The Festival of Unleavened Bread - Chag ha’Matzot
Matzah is a central symbol of Passover. The first matzah is eaten at the Seder and is the staple ‘bread’ during the next seven days, when no leavened products are eaten, in accord with Exodus 13:3-8, “Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place; no leavened bread shall be eaten. This day you are to go forth, in the month of Aviv. And when the Lord brings you into the land …which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; …and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory.”
Matzah is called both “bread of our affliction” and “bread of our freedom”. It is prepared with flour and water, with no chametz (yeast or leaven). On the eve of departure from Egypt, in their haste to be packed and ready to leave immediately they heard the call, the Israelites needed to bake bread that did not require time to rise. Thus it is connected with the affliction of those who were still slaves. Leaven is often a metaphor for sin in the Bible. Thus, spiritually as well as physically, unleavened matzah presents a perfect picture of the one who bore our affliction in order to procure our freedom. He became the “bread of our freedom”. The Lamb without sin, who was bruised, pierced, striped with a whip, and broken, that we might be healed and made whole and set free.
The Festival of First Fruits - Chag Ha’Bikkurim
The first celebration of the bikkurim, the first fruits of the harvest, occurred on 16 Nissan, the day after the first day of Passover (Leviticus 23:10-11). This was the time of the barley harvest, and on the evening of 15 Nissan the first barley sheaves would be cut, put into baskets and stored until the next day, when they were brought, in lively procession singing praises to God, to the Temple to be ceremonially waved by the priests. Together with the priest, the participants would proclaim:
“A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt …and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which thou, O Lord, hast given me” (Deut. 26:5, 8-10).
The first barley sheaf was called the Omer, the waving of which indicated the consecration of all the harvest to God and marked the start of the counting of fifty days until the final wheat harvest, which occurred at Shavuot, Pentecost. As the ‘first fruit’ sheaves were being lifted to God, the Bread of Life that had come from Heaven was already raised from the earth as the first fruit of a completely new harvest. Interestingly, as recorded in Joshua 5:11-12, the manna from heaven that God had provided throughout the forty years of the Israelite’s journey in the wilderness ceased on that same day. “And the manna ceased…and the people of Israel had manna no more, but ate of the fruit of the land...” From then on they would eat of the grain from the earth. And on the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain.
When the Father raised Yeshua from death to life, he was the first to receive a resurrected body. It was literally a new creation of God. No body had been like it before. Therefore, on the day appointed to offer the first fruits of one’s first grain harvest to the Creator, he became the “First fruit” of the harvest to come at the great and final resurrection of the dead ( See Luke 23:56; 24:1; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 20).
Counting the Omer - Sefirat HaOmer
The day of resurrection and new life establishes a connection between Passover and Shavuot. These are the two Feasts, in conjunction with Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles that were holy convocations when all males, as representatives of the whole community, went up to the House of God in Jerusalem. These three pilgrimage festivals physically enacted the great sweeping plan of God to bring His people from the exile of bondage to full and universal redemption.
And you shall count from the morrow after the Sabbath [of Passover], from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven full weeks shall they be, counting fifty days to the morrow after the seventh Sabbath... (Leviticus 23:15).
Starting on the day after Passover, on the festival of First Fruits when the Omer sheaf is waved, seven weeks are counted in expectation of the joyful festival of Shavuot. This ‘counting’ links physical liberation with spiritual redemption; the bread of the earth with the bread of the spirit. The latter is given in the form of His Word, which was revealed by God to His newly formed people at the first Shavuot at Sinai and was reaffirmed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the celebration of Shavuot on Mount Zion in the first century.