Joshua Chapter Five and the Wavesheaf Day

All the Churches of God calculate the day on which to observe Pentecost by first determining which day is to be considered the Wavesheaf Day. Some follow the modern Pharisaical tradition and use Nisan 16, the second Day of Unleavened Bread, as day one of the count towards Pentecost, no matter which day of the week this 16th of Nisan might happen to be. [Starting with this day the Jews count 49 days, then on the 50th day they observe Shavuot (Pentecost). Arthur Spier, The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar (New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1986), p.11.]

Prior to May 1974 the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) used the “morrow after the Sabbath” (Lev. 23:11,15) during the Days of Unleavened Bread as the starting point for the count towards Pentecost. This starting point, always a Sunday, was reckoned as the Wavesheaf Day. The fifty days toward Pentecost were counted from this Wavesheaf Day. [Please see Ambassador College Correspondence Course, Lesson 35, Copyright 1969, for more information concerning the WCG’s Pentecost teaching prior to May 1974.] The term “the Sabbath” in this verse was understood to mean the weekly Sabbath, which falls during the Days of Unleavened Bread.   Since there are seven Days of Unleavened Bread, there is always one, and only one, weekly Sabbath within that seven day period.

     The Sadducees, the priests who controlled temple worship before the temple was destroyed in AD 70, used this method to determine the Wavesheaf Day.  [“About the time of Christ there was a dispute between certain Pharisees and Sadducees. Some of the latter contended that Pentecost was to be always on the day after a weekly Sabbath because they insisted that the wave sheaf, from which the 7 weeks were counted, should be offered on the day after the weekly Sabbath that fell during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Talmud-Menahoth 65a).” Siegfried H. Horn, Ph.D., Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Dictionary (Washington, DC: Review And Herald Publishing Association, 1979), p.863.] In the years that the 14th of Nisan, the Passover, falls on the weekly Sabbath, this method allows the Wavesheaf Day to fall outside the seven Days of Unleavened Bread, but always on a Sunday, the first day of the week. [Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), p.415.]

In 1974, the WCG changed to the Sunday within the Days of Unleavened Bread as the starting point for the count towards Pentecost, even when that Sunday did not follow the Sabbath which occurred during the Days of Unleavened Bread. This change causes the count to begin seven days earlier and the wrong day is observed as Pentecost. Including the year 1974, the Nisan 14th Passover has occurred on a weekly Sabbath four times since the WCG made this change in their method of calculation. [This has occurred in 1974, 1977, 1981, and 1994, according to the calculated Hebrew Calendar.] The Nisan 14th Passover will occur this way again in 2001, 2005, and 2008, according to the calculated Hebrew calendar.

     The change to the Sunday within the Days of Unleavened Bread as the starting point for the count towards Pentecost is based on an error-filled interpretation of Joshua chapter 5, specifically of verses 10, 11, and 12. In the King James Version these verses read: “10 And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the 14th day of the month at even (ba ereb) in the plains of Jericho. 11 And they did eat of the old corn 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 old corn 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 WCG and many of its offshoots say these three verses can mean only that the eating of unleavened cakes and parched corn, “on the morrow after the Passover,” (they consider this morrow to be the 15th of Nisan), could occur only if this day were Wavesheaf Sunday. Thus the Passover day, which they assume to be the 14th of Nisan, must have occurred on a weekly Sabbath in the year that the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River.

     Leviticus 23:10 reads: “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest.” Some believe that this command was fulfilled in that first week after the Israelites crossed the Jordan.              

     Those who follow this interpretation of Joshua 5:10-11 believe that therefore it is correct to use the Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread as a reference point, instead of the Sunday which follows the Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread, in the determination of the Wavesheaf Day. Does scripture support this 20th century interpretation? Absolutely not!

     The WCG and many of its offshoots erroneously believe that the “Passover on the 14th at even“ describes a repeat of the activity detailed in Exodus 12:1-10.  They then assume that the “morrow of the Passover” is the 15th of Nisan, also known as the First Day of Unleavened Bread. Some also assume that the “old corn” is actually new grain that the Israelites harvest for themselves on the 15th of Nisan, an annual Sabbath. Not only do the Israelites supposedly reap the new grain (cutting it free with a sickle), but they also thresh it (loosening the grain from the husk), winnow it (sifting the grain from the straw and chaff), grind it into flour, then knead the dough with many gallons of water which are brought from the wells, and finally bake it into cakes over fires made with wood that they gather.

