The two leavened loaves
The truth of the church is a mystery 'which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed.' (Eph. 3:5). However, the Old Testament contains a number of striking types of the church which may be discovered in the light of New Testament revelation. This article examines one of them in order to show how features of the church are illustrated in this type and, at the same time, how the shadow falls short of the full truth 'now revealed'.
'And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven sabbaths shall be completed' (verse 15).
One of the seven feasts or 'set times' in Leviticus 23 is the 'feast of wave loaves'. It has also been called 'feast of weeks', because it was to be observed seven weeks after the feast of the sheaf of the wave offering - type of the Lord Jesus in resurrection. This very fact shows us a first feature of the assembly: as the number seven indicates, it is a matter of divine fullness and completeness. If Adam was blessed in paradise, if Israel had abundant blessing in Canaan, the time of the church is a time of fullness of blessing - unparalleled in any other epoch (or dispensation). Within the outline of God's plan of salvation illustrated in the feasts of Leviticus 23, the feast of the wave loaves speaks of a period of fullness.
A second point to note from this verse is that the feast of the wave loaves follows (and is linked to) the feast of the wave sheaf (vv. 10-14). Likewise, the church (all believers at this time) is associated with the risen Lord (John 20:17), in contrast to Adam, the people of Israel, or any other Old Testament saints. This thought is confirmed by the next verse where we read:
'Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the lord' (v.16).
Although the period of seven weeks (or sabbaths) is explicitly mentioned in verse 15, it now speaks of fifty days. The reason why the people had to wait for one additional day before bringing the wave loaves is made very clear. The offering had to be made on 'the day after the . Sabbath', the first day of the week. Again, the sphere of resurrection is indicated.
Further, it had to be a 'new' grain offering (or meal offering). New, not because the people were at liberty to modify the regulations laid down for the meal offering in Leviticus 2, but rather because it was a new harvest. If the wave sheaf was the 'firstling' or first fruit of the barley harvest, the 'new' meal offering was 'the first fruits of wheat harvest' (Ex. 34:22). The first harvest speaks of the Lord's resurrection. The wheat harvest is the new harvest that characterises these wave loaves. As the next verse shows, they were to be of fine flour. Further, it was a new meal offering because leaven was involved (see notes on verse 17).
The church is also 'new' - different from preceding dispensations and without precedent. It started, not with Abraham or Adam, but on the day of Pentecost when believers were baptised into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). It was completely new that Jews and Gentiles should be formed into 'one new man' (Eph. 2:15).
'You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the first fruits to the lord' (v.17).
This verse takes us to the heart of our section and subject: the wave loaves.
First of all, let us note that the loaves were 'of fine flour' and 'with leaven'. Both ingredients have a clear meaning in God's word, but their respective significance could hardly be further removed from each other: one speaking1 of Christ, His purity, the perfect Man, the One who pleased God at all times and showed perfect evenness, whether under pressure or not; the other speaking of evil in each and every occurrence in the Old Testament as well as in the New. One might well ask how anyone aware of the symbolism of these two substances could possibly combine them in one, and then think of presenting them to the Lord as an offering. Yet this is exactly what God demands here.
A first step towards solving this riddle can be taken by observing that the loaves had to be 'baked' with leaven. The well-known corrupting influence of leaven ceases as soon as the lump is exposed to the heat of fire. Is this not a well-suited type of what the church is? It is composed of (all) believers - men, women and children who, on the one hand, have received a new nature (partakers of divine nature). This new nature enables them to show features of Christ in their life: fine flour. On the other hand, they still have the old nature, the flesh. However, they must not allow the flesh to be active in them; they must not be carnal.
The phrase 'they are the first fruits unto the Lord', on the one hand, associates them with Christ, the first fruit. Christ is the first fruit of those who slept (1 Cor. 15:20,23): just as He was raised for glory, not having to die ever again, so will the others be who fall asleep in Christ. Here, the same idea applies: many will be saved in this dispensation and thereafter. The church is the first fruit, the first company to be saved after the cross (James 1:18) just as the very first fruit reaped from a tree or other plant gives a foretaste of the harvest that is to follow. But others will follow in the course of the general harvest (see remarks below on verse 22). On the other hand, there is an interesting difference we should note: the word used for 'first fruit' in verse 10 means 'first in place, time, order or rank', also the 'chief' or 'principal' (Strong). This is the term used to prefigure Christ, the one who is above all. The word used here in verse 20 is a different one, designating 'first fruit of the crop' or 'hasty fruit' (Strong). It, therefore, seems that Christ is the first in rank and time the thought here is that the church is the first in time.
