Shavuot

My dear readers, even though we are still in the midst of our discussion on Paul’s allegory, we would have to pause this discussion for a week. I have to say a few words about the Festival of Shavuot, which we will be celebrating in a few days. We will finish our discussion in the next post. We will go back to the book of Acts after that.

 

Shavuot in the Torah

Shavuot – the Feast of Weeks – is one of the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals. This is the only Biblical Festival that doesn’t have a specific date: the Torah links its date directly to that of Passover. The word Shavuot means “weeks” and the festival of Shavuot marks the completion of the seven-week counting period between Passover and Shavuot.

15 ‘And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. 16 Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord[1]

As you’ve just read, the Torah prescribes the seven-week counting “after the Sabbath”. Since the previous verses in this chapter of Leviticus speak of the Pesach feasts: Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits, we understand that counting starts from some Sabbath during the Passover. However, no exact specification is given as to which Shabbat is referred to, therefore different interpretations and consequently different dates for Shavuot have been suggested and celebrated over history. There were groups that understood the day after the Sabbath as referring to the ‘tomorrow’ of the first day of Pesach (this usage is confirmed by the Septuagint, Josephus,  and Philo). However, there were other groups of the Second Temple period that understood it differently: for instance, the Qumran community understood the allusion to be to the first Shabbat after Pesach.

Today, Shavuot is held on the 6th of Sivan, fifty days after the second day of Passover. It is one of the three major annual feasts in the Biblical calendar. The synagogue readings for this holiday include Exodus 19-20: Moshe’s ascent of Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments. Why?

 

The Revelation:  Jewish Perspective

I’ve written about it several times already, but I am sure that there are still many Christians who are not aware of the fact that in Jewish tradition, Shavuot came to be understood as commemorating the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.  Although there is no explicit reference to that in the Torah, 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. Thus, in Jewish tradition, Shavuot came to be understood as commemorating the giving of the Torah to Moses—Chag Matan Torah — חג מתן תורה. The earliest references to this reinterpretation date from the 2nd and 3rd centuries C.E. The word Shavuot, שבועות , became an additional proof since it can also be read as “oaths”: on that day, God swore eternal faithfulness to Israel, and Israel became God’s people. Today, it is widely accepted that the Torah was given by God to the Jewish people on Shavuot. In this sense, every year on the holiday of Shavuot the Jewish people see themselves as renewing this experience —renewing our acceptance of the Torah.

In the Jewish calendar, each Festival is associated with a major historical event and a major religious theme. The theme of Pesach, celebrating the Exodus from Egypt, is creation – the creation of the Jewish people. The theme of Shavuot is revelation. The theme of Succot, associated with the forty years of wandering culminated by entering the Promised Land, is redemption. These three major themes – creation, revelation, and redemption – are very important and present in different aspects of Jewish life, but they are most evident in the three Biblical Festivals.

The Revelation:  Christian Perspective

You probably know that Shavuot and Pentecost are two different names of the same Festival. The Bible says: “count fifty days”, which is why, in the New Testament, the name for the holiday is usually translated as “Pentecost”.  Therefore, it is against the background of Shavuot that the events of the first two chapters of the book of Acts must be seen. 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 the male Jews were supposed to be in Jerusalem.

We read in Acts 2 that, “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.”

It was certainly no coincidence that the descent of the Spirit is described on the day of Pentecost: by the first century, Shavuot is already associated with the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai, therefore,  Luke consciously and intentionally describes the events of Acts 2 in terms of a “second Sinai”. We can see all these beautiful and profound parallels between God giving His Word and God giving His Spirit.  The “noise like a violent wind” in Acts 2 certainly echoes the thundering from Exodus 20:18, and the fire of Acts parallels the fire of Exodus. In Midrash Exodus Rabbah, we have this commentary on Exodus 20: “One voice was split into seven and they were divided into seventy languages.”[1] Hillary Le Cornu and Joseph Shulam quote an even more striking sentence from a Midrash: “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.”[2] Doesn’t that sound almost like a quotation from the Book of Acts: “And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed.” On both occasions, Shavuot becomes the day when the Heaven is opened and God Himself claims His people. 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.

The Revelation: Hidden Messiah!  

We know already that revelation is the main theme of Shavuot, both in the Jewish and the Christian tradition. Not many are aware, however, of yet another revelation that happened on that day. Those of my readers, who read my book about the Hidden Messiah, know that it is here, in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, that the messianic status of Jesus is revealed publicly for the first time. The contrast with His hiddenness in the Gospels is drastic. No words can better describe this abrupt change in the atmosphere from Luke’s Gospel to Acts, than the verse from Luke himself: “What you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops. As against the hidden/concealed/only “in the ear” revealed secret of the messianic identity of Jesus in the Gospel, here in Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, we hear an open proclamation of his Messiahship—for the very first time. 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 is revealed – and this revelation happens on Shavuot!

[1] Exodus Rabbah, 28:6

[2] Hillary Le Cornu, Joseph Shulam, The Jewish Roots of Acts, Netivyah Bible Instructions Ministry, 2003, p.55

 

CHAG SAMEACH, DEAR FRIENDS! HAPPY SHAVUOT AND HAPPY PENTECOST! WISHING YOU HEAVENLY  BLESSINGS DURING THESE HOLIDAYS  AND THROUGHOUT THE YEAR! As you know already, I always bless my readers with gifts on the Biblical holidays; therefore, today I  would like to bless you also: starting from tomorrow, Friday, 06/03/2022 and through Monday, 06/06/2022,  you can download my book “The Bible stories you did not know: In The Beginning””,  In order to claim your gift, click here.   

Also, I would like to remind you that we offer a wonderful course, Jewish Background of the New Testament. As always,  I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding eTeacher wonderful courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com).

 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

You might also be interested in:

Three Plus Four: Sarah

By Julia Blum

The Unfolding Mystery Of The Fall...

By Julia Blum

Join the conversation (6 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Jan Jane

    Thank you do much for the tevelation of pentecost
    I love it dear Julia

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words, Jan! Blessings!

  2. Carla

    Thank you for your gift, Julia! I appreciate you and look forward to reading each and every blog post with your wonderful insights Chag Sameach!

  3. Patricia Schekahn

    Dear Julia,
    We have heard from you, that All of God’s writing is living and breathes God.
    You put the missing puzzle pieces together for us. It is like a jigsaw puzzle; we already have a picture, but we are still missing some of the parts e.g., the connecting pieces. Some people may have been impatient and joined pieces that don’t quite align with God’s blueprint. But they will never fit properly and therefore need to find healing and their right place according to God’s original, which only he as the builder knows. But with each part that finds its God-ordained place, the image becomes not only more comprehensive but even more luminous and livelier. It changes our inner being, and we may say as Ruth said: “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God”[Rut 1,6] and “that in union with the Messiah and through the Good News, the Gentiles were to be joint heirs, a joint body and joint sharers with the Jews in what God has promised,”[Ephesians 3,6] in exactly this order.
    It’s a long way back to the Jewish root, but It’s full of Grace and Truth. May God bless you for your wonderful teachings Julia. Chag Sameach, Happy Shavuot!

    Quotations: CJB by David H.Stern

  4. Patience

    My heart is overwhelmed.. again by your insightful words of wisdom! Thank you for the revelatory insights you bless us with on a regular basis! Bless you!

  5. John M Akin

    Thank you Julia, I have read your book twice and your other discussions but I still get excited Every time I read it again.
    John