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TorahTimes Messianic Ministry

Teaching Truths about Torah, Time, and Messiah

Understanding Leviticus 23:16

Literal Translation: Continuing onward, from the tomorrow of the seventh Sabbath, you shall count a fiftieth day. Functional Translation: ...until in the time after the Seventh Sabbath counting a fiftieth day.

Explanation: In the time after the seventh Sabbath a fiftieth day is counted. Why does this not say “Until the day after the seventh Sabbath”? Because the Hebrew idiom macharat (in the tomorrow of) may mean either “hereafter,” “in time to come” or “day after” and the context requires the given translation in English. It could say “day after”, but then I‘d have to explain day in the sense as used in Genesis 2:4 as meaning a whole six days, “in the day of Yăhwɛh Almĭghty’s making earth and heavens...” The passage is chronological parable

The Context

In the context of the original feast of Shavuot, Israel entered the wilderness of Sinai on the first day of the third month. They then went a three day journey as Moses had promised Pharaoh arriving at Mt. Sinai. There they prepared for a feast for two days and were ready the third day. The third day of the journey and the first day of preparation were the same day. So the third day following began on the fifth day of the month, i.e. they traveled on days 1-3 of the month, and the prepared on days 3-4, and were ready on day 5. The next day, which was the 6th day of the month was the feast of Shavuot and the sealing of the covenant and when the seventy went up on Mt. Sinai.

Afterward, it is said that Moses waited six days while the cloud covered the mountain, and then Yahweh spoke to him on the seventh day. This is Exodus 24:16. Accordingly, it was a Sabbath day, and the day the seventy went up on the mountain was also a Sabbath day. The six days are the six working days of the week, and this six days was between two Sabbaths. The Sabbath before the six days was the Shavuot feast. The Sabbath after the six days was when Yahweh spoke to Moses in Exodus 24:16. Since the first of the six days was the first day of the week (a Sunday), and this was after the feast, the feast was not on Sunday.

“Then Mosheh went up unto the mountain. Then the cloud covered the mountain. Then the glory of Yahweh settled upon mount Sinai. Then the cloud covered it six days. Then he called unto Mosheh on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud” (Exodus 24:15-16). From this is is clear that the cloud was not covering Mt. Sinai to conceal Yăhwɛh during the day part of Shavuot when Yahweh in the form of a man spoke with the nobles of Israel (Exodus 24:9-11).

This same pattern is played out in the Apostolic Writings. Luke relates to us that some of his disciples would see the kingdom of the Almighty before they died. He said this on the Sabbath (Luke 9:27). Luke then tells us, “And it came to pass after these words, almost eight days” that he went up on the mount of transfiguration. Accordingly it was the next Sabbath, because at a given time on the first sabbath seven full days transpire to the same time on the next Sabbath, and it is eight days after following that time. But Luke says “almost eight days,” and so Luke knew it was before the same time on the next Sabbath, i.e. while still seven days from the remark on the kingdom of the Almighty. Matthew 17:1 reports the same incident “after six days” and we should have to suppose a contradiction unless we are given a key. The key is that the six days are the six working days of the week. Accordingly, the remark in Matthew 16:28 was made on the Sabbath, and then after the six working days they went up on the next Sabbath to the mountain of transfiguration. When it came time for the Father to speak, a cloud covered the mountain (Mat. 17:5; Luke 9:35). Matthew and Luke, therefore, are very clearly making a literary exposition of Exodus 24:9-16. The Son was seen on the Sabbath and the Father spoke on the Sabbath.

The solution to Luke‘s almost eight days and Matthew‘s after six days forbid the interpretation that the first of the six days in Exodus 24:16 was only a part day. For the key is the six working days and then the Sabbath. And it is clear that the covenant promise was made on the previous Sabbath according to Luke’s eight days. Therefore, the very first Shavuot (Pentecost) was on the weekly Sabbath.

The Word of the Almighty is designed to be very context dependent. It is easy to take isolated sentences out of context and put one’s own interpretation to it. It says in Lev. 23:11 to wave the sheaf after the Sabbath. Heedless of the context of the Exodus and the original feast of Shavuot on the Sabbath, careless interpreters concluded that the weekly Sabbath was meant, and then they have gone so far as to even deny that an Annual feast day can be called “The Sabbath.” But we have just seen that the first Shavuot fell on the Weekly Sabbath since the 6th day of the third month in the year of the Exodus was 50 days after the Passover. The interpretation is a chronological parable, like many other chronological parables meant to mask or conceal the truth, like the cloud concealed Yăhwɛh, until we pay attention to the sufficiency of his words in context. The blind see and the deaf hear, but the seeing are blind and the hearing are deaf. Until this day a cloud lies over the heart of Christendom, but when it clears up Messiah is revealed on Mt. Sinai. We need to appreciate the fact that Messiah is spoken in a chronological parable of the third day in Scripture. The complete message is there in parable form, and the reason it was given in revelation this way is the same reason other key chronological elements are given this way: the sinful propensity of humanity.

