Shavuot is here again, and I find myself needing my annual refresher course as to what this means and what to actually do to honor this Holy appointed time. Out of all the feasts, this one is unique as it is the only Holy Day widely celebrated by both Jews and Christians. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) this day is called “Pentecost” (which translates into English as “50 days”), the Hebrew name “Shavuot” more accurately implies “the Feast of weeks”, and largely due to the language barrier between Greek and Hebrew, most Jews and Christians don’t even acknowledge that they share this Holy time. Jews largely see Shavuot as a remembrance of the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, while Christians see Pentecost as the “Birthday of the Church”. For those of us yearning to understand what YHVH actually intends to teach us, I fear this one-day celebration gets lost between the week-long “Spring Feasts” and the week-long “Fall Feasts”. Instead, let us consider that this aspect of Shavuot being “placed-in-the-middle” is actually an important part of YHVH’s plan for humanity. We can learn much by breaking Shavuot down into simple themes:
Agricultural -- Each feast was woven into the harvest schedule in the Promised Land.
Traditional -- Many celebratory customs for both Jews and Christians have developed over the centuries.
Prophetic-- The overarching themes of Shavuot transcend history and imply wonderful events still to come.
Personal -- The deeper truths embedded in this day should stir our souls and inspire us to press even deeper into what The Father has promised for us.
The Agricultural Aspects of Shavuot
For most of us in the 21st century, the agricultural aspects of His feasts are really hard to understand or visualize. The instructions for Shavuot are in Leviticus 23:16-21, “Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to YHVH. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as first fruits to YHVH. And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to YHVH, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to YHVH. And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the first fruits as a wave offering before YHVH, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to YHVH for the priest. And you shall make proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.”
Shavuot is one of only three appointed times that requires a journey to the Temple. This day is connected to, and in some ways contrasted against, the Feast of First Fruits, which is the Feast that begins the 50 day count to Shavuot. First Fruits began the years harvest with the first ripe crop of the season, barley, sheaves of which were waived before YHVH. Shavuot marks the middle season of the harvest, as a day-long pause between First Fruits and Sukkot, which is the final harvest celebration in the fall. Rather than simply waiving a full sheaf from the harvest, the worship on Shavuot involves two loaves of leavened bread waived in a similar manner. As we will discuss at length later, these 2 loaves represent several different things all at once: The two stones of the 10 commandments, Judah and Israel, restoration and power, relationship and rules, grace and obedience. I you could consider Shavuot a "sandwich" Feast, as there are two loaves and we are right in the middle. Sorry. I couldn't resist.
Interestingly, a less ceremonial commandment is included at verse 22, "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am YHVH your God." This is a fantastic reminder that the harvest that is being collected does not belong to the farmer, but to The Creator. It is also a reminder to the poor that although YHVH is our provider, He still expects us to go collect His provision…and not sit around and wait for it to be delivered. He meets us in the middle.
Whether you call it “Shavuot” or “Pentecost” the very name defines the calculation of the specific day to celebrate. In Leviticus we read, “And you shall count from the morrow after the Sabbath from the day you bring the Omer [Sheaf] of Waving; seven complete Sabbaths shall you count... until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath you will count fifty days...and you shall proclaim on this very day, it shall be a holy convocation for you " (Lev 23:15-16, 21). Honest students of scripture have argued over the exact way to calculate the intended date for literally thousands of years, so this article will certainly not answer that question definitively. The 50 day count toward Shavuot begins with the Feast of First Fruits, but determining that day is where the controversy begins. The Scriptural phrase “the morrow after the Sabbath” is the focus of the debate. During Yeshua’s time, the Pharisees argued that First Fruits should begin on the 16th day of Nisan, the day after the “annual Sabbath” that began the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Sadducees, who were in control of the Temple services during Yeshua’s day, held that First Fruits would begin on the day after the first “WEEKLY Sabbath”, that followed the start of Unleavened Bread.
