”
“two months of sowing cereals”
“two months of late sowing”
“a month of hoeing weeds”
“a month of harvesting barley”
“a month of harvesting (wheat) and measuring (grain)”
“two months of grape harvesting”
“a month of gathering summer fruit.”
Brisco, T. V. (1998). Holman Bible atlas. Holman Reference (27). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
This proves to us the current practice of sowing the wheat and barley in the Autumn and then harvesting in the early spring. From these notes, we also see that the barley was being harvested one month earlier than the wheat.
Thus, from all of this we learn that we must have the feast of Pesach in the first month of the year when the grain harvests are abib. There is another reason from Scripture!
The Feast of First Fruits
The early feasts of the year include:
We have already looked at the first feast Pesach, which provides us with the timing of the feast of Unleavened Bread. The next feast that depends on this feast is the First Fruits offering. We also have a timing instruction for when this should be:
10 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. 11 ‘He shall wave the sheaf before YHVH for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 ‘Now on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb one year old without defect for a burnt offering to YHVH. 13 ‘Its grain offering shall then be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire to YHVH for a soothing aroma, with its drink offering, a fourth of a hin of wine. 14 ‘Until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your Elohim, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. 15 ‘You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths.
Thus, we know that the Feast of First Fruits is to be held on the day after the weekly Sabbath, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. What is now the important piece, is to note which offerings were to be done on this day. We see in verse 10 that it must be a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest. We also get the instruction later in verse 14 that we are not allowed to eat of the new harvest until this offer has been made. In verse 15, we see the first part of the instruction of our count towards Shavuot. This is important, because another verse will now string two facts together for us:
9 “You shall count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.
This verse is often misunderstood to say that we start counting the omer on the day the harvest starts. We cannot understand this literally, for it contradicts Leviticus 23. We understood it like this previously, but have done more study on the topic. You can read our more extensive study here.
(NB: Another reason why we cannot start counting the Omer on a variable day of the week as is the Rabbinic tradition. We may end up having to start the harvest on the weekly Sabbath if the First Day of Unleavened Bread is on the 6th day of the week. Reading this as the day after the weekly Sabbath resolves this perceived problem).
This implies that the grain must already be ripe on the day we start counting the Omer. The earliest we could have the Feast of First Fruits would be the 16th of Abib (if the First Day of Unleavened was to fall on the weekly Sabbath) and the latest we could have it is on the 22nd (if the First Day of Unleavened Bread was to fall on the first day of the week).
So we can now conclude that between the 16th and the 22nd of the first month of the year, the grain must be ready for the harvest.
Why must the Barley be abib before we start the year
None of what we have discussed above states that the barley must be abib before we start the year. So where does this come from? There is no scripture that clearly states, “Thou shalt seek the abib barley” if this is what you need! However, what is clear is that this is a very easy conclusion from what I have explained above. The missing piece to complete the logic, here is the fact that barley takes on average two to three weeks from the abib to ripened stage. Thus, in order for the barley to be ready for harvest by the 16th of the month, it will need to be in the abib state 2-3 weeks earlier (14 – 21 days). This brings us to around the start of the month. Worst-case scenario, we have the Feast of First Fruits on the 16th, and then the first barley should be starting to ripen around day 14 (please note that this is not an exact science here!). Also, please remember that the Feast of Unleavened Bread is one of the three pilgrimage feasts. Thus, an early warning (couple of days at least) has always been required to allow people to make the journey to Jerusalem before the feast commences.
The current process is to check for barley in the land of Israel. Is this also scriptural? The answer to this lies in a verse that was quoted earlier:
10 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.
Here the instruction is that we must reap the harvest from the land that YHVH gave to Israel. This land is the land of Israel. Thus, the harvest that we bring as the offering would be from Israel, as a result the need to check the condition of the barley in Israel.
Do we have proof of this practice in Scripture?
Once again, the answer is not a simple yes or no. There is no direct mention of anybody checking the Omer and then declaring the start of the year in any part of scripture. However, we can again deduce from the actions of our Master Y’shua that this was most likely the practice.
From the gospels, we know that He arrived in Jerusalem a couple of days before Pesach riding on a colt:
28 After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. 31 “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘YHVH has need of it.’ ” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “YHVH has need of it.” 35 They brought it to Y’shua, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Y’shua on it. 36 As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. 37 As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise YHVH joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, 38 shouting: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of YHVH; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
After some teachings in the temple, the Pharisees, priests and scribes tried their best to discredit or implicate Him, we read that the feast of Pesach was approaching.
47 And He was teaching daily in the temple; but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy Him, 48 and they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging on to every word He said. 1 On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, 2 and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”
37 Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet. 38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him. 1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. 2 The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people.
Assuming that this was more than two days that Y’shua was teaching in the Temple we know He had to be in Jerusalem before the 12th day of the month. Allowing 2-3 days of travel from Judea beyond the Jordan via Jericho to Jerusalem (also because He would not have traveled on the Sabbath) we know that He would have to leave for Jerusalem at least 5-6 days before Pesach. We also know that Y’shua did not go up to Jerusalem, unless there was a specific purpose because the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to kill Him. Thus, by the end of the first week of the month, He already knew it was the first month in which Pesach would be celebrated. This proves only to us that Y’shua also had a method of knowing early in the month that this was going to be the first month and not the 13th.
In the later days
We have one scripture that proves that on the first day of the month it will already be known if it is the first or 13th month. This scripture is given in the book of Ezekiel when describing the sacrifices in the new temple.
18 ‘Thus says YHVH Elohim, “In the first month, on the first of the month, you shall take a young bull without blemish and cleanse the sanctuary.
Clearly, the people would need to know right at the beginning of the month that this is the first month of the new year.
By studying the Scriptures, we do not find any specific instruction that we need to inspect the condition of the harvest. We do find instructions that tell us the grain must be ready for harvesting towards the middle of the month. Given the fact that the barley ripens first and needs around 2 -3 weeks to move from the abib to the ripe stage, we can easily establish that it would need to be abib at the appearance of the new moon, for us to declare the month as the month of the abib grains. We find no scripture that could possibly contradict this practice, making it an acceptable practice to us.
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