Shavuot / Feast of Weeks/ Giving of The Torah

Posted: May 27, 2019 in Christian Living, Holidays
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Shavuot 2019 (pronounced SHävo͞oˈōt) will begin in the evening of Saturday, June 8 and ends in the evening of Monday, June 10. In ancient Israel various herbs and legumes were harvested in spring, but the most important spring crops were cereals—barley and wheat. A spring ritual took particular note of the cereals: Newly harvested grain could not be eaten until the first fruits of grain had been offered on the day after the sabbath of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. (Leviticus 23:9-14) Shavuot, near the end of the grain harvest, included grain and loaf offerings. (verses 16-17) Shavuot was also called “the Feast of Harvest” (Exodus 23:16).

Although Shavuot began as an ancient grain harvest festival, the holiday has been identified since biblical times with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is customary for modern Jews to decorate their homes with greens and fresh flowers on Shavuot as a reminder of the spring harvest and the ancient ritual of bringing the first fruits to the Temple. Many Jews prepare and eat dairy foods (often cheesecake or blintzes) on Shavuot as a reminder of the sweetness of Torah.

Many people stay up all night studying Torah on the evening of Shavuot. This custom evolved from the story that says that when Moses went up Sinai to receive God’s laws many of the Israelites fell asleep and had to be awakened by Moses. As a result, many modern Jews stay up all night to study and celebrate receiving the Torah. Interestingly, when Jesus went away to pray in Gethsemane, his disciples also fell asleep and had to be awakened. So to honor our Messiah we too, may want to stay up at night reading Scripture. 

Traditionally, the Book of Ruth is read during services in synagogues on Shavuot. Ruth was a young Moabite woman who married an Israelite man. The Bible refers to both the Moabites and Ammonites as Lot’s sons, born of incest with his daughters. (Genesis 19:30-38) When Ruth’s husband died, she followed her mother-in-law, Naomi and adopted her Hebrew faith and her people as her own. (Ruth 1:16–17) To feed herself and Naomi, she gleaned in the field of Boaz, a rich man. Boaz is taken with her, and eventually they marry. Among their descendants is the famed King David. Ruth (a non-Jew) should be considered an example for all Christians to accept and obey the Torah as God’s holy instructions, just as the Israelites did at Mt. Sinai. 

In Exodus 19:1 we read that the Israelites came to the foot of Mount Sinai in the third month. The third month after the Exodus is Sivan; since this was also the month of Shavuot, the rabbis deduced that God gave the Torah on Shavuot. Today, it is widely accepted that the Torah was given by God to the Hebrew  people on Shavuot. In this sense, every year on the holiday of Shavuot the Jewish people see themselves as renewing this experience. We too can use Shavuot to renew our acceptance of the Torah and observe all that He commanded. 

We need to understand that although God had given the Torah to the Hebrew people, (Israelites) this also included the mixed multitude that left Egypt with them. (Exodus 12:37-38) It is possible that many of these Egyptians were the offspring of Egyptian task masters who had relations with Hebrew slaves. Just as many of the slaveowners (such as Thomas Jefferson) did in America’s history. The Hebrews of the Exodus did not become Jews until after the kingdom was divided into two, with 10 tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel and two in the southern kingdom of Judah. (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10) This means that all Jews are Israelites but not all Israelites are Jews.

How does this relate to us as Christians?

The Bible also says: “count fifty days”, which is why, in the New Testament, the name for the holiday is usually translated as “Pentecost”. Shavuot and Pentecost are actually two different names for the same Festival. Therefore, the events of the first two chapters of the book of Acts must be seen against this biblical background. For instance, when in Acts 1:4 Jesus commanded his disciples not to depart from Jerusalem, we would better understand this command if we remember that Shavuot is one of the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals, when all Israelites were expected to be in Jerusalem: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that He will choose: at the festival of unleavened bread, at the festival of weeks, and at the festival of booths.” (Deut. 16:16) Many Jews and non-Jews alike describe these as Jewish only celebrations. But Leviticus 23 makes it plain that these are God’s feast days: “Then the LORD said to Moses, Speak to the Israelites and say to them, ‘These are My appointed feasts, the feasts of the LORD that you will proclaim as sacred assemblies.” (vs. 1 & 2) 

