The Joshua 5 Test

As most know, there is a huge contention about which day is to be called "First Fruits" when the wave offering made and the 50-day count of the Omer begins. The contention boils down to the meaning of the word "Shabbat" in Leviticus 23:10-11. Every year, people argue about whether the word "Shabbat" means the "weekly 7-th day" or the High Holy Day of the Feast of Unleavended Bread. (Many don’t realize that ALL High Holy Days are "Shabbats" in the meaning of the set-apart day of convocation, day of rest, no work. See Leviticus 23:24 and 23:28 for example).

Let's dig into this

Leviticus 23:10 "Speak to the sons of Israel, and you shall say to them, When you come in to the land which I am giving to you, and have reaped its harvest, and have brought in the Omer, of the beginning of your harvest, to the priest, Lev 23:11 then he shall wave the Omer before YAHWEH for your acceptance†; on the morrow of the Sabbath the priest shall wave it". (HRB)

So, at Passover time, which "Shabbat" is it that kicks off the Omer count? Is it the "weekly", 7th-day Shabbat, or the High Holy Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread? Believe it or not, there are four main interpretations of verse 11! FOUR!:

Group 1. The ancient Pharisee perspective. The "Shabbat" (of Leviticus 23:11) in question is the High Holy Shabbat of the 15th of Nisan as specified in Leviticus 23:6-7, so the "day after the Shabbat" (Firstfruits) is always the 16th of Nisan.

Group 2. The ancient Sadducee perspective. The "Shabbat" in question can only be the weekly Shabbat during the week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and thus the "day after Shabbat" (Firstfruits) is always the 1st Sunday after Passover, wherever Sunday falls from the 15th through the 21st of Nisan.

Group 3. The ancient Essene perspective. The "Shabbat" in question can only be the weekly Shabbat after the whole week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and thus Firstfruits is always the Sunday falling on or after the 21st of Nisan to the 28th of Nisan.

Group 4. The modern Karaite perspective. The "First Fruits" offering is always on the 15th of Nisan. "Passover", according to this perspective, is defined as the "Paschal Sacrifice", meaning the afternoon of the 14th is "Passover" making the "morrow of Passover" the 15th, immediately following sunset the 14th.

The Joshua Connection

In Joshua 5, we find the Hebrews celebrating Passover on the plains of Gilgal. After Passover, they eat of the new grain of the land, and the next day the Manna ceases. Here are the verses:

10 The people of Isra'el camped at Gilgal, and they observed Pesach on the fourteenth day of the month, there on the plains of Yericho. 11 The day after Pesach they ate what the land produced, matzah and roasted ears of grain that day. 12 The following day, after they had eaten food produced in the land, the man ended. From then on the people of Isra'el no longer had man; instead, that year, they ate the produce of the land of Kena`an. (CJB)

For the followers of their leader, Joshua, to understand that they should celebrate the Passover beginning the afternoon of the 14th of the month means that Joshua and his Levite Priests with him knew Torah well. But this also means that their celebration must have also met the other requirements or conditions of the week-long celebration.

Sidebar: Translations of these verses make for a very difficult interpretation. For example, the Karaites (Nehemiah Gordon and company) prefer a completely different translation of these verses as follows:

11 And they did eat of the produce of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes and parched corn, in the selfsame day. 12 And the manna ceased on the morrow, after they had eaten of the produce 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 reason for this is the Karaites define the "morrow after the passover" as the daytime after the sunrise of the 15th, that is, the sunrise after the sunset of the 14th! So they argue that the "morrow after" means the sunrise after rather than the "day after". But Karaites also say the "morrow after the Shabbat" is Sunday morning instead of Saturday morning!

Thus they "define" Passover as the slaying of the lambs in the late afternoon of the 14th! But scripture says otherwise. The "pass-over" was at midnight the 15th! (Exodus 12:27-29). Midnight means the date was the 15th, and that makes the 15th the "day of the passover", so the 16th necessarily is the "morrow of the passover."

The Karaite interpretation must be dismissed because it defies scripture, both Leviticus 23 and Joshua 5. That makes the Karaite interpretation difficult to assess in this article because scripture clearly defines the 15th of Nisan as the Shabbat (High Holy Day of the 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread), and the 14th, when the lambs are slain is decidedly not a Shabbat. Leviticus 23:11 clearly requires the FirstFruits offering on the "morrow of the Shabbat", and that is not the morning of the 15th - which is a Shabbat! Nevertheless, the Karaite rule is assessed without change.

The Scripture Conditions for Passover

Passover is observed from the afternoon of the 14th through the evening as the calendar date becomes the 15th. (Exodus 12:6; 12:8; Leviticus 23:5)

That night, (now the 15th), they eat the Passover meal. (Exodus 12:8). The very reason the Passover meal is eaten hurriedly that evening is because the original and only "pass-over" was at midnight and the Hebrews needed to be done eating before that time.

