Shavuot – The Great Expectation
This is an exciting time of year as we gear up for Pentecost (Shavuot). The biblical holidays like Passover and Shavuot are called Moedim in Hebrew. Moedim are appointed times during the year when God highlights certain spiritual truths. These times do more than prompt us to remember historical events, but rather encourage us to embrace what God wants to do today to change the world and save the lost. Therefore, as we approach Shavuot, we should be expectant for a great harvest and express our gratitude to God for His saving grace.
On the day after the Sabbath during the Festival of Unleavened Bread (which has been in later times just simply called Passover), the first fruits of the barley harvest were offered in the Temple. Starting on this day, we are to begin a countdown, or really a count up, to the next festival (Lev. 23:15-16). It is called counting the Omer, a verbal counting accompanied by a blessing. It is an exercise that builds anticipation for the upcoming wheat harvest. This time between Passover and Shavuot is the period of time that Jesus (Yeshua) spent with His disciples after His resurrection to prepare them for what was to come.
Shavuot is a harvest festival. It became known as the anniversary of God’s appearance at Mount Sinai and commemorated the giving of the Torah. Understanding the Jewish culture and history of Shavuot is crucial as it deepens our understanding of Acts 2 and this appointed season.
When the day of Shavuot had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2: 1–4, TLV/NKJV).
Concerning the giving of the Torah, Rabbi Johanan said: “Every single word that went forth from the Omnipresent was split up into seventy languages so that all the nations should understand… so every single word that went forth from the Holy One, blessed be He, split up into seventy languages.”1
The Rabbis believed that this represented all the languages of the earth. So, in Acts, we see God-fearing Jews from every nation as well as Gentile proselytes to Judaism. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment because each one heard their own language being spoken.
Equally important was the fact that both Jew and Gentile were worshiping together. On Shavuot, the first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented to the Lord (Adonai) in the Temple. The offering consisted of two loaves of bread baked with leavened flour (Lev 23:17) as first fruits for Adonai. Since Shavuot is a harvest festival, one can see the imagery of the harvest of Jew and Gentile in presenting the two loaves of bread.
Shavuot was and is a Jewish Holiday that the followers of Yeshua celebrated. They understood that it represented the harvest and giving of the Torah, and as Jewish people and proselytes, they were observing it as such. However, they would soon come to understand that it went much deeper than merely an agricultural harvest and the word of God written on tablets of stone. Listen to the description by Philo, a first century Jewish philosopher, of God’s words at Sinai:
“...Then from the midst of the fire that streamed from heaven there sounded forth to their utter amazement a voice, for the flame became articulate speech in the language familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctly were the words formed by it that they seemed to see them rather than hear them.”2
As the tongues of fire were seen, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and received divine empowerment to advance the Kingdom of God through the declaration of the gospel. The Spirit (Ruach) was given to empower them to declare the Word of God to all nations of the earth and to bring in a harvest of souls! We, too, have God’s Word and are empowered by His Spirit to grow the kingdom. In the midst of this special season, may each of us be expectant for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and anticipate a great harvest of souls consisting of both Jews and Gentiles to the glory of God! I want to conclude with a quote from Frank Macchia. He writes,
“Indeed, the Son who mediated all of creation (Heb. 1:3) has, in his anointed journey to Pentecost, opened his life to an expansive diversity of voices so as to grant them a share in his anointing, his baptism in the Spirit. As the Spirit baptizer, Messiah imparts himself by imparting the Spirit, which means that Messiah may be found wherever the Spirit is found.”3
May we be those diverse voices anointed by the Ruach to reach our generation with the gospel message.
1IBID. Loc 916
2Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 522). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
3Macchia, Frank D. Jesus the Spirit Baptizer: Christology in Light of Pentecost (p. 116). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.