Remember  that mixed multitude that traveled with the Hebrews on their Exodus? Concerning His feast days God proclaimed to them, “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” (Exodus 12:14)  And in case it wasn’t clear enough God also said, “The same law shall apply to both the native and the foreigner who resides among you.” (v. 49)

Preparing for the Holiday

The Bible teaches that the Israelites had three days to prepare to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. To ready themselves for the momentous occasion, they were instructed to wash their clothes and to stay ritually pure. (Exodus 19:10-11) By recalling those three days, today we can use the three days before Shavuot to prepare ourselves personally and spiritually, as a family, and as a community to re-experience this life-changing event.

Shavuot in the New Testament

In Acts 2 we read, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”  (Acts 2:1-3) 

We  have to remember  that the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) forms the background of this event and that by the first century the festival was already associated with the covenant made with Moses. We would then understand that it was certainly no coincidence that the descending of God’s Spirit is described on the day of Pentecost, and we would be able to see these beautiful and profound parallels between God giving His Torah and giving His Spirit. On both occasions, Shavuot becomes the day when Heaven is opened and God Himself claims His people. 

The “noise like a violent storm” in Acts 2 definitely echoes the thundering and the fire of Exodus 20:18. It seems that Luke consciously builds these parallels and describes the events of Acts 2 in terms of a “second Sinai”, thus, Jesus’ command to the Apostles to wait in Jerusalem might also be understood as a hint that, as God’s Torah was given on Shavuot, God’s Spirit was also given on Shavuot. 

The Christian version of Pentecost

Today, many Christians are taught that Pentecost was the day that the Church was born. But if Pentecost was the birth of the Church, why did Peter not include Gentiles in his message? Why did Peter not mention the cross, salvation through the blood of Christ, or forgiveness of sins based upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ? Why did he not offer salvation by faith alone, apart from works? Why did he not say a word about the body of Christ? To press further, why did Peter or any of the Twelve ever mention the body of Christ? 

Because Peter didn’t know anything yet about God’s salvation based upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—salvation by faith alone, or even the significance of the blood of Christ! Peter didn’t even know what Church was let alone the teachings associated with it. Peter only knew God’s prophetic, kingdom program. He only knew the prophecies of the prophets which Jesus had proclaimed throughout his earthly ministry. God had kept this revelation a secret until He revealed it to Paul. (Ephesians 3.1-7) The term ‘Gentiles’ would be better translated ‘Goyim’—meaning non-Jew. Or someone outside the tribe of Judah. (Remember, all Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews) The prophets reveal that the Goyim will be blessed through the Jews. (Zechariah 8:23)

The confusion continues

Great confusion has resulted from failure to understand that the events of Shavuot in Acts happened to believing Jews and Israelites—not to the Church. Because the Church did not exist yet! Another area of confusion has been the speaking in tongues. Some denominations and churches teach that believers are supposed to speak in tongues as proof that they “have the Holy Spirit” because that was the evidence experienced by Peter and the other followers in the upper room. Some even claim that a person cannot even be saved until they speak in tongues! 

Lastly, we should note that when one is saved by believing Paul’s gospel (1 Corinthians 15.1-4) he is immediately baptized by God’s Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12.12-13). This baptism has no sign—such as speaking in tongues. The gift of tongues all but ceased long ago, and one day will be done away with completely. (1 Corinthians 13.8) But even when they operated in the Church, they were not a sign for believers but for unbelievers. (1 Corinthians 14.22)

The Scriptures indicate clearly that the Church—the body of Christ, did not begin at Pentecost. Pentecost is one of God’s feast days and is still in effect today. God had never revealed or even hinted that His feast days were only for Jews, that they would ever end, or that the Church would replace the Israelites as the new body of Christ. What He had revealed was that Goyim would be blessed through the Jews. The Church was merely the method God used to bring us all—Jew and non-Jew alike, to the knowledge of His saving grace through His son, Yeshua Ha’Mashiach. 

And I long for the day that we will all worship him around the throne of God!

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