     Joshua 4:12-13 tells us that, "40,000 men of war," from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the one-half tribe of Manasseh, led the children of Israel westward over the Jordan River. A census of the men of war was taken prior to the crossing of the Jordan River, “ … from 20 years old and upward … all that are able to go to war in Israel …in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho” (Numbers 26:2-4).

     Chapter 26 of Numbers details the number of the men of war from each tribe: a total of 601,730 men (verse 51). The Levites are counted separately; all the males from one month old and upward total 23,000 (verse 62). No males from the other 12 tribes, younger than 20 years of age, are counted. If we were to only double the number that represents the numbered males, i.e. 624,730, we would have over a million children of Israel who crossed over the Jordan River.         

     Many acres of standing grain would have needed to be reaped to feed all these people. All this was supposedly done on a Sabbath day (i.e. the first Day of Unleavened Bread) by people who were put to death if they picked up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32- 36), or worked on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2), and were deemed to be lawbreakers if they sought out manna on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:27-28).

     Instead of believing what is erroneously assumed to be contained within Joshua 5, let us look at what God’s Word does actually tell us. Exodus 12:18 reads: ”In the first month on the 14th day of the month at even (ba ereb, SHD #6153), you shall eat unleavened bread until the one and twentieth day of the month at even (ba ereb).” This describes the 15th day of Nisan through the 21st day of Nisan, which we acknowledge to be the seven Days of Unleavened Bread. This tells us that the “14th day of the month at even” is the beginning of the 15th of Nisan, which is the first Day of Unleavened Bread, a Holy Day. 

     We also see this “at even” (ba ereb) used for the Day of Atonement.  Leviticus 23:32 says: ”It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even (ba ereb) from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.” Verse 27 clearly explains Atonement is on the 10th day of the seventh month.

     In Joshua 5:10 this first Day of Unleavened Bread is called the "Passover.” It is not the same activity described as the "Passover" in Exodus 12:1-10. Deuteronomy 16 also uses the word "Passover" to describe the first Day of Unleavened Bread. In the New Testament Luke 22:1 says: ”Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.”

     The use of "Passover" in some places to identify the 14th of Nisan and in some other places to describe the first Day of Unleavened Bread has caused much confusion among Bible students. If we look past the word "Passover" itself and focus on the other details given in the same chapter, we can identify what is being described by the word “Passover.”

     We can ascertain what day of the month of Nisan this "Passover" mentioned in Joshua 5:10-12 is, but we do not see even a hint as to what day of the week this might be. According to the calculated Hebrew calendar, this first Day of Unleavened Bread can occur only on a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, or seventh day Sabbath. Whether these Israelites followed this calculated Hebrew calendar, or whether they did not, is a separate issue.

     Verses 10, 11, and 12 of Joshua 5 tell us that the Israelites kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread, starting with the beginning of the 15th of Nisan, by eating manna. They continued on the 16th of Nisan (called "the morrow after the Passover") by eating unleavened cakes and parched corn. The King James Version of the Bible calls this "the old corn of the land." The Hebrew word translated "old corn" is defined by Strong’s Dictionary as “5669  `abuwr (aw-boor'); the same as 5668; passed, i.e. kept over; used only of stored grain: KJV-old corn."   Strong's defines number 5668 as "'abuwr (aw-boor'); or `abur (aw-boor'); passive participle of OT: 5674; properly, crossed," and SHD# 5674 is defined as "`abar (aw-bar'); a primitive root; to cross over."

     This Hebrew term translated "old corn" is used only here in Joshua 5. It does not appear anywhere else in the Old Testament. The word translated "fruit of the land" or "increase" or “fruit" is an entirely different word. It is identified as Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary number 8393.

     Do we see an earlier mention of this "passed" or "crossed" over corn in the book of Joshua? Yes. In chapter one, verses 10 and 11, it says, "Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, 11 Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals (SHD #6720); for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the LORD your God giveth you to possess it."

     So here we have the Israelites preparing food before their crossing of the Jordan River on the 10th of Nisan (Joshua 4:19). We must remember the manna was still arriving on schedule six days each week at this time. It did not cease arriving until after they crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 5:12). What was it they were preparing here in chapter one verse eleven specifically in anticipation of crossing the river within three days? This could not have been manna being prepared for consumption after a minimum of three days in storage. The manna bred worms and stank if it was held over from one day to another. Even the manna collected on the sixth day would keep only for two days.

