Shavuot: The Word And The Spirit

The Day when the Heaven was open

We know already  that Shavuot is one of the three major annual feasts in the Biblical calendar. In our last post, we spoke about the Biblical significance of Shavuot and the meaning of this Festival in Jewish tradition. Do you know, however,  that Shavuot and Pentecost are two different names for the same Festival? The Bible also 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 Jews were supposed to be in Jerusalem: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the festival of unleavened bread, at the festival of weeks, and at the festival of booths.” (Deut. 16:16)

And as we are reading Acts 2:

1When 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.  (Acts 2:1-3) –

we  have to remember  that by the first century Shavuot was already associated with the covenant made with Moses. We would then understand that it was certainly no coincidence that the descent of the Spirit is described on the day of Pentecost, and we would be able to see all  these beautiful and profound parallels between God giving His Word and giving His Spirit. Since the most important and profound event in Jewish history—receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai—happened on Shavuot, it was certainly no coincidence that Heaven was opened and the Spirit came down upon the disciples on the same day. Therefore, Luke consciously describes the events of Acts 2 in terms of a “second Sinai”.

On both occasions, Shavuot becomes the day when the Heaven is opened and God Himself claims His people. 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 Shmot Rabba, 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 surprising 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 it 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”. 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 read my book about Hidden Messiah[3]  might recall that it is here, in the Book of Acts, that the messianic status of Jesus is proclaimed publicly for the first time. 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 Acts than the verse of Luke himself: “What you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops[4]. As against hidden/concealed/only “in the ear” revealed secret of the messianic identity of Jesus in the Gospel, here in Acts 2 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.”[5] 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 it happens on Shavuot.

Moreover, 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 – and Shavuot-Pentecost is undoubtedly  a very good reason to remember it!

 

 

[1] Exodus Rabbah, 28:6

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

 

[3] Julia Blum, As Though Hiding His Face… , My Zion LLC, 2017, – https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/   

[4]Luke 12:3

[5] Acts 2:36

 

Excerpts from my  books are included in many  posts on this blog. I wanted to let you know that my new book “Unlocking the Scriptures”  is published already    and is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

You might enjoy also my other  books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/ 

  If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, or learning more about the Jewish background of Jesus’ teaching, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing 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.

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  1. Luis Antolín

    Very good explanation. In addition, just to point out that Pentecost for Christianism meanas also the opposite to Babel, now God doesn’t solve one only languge in difference and confusion but all the languges become for everybody understanndable.

    1. LC

      I believe the gospel is the writing of the Torah of love upon the heart, the reunification of the scattered house of Israel among the gentiles to whom Paul the apostle was sent, the learned to the unlearned. The Glory of the kingdom of Judah for whose sake Judea was spared through the 2nd exile to Babylon,
      and the insanity of Antiochus,
      and Herod the idumean,
      that in the fullness of time he could reveal the Lord and Messiah, to whom He sent the humble fisherman Peter to the well trained circumcision as apostle.
      In sending and calling, scattering and gathering we have hope.

  2. Nick

    Amen Julia, thanks for this post! Whether at Mt. Sinai, or many years later in Jerusalem, the question is asked, “To what end?”. Halakha and creeds are great, but the desired end goal is much greater and has a unifying implication for all mankind.

    Nick