Looking at Shavuot or Pentecost


Shavuot began as a harvest festival, but it also commemorates the revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah. While Shavuot has few rituals associated with it, many Jews stay up all night studying Torah. Other customs include eating dairy foods and reading the Book of Ruth. – MyJewishLearning.com

Shavuot has interested in the last few months. It is not a term that I usually use, since this is more often referred to as Pentecost, but I was listening to a debate between a evangelist and a rabbi and an interesting comment was made by someone in the audience. The woman was pointing out that a major difference between the two religions is that Shavuot is seen as an individual thing in the Christian world, while Judaism sees it as applying to the nation.

Shavuot, the “Feast of Weeks,” is celebrated seven weeks after Pesach (Passover). Since the counting of this period (sefirat ha-omer) begins on the second evening of Pesach, Shavuot takes place exactly 50 days after the (first) seder. Hence, following the Greek word for “fifty,” Shavuot is also referred to sometimes as Pentecost. Although its origins are to be found in an ancient grain harvest festival, Shavuot has been identified since biblical times with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Shavuot combines two major religious observances. First is the grain harvest of the early summer. Second is the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai seven weeks after the exodus from Egypt. The first determines the ritual for the holiday, which was one of the three pilgrimage festivals of ancient Israel, when Israelite males were commanded to appear before God in Jerusalem, bringing offerings of the first fruits of their harvest. The second determines the significance of the holiday for Judaism, tying it in with the seminal event of Jewish religious memory, namely the entering into a covenant between God and Israel, exemplified by Israel’s assumption of Divine law. -MJL

There are many cool things here that are missed by most Christians, including myself, as mainstream Christianity has made a move to cut most of its Jewish ties. This is a time to celebrate the giving of the covenant between God and Israel on Mt Sinai. For Christians, it is a fulfillment of the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31. Christians recognize the fulfillment of the promise at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came and indwelled with the believers, but the significance is often missed.

Another neat thing is the ceremonial reading of the Book of Ruth. The Book of Ruth is read because it corresponds to the festival with both its descriptions of the wheat and barley harvesting seasons. In addition, Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of King David by blood, but the lineage isn’t really shared as she never becomes one of the Jewish people since she is Moabite and that is forbidden. The son is counted to her mother-in-law Naomi even though the lineage at the end of the book shows Boaz as the father. Boaz acted as the kinsman redeemer in order to provide a son to Naomi even though his legacy was cursed due to the marriage to Ruth. Christians see Jesus as the ultimate kinsman redeemer. Another little tie with the season.

As is the case with Easter, Christianity has altered the dates so they no longer coincide with the actual Jewish holiday. I can never figure out why Christians forget that Jesus was a Jew. Anyways, Christians celebrate Pentecost this year on June 12th when Jewish observance of Shavuot is June 7th through the 9th. I think that the Holy Spirit would have followed the Jewish tradition as the believers at that time were Jewish.

Getting back to the beginning of all of this, the case between the individual and national covenant. I think that Christians often discount the national or corporate view of the covenant / salvation. We know that we are saved individually and based upon our own response to Jesus. When we are saved though, we remain our individual self, but we become a part of the whole of the Church. Paul in Romans 9 is talking about how not all of Israel will reap the promises of the covenant as the covenant was made to the children of the promise and not the children of the flesh. The children of the promise, those who are saved, make up the church. There is a corporate election, but the corporate is made up of the individual response. As with the holidays, many times we lose focus of the Jewish nature of the promise. We look to see what God is doing in us or wanting us to do, without looking to see what our place is in the Church. While we respond to God based on our individual obedience, the work we do is through the Church and not individually.

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