     The food being prepared for consumption after the passage of at least three days was not manna. It could only be the produce of the land from the east side of the Jordan River. When the Israelites are told to prepare this food, they are not yet told why they would need it. Even Joshua does not yet know that a mass circumcision of Israelitish males would soon be commanded by God.                                                     

     They cross the Jordan with this specially prepared food and only then are they told to circumcise the younger males, those who had been born in the wilderness (Joshua 5:5-7). After such an operation, there is always a period of convalescence. In fact, the Israelites "abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole" (Josh 5:8). How long was this time period?

     We have an episode in Genesis chapter 34 concerning the men of Shechem who agreed to be circumcised. On the third day after their circumcision, two sons of Jacob murdered them. The Shechemites were unable to defend themselves. This confirms that a recovery period of more than 3 days is required for healing from such an operation. Actually, it can be argued that the third day is the time of greatest pain and that full recovery takes another three or four days.      

     As described in Joshua chapter five the Israelites rested on the Holy Day and ate manna on that day. They ate "old corn" on the second Day of Unleavened Bread. The manna was also available to them. The manna then ceased on the following day.

     As we already noted, this carried over old corn was specially prepared at God's command before they crossed the Jordan on the tenth of Nisan. Was there a Wavesheaf ceremony held before the 10th of Nisan on the east side of the Jordan before this food was prepared? No one claims that such a ceremony occurred during the first several days of Nisan in the year the Israelites entered the promised land. Since no command is given to abstain from eating any of this specially prepared food as it is being prepared, some of the Israelites might have eaten some of it at that time. They were unfamiliar with preparing this non-manna food, and they probably taste tested the first batches.

     Leviticus 23:10 does not require the Israelites to offer a Wavesheaf before they eat this "old corn." In addition, the non-Israelitish inhabitants of the land, and not the invading Israelites, had harvested this “old corn,” so it could not be called "your harvest" as Leviticus 23:10 requires to be true before a Wavesheaf is necessary.

     In Exodus 23:16 God defines what he means by "your harvest." Verse 16 reads  "And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field.

     Let us look at the details of what God required of the Israelites upon their entrance into the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 12 contains many of these details. The Israelites are to destroy the pagan worship sites completely, and they must have safety, and rest roundabout (Deuteronomy 12:10). Then, and only then, are they to do all as God has commanded. Please see Numbers 33:50-54, Deuteronomy 3:20, Deuteronomy 7:1-5, 25, 26, and Deuteronomy 26:1-2.  

     Deuteronomy 12:11 clearly limits the Israelites as to where they may bring their offerings: "Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the LORD." The first altar and offerings are not even mentioned until Joshua 8:30.

     In fact, the Israelites could not have chosen to have a Wavesheaf offering; it would have been illegal for them to do so. Would someone else's harvest be acceptable as an Israelite’s Wavesheaf offering? Not to God! Notice His clear command in Leviticus 22:24–25: "Ye shall not offer unto the LORD that which is bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut; neither shall ye make any offering thereof in your land. 25 Neither from a stranger's hand shall ye offer the bread of your God of any of these; because their corruption is in them, and blemishes be in them: they shall not be accepted for you.”

     Also in Leviticus 18:24-30 we read: "Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: 25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. 26 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: 27 (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) 28 That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. 29 For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.  30 Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.”

     Let us look at the requirements of the Wavesheaf offering. What were the Israelites actually commanded to do on the Wavesheaf Day? Leviticus 23:10-13 says: "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: 11 And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the LORD. 13 And the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the LORD for a sweet savour: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of an hin.”

     This offering, the male lamb and its accompanying meat offering (i.e. grain), mingled with oil, needs an altar upon which to be burnt. No altar was built until after the destruction of the cities of Jericho, Ai, and Bethel as detailed in Joshua chapters 6, 7, and 8. Only in Joshua 8:30 are we told that an altar is finally erected, according to the instructions given by Moses with the elders to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 27:1-6). No other altar was erected before this time.  Deuteronomy 12:13-14 tells us where offerings may be brought: "Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: 14 But in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee.” Deuteronomy 26:2 repeats this requirement.

     What confirmation do we have that this altar was indeed the first altar built by the Israelites after they crossed over the Jordan River? Joshua 22:10-29 shows the war that almost erupted between Reuben, Gad, and the 1/2 tribe of Manasseh, when the other Israelites thought that the altar, which Reuben, Gad, and the 1/2 Tribe of Manasseh had erected, was to serve as an alternate place for burnt, meat or peace offerings (verses 27, 28, 29, and 34). This altar would not serve as a location for such offerings.  It was to serve only as a witness. If anyone else had attempted to build another altar to serve as a location for offerings to be burnt, a serious conflict would have erupted at that time.