Finally, this verse teaches us that two loaves had to be presented. On the positive side, we might say that the number two speaks of witness, and this is exactly what the church is meant to be. On the negative side, we see how the type falls short of the anti-type: the church is one body, represented by one loaf (1 Cor. 10:17). Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, etc., are all joined into one. This cannot be seen from the type before us, which, after all, is only a shadow.
'And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs of the first year, without blemish, one young bull, and two rams. They shall be as a burnt offering to the lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma to the Lord' (verse 18).
This verse describes three offerings that had to be brought when the loaves were presented: a burnt offering, a meal offering and a drink offering. The same kinds of offering were also brought when the wave sheaf was presented (see vv.12,13). This fact in itself teaches us a valuable lesson: namely that the acceptance of the Lord's work and the pleasure it brought to God as the burnt offering now apply to us. We are associated with Him and His perfections. However, there is also a marked difference, which will be observed from the following verse.
'Then you shall sacrifice one kid of the goats as a sin offering, and two male lambs of the first year as a sacrifice of a peace offering' (verse 19).
In contrast to the feast of the wave sheaf (vv.12,13), a sin offering and a peace offering had to be brought on the feast of weeks (or wave loaves). The Lord did not need to bring a sacrifice for his own sins. Neither did He ever commit any sin nor did he have a sinful nature. Therefore, we read that he 'needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins .' (Heb. 7:27). For the church, on the other hand, a sin offering has been made available, as the second half of Hebrews 7:27 shows: 'and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself'. The offerings, then, reflect the truth that has already been indicated though the lack of leaven in any meal offering speaking of the Lord, and through its presence in the meal offering speaking of the church.
The peace offering reminds us of the fact that there is fellowship between God and those who belong to the church. Speaking in the figure of the peace offering, God and man can eat the same meat, enjoy the same food, namely the Person of God's Son who is infinitely precious to God, and who has become precious to us.
'The priest shall wave them with the bread of the first fruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest' (verse 20).
The act of waving indicates that the offering was given to the Lord. Some also see in it an indication of ascension (cf. v.11). Christ risen ascended to heaven, and the church is a heavenly people that also has a heavenly destination.
'And you shall proclaim on the same day that it is a holy convocation to you. You shall do no customary work on it. It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations' (verse 21).
No work was to be done on this feast. Man could add nothing to the great work that God accomplished in forming the church. We are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10).
'When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the lord your God' (verse 22).
Once the wave loaves had been presented to the Lord, the harvest would follow. There would still be wheat, which would not be part of the wave loaves. The corners of the field, however, were not to be wholly reaped but were to be left for the poor and for the stranger. These two groups would receive a blessing at a point in time when the wave loaves would have disappeared from the scene. What does this mean? Surely, God's thought in this verse goes far beyond social issues. We believe the meaning is as follows. When the harvest comes, the wave loaves will have disappeared (the church will have been raptured), but then, blessing will be made available to the remnant of Israel, the poor of the flock (Zech. 11:7,11) -represented here by the 'poor'. These will spread the gospel of the kingdom, and multitudes will be saved among the Gentiles -represented here by the 'strangers'. The climax of blessing is reached in the church, but after the rapture, some blessing will continue to flow.
May the Lord use these lines to help us appreciate better some of the features of the church for which He gave Himself, among which are:
- fullness of blessing (7 weeks v.15)
- association with Christ in resurrection (day after sabbath v.16)
- newness (new grain offering v.16)
- new and old nature (fine flour and leaven - baked v.17)
- first fruit character (v.17)
- testimony (two give witness v.17)
- accepted in Christ (foreshadowed in the burnt offering v.18)
- sin offering necessary (v.19)
- heavenly character (v.20)
- God's work (no contribution from man, v.21)
- blessing available to others (v.22).
1 See Leviticus 2:1.4.7 etc.