It’s that time again—another Festival! This time the festival is Chag Shavuot, or the Festival of Pentecost! I shared briefly about the festivals in the article titled “The Passover Season”. In that article, I mentioned that the feasts of the Lord, according to Leviticus 23, are called moedim, which means “appointments”. Adonai declared that they were to be “holy convocations”, where God and His people could meet together at the Temple. It was also pointed out that these appointments also happened to apply to the larger work of redemption that Adonai is working out for His people. For instance, the Passover itself speaks of the death of the Lamb, whose blood provides redemption for those trusting in it. With this backdrop, God sent His Son, the Lamb of God, to die on a cross on the day of Passover in order to provide redemption for those entrusting their souls to Him. Likewise, the first day of the counting of the omer was a day that spoke of resurrection! It was the first tithe of the barley harvest that was made into a loaf and waved before Adonai in His Temple. It was on this day that Jesus resurrected from the dead and was presented before His Father in the heavenly Temple.
These early festivals (the Lord’s Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Day of the Sheaf of Firstfruits) speak to us about the first coming of the Messiah—specifically His death, burial and resurrection. But Adonai doesn’t end the spring feasts here. He continues these feasts by linking them with another festival through the counting of the omer. Let’s look at these instructions given in Leviticus 23—
“You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete Sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to Adonai. You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to Adonai…The priest shall then wave them with the Bread of the Firstfruits for a wave offering with two lambs before Adonai; they are to be holy to Adonai for the priests.” (Lev. 23:15-17, 20)
The Passover Meal is performed on the first day of the 7 days of Unleavened Bread. During that week of Unleavened Bread, there will be a weekly Sabbath. When Israel found themselves in the Land, they were to gather a sheaf of barley as a tithe offering to Adonai, and wave it before Adonai on the day after that weekly Sabbath (Lev. 23:10-11). After this barley tithe was offered, Israel was then free to begin to eat the barley.
The waving of this sheaf of barley began a count of 50 days. Whereas the barley had begun to ripen at the time of Passover, the rest of the grain crops would ripen during this 7-week period. Barley would be followed by spelt, rye, oats and finally wheat. As each grain ripened, a tithe would be presented before eating from it. But the firstfruit tithe of the wheat harvest was to be reserved for this day of Pentecost, which means “50 count” (Ex. 34:22). We find in the passage above that a new grain offering was to be presented. The text continues by telling us what this offering is—two loaves of leavened bread made from two-tenths of an ephah. That’s about one gallon of flour! These loaves of bread were about 3 feet long and 9 inches wide!
Now, oddly enough, that’s just about all the instructions we have concerning the Festival of Shavuot (Shavuot means ‘weeks’, taken from the 7 week counting). If you’d like to study the various passages dealing with these instructions, you can find them in Ex. 23:16; Ex. 34:22; Lev. 23:15-22; Num. 28:26 and Dt. 16:9-12. The last passage says,
“You shall count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain [the barley]. Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks [Shavuot] to Adonai your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand [the two loaves of bread], which you shall give just as Adonai your God blesses you; and you shall rejoice before Adonai your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where Adonai your God chooses to establish His name. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.” (Dt. 16:9-12)
So the only other instructions that we have are to rejoice before Adonai on Shavuot with just about everybody included! And we’re to remember that we were slaves in Egypt and this is associated with the idea of keeping His statutes. Now this last bit of instruction is interesting indeed.
“The Time for the giving of our Torah”
Traditionally, Shavuot is called Zeman matan Torateinu, which means “the time for the giving of our Torah”. Traditional Judaism sees this festival as a celebration of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. But how is this so? We’ve looked at the instructions for Shavuot and it doesn’t seem to allude to that at all! There are a couple of factors that link these two ideas.
- The three major festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles—where all adult males are commanded to appear before Adonai—are all connected to the exodus from Egypt. The Passover Lamb is an obvious reference. The ‘booths’ that were to be built in the fall feast of Sukkot were to remind the people about living in booths when God brought them out of Egypt. And Shavout is connected by the Dt. 16 passage above, where we’re instructed to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. So Shavuot has a link to the Exodus story somewhere.