They eat matzah the whole week, including late afternoon the 14th. (Exodus 12:8; 12:15; 12:18)

The 15th is the 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and is a Sabbath, a High Holy Day. (Leviticus 23:6-7; Exodus 12:16)

A sheaf (omer) of the First Fruits of the land is brought to the Levite for waving. (Leviticus 23:10-11). That omer of First Fruits is waved on the day after the Sabbath. (Leviticus 23:11) [Note that we will not assume anything right now about "what" Sabbath this must be.]

The people cannot eat of the new grain from the land until that omer of First Fruits is presented. (Leviticus 23:14)

These same conditions apply each and every year when the Feast is celebrated. (Leviticus 23:14; Exodus 12:14; 12:17; 12:24)

ALL of these conditions must be met every year, so we can "test" the situation described in Joshua 5, to see which of the four "rules" for First Fruits actually works for that particular Passover! After all, the correct rule should work in any year so it should work for the Passover recorded in Joshua 5! If we get a positive, unambiguous result, that should "settle" the eon's - long argument of "which Sabbath" is referred to in Leviticus 23:11!

So, let's test each Group's rules for First Fruits and see which work for the conditions of Joshua 5:10-12.

We don't know the day of the week on which Passover, the 14th of Nisan fell in Joshua 5 so we must test all seven days on which Passover could have fallen the year they crossed the Jordan. That means let's look at each day of the week, Sunday through Saturday, and test each group's rules!


(Starting with the "Group 3 rules, the Essenes.)

Group 3: Essene rules, (Firstfruits is always the Sunday falling the 21st of Nisan to the 28th of Nisan), never work with Passover on any day of the week - Joshua 5 or not! The Essene rules fail primarily because in Joshua 5, the Manna must end the day AFTER the First Fruits offering, and the Manna clearly ended the 2nd day after Passover. By Essene rules they don't even make the omer offering until the 21st of the month or later and only then would the Manna have ended in Joshua 5 and no new grain is eaten till after the omer offering (Leviticus 23:14). The Essene rule cannot be reconciled with Joshua 5.

Group 2: Saducee rules, (Firstfruits is always the Sunday from the 15th through the 21st of Nisan), work only if Passover falls on a Friday or Saturday. The rules do not work if Passover falls on any other day of the week. Since the Saducees agree that the 16th is the "morrow of Passover", but that the First Fruits must be made on a Sunday, the only time the rules meet all the requirements is when Passover falls on a Friday or Saturday! On every other weekday Joshua 5:11 is not met. (The First Fruits must be the "morrow of Passover" per Joshua 5:11, not the 1st Sunday after Passover.)

Group 4: Karaite rules, (First Fruits is always on the 15th of Nisan), only works with Passover on a Saturday. Since the Karaites define "Passover" as the 14th, they argue that the 14th is the "Shabbat". But the 14th is decidedly NOT a Shabbat (despite what they say)! Scripture is clear the the 15th is the High Holy Day, i.e., a Shabbat. So the only day of the week which Passover can fall which works with the Kariate rule is a Saturday, so the "morrow of the Shabbat" can be the morning of the 15th. But for that to work, one still needs to ignore Leviticus 23:11.

Group 1: Pharisee rules, (Firstfruits is always the 16th of Nisan), work on any day of the week Passover falls. The rules always work, any year, and even the year of the Jordan crossing in Joshua 5. This is because in Joshua 5:12 the Manna ended the day after the First Fruits was offered, and since First Fruits is always the 16th, the Manna ended the next day, the 17th. This works in any year.

You should find these results interesting because, what we see is that the application of the four majority concepts of which day is the day of the First Fruits offering, only ONE method works every year, including the Passover observance of Joshua 5. Firstfruits is the 16th of Nisan. We don't need to "play games" with defining terms, but what we see is that if we simply take scripture for what it says; we don't need to impose "definitions" or establish "rules" outside of scripture. For the sake of argument, let's look at some "definitions":


Passover. Passover is defined in scripture. Exodus 12:6-12 clearly defines Passover as falling from the afternoon of the 14th of the month, to the darkness of the 15th after sunset that same night. Passover itself is not a "full day" holiday; rather it is an "event" which is remembered each year from the afternoon of the 14th through the night (which has then become the 15th). The original, and only "pass-over" was at midnight! See Exodus 12:12; 12:29. It is folly to argue that the term "Passover" can only refer to the afternoon of the 14th. (Note: While it is tradition to refer to the entire week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread as the "week of Passover", Passover is actually only one night, the 14th-15th of Nisan.) The "day of Passover" then, is the 15th, while the "morrow of Passover" is the 16th.