Joshua 5:11 gives us a contextual confirmation, “Then they ate from the produce of the land in the tomorrow of the Passover, unleavened bread and roasted grain on that same day.” According to Lev. 23:14 they were not allowed to eat the produce of the land until after the sheaf was waved. Since they had no stored grain, the grain they obtained was from that year. Rahab had some on her roof. Joshua 5:11 is explaining that the morrow of the Sabbath in Lev. 23:11 is the same as the morrow of the Passover in Joshua 5:11. Accordingly the annual Sabbath on Nisan 15 is meant, and the day after it is Nisan 16.

There are those who would deny that “the Sabbath” may mean Nisan 15. For correction they should see John 19:31. John calls the day after the crucifixion the “great Sabbath,” and this Sabbath was Nisan 15, falling between Wednesday sunset and Thursday sunset in AD 34. Again in Matthew 28:1, it says, “And the late of the Sabbaths....” when referring to the Resurrection Sabbath. A late Sabbath implies an early Sabbath. So Nisan 15 was the early Sabbath.

In our review of the context, I should mention that Yeshua’s disciples ate the new grain on the “second-first Sabbath” (Luke 6:1). That is, they did not wait until Sunday. The second-first Sabbath was the second Sabbath of Passover week. The first-first Sabbath was Nisan 15. The second-first Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath following it. It also was called the first Sabbath because it was first in the counting of the seven Sabbaths after Passover (Lev. 23:15).

Also in our review of the context, I should mention that the Exodus was in 1632 BC and Israel entered the land in 1592 BC. The 6th of Sivan in 1632 BC was on the Sabbath (after accounting for Joshua’s long day), and so also the 16th of Nisan was not on a Sunday in 1592 BC (after accounting for Joshua’s long day). This in turn is confirmed by eclipse records previous to Joshua’s long day falling into line with recorded history.

Finally, as long as Luke 24:21 stands to refute a resurrection at any time after dawn on the Sabbath when starting from a Wednesday in AD 34, it follows that “first day of the week” is the false translation, and that “first of the Sabbaths” is the correct translation, as the texts literally say.

Language Matters

Let us now return to the text (Lev. 23:16). Since we know the context, the text cannot mean Sunday is the 50th day. What gives then? Firstly, it must be noted that the word “tomorrow,” maɦar in Hebrew is used two ways. It means 1. tomorrow, and 2. in time to come, hereafter, time after.

Secondly, the English (and no doubt other languages) translations have dropped the preposition out of Leviticus 23:16, which they were so careful to translate “on” in vs. 11 and “from” in vs. 15. This implies that the word means “on” and then “from” and then nothing at all. The meaning of the word “from” is one and the same in all the texts, and this meaning belongs in all the texts. It is illustrated by the English idiom, “Take time from your work hours to eat something.” This does not mean time after the work hours. It means time during the work hours. The meaning is the same as saying, “Take time in your work hours to eat something.” Vs. 11: the priest shall wave it in the tomorrow of the Sabbath. Vs. 15: Ye shall count for yourselves in the tomorrow of the Sabbath regular Sabbaths they shall be. Vs. 16: continuing onward in the tomorrow of the seventh Sabbath you shall count a fiftieth day.

It is plain to see that counting seven Sabbaths in the tomorrow of the Sabbath shows that “tomorrow of” means time after in vs. 15. Some wise guy is going to try to say that it should be “from the tomorrow of...” taking “from” to mean after, i.e. from after the day after, even though I have proved the sense is a part from a whole. O.k. So we let the wise guy have his claim, and then ask him why he does not apply it in vs. 16, “until from after the day after the seventh Sabbath.” It is plain then that the Sunday only theory falls apart when arbitrary translation and interpretation is disallowed.