- According to Exodus 19:1, the Mt. Sinai event occurred in the first part of the 3rd month. “In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.” Rather than reading this as occurring 3 months after the exodus, Jewish scholars see this as stating that this event occurred in the 3rd month. “On that very day” is interpreted to refer to the first day of the month. After a couple of days, God declares that Israel is to prepare to meet Him in 3 days. The day of the meeting is seen to be the 6th day of the 3rd month. Now, since Passover (and the waving of the barley loaf) is at the middle of the first month—being on the 15th day of the first month—that leaves two weeks in the 1st month, approximately 4 weeks for the 2nd month, and about 1 week in the 3rd month before the 6th day of the 3rd month. This puts the Sinai event pretty close to the Festival of Shavuot, and since the Festival of Shavuot has some kind of relation to the Exodus story, the giving of the Torah was an obvious link.
The historical event has led to lots of consideration among the jewish people. Many stories and legends have arisen concerning the Sinai event. There are a few things to point out about this story—
The first we find is that the Israelites were to prepare themselves to receive the Torah on the 3rd day. Exodus 19:10-11 says:
“Adonai also said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day Adonai will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.’”
The idea of meeting with God deserved preparation to say the least!
Second, the people were to be unified in order to receive God’s Torah. We find in Numbers 33:5 that “the children of Israel removed from Rameses, and pitched in Sukkot”. The word pitched here is in the plural form, but in our Exodus 19 passage, the word pitched (or camped) is in the singular form. From this, it has been derived that the people were acting as one man because of their unity at this time.
A third, and very interesting point about Sinai, is the manifestations of power demonstrated by God. According to verses 16-19, on the third day, Mt. Sinai was enveloped in a thick cloud, full of thundering and lightning flashes. A loud trumpet was blowing and an earthquake shook the mountain. Smoke billowed up to the heavens! Now this is where it gets interesting. In the retelling of this story in Deuteronomy 4-5, Moses makes an interesting statement.
“The Adonai spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice.” (Dt. 4:12)
Most of us would interpret that to mean that Israel didn’t see a form, but they only heard a voice; but the Hebrew is more ambiguous than that. The rabbis have interpreted this to mean that Israel didn’t see a form of God, they only “saw His voice”. So how’s that?! Well, in Exodus 20:18, the verse right after finishing the Ten Commandments, it is recorded that—
“All the people saw the thunder and the lightning…”
Now the Hebrew can be literally translated to say that the people “saw the voices and the flames”. According to Jewish tradition, when God spoke the Torah, His words left His mouth and became molten flames of fire, so that the people could actually “see” God’s voice!
The rabbis used a few other verses to substantiate this idea. Jeremiah 23:29 says,
“Is not My word like fire?’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock?’”
Psalms 68:11 says—
“Adonai gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.”
According to the Talmud, a compilation of rabbinical teaching (Tractate Shabbat 88b), when this verse refers to a “great company” publishing God’s word, it’s teaching that the flames of God’s words at Mt. Sinai split up into smaller sparks in the 70 known languages of the world. These sparks then went out to the nations declaring God’s Torah in various languages, but then returned to sat upon each individual Israelite asking if they would agree to God’s Torah. After agreeing, the sparks flew back to the mountain and wrote the commandments on the tablets in fire!
One of the things that I find so incredible is the way God will actually use various, ancient jewish traditions in demonstrating His message to us. In the Book of Acts, we find that on the day of Pentecost (Shavuot), the early believers had been waiting in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, as instructed by Jesus. Just as the believers at Sinai had made themselves ready to meet with God, Jesus had instructed His followers to be ready in Jerusalem. Acts 1:14 records that the way they “waited” was by “continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication”. This also speaks to the unity that we find at Mt. Sinai. Acts 2:1 echoes this by declaring that they “were all with one accord in one place”.
