We are not left to speculation or human reasoning to determine when to begin the Pentecost count.
Normally, counting the days to determine when to keep Pentecost is a very simple matter. In the Old Testament, the wave sheaf was offered during the Days of Unleavened Bread on the day after the weekly Sabbath (cf. Leviticus 23:11). That Sunday becomes “Day 1,” and the count of days proceeds to “Day 50,” another Sunday—which is the Day of Pentecost. A complication occurs, however, when the Days of Unleavened Bread begin on a Sunday and end on a weekly Sabbath: Is the wave sheaf offered on that first Holy Day, or is it offered on the day after the last Holy Day, outside the Days of Unleavened Bread?
This classic article from Mr. John Ogwyn both answers that question and provides a beautiful example of “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
First, we should review God’s instructions in Leviticus 23:4–21. After reminding Israel about the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, God added instructions that would only apply after the nation had crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land: “When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest” (v. 10). The priest was to “wave the sheaf before the Lord” on “the day after the Sabbath” (v. 11). This began the 50-day count to Pentecost (vv. 15–16). Only after this ceremony could the people begin eating the new harvest (v. 14).
Keeping these instructions in mind, we can look ahead almost 40 years to the very first Passover season after Israel entered the Promised Land. Israel crossed the Jordan River and entered the land on the tenth day of the first month (Joshua 4:19). Immediately afterward, those who had been born during the wandering in the wilderness were circumcised (5:2–9).
The Israelites encamped in Gilgal, and “kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho” (v. 10). We then read that “they ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day” (v. 11). The manna ceased, and Israel “ate the food of the land of Canaan that year” (v. 12). Considered in the context of Leviticus 23:10 and 23:14, this can only mean that the wave sheaf was offered on the day after the Passover: the first Holy Day of Unleavened Bread. In other words, the first day of Unleavened Bread came on a Sunday that year—and that was when the wave sheaf was offered, not on the Sunday that came a week later, after the two Holy Days of Unleavened Bread. Remember, food preparation was specifically permitted on the two Holy Days of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:16).
Think about it—if Israel had begun to eat parched grain and bread from the harvest of Canaan before the wave sheaf offering, this would mean that the first thing they had done upon entering the land was ignore Moses’ clear instructions in Leviticus 23:10. We know that this did not happen, because we are specifically told that Joshua “left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses” (Joshua 11:15).
Some become confused when they see that the King James Version and Strong’s Concordance both wrongly refer to Israel eating the “old corn” rather than the fresh harvest in Joshua 5:11–12. No other major translations or reference works make this mistake, and any Hebrew lexicon will demonstrate that the Hebrew word used here in Joshua does not refer to consuming the previous year’s harvest. Remember that any old grain from the previous spring would have been stored within the city walls of Jericho in preparation for the siege. Only the grain in the field would have been accessible to Israel. Furthermore, we are told that Israel ate parched grain on the first Holy Day—a reference to the method of preparing still-green ears of barley, not grain that was a year old.
We are not left to speculation or human reasoning to determine when to begin the Pentecost count. Rather, God has preserved an example in Scripture to make the point clear.