We know that Yeshua was the First Fruits of the Resurrection, and He rose on the “first day of the week”. We also know that Shavuot that same year (50 days after the Resurrection) also occurred on a Sunday. Add to this that the Leviticus command also says to count “Seven complete Sabbaths” and that Yeshua never scolded the Sadducees for distorting the Holy calendar, and it seems like First Fruits should always be a “Sunday” and therefore Shavuot should always be a Sunday”. This is just one of the many aspects of Shavuot where the traditions of men can easily distract us from the message of our Holy Father.
The Traditional Aspects of Shavuot
Both Jews and Christians have developed traditions that are far removed from the agricultural aspects of this Holy Day. The Jews have created a tradition called “counting the Omer” where every one of the 50 days from First Fruits to Shavuot are individually numbered vocally and in prayer. This acts to build much anticipation to the Feast itself as well as anchoring it to the Spring Feasts where the count began. Although it isn’t stated specifically in the Torah, the timing of Shavuot roughly coincides with the commandments being read aloud by YHVH from the mountain top at Sinai. Therefore, the Jewish traditions are focused on remembering and edifying that event. Often, the Torah and Talmud are studied all night long, with special prayers said at dawn. Dairy products are central to the celebration, to remind the Jews of the “land of milk and honey” that was part of the covenant being ratified at Sinai. The book of Ruth is often specifically read and studied. Ruth was a gentile who chose to join the Tribe of Judah and adopt YHVH as her Elohim.
Christians rarely connect “Pentecost” with the Hebrew Feast of Shavuot, but instead count 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. On this day, in Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Jewish worshippers assembled in Jerusalem. Of course these worshippers were not there at random; they were being faithful to the commandment to travel to the Temple specifically for Shavuot. As the testimony from Acts puts it, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Yeshua Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Because of the power of The Spirit and the sudden explosive growth of acceptance of Yeshua as Messiah, Pentecost is considered “The Birthday of the Church”. Often Christians describe “speaking in tongues” as some sort of “heavenly” language…not discernable to humans except via a supernatural understanding. While that may be true, the event in Acts 2 shows YHVH and His Spirit specifically transcending human language, and allowing all of his worshippers to speak to one another unhindered by their mental knowledge of one-another’s language. It was the reversal of what YHVH has caused in Genesis at the tower of Babel. At Babel, men were scattered to prevent their own power from corrupting the earth, at Pentecost, men were gathered together to manifest YHVH’s salvation and power to save the world.
An entire denomination of Christianity, Pentecostalism, is derived from focusing on the specific gifts of the Holy Spirit as listed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, ” Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines.” There is a risk that a spiritual walk that puts too much emphasis on “exercising the gifts”, with little understanding as to what they are for, can seem chaotic, distracting, or selfish. It’s kind of like giving a 16 year-old a red Ferrari on the day they get their learner’s permit, and not expecting them to even read the manual first.
Perhaps the tradition Christianity most inappropriately associates with Pentecost is the changing of the 7th day Sabbath, to the 1st day of the week. As the account in Acts mentions, this day did occur on a Sunday. As discussed earlier, The Sadducees understanding of the commandment to number the days from First Fruits to Pentecost, recons both First Fruits (the Resurrection) and Shavuot to always fall on the 1st day…by YHVH’s design. The Pharisee’s understanding of Shavuot timing still will result in First Fruits and Shavuot happening on the same day of the week, and in AD 30, both Feasts occurred on 1st day…again by YHVH’s design. On the year that Messiah died, rose, and sent His Spirit, both religious camps (Pharisee and Sadducee) “coincidentally” agreed on the timing! No commandments were overlooked, or changed, or “upgraded”, in the Acts chapter 2 miracle. This was simply the eternal Torah commandment being fulfilled, right on schedule. Arguing that this is why the 7th day Sabbath should be changed to the 1st day is using perfect divine timing as an excuse to distort perfect divine timing. This is heresy at best, and needs to be discarded as a false tradition.