The word I have rendered “onward,” or “continuing onward,” which is עד in Hebrew. This word is not a problem for the overall explanation, but it is still somewhat of an uncertainty. First it was the Karaites who vowel pointed the text עַד. And they believed in the Sunday Shavuot. It could be pointed עֹד as in Zechariah 8:20. This is a defective spelling for עוֹד, which means yet, again, still. Lev. 23:16 could represent the same word. Or secondly the word could represent the idiom found in the phrase לעולם ועד, which means “for the age and onward” in the literal sense, and with the same sense as “forever and ever.” Gesenius’ Lexicon explains: “עַד m. (from the root עָדָה to pass over, to go on)...It has also been observed that the particle עַד sometimes also includes the times beyond the stated limit.” What is mentioned is “a nearer limit without excluding the time beyond.” It appears to me that the senses can be approximately united with the word “onward” in English, so that the idiom is something like “let us go past the city.” It means at least until the city, but leaves open the question of going beyond the city, i.e. to the context. Finally, it does not hurt relative to other contrary Karaite or Rabbinic arguments to leave the word “until.” This is because all views switch from one time unit to another time unit, i.e. weeks to days or sabbaths to days, or sabbath to the fiftieth day.

The chart shows how “until” may be understood. “Count in the time after the regular Sabbaths until in the time after the seventh Sabbath you may count a fiftieth day.” The light yellow shows the time after the Annual Sabbath, i.e. “the tomorrow of the Sabbath,” and the dark yellow shows the “tomorrow of the seventh Sabbath,” which is the time after it.

The next diagram illustrates the two relevant senses of from. One may say, “It was 2 hours from yesterday.” Does this mean 2 hours of yesterday or 2 hours from the end of yesterday? Often only context can decide these questions. A word study of mimacharat will demonstrate that it always denotes time in the tomorrow. Therefore, the attempt by translators to render “from” in an extensive sense in Lev. 23:15 is not legitimate.

My final linguistic remark here is that the text says “fifty day” literally. The Hebrew language uses the plural to mean either fifty or fiftieth. Again the context must decide. Obviously we are not going to count 50 days after the seventh Sabbath. So the meaning is fiftieth. An example of this can be seen in Lev. 25:10, “the fiftieth year,” i.e. “year of the fifty,” where the plural is put for a ordinal number concept. One can almost see English stretch to “the fifty day,” i.e. where fifty is the name of the 50th day. Likewise “year of the seven,” means the seventh year.

Now we should consider the meaning and derivation of machar. It is used in Genesis 30:33 to mean indefinitely later literally, “Then my righteousness will have answered for me in a day tomorrow.” Again in Exodus 13:14 it is used for the indefinite future, but the literal sense is, “Then it will have been that your son will ask you tomorrow ....” Likewise in Deut. 6:20; Joshua 4:6; Joshua 4:21; Joshua 22:24, 27, 28. The reason that the idiom is not apparent to the English reader is that the translators do not translate literally, “day to come” or “tomorrow,” but they put other words that mean the same as “later.”

The derivation of machar is explained as being a contraction of yom (יום) and the Hebrew word for after, achar (אחר). The sense then is day after. The sense of later, or in time to come, or time after, then, is because the Hebrew word day may mean “time” in a general sense, as in Gen. 2:4 or in Gen. 2:17, “because in the day of your eating from it, dying you shall die.”

Objective Evaluation

To do an objective evaluation we have to weigh normal interpretation against secondary interpretation vs. contradictory interpretation. The Sunday Shavuot theory is based on a number of stretched interpretations, which are at least secondary interpretations. First, having a variable number of days between Passover and Shavuot reduces the counting to historical insignificance. The Sunday after the Passover in the year of the Exodus is not even mentioned as anything special. On the other hand, it is plain to see that Israel arrived outside of Egypt on the morning of Nisan 16. After going out on the 15th, on the 16th they breathed the free air. It makes sense to mark the day going out, and the first day after it. Second, concerning the six days the cloud was on the mountain, the theory is forced to claim that the first of those six days was the same day as the feast or that the seventh day following wasn‘t the Sabbath. Third, the theory is forced to speculate that Joshua 5:11 happened on a Sunday without actually knowing if it did or not. The Scroll of Biblical Chronology shows this speculation is false. Fourth, the theory ignores the parallelism between “morrow of the Sabbath” (Lev. 23:11) and “morrow of the Passover” (Josh. 5:11). Fifth, the theory generally denies that Nisan 15 was called “the Sabbath,” despite its being so called in John 19:31. Sixth, the theory has no explanation for the second-first Sabbath in Luke 6:1. Seventh, Sunday Shavuot advocates always argue that the resurrection passages should be “first day of the week,” and not “first of the Sabbaths,” in spite of the fact that Karaites argue for the literal translation of Sabbath in Lev. 23:15 instead of the Rabbinic substitution, “weeks.” This position is horribly inconsistent. Eighth: As a result Sunday Shavuot advocates argue for a Sunday Resurrection with all its attending contradictions (Mat. 12:40; Mark 8:31), or a Saturday Evening Resurrection in contradiction of Luke 24:21. Ninth: the view is forced to retain the inconsistent understandings of the preposition מִן prefixed to the word ממחרת in order to prevent מחר from meaning “time after” in Lev. 23:15.

