The Feast of Shavuot/Weeks is upon us (Deuteronomy 16:10). Fifty days have now passed between Pesach/Passover and Shavuot (Leviticus 23:16 – the counting of the Omer, a peck measurement and first-fruits prophetic promise of a coming full harvest). The crest of those calculations has been reached, and now the wave of fulfillment crashes down onto this fourth celebration of God’s seven divine Feasts (Leviticus 23:2).
Most Israeli Jews know about the traditional dairy foods associated with the holiday, about wearing white garments and going on a kibbutz tractor ride replete with wagons full of fruit and produce. This festival is also called Hag haKatzir (Harvest Festival) and Hag Habikurim (First fruits Festival – see Numbers 28:26).
Religious Jews are taught that Shavuot is the date of Matan Torah (the giving of the Sinai Covenant), and they remember Ruth the famous Moabite woman who ‘converted to Judaism.’
It may come as a surprise for some of us to find out that the Bible’s take on these events is somewhat different. Let’s dig in and take a look.
In search of the lost date
The Scriptures do not give an exact date for the Giving of the Mosaic Covenant. The event happened somewhere within a two month period, but the Bible does not specify when (Exodus 19:1, 16; 24:4, 16; 34:28; 40:17). It’s a little like Christmas: the reason December 24/25 was chosen has nothing to do with specific dates in the Gospel records, and everything to do with freshly baptized Roman and Constantine traditions. People like dates and, when the Bible is silent about such things, folks tend to choose dates anyway – ‘everyone does what’s right in his own eyes’ (see Judges 21:25).
The focus in Leviticus/ Numbers and Deuteronomy is threefold:
- An agricultural festival, celebrating the beginnings of the yearly produce and harvest (Exodus 34:22; Numbers 28:26; Deuteronomy 16:9-10), as well as an offering of first fruits grain and blood sacrifices (qorban, isheh, hatat and shlemim).
- A day of complete rest (Leviticus 23:21)
- A feast of celebration and rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16:10-11) coupled with a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Exodus 34:22-24)
The Bible is silent in all these passages about a date for the Giving of the Mosaic Covenant, or about any connection between the Feast of Shavuot and the Giving of the Mosaic Torah.
A side note: Paul the Apostle’s personal calendar was marked as wanting to come up to Jerusalem in time to celebrate the Day of Shavuot/Pentecost (Acts 20:16). His apostolic faith expressed itself in recognizably Jewish ways (Acts 21:24; 28:17).
Why the “Fake News”?
Traditions are not created in a vacuum. They are often a response to significant historical and national events. Since a connection between Shavuot/Pentecost and the giving of the Law of Moses was not a tradition practiced in the days of Messiah Yeshua, what happened historically that made the Rabbis bind the celebration of Shavuot to the Covenant of Sinai?
The answer is strikingly clear. When the New Covenant was inaugurated, it was the day of Shavuot/Pentecost.
Acts 2:1 says that “When the Day of Shavuot/Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” Tongues of fire accompanied by the heavenly sound of a mighty and rushing wind filled the house wherein the disciples were praying. The inauguration of the New Covenant was kicked into gear by the Holy Spirit of Israel, with signs following in a very Jewish context.
Jeremiah had prophesied that the New Covenant would be characterized by the active and widespread presence of the Ruach HaKodesh – the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This New Covenant “would not be like the covenant” that YHVH ratified with the Hebrew patriarchs in the day when God took us out of the Land of Egypt. It would be different and new.
Rejecting the Good News
The majority of Israel’s spiritual leaders spurned Yeshua and the ‘quiet waters of the Shiloah spring’ (see Isaiah 8:6). They despised and rejected Messiah the Son of David. We as a nation followed our leaders, turning our faces from Him and not esteeming Him (Isaiah 53:3). Abandoning the Fountain of living waters, we hewed for ourselves “cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). These ‘broken cisterns’ are another term for the rabbinic system which insists on blind obedience to their interpretation of Moses, while rejecting the New Covenant of which Moses spoke.
The New Covenant was rejected. Its amazing offer of salvation to both Israel and the nations was trashed. Now that the Way and the Truth were banned, the time had come to develop a new rabbinic tradition – we can call it “fake news.” The glorious and flame-tongued New Covenant was replaced, and in its place a skewed rabbinic interpretation of the Mosaic covenant was substituted. Instead of the gospel offer of salvation to Gentiles, the rabbinic stress was on Gentile conversion to the Law of Moses and the nations’ submission to rabbinic authority. Ruth the Moabite found herself being transformed by the rabbis into a ‘poster girl’ for the conversion process – even though the Bible has no conversion process for Gentiles and the Book of Ruth continues (to the very end of the book) to refer to Ruth as a Moabite (see Ruth 4:10).
Many Jews and Gentiles, unaware of the Biblical and historical facts here, have embraced this rabbinic ‘fake news’ hook, line and sinker. As the season of Shavuot/Pentecost draws near, it is also not unusual to see many dear believing brothers and sisters unknowingly repeating this rabbinic propaganda.
The heart of Ruth
Though the rabbis say that the Book of Ruth is connected to Shavuot/Pentecost, once again the Scriptures do not mention any dates in the entire Book, referring only in general terms to the season of the barley harvest. The rabbinic focus on Ruth is simply another attempt to create an alternative that flies in the face of Acts 2.
But there is a wonderful non-rabbinic message in the Book of Ruth that is greatly encouraging.
Ruth is descended from the Lot’s incestuous union with his daughters after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:36-37). Deuteronomy 23:3 forbids male Moabites (the ‘seed’) from entering even the outer courtyards of the House of YHVH. This proscription lasted for ten full generations after possible intermarriage. Ruth of course was not a Moabite male, and as such was not under this ban. Yet few Jewish men would have wanted to take a Moabite woman as a bride.
What was so special about Ruth? What caused her to stand in God’s spotlight and to be joyously included into the destiny of the Jewish people – without changing her Moabite origins?
1. She had a heart of faith. She recognized God’s heart for Israel and His covenant connections with the Jewish people. She understood that the calling of Israel was a ‘done deal’ – and that to follow the God of the Jews meant to be forever linked with the Jewish people.
2. She had the heart of a servant. She poured out her life and strength to bless her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi, and willingly bound her destiny to that of Judah’s descendant Boaz. Her reward included being the great-grandmother of King David as well as being found in the precious lineage of Messiah Yeshua!
As we celebrate this fourth Biblical feast, Shavuot/ Pentecost, what a wonderful host of things there are to pray about!
How should we then pray?
- Pray for the Jewish people and the leadership to receive a revelation of Ruth’s glorious Messiah
- Pray for believers worldwide to receive a revelation and impartation of God’s heart for Israel, even as did Ruth
- Pray specifically for Arabic speaking believers across the Islamic world to embrace Ruth’s heart for Israel and openly show their commitment to the Jewish people’s calling in new ways
- Pray for Messianic Jews to embrace the fiery prophetic fullness of the Holy Spirit, the key to Ezekiel 37’s army
- Pray for the body of Messiah worldwide to lay hold of the Jewish and Holy Spirit roots of Shavuot/Pentecost and to make these two elements a prophetic part of their celebration. Shavuot is the Jewish Feast which celebrates the Giving of the Holy Spirit!
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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