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Biblical Holidays

What is Shavuot – the Feast of Weeks?

The biblical feast of Shavuot has a messianic connection with the events of Pentecost

View of a wheat field ahead of the upcoming Jewish holiday of Shavuot (Photo: Mila Aviv/Flash90)

The Feast of Shavuot, known to many Christians as the Feast of Weeks, is one of three pilgrimage festivals in the Bible.

In the Torah, God commanded all Israelite men to appear before Him three times per year.

In the Book of Exodus, Shavuot is first called “the Feast of Harvest,” and is defined as the ‘feast of the firstfruits’ – in Israel, this would refer to grain harvests.

We read:

“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God.”  Exodus 23:14-17 (ESV)

Interestingly, because the barley harvest comes before the wheat harvest, there were two firstfruits offerings made at the Temple in the time of Jesus. The first was the offering of a sheaf of barley (called ‘omer’ in Hebrew) on the second day of the Passover festival.

Because the barley was just becoming ripe around the time of Passover, the offering of the omer represented the hope of the coming harvest of barley, and then wheat.

In this example, we can see two truths. The first is how the Resurrection of Jesus represents the firstfruits of the Resurrection of the Dead, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But in fact Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

The second truth is drawn from the two types of grain harvested at two different times, first the barley followed by the wheat, which points to the two different spiritual harvests that Paul speaks of in Romans 9-11: Israel and the Gentiles.

Shortly after the Second Temple period, it became customary to read the Book of Ruth during the celebration of Shavuot.

Ruth is a short book containing the theme of redeeming love and because it takes place during the harvest time, it seems appropriate to read the story during the Feast of Harvest.

The Book of Ruth gives the backstory of Israel’s most famous ruler, King David, telling the story of a foreign woman, Ruth the Moabitess, who trusts in the God of Israel and asserts her right to glean from the fallen grain of the barley harvest.

Ruth’s boldness (might we say chutzpah) is recognized by the field owner Boaz, who views Ruth as a virtuous woman. Acting as her ‘kinsman redeemer,’ Boaz then marries her and together they ultimately begin the line of David – the lineage of our Messiah.

The story speaks of the uniting of two peoples, Israel and Gentiles, through faith in and faithfulness to, the God of Israel.

From that union came the Promised One, Yeshua, who unites Jew and Gentile in a new covenant with Himself at the center. God promised Abraham that his ‘seed’ would be a blessing to all nations. And we see that it is through the message of Jesus that people from every nation have, indeed, come to trust in the God of Israel.

The Jewish sages also recognized that God’s act of giving the Law at Mount Sinai also took place during the time of Shavuot. In fact, the rabbis tell a story that when God wanted to offer the Torah to mankind, He spoke it in all the man made languages, which the rabbis said were 70 at that time.

The number 70 comes from the story of Noah in Genesis 11, in which 70 descendants of Noah are mentioned. These represent 70 people groups in the world, each with their own language, according to Second Temple tradition.

The traditional belief that Noah’s 70 descendants representing the nations of the world is apparently related to the 70 disciples that Jesus sent out in Luke 10. (Some manuscripts say 72, which reflects differences between Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament.) In this, we can see Jesus signaling God’s intention to redeem the entire world, Jew and Gentile.

In the story of Pentecost (Pentecost means 50th and refers to the counting of the ‘omer) from the Book of Acts, we see that same idea of God’s message being given in the languages of men.

At that moment, God indicated that His promise given to the prophet Joel was finally coming to fruition.

Peter recognized that truth, quoting God’s promise to pour out His Spirit on all flesh (all mankind) before the coming of the Day of the Lord.

In the Book of Acts, we read:

"But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the Day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Acts 2:16-21 (ESV)

May we look forward to that day, as we celebrate the giving of the Torah, the giving of the Spirit, and the redemption of Jew and Gentile.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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