It seems that the key to unlocking the understanding of any of His appointed times, is to take the time to transcend tradition--not necessarily to always discard it, but to step back from it to see the wider picture that is being painted by our Heavenly Father. If we simply eat cheesecake each year, stay up all night wired with caffeine, and go to Church for the special annual worship service, we will miss the breathtaking plan for humanity that is spelled out for us within these set-apart events. More importantly, we risk missing YHVH revealing His heart to us in a greater way each year. In the course of doing this, we may find ourselves led to discard the man-made traditions if we discover they contradict or distract from the heart of the Father, or we may be led to further embrace certain traditions with a fresh and deeper understanding of how they came to be. Either way, it is well worth pursuing the deeper messages that YHVH is teaching though His Holy celebrations.
The Prophetic Aspects of Shavuot
Just as the Pharisees and Sadducees were able to cast their traditional expectations aside regarding the timing of Shavuot, the overarching theme of this Feast revolves around “restoration” and “power”. The events in Acts 2 were a fulfillment of many Scriptural promises and prophesies, and the power of the Holy Spirit was not poured out randomly, but to those where were desired a relationship with YHVH and had been obedient enough to show up in Jerusalem on the appointed day. That being said, YHVH had made several promises about His plan to restore His divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and in doing so fill them with new power to keep His commandments. Ezekiel 39:29, “And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares YHVH God.” Zechariah 12:10, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” Joel 2:28, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” Ezekiel gets to the point of what the Spirit is to allow us to do. Ezekiel 11:19-20, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
Yeshua, too, made specific promises that were fulfilled on this day. In John chapter 14, He tells His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come after He ascended to the Father. The Spirit would be a helper forever that would give us the power to keep His word! John 14:15-29, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Yeshua answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.”
The theme of all of these prophesies, especially when read in context, both from the Old Testament prophets and from Messiah, was an expectation that supernatural power would someday be given to believers that would help them understand as well as live out the commandments given by YHVH in the Torah. Just as Messiah said in Mark 5:17-21, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Man’s nature wanted to things his way, while YHVH (knowing better) offered a better way. This promise of supernatural power was to transform man from the inside, beginning with his spirit, so that obedience to the commandments and therefore a life transforming metamorphosis could begin. It is the indwelling of His Spirit that gives us the power to live a more righteous life than the scribes and Pharisees.
This miracle was foreshadowed during the very giving of the commandments themselves. At Sinai, Moses comes back down the mountain with the set of stones both cut by YHVH and written by YHVH. He is distraught to find that during his absence, the newly formed nation of Israel, who had just weeks before promised YHVH, “All that YHVH has spoken we will do and will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7), has instead made for themselves a golden calf to worship. Very importantly, they did not turn their back on their new God in order to worship the gods of Egypt, they simply incorporated their former pagan methods in the worship of YHVH. Nevertheless, this is still forbidden, and Moses breaks the tablets into pieces--symbolically and literally “breaking the promise” that our ancestors had just broken in Spirit. Scripture tells us that 3000 Israelites were put to death that day as punishment for allowing this “adultery” to be committed.
The shadow picture here in Exodus is showing us that despite our broken promises to YHVH, and despite His divine and just punishment, YHVH gives Moses and His people another chance to make things right. He asks Moses to cut a second set of stones personally, and bring them before YHVH to get a renewed copy. The scriptures tell us “I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke”. This was a renewing of the covenant that the people broke, not a new set of rules nor a new covenant with completely new terms. This second time, there was an implied partnership, with the stones (representing our hearts) being brought before YHVH for Him to write on, rather than us expecting Him to simply change our unwilling hearts for us while we continue to resist. During the outpouring of the Spirit in Jerusalem so many centuries later, 3000 obedient Jews were saved. This is an obvious parallel to the 3000 disobedient Israelites killed before the first renewal of the covenant.
Of course, the renewing of the covenant was also prophesied in Jeremiah Chapter 31, “Behold, the days are coming, declares YHVH, when I will make renew [SEE NOTE AT THE END] my covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares YHVH. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares YHVH: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know YHVH,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares YHVH. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” This opportunity for each individual to renew their covenantal relationship with YHVH is what was fulfilled during Shavuot. The fingers of flame that rested on the Disciples heads was reminiscent of the fiery finger of YHVH writing the commandments in stone on Sinai.