“And when the day of Pentecost [Shavuot] was fully come, they were with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven [divided] tongues of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because every man heard them speak in his own language.” (Acts 2:26)
Check that out! Here’s the apostles, on the day of the celebration of the giving of the Torah, now experiencing what their forefathers had experienced at Mt. Sinai! Imagine a strong wind blowing around in a house—shutters flapping, dishes shaking, hair flying! And suddenly flames of fire divide and set upon each of them. They knew what this was! It was happening all over again! And sure to form, the Word of God once again was declared in the various languages of the world, except this time it was through them! If that’s not an authentication of the link between Sinai and Pentecost, I don’t know what is.
2 Corinthians 3:3 seems also to link the outpouring of the Spirit of God with the Sinai event, by comparing the tablets of stone with the tablets of the heart.
“You are a letter of Messiah, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
Of course, the promise of the Father in the New Covenant itself strengthens this link between the giving of the Torah and the outpouring of the Spirit. We find this idea of the Spirit’s work being linked to the Torah in Jeremiah 31—
“Behold, days are coming, declares Adonai, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the House of Judah…This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares Adonai, I will put My Torah within them and on their heart I will write it…” (Jer. 31:31, 33)
Ezekiel adds his insight into this new covenant—
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Eze. 36:26-27)
In the New Covenant, God promises to put His Spirit within us, which would write God’s Torah upon our hearts. When the Spirit of God fills us with agape love (Rom. 5:5), we naturally keep the commandments of God, not out of obligation, but because our hearts are changed so much that we actually agree with the Torah of God. No longer living from our carnal mindsets that are at odds with God’s Torah, we are free to be His servants that demonstrate the righteousness of the Torah in our everyday lives! It only seems appropriate that God would choose Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah, to be His divine appointment for the pouring out of His Spirit into our hearts.
[See the Torah Series and the New Covenant Series for a more thorough treatment of the Torah being written upon the heart by the work of the Spirit]
OK, so we’ve established a link between Shavuot and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, but what does this have to do with the “Feast of Harvest” (Ex. 23:16)?
When Jesus was revealing Himself to His disciples after His resurrection, He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures, not only concerning His work in the earth, but theirs as well.
“Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Your are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’” (Lk. 24:45-49)
Again, Acts 1 records for us—
“Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which’, He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” (Acts 1:4-5)
Jesus stated here that the message of the forgiveness of sins would be preached in His name in all the nations. But before that could happen, the prerequisite to their harvest among the nations, was to be empowered by the Spirit of God. Jesus was sending His disciples out among the nations to begin bringing the harvest of the nations in. They would receive power when the Holy Spirit had come upon them, and they would become witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth! (Acts 1:8)
The Feast of Shavuot was not only the outpouring of the Spirit to internalize the Torah within the hearts of God’s people; but it also marked the beginning of the spiritual wheat harvest from among the nations. The idea of a harvest from the nations means that not only is the message of the gospel to the jewish people, but it also is to be received by the gentiles who have an ear to hear. This is the significance of the beginning of the wheat harvest being marked by two loaves of bread. These two loaves speak of both Jews and gentiles being waved before Adonai in His heavenly Temple!
Those from among the Jews and gentiles that have heard and received the message of repentance for the remission of sins in the name of Jesus, now constitute the “firstfruits” [or firstfruit tithe] unto God.
“In the exercise of His will, He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” (James 1:18)
Just as the firstfruits must be presented to Adonai in His Temple; believers in Jesus are a tithe of mankind, belonging to God Himself. But just as “the husbandman waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains” (James 5:7), so God is also awaiting the time of the latter rain. And just as the harvest continues throughout the long, dry summer months, and then refreshes under the latter fall rains; likewise, Adonai has prophesied that another outpouring of His Spirit would accompany the final ingathering of His people from among the nations!
[If you haven’t read the New Covenant Series and the Kingdom of God Series, I strongly encourage you to do so to understand this latter outpouring of the Spirit prophesied by the Hebrew prophets]
When this latter outpouring comes, it will be at the time of the latter rain, in the year’s end, at the Feast of Ingathering. At that time, all the harvest will be sickled and separated into the wheat and tares, being gathered in His barn, or set aside for the fire. But this latter outpouring of God’s Spirit is the subject matter of the Fall Festivals, and we’ll visit that study as we approach them.
Chag Shavuot Sameach! Happy Festival of Pentecost!