     A second place is mentioned as a possible site for an altar. The tabernacle was erected, as detailed in Joshua 18:1. This probably held the brazen altar, but the events of chapter 18 occur much later than the events mentioned in chapter 5. The brazen altar was therefore not available for use at the earlier time.

     At what point did the Israelites cease their war-making activities and begin to put down roots in the land? They did not formally receive a tribal inheritance until Joshua 14. Numbers 32:18-32 show that Reuben, Gad, and the 1/2 tribe of Manasseh only conditionally received their inheritance before the other tribes received theirs. In Joshua 22:1-4, these 2-1/2 tribes are shown to have fulfilled their obligation to fight alongside their brethren, after they subdued the land on the west side of the Jordan.

     In Joshua 21:43-45 and Joshua 22:1-4 we see that now all the tribes have rest and can cease their war-making activities and begin to cultivate the land. It is only now that the Israelites are both required and permitted to fulfill all the commands of God concerning offerings, as detailed in Deuteronomy 12.

     Caleb of the tribe of Judah is the first to receive his inheritance (Joshua 14:6), while the soon-to-be expelled inhabitants still control it. Chapters 14 through 22 describe how the land on the west side of the Jordan is subdued and divided among the tribes. By this time, they have spent six years in the Promised Land. How do we know that it has taken so long for them to inherit the land? In Joshua 14:7 Caleb says he was 40 years old when he spied out the land during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Numbers 9:1, 10:11, 13:2 tell us that the Promised Land was searched in the second year of the Israelites’ sojourn in the wilderness. Thirty-nine years later they entered the Promised Land. In Joshua 14:10 Caleb is 45 years older than he was when he spied out the land; he is now 85 years old. He and the others have now been in the land for six years, and “yet there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance” (Joshua 18:2).

 So even at this time, the Israelites were not fully settled in the land. God had predicted it would be a slow process, as Exodus 23:29-30 tells us: “I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.”                                                                                

     The Wavesheaf offering also needed oil and wine offered with it. The word “oil” does not even appear in the book of Joshua. The word “wine” appears only in Joshua 9:13-14, but in this account it is the property of non-Israelites.  As we already noticed in Leviticus 22:24-25, the product of a stranger’s harvest would not be acceptable as an offering to God. 

     As has been detailed in this essay, some of the Churches of God use Joshua 5 to support a belief that can only be supported if the words of Scripture are twisted out of their plain meaning. Verses 10, 11, and 12 do not state that either a harvest or a Wavesheaf offering occurred. The Hebrew meaning of the word translated as "old corn" tells us that this food eaten by the Israelites during the Days of Unleavened Bread was that which had been prepared on the east side of the Jordan and carried over the riverbed by them on the 10th of Nisan. No wavesheaf ceremony is anywhere in sight!  God had the Israelites prepare food in advance of their crossing of the Jordan River knowing that after the younger males were circumcised and partially incapacitated during the Days of Unleavened Bread, they would need food already prepared to sustain them. That the manna also ceased at this time made this advance food preparation even more necessary.

     If something as important as a wavesheaf ceremony occurred at this time, then God would clearly say so, especially if such an occurrence alters the command concerning the determination of the day on which we are to begin the count toward Pentecost.

     When the First Day of Unleavened Bread occurs on a Sunday, the Last Day of Unleavened Bread falls on the weekly Sabbath. The “morrow after the Sabbath” would then be the Sunday following this Last Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This Sunday would be the true Wavesheaf Day.

      Verses 10, 11, and 12 of Joshua chapter 5 cannot be used to support using the Sunday that is the First Day of Unleavened Bread as the Wavesheaf Day. As previously stated, there is only one weekly Sabbath which falls within the Days of Unleavened Bread. This weekly Sabbath must be used to determine which day is the “morrow after the Sabbath,” and thus the true Wavesheaf Day and the beginning of the count toward Pentecost.

     So that God’s Word may give us understanding and teach us sound doctrine, we are to put, “precept upon precept; line upon line, …here a little, and there a little “ (Isaiah 28:10). Scripture cautions us: "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut. 4:2). Also in Joshua 1:7 we are told: "Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.”

     Lest we think that these Old Testament verses do not apply to us, let us keep in mind that we are to, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). The result of such diligent obedience is stated in the last chapter of Scripture: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14).


By  Paul Yoos, March, 2001 (revised)

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