Deuteronomy 23:15-17, ‘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 the Lord. 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 the Lord.’
The Hebrew name for Pentecost is Shavuot. The Hebrew word ‘Shavua’ means ‘week’ and the plural ‘Shavuot’ simply means ‘weeks’. So the festival is called the Feast of Weeks: Shavuot. The reason it’s called the ‘Feast of Weeks’ is because it takes place literally seven weeks after the holy feasts begin. The word Pentecost is just the Greek word for weeks.
In traditional Judaism, the festival of Shavuot (weeks) marks the culmination of the experience of redemption, sometimes called Atzaret Pesach, the Conclusion of the Passover. Since the great exodus from Egypt was intended to lead to the revelation of Sinai (the Law), the goal of Passover was to liberate and culminate with the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. God took the Jews out of Egypt so that they would be His own treasured people, holy and separated from the pagan cultures around them. In fact, all the mo’edim (appointed times) are connected with that event, including the fall festivals of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).
According to the Jewish sages: ‘The new moon of the month of Nisan marks the start of a sacred time, Passover remembers the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, the first day of Unleavened Bread remembers the Exodus from Egypt, the seventh day of Unleavened Bread (First Fruits) remembers the crossing of the Red Sea, the counting of the Omer (the 50 days of counting), which we haven’t talked about, recalls the days before the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and Shavuot (Pentecost) remembers the giving of the Torah exactly seven weeks to the day, after the Exodus (on the 6th day of the Jewish month of Sivan). So Shavuot at Mt Sinai is sometimes considered the day on which Judaism was born because it’s the day the Law was given.
The sequence then is Passover → Unleavened bread → First Fruits → 50 days of counting → Shavuot (Penteocost)…the giving of the Law, the Word of God.
The background to Shavuot is found through the book of Exodus when God sent Moses to deliver His people from Egyptian slavery, after many signs, wonders, miracles and much death and destruction because of the pride and stubbornness of Pharaoh’s heart.
It’s been calculated by Jewish sages that from the deliverance of the Jewish people after Passover to the day God gave Moses the Law on Mt Sinai was fifty days. When you read the passages giving the description of the Feast of Shavuot and what they were celebrating you see that it’s very much an agricultural celebration. It takes place fifty days after the first meal of Passover; God instructed them to count seven weeks and then on the fiftieth day they were to celebrate Shavuot, which actually means, the ‘Feast of Weeks’. The counting of the fifty days is known as the Counting of the Omer
We mentioned during Foundations when we were learning about the Feast of First Fruits, that as soon as a Jewish farmer saw the first sign of ripening fruit among his crops, he would tie something around it and designate it to be his offering to the Lord and later when he would harvest it, it would be placed in a basket woven of gold and silver (the poor used baskets of peeled willow branches) and they would take it to the Temple for the celebration of Shavuot. Often there’d be a lot of singing and joyful praise because all the people would be travelling together and it was very much a festive environment.
It’s important to note that in the New Covenant parables ‘seeds’ always represents the Word of God and of course agriculturally, seeds represent food and nourishment, crops, produce and sustenance.
The unusual thing about the feast of Shavuot is that part of the offering that had to be presented at the Temple was two loaves of LEAVENED bread, made from the first fruits of their harvest. This is the only time God permitted the bread offerings to contain leaven. When the loaves were presented they had to be presented as a wave offering before Him.
After the destruction of the Temple, the Jews were no longer able to bring the first fruits into the Temple as offerings because the Temple was gone, so the Jewish religious leaders recognised that because the Torah was given on Mt Sinai fifty days after Passover, the means of celebrating Shavuot would be focused on celebrating the giving of the Torah, the Law of Moses. What’s really interestingly, is that the Word of God is described as spiritual food. Jesus is the Word of God come down from Heaven and is also known as the Bread of Life. Jesus, the Bread who came down from heaven, was born in Bethlehem which means the House of Bread.
Today, when Jews celebrate Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Law of Moses, they often stay up all night to read and study the Torah, they read portions of the Torah and in particular the read the story of Ruth. In Jewish thought, Ruth is read because the story took place during the time of the Spring harvest and therefore has an agricultural theme and it’s also a picture of Ruth who willingly accepted the Jewish people to be her own and the God of the Jewish people to be the object of her devotion and worship.
Ruth was a Moabitess who remained with her mother-in-law Naomi, a Jewess, both of whom were widows and Ruth converted to Judaism, confirming that Naomi’s people would be her people and Naomi’s God would be her God. Naomi’s family line was that of King David and Ruth was redeemed by one of Naomi’s distant relatives, a man named Boaz who filled the role of ‘kinsmen redeemer’. He married Ruth and maintained Naomi’s family line and not only that, but Boaz and Ruth were the great, great grandparents of king David and from king David came Jesus the Messiah. (Ruth 1-4)
Ruth’s story is that of a Gentile bride embracing the God of the Jewish people and being accepted into the Jewish nation.
There are lots of elements that we’ll tie together next time; seven weeks, two loaves of leavened bread, the giving of the Law – the Word of God; harvests of food after the seed has been sown as well as the book of Ruth and why the story of a Gentile bride to a Jewish redeemer is so significant for this particular feast.