The Day when the Heaven is Open
In our last post, we spoke about the Biblical Festival of Shavuot, Feast of Weeks (also called Chag HaKatzir, Feast of the Harvest). We spoke about the Biblical significance of Shavuot and also about the meaning of this Festival in Jewish tradition. It is against this background that the events of the first two chapters of the book of Acts must be seen.
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 pious Jews were supposed to be in Jerusalem. Furthermore, if we recall the meaning of this Festival in Jewish tradition, we would understand that it was certainly no coincidence that Heaven was opened and the Spirit came down upon the disciples on this day. Something equally significant and profound happened on Shavuot in the past: the most important event in Jewish history, receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, also happened on Shavuot. In Jewish tradition, Shavuot is the Festival of the Giving of the Torah – Chag Matan Torah.
Now we can see these beautiful and profound parallels between God giving His Word and giving His Spirit. On both occasions, Shavuot becomes the day when the Heaven is opened and God Himself claims His people. The “noise like a violent storm” in Acts 2 definitely echoes the thundering from Exodus 20:18, and the fire of Acts parallels the fire of Exodus. In Midrash Shmot Rabba, we have this commentary on Exodus 20: “One voice was split into seven and they were divided into seventy languages.” Hillary Le Cornu and Joseph Shulam quote an even more amazing midrashic sentence: “The voice went out and was divided into seven voices and from seven voices into seventy tongues, so that all the nations will hear. And every nation heard the voice in its own tongue and was amazed.” There is little doubt 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 His Word was given on Shavuot, His Spirit will also be given on Shavuot.
Hidden and revealed
Those of my readers who followed my Hidden Messiah series might recall that here, for the first time, the messianic status of Jesus is proclaimed publicly. The contrast with His hiddenness in the Gospels is radical. No words can better describe this abrupt change in the atmosphere from the Gospel to the Acts than the verse of Luke himself: What you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops. As against hidden/concealed/only “in the ear” revealed secret of the messianic identity of Jesus in the Gospel, for the very first time we hear an open proclamation of his Messiahship here in Acts 2. In his first public speech, Peter proclaims loudly (almost literally ‘on the housetops’), that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” The secret, esoteric knowledge of the Gospel all of a sudden becomes a widely broadcast message in Acts; the secret of Jesus’ messiahship becomes revealed – and it happens on Shavuot.
Actually, we can see here several hidden and revealed topics connected to Shavuot. Just think of it: every Jew knew that the Torah was given on Shavuot, since it had been revealed in Jewish tradition. However, for some reason it is completely hidden from Christians. On the other hand, every Christian knows that the outpouring of the Spirit happened on Pentecost, although not every Christian is aware that Pentecost is Shavuot. It is revealed in the New Testament, but hidden completely from the Jews. Of course, only the full revelation can give us the full picture of God’s plan – and here we see how much they need one another. So, I will use this moment to tell you the Parable that I always tell when teaching on Judaism and Christianity.
The Parable of Long Spoons exists in many cultures and in different versions. It tells about a man who asked God to show him Heaven and Hell. God showed the man two rooms. In the first one, a large table was set. It was full of delicious dishes, but the people sitting around it looked miserable: Their spoons had very long handles, longer than their arms, and they were not able to eat with these spoons because they could not get the spoons into their mouths. They were sitting at the full table, but starving – and that was Hell.
The second room looked exactly the same. There was also a large table set with delicious dishes, and the people around had the same long spoons. Only these people were well nourished and happy, because with the same long spoons, they fed one another – and that was Heaven.
This parable teaches us that caring for others is the best way to care for ourselves. People can perish or thrive, depending on how they treat one another–and while that is undoubtedly true for each one of us, it is also very true in regard to Jews and Christians, Judaism and Christianity.
More about the book of Ruth
We already know that the Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. Why? There are several explanations: first, the story takes place at the time of the harvest, and Shavuot is the Festival of Harvest; second, Ruth and Naomi came to Beth-Lehem around the time of Shavuot; third, there is a legend that Kind David died on Shavuot, and Ruth was a great grandmother of David. “In addition”, David Stern writes, “since it tells about the joining of the Moabite woman Ruth to God’s family, it gives a remez (“hint”) about the future aspect of God’s work on earth, the joining of Gentiles to God’s people, the Jews, through the Messiah Yeshua.”
And here, I would like to add a Hebrew insight: We all know Ruth’s famous words: “wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” She speaks these words in the very first chapter of the book, when she decided to keep going with Naomi – while the second daughter in law, Orpah, turned back. The Hebrew word I want to show you here, I believe explains the difference between these two women – between the one who went and the one who did not.
In English, Ruth 1:18 reads: “When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.” This “steadfastly minded” (sometimes translated as “determined”) translates a Hebrew word מִתְאַמֶּ֥צֶת , – to make an effort. In the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as in some English versions, it is the same word that we hear from Jesus in Luke 13:24: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” To join God’s people, to walk God’s path, requires conscious effort, and Ruth made this effort while Orpah, with all the good intentions she had, didn’t make the effort. That’s why we read the book of Ruth – and not the book of Orpah – on Shavuot.
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Exodus Rabbah, 28:6
 Hillary Le Cornu, Joseph Shulam, The Jewish Roots of Acts, Netivyah Bible Instructions Ministry, 2003, p. 60
 Ibid., p. 61
 I’m still working on the book about Hidden Messiah
 Luke 12:3
 Acts 2:36
 Author is unknown, but it is often attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok,
 David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1995 – p.220
 Ruth 1:16
 Ruth 1:18 KJV