Shabbat. This word is very much misunderstood. Many think it only means the "7th Day" of the week, but in reality, it means different "7s" depending on the context in the original Hebrew text. It is clearly the "set aside 7th day", but it is also any "7-day period", "a High Holy Day", a "day of rest". Each of the High Holy Days mentioned in the Feasts, those days on which there is to be a "holy convocation", are also "shabbats". And the "7th-day Shabbat" holds a special place. In fact, the 7th-day Shabbat is mentioned FIRST in Leviticus 23, and set aside completely independent of the "Shabbats" of the Feast days described in verses 4-36. This is completely made clear by verse 36-37 which says: "'These are the designated times of ADONAI that you are to proclaim as holy convocations and bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI -a burnt offering, a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, each on its own day - besides the Shabbats of ADONAI, your gifts, all your vows and all your voluntary offerings that you give to ADONAI." It doesn't get any clearer than that; yet so many insist that the "Shabbat" of Leviticus 23:11 can only mean the weekly Shabbat!

Omer. This is the Hebrew word in Leviticus 23:10-11 usually translated in English as "sheaf". In those ancient days, when the first crops of the Spring were just beginning to ripen, they would not have gone and cut a "sheaf" as the English word conveys; rather, the "omer" was a "portion of the grain", a "measure". The "omer" then, is the "daily portion" as we see in Exodus 16:16; 16:22, about two quarts by today's measure. This omer offering would have been gathered to be presented to the Levite Priest for the First Fruits offering on the proper day. Since the sun determines the seasons, and Passover is tied to the "Spring", there would be crops in the field from which to gather the omer, regardless of the "stage of green", i.e., the "abib" of the plant.

First Fruits. This term is also widely misunderstood. Again, because the English word "sheaf" is used instead of the Hebrew "omer", it is assumed this is a plant stalk! But "First Fruits" is not a plant stalk! It is the offering! The Hebrew is ראשׁית ("ra'sheeth") and means "the first (in place, time, order or rank) - beginning, chief (as in "chief-most"), first (-fruits, part, time), or principal thing". (The Hebrew "bikkurim" is used in Leviticus 2:14 and Leviticus 23:17 rather than ra'sheeth.) The very word, ra'sheeth, in Leviticus 23:10 conveys that the "first" of the harvest is brought. It's less about the "thing" (i.e. the "sheaf" of the plant) and more about the message that the "first" or "first part" of all we have belongs to and is to be brought before YHWH before we get to partake. (In Genesis 49:3, Y'akov refers to his son, Re'uven, as וראשׁית ("v'ra'sheeth"), usually translated in this verse as well as "firstfruits" which conveys the same message: first, most special.)

And First Fruits is not assigned a "date" like Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread - First Fruits is an offering, not a "day". A commandment is found at Leviticus 23:14 to not eat of the new crop until this offering of the very first omer of the new crop is presented.

Indeed, there are THREE First Fruit harvest offerings! These are the "First Fruits" of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, (Leviticus 23:10-11), Shavuot, (Leviticus 23:17), and Sukkot, (Leviticus 23:39). The 1st is grain, the second is bread made from the late crop, and the third is the fruits, nuts, and vegetables which have ripened at the end of the growing season but are still the "first" to be harvested of that year's new crop of fruits and vegetables. In Leviticus 23:11; 23:16 and 23:39, specific days are identified to bring these offerings so the term "First Fruits" has become synonymous with the "day" rather than with the offering.

The term also has become synonymous with the day of the resurrection of the Messiah. This is unfortunate because first fruits do not "rise" - they are presented. The importance of the first fruits is in what it represents, "first of the harvest", not that it "has to do something". To expect or require that the Messiah had to "rise" and be "presented" on First Fruits to be First Fruits is a misapplication of the symbology of First Fruits! We don't require all the attributes of the Passover Lamb to the Messiah! The Messiah's death was symbolic of the lamb. The Messiah was not "slaughtered" like the lamb, and His blood was not spread on any door posts. The Messiah's purpose was to gift us eternal life by being a substitute for our sins and for us to try to "force" all aspects of Passover and First Fruits to what happened to the Messiah is just plain wrong! The Messiah "was" Firstfruits, He did not have to "rise" on Firstfruits.

Morrow of the Sabbath and Morrow of Passover. The Hebrew word is ממחרת ("m'macharath", "morrow" in English). It means "the next day". It does NOT mean "the next morning" or "the morning after". (The Hebrew word for "the next morning" is בקר ("bo'ker" or "boquer"), see for example, 2 Kings 3:20, 2 Kings 19:35). In the same sentence in which many argue that the phrase "morrow of the Sabbath" no doubt means "after sunset Saturday", they will also say the phrase "morrow of Passover" must mean the "next sunrise". This is simply not a good interpretation! Some will argue that Numbers 33:3 proves their position! Really?