With the view I have presented here, all of these secondary interpretations and contradictions go away. The trade-off of making them go away is simply the adoption of two secondary meanings that have been proved possible. 1. Sabbath in Lev. 23:11 means the annual Sabbath, and 2. machar means time to come in the passage. And the second point has the direct effect of making the inconsistency with מִן disappear. The objective evidence here is stacked heavily in favor of the view I have presented. Ultimately the Sunday Shavuot view leads to contradictions in addition to all the secondary interpretations.

These objective considerations show that what I am presenting is deserving of more consideration rather than the summary rejection it receives from traditionalists.

The Intentional Puzzle

A word, naturally ought to have its primary meaning unless the context indicates otherwise. But sometimes we have to look far into the context to justify that secondary meaning. This is especially the case in the matter of a parable or puzzle, which are given in Scripture for the reasons before stated. I would like here to illustrate a chronological parable in Exodus 12:40, “Now the sojourn of the children of Israel, who lived in Egypt, was 430 years” (NKJV). Some mistakenly believe that this means Israel was in Egypt 430 years. That would seem to be the primary sense of such wording. But if we look far into the context, we will find that they came out in the fourth generation according to Genesis 15:16, and that the stated ages of Levi, Kohath, Amram, and Moses, and the fact that Moses' mother was Levi’s daughter forbid such a long stay. We have to look far into the context. The “sojourn” begins with the date of the promise and this is confirmed by Paul in Galatians 3:17. If one is familiar with the historical meaning of the “sojourn” then the matter is cleared up. Let me illustrate with a made up example, “The time of the Christians was 1453 years in Constantinople when the city fell to the Muslim invader.” What do I mean by “time of the Christians”? Well if I tell you that it means AD then everything makes sense. But if anyone does not know that I mean this then they might suppose I meant the Christians had actually been in that city for 1453 years.

A similar mistake is made with the hasty interpretation of the word “Sabbath” in Leviticus 23:11 and 15a. It is supposed that it means the weekly Sabbath by Karaite Jews and many Christians. This is due to failure to look into the context and to know the background of Shavuot in the history of the Exodus. The Karaites argue that Sabbath only means the seventh day, and deny all other usages. Christians imitate this argument and then add that the weekly Sabbath is the usual meaning of the word. What they have failed to reckoned however is that the rule of the usual meaning is not rendered the best choice when we are dealing with an intentional puzzle or parable. How do we know it is an intentional puzzle one may ask? Simple: the primary sense fails to sovle the problems, and in fact leaves quite a number of contradictions and inconsistencies when the far context is factored in. Using secondary sense, for which indeed there are witneses (cf. John 19:31; Lev. 23:32), solves the whole problem.

The Resurrection Sabbath Witness

Matthew 28:1, “On the later of the Sabbaths, at the dawning on the first of the Sabbaths.” The first of the Sabbaths is given sense by Leviticus 23:15 where the instruction is to count seven Sabbaths. But this counting cannot begin till after a Sabbath. Clearly the Resurrection Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath coming later than the Passover Sabbath. The Passover Sabbath was the first day of unleavened bread. Therefore, those Messianic Christians who insist on a Sunday Shavuot theory are compelled to accept the mistranslation, “After the Sabbath, at the dawning on the first day of the week.”

A Poor Witness

I should point out that the majority of Rabbis believe Lev. 23:11 refers to the annual Sabbath. The only dissenters among the Jews are the small sect of Karaites, and nowadays their chief spokesman to the Messianic world is Nehemia Gordon. A majority of Messianic Christians believed what the Church said about Pentecost being on Sunday as a matter of tradition, and then look to the Karaites to confirm their position. It does not help them much with Jews who know that the Rabbis teach counting for Shavuot from the second day of Passover. While the Rabbis will admit that the new moon was sighted, they deny the sectarian elements of the Karaite calendar, namely the exlusive use of barley to confirm the first month, and the Sunday Pentecost doctrine. It is much easier to agree with the Rabbis on this point because they are correct. But it is not a happy circumstance that Christians discovering Torah are inducted into the Sunday Pentecost theory by tradition. This tradition has no support in Scripture. It has only a small sectarian support in Judaism. And most of all, Messianic Christians are by no means free of importing incorrect Christian doctrines into the Messianic Faith. And it is not just limited to this issue. A lot of Reformation and Catholic doctrines are held over from the anti-torah Church along with a legacy of mistranslation of Scripture.