CMJ Israel is dedicating this issue of CMJ Today to the celebration of Shavuot.
“You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks [Shavuot] that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.” Exodus 34:22
WHAT IS SHAVUOT ALL ABOUT?
While many Christians celebrate Pentecost as the time of the pouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first followers of Jesus, as described in Acts 2, many do not realise that this day has its origins in the ancient Biblical festival known as “Shavuot”, the Feast of Weeks.
Shavuot commemorates the event experienced by the children of Israel seven weeks after their exodus from Egypt, so seven weeks after the first Passover. What is the connection between Passover and Shavuot and what is so special about this day that God would command the Jewish people to count seven weeks (49 days) from the day after their Exodus?
The dominant theme of the Feast of Weeks is the giving of the Torah on the fiftieth day after Passover, also known as “the first Sabbath”. Fifty is the number of Jubilee, representing liberation and freedom from physical bondage. But the festival of Shavuot emphasizes that the release from bondage does not constitute complete freedom unless it culminates in the spiritual responsibilities inherent in Israel’s acceptance of the Torah.
When the Israelites accepted the Torah, it became the standard of behaviour, the code of conduct, for both the native-born Israelite and for the strangers who had joined them. “One law [Torah achat] and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.” Numbers 15:16.
A TIME OF GIVING
Shavuot is also about giving. God gave the Torah to the Jewish people and, through them, to the Gentiles. But He also asks us to give back from all that He gives us. Seven weeks after the start of the harvest, on Shavuot, the people of Israel were commanded to take a freewill offering to God proportionate to how much He had blessed their harvest.
“Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering proportionate to the blessings the Lord your God has given you.” Deuteronomy 16:9-10.
GIVING OF THE FIRST FRUITS
Shavuot was the appointed time for the Jewish people to offer their first fruits (bikkurim) offerings in the Temple.
No one was to appear empty handed. “No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed; each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.” Deuteronomy 16:16.
Although the Israelites were reminded to rejoice over God’s goodness to their families, God repeatedly exhorted them not to forget the Levites, orphans, widows and foreigners who lived among them. It was for that reason that God commanded the people not to harvest the entire field but to leave the corners of their fields for the poor who could harvest them with dignity and not have to beg. In Israel, and also around the world, it is customary for Jewish people, especially observant families, to offer gifts of money to their congregations for special social projects or care packets directly to needy families.
SHAVUOT AND THE BOOK OF RUTH
On the first night of Shavuot, it is a Jewish tradition to stay up all night studying the book of Ruth. With its agricultural theme, the story of Ruth, a Gentile Moabite woman who gleaned in the fields of Boaz, is a beautiful story rich in prophetic meaning for the Christian church today. Naomi, her Jewish mother-in-law, represents the Jewish people who left the land of Israel, lived in exile and lost their entire families (as in the Holocaust) and returned with nothing but deep sorrow.
Naomi’s two Gentile daughters-in-law represent the two types of the Christian church and their relationship to Israel. Orpah abandoned Naomi in her time of need but Ruth pleaded with her to be allowed to stay with her even until death. Naomi returned to Israel with Ruth who vowed “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Ruth 1:16.
“May a full reward be given you by the God of Israel under whose wings you have taken refuge.” Ruth 2:12.