The Personal Aspects of Shavuot
Understanding how the events of this day affected our Biblical ancestors is nothing but intellectual trivia if we don’t let those lessons affect our own personal behavior as well. We may not see the tongues of flame over our heads, but if we let Him, the very finger of YHVH will write His commandments on our hearts as well. In fact, as YHVH’s children we are left with no plausible excuses for disobeying His commandments. We have been offered and have accepted redemption. We have been adopted as YHVH’s children. We have been betrothed to His Son. We have been given clear instructions. We have been sent Messiah as “The Word made flesh” to model and emulate, and we have been given His very Spirit to dwell inside us. At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses also warns our people not to find reasons for disobedience, but instead to choose to obey. Deut 30:10-20 “For YHVH will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of YHVH your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to YHVH your God with all your heart and with all your soul. For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of YHVH your God that I command you today, by loving YHVH your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping His commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and YHVH your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving YHVH your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that YHVH swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."
The divine placement of Shavuot as the central feast in the Holy calendar cannot be ignored. The feasts of the Spring are about “beginnings” and about washing our sins away so as to be acceptable to YHVH. Conversely, in the Fall feasts we see a great and terrible judgment coming, but also a great expectation of the celebration of fullness and completeness. In Shavuot, placed in the middle, and the only celebration appointed to Summer, we realize our current situation. Without His helper leading us into truth and helping us to walk in His ways, we would truly run back into our sinful ways. Our Father may see us as sinless, but our earthly reality to various degrees is still one of learning and growing. We are reminded that our spiritual walk, like the timing of His feasts, is a process and a journey—not a once and done experience. In Corinthians 13, Paul writes, Verses 9-10 “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” Verse 12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face-to-face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
The bread we eat during the Spring feasts is unleavened, to remind us of our status as sinless from our Father’s point of view. The sheaf that is waived in the spring are the grains of the first harvest, pure, not yet winnowed, not yet cracked, not yet ground, not yet baked. The fully prepared loaves of Shavuot however, are leavened, reminding us of the reality of our fleshly imperfections. There are two fully baked loaves of bread waived before YHVH, one for each errant house of Israel, as both Christians and Jews attempt to understand our distinct places in Our Father’s eternal plan. Again, like Shavuot is placed in the middle of the Feast Schedule, so are we now placed in the middle of history (His story). This understanding should have a profound effect on our purpose in His kingdom in these days. This is the time for restoration, reconciliation, and reaching out to one another. A time to allow YHVH to restore our understanding of the Scriptures, and to finally allow His two kingdoms to reunite under one king. In His mercy and grace, He is now preparing us to face the great and terrible days ahead. Jeremiah 50:4-5, “In those days and in that time, declares YHVH, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come, and they shall seek YHVH their God. They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, ‘Come, let us join ourselves to YHVH in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.’”
Ezekiel 37:21-28 “…then say to them, Thus says Lord YHVH: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am YHVH who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”
During the Fall feasts, when the trumpet sounds, judgment comes, and we are finally sitting at the banquet table with our Bridegroom, our walk will finally be complete and the very temporary dilemma we now live with will be resolved at last.
May you have a blessed Shavuot! Ben
NOTE: The 2011 Stone’s Tenach has the Hebrew word ‘Chodesh’ in Jeremiah 31:31 translated as “renew” instead of as “new”, thus further reminding both Jew’s and Christians that YHVH has renewed His covenant with his people several times in the past, and that the Jeremiah prophecy is unique because BOTH houses will have the covenant renewed. There is no “new” covenant, just a fresher version of the same covenant written on our hearts instead of on stone.
Welcome to Home Shalom!
Welcome to Home Shalom and Shalom Farm. We pray your visit here be blessed. We are learning to walk in the Ways (Torah) of our Father YHWH and follow Y'shua, His Messiah until He returns to "set things straight". We call it a "Messi-Life". Our walk is neither tidy nor perfect, but it is filled with passion, devotion and desire to serve our King. We are learning to be humble servants, and to be good stewards of the things that He has entrusted to us: His Word, our marriage, our children, our family, our community, our health, and our farm. Hitch your horse and stay a while--our door is always open!