Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Feast of Shavuot

During this year-long review of the gospel according to Mark, one of the main intentions is to better understand Jesus in the culture in which He lived. One fundamental aspect that most certainly paints a picture of the Jewish world is the celebration of the various feasts. Fairfax Baptist Church has decided to study, and even participate, in each of these feasts (as best we can) over the course of this year. As such, we took a break from our current study to focus this past Sunday (June 12) on the Feast of Shavuot, otherwise known as the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. (Many churches celebrated Pentecost on May 15th, which corresponds to seven weeks after Easter. But Shavuot is seven weeks after the Feast of Firstfruits, not Easter. I will detail this difference in a separate blog later this week.)

Leviticus 23.15-22 describes The Feast of Weeks, which is the second of the three “solemn feasts” that all Jewish males were required to travel to Jerusalem to attend (Exodus 23.14-17; 34.22-23; Deuteronomy 16.16). These feasts were:

  • Passover, in early spring, included firstfruits from the first harvest, barley.
  • Shavuot, in late spring, included firstfruits from the wheat harvest. Among the many offerings given, was a “wave offering” of two loaves of leavened bread. This was the firstfruits offering.
  • Sukkot, in the fall, was the final harvest and included firstfruits of olives and grapes.

Shavuot is named because it starts seven full weeks after the Feast of First-fruits. Because it takes place fifty days after the previous feast, this feast came to be known, especially to people today, as “Pentecost” (which means 50.) Many Jewish traditions relate to this day although some of the traditions began after the time of Christ. Some of these traditions include:

  • Moses received the Law from God on Mount Sinai during the time that would become Shavuot.
  • King David is believed to have been born and to have died on Shavuot. 
  • The book of Ruth is read on Shavuot because she was an ancestor of David, and because of God’s command to not reap the harvest to the edge of the field (Lev 23.22) being given in relation with this feast.
  • The waving of the two loaves (as commanded in Leviticus 23.16) has come to mean one of two possibilities: 1) one loaf represents the Jewish people, the other Gentiles. 2) each loaf representing one of the two tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.  

The Bible says that is was on this day that Peter preached according to Acts 2 and 3000 souls were saved on that day. I will have more to say about this on my personal blog later in the week. Three common themes can be found in each of the Jewish feasts. These themes are God’s protection, God’s provision, and God’s promise. Related to the Feast of Shavuot, we see each of these as follows.

God’s Protection

  • Acts 2.27-28, 31 reveal that God did not abandon Jesus.
  • And that those who believe on Jesus will not be abandoned.

God’s Provision

  • Acts 2.17-18 speaks of God’s renewal of man.
  • Acts 2.32-36 speaks of God’s salvation for man.

God’s Promise

  • 2.30 reminds us that God promised David a descendant would sit on the throne forever.
  • 2.39 shows that God’s salvation is for all people – whether near or far.
  • 2.41-47 fulfills the beginning of the promise to build the church (Matthew 16.18). In fact, this portion of Acts is known as the birth of the congregation (Hebrew, kehilah).

I hope this brief article helps to pain a clearer picture of this feast. As for how the harvest of Shavuot relates to the other firstfruit harvests and Jesus baptizing by Spirit and fire, I will cover these in another blog tomorrow, and then on Friday, I hope to post about the difference in the dates for celebrating Pentecost (which ties back to when and how the date for Easter is calculated).

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