Shavuot is a little known holiday among Christians today. It is ironic to me, since it commemorates the single most important event in Judeo-Christian history—the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. And in the 3,300 years since, the Torah’s ideals—monotheism, justice, responsibility—have become the moral basis for Western civilization.

Shavuot (Hebrew for “Weeks”) occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (late May or early June). Shavuot commemorates the early harvest in the land of Israel. (See Leviticus 23:9-16 and Deuteronomy 16:9-11) It is one of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals. It also commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

Since Shavuot occurs 50 days (7 weeks) after the first day of Passover, it is sometimes known in Christian circles as “Pentecost,” a Greek word meaning “50 days.” Shavuot, however, has no connection to the Christian Pentecost holiday.

Many people today are taught that after leaving Egypt on the day of the Passover, only Jews traveled into the Sinai desert. And there, God spoke to the entire Jewish nation and  instructed them to keep the Ten Commandments He inscribed on the stone tablets. (See Deuteronomy 4:1-14) So they mistakenly assume that all of the feasts mentioned in the Old Testament are meant only for Jews. But what most Christians fail to understand is that when the Hebrews left Egypt they were also joined by non-Hebrew people. We read in Exodus 12:38 that a “mixed multitude” went with them. Some perhaps, willing to leave their country after it was laid waste by plagues; others, out of curiosity; perhaps a few out of love for the Hebrews and their religion. And the same laws applied both to the native-born Hebrew and to the foreigner. (verse 49) Also, the Bible never refers to the feasts as Jewish feasts, but the “Feasts of the Lord”. (See Leviticus 23:2, 4, 37, 44; 2 Chronicles 2:4; Ezra 3:5)

How to Celebrate Shavuot

In biblical times, Shavuot was tied to the agricultural calendar. It originally celebrated the first fruits of the wheat harvest seven weeks after Passover (Leviticus 23:15-16). Counting the omer between the holidays added an element of anticipation of looking forward to Shavuot and a bountiful harvest. On this pilgrimage feast, Israelites traveled to Jerusalem to offer the first portion of their crops to the Lord in thanksgiving for His provision of food.

Celebrating the Spiritual Harvest

But Shavuot is more than the celebration of the first fruits of a physical harvest. Today, we observe it as the first fruits of a spiritual harvest. On the first Shavuot after Jesus’s death and resurrection, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit that enabled them to speak so that many people in attendance heard their words in their native tongue! Many who heard these messages in their own languages were amazed, though others thought the disciples were just drunk. (Acts 2:12)

Peter went on to explain that Jesus had been raised from the dead and God had poured out His Spirit in fulfillment of His promise through Joel 2:32-33. When the crowd asked what they should do, Peter urged them to turn their lives around and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Then they would be forgiven and would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-39) About 3,000 people were added to the church that same day!

Just as Jesus promised, God sent His Spirit on that Shavuot to enable His people to be witnesses for Him: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Anticipating the Future Harvest

Thus, Shavuot is a reminder that we are living in anticipation of a harvest that is yet to come when people from every nation will be gathered into God’s Kingdom. Until that final harvest time, God expects us to be His witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to all peoples and nations. And He has empowered us for this task. How we celebrate Shavuot can impact the size of that future harvest as we obey God’s commandments and share the gospel to all peoples, nations and tongues.

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