Numbers 33:3 says: "And they journeyed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with a high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians," (ASV)

This seems, (at least in English), that it says "the 15th of the month is the morrow of the Passover". But the problem is in the English, not the Hebrew. Let's look at the "flow" of events of the exodus:

• The killing of the lamb in the late afternoon of the 14th

• The Passover meal, consumed hurriedly, each family or group of families in their own homes

• The Sun sets the 14th, it becomes the 15th, the meal is consumed and none is "left till morning"

• At midnight, the angel of death "passes over" the land killing the firstborn of the Egyptians

• Over the next few hours, now well after midnight, all the Egyptians are awakened by the wailing of those discovering the dead, including Pharaoh. Pharaoh calls for the immediate departure of the Hebrews.

• As the night ends, and daylight of the 15th begins, word spreads among the Hebrews to begin the departure.

• Now the 1st part of Numbers 33:3 comes into play: "And they journeyed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month". The exodus began during the day on the 15th, well after midnight, into the dawn and after sunrise. But we are talking about 600,000 men, and a total of approximately 2 million people, so this was not as simple as all of them simple leaving town within a few hours.

• As the mass of people began their departure, they plundered the Egyptians who gave them whatever they wanted. All this took time and packing of supplies and animals. So, throughout the daylight time of the 15th, 2 million Hebrews (and sympathizers), prepared to leave. Some may have had little and could leave right away, while others probably needed much of the day to prepare. But by the end of the 15th, by sunset, it is safe to assume most everyone had begun to leave Rameses.

• Now the second part of Numbers 33:3 comes into play: "on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with a high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians,".

So, Numbers 33:3 makes perfect sense, even in English, without demanding that the phrase "morrow of Passover" has to mean the 15th. The exodus commenced the 15th after the "pass-over" at midnight earlier that same night; then the "morrow of Passover" was after sunset the 15th when the date became the 16th. Note that this interpretation, "morrow of Passover", understood to be the next sunset after that original midnight "pass-over", matches exactly the clearly understood term "morrow of the Sabbath", in Lev 23:15 which no one mistakes for anything but what it is: at the sunset of the Sabbath day the new day becomes the "morrow of the Sabbath."

Thus we see that Numbers 33:3 most definitely does not imply that the "morrow of Passover" is the 15th, nor does it make any sense that "Passover" itself is only the evening of the 14th. The Passover is not a "whole day" observance like the Shabbat, or the High Holy days of the Feasts. And the 14th of Nisan is not itself a Shabbat (High Holy) day. But Passover is an "event" which begins the afternoon of the 14th and ends on the 15th. Once it has become the 15th, i.e., after the sunset of the 14th, the day takes on a new purpose - it is the 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread - which is "a" Shabbat. We can certainly see why the 15th is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread because that is the day the Hebrews had to hurriedly begin their flight and that is why they did not have time to prepare bread. But even though Passover is not a whole-day event, the "morrow of Passover" still must begin the sunset of the 15th, which by definition is the 16th.

Before we end, let's look at one final topic

On what day of the week was Passover in Joshua 5?

This is a valid question. First, note that no scripture in Joshua 5 gives us any clear identity of which day of the week was the 14th of Nisan. But there is one school of thought that might reveal it to us! We know from Joshua 5:12 that the Manna ended the day after the Firstfruits offering. What does scripture tell us about which day Manna did not fall during the 40 years of the exodus? Exodus 16:25 tells us that the Manna never fell on the Shabbat. So it's a pretty safe conclusion that the day the Manna stopped in Joshua 5 was a Shabbat. That means the Shabbat that year, when the last manna was eaten (remember, a double portion was always provided on Friday), was a Saturday, making it the 17th of the month. This means Passover that year would have been on a Wednesday. This is food for thought, because there are Messianic implications for Passover that year to have been on a Wednesday!

Now that we understand that the Passover observance in Joshua 5 followed the Torah, and does not require "redefining" the meaning of "Passover", or a special meaning of the "morrow of Passover", let's see it visually. Here is a graphic of the "first" and only, original Passover:

("SS" means "sunset" and "SR" means "sunrise".) You can readily see why the Passover is a time period from the afternoon of the 14th to after midnight the 15th and why the 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is declared as the 15th. You can also see the proper understanding of Numbers 33:3.

And here is the same time period in Joshua 5:

You can readily see in this graphic that the Passover observance of Joshua 5 fits exactly within the identical period required for ALL Passover observances which follow the one-and-only original. And more importantly, you can see that there is no reason to require the First Fruits offering to be tied at all to the day after the weekly Sabbath. We see that by the timeline of Joshua 5, Firstfruits is the 16th of Nisan.