Christmas and Pentecost – beyond the tinsel and the Torah

Growing up as a Jewish kid in Montreal, I loved Christmas. Snowy winter lawns were bejeweled at night with twinkling trees. People got tipsy and were nice to each other. What could be bad about all that? And a baby nursed in a Bethlehem stable seemed like friendly ‘family content’. Secular Westerners love the tinsel and the traditional music and foods. But the biblical emphasis was blurred for many of us. I had not met any believing Christians whose main Christmas focus and joy was the birth of the Jewish Messiah.

Someone has said that Jews are just like Gentiles – only more so.  Gentiles have traditions and, as Tevye of Fiddler on the Roof says, Jews also have traditions. Some Jewish traditions reflect our wanderings through Eastern Europe, Spain and Babylon. Some reflect biblical emphases, but others are more tinsel-like in nature. Let’s look at Shavuot (in Greek, Pentecost) for some helpful perspective at this season.

 

The feast which keeps on changing

Moses gives the people of Israel exact and clear days when to celebrate the New Year (the first day of the month of Aviv; Exodus 12:2), Passover (the 14th day of the month of Aviv; Exodus 12:6, 14; 34:18; Leviticus 23:5), Trumpets (the first day of the seventh month, Leviticus 23:23; Numbers 29:1), the Day of Atonement (the 10th day of the seventh month; Leviticus 23:26; 16:29; 25:9; Numbers 29:7) and the Feast of Tabernacles (the 15th day of the seventh month; Leviticus 23:34; Deuteronomy 16:13).

  • The God of Israel does not give an exact calendar date when to celebrate Pentecost.

The reckoning is given in Leviticus 23: “You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering. There shall be seven complete sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath. Then you shall present a new grain offering to YHVH” (Leviticus 23:15-16).

Moses explains that the 50 day counting of the Omer (which ends on the day when Shavuot/Pentecost is celebrated) begins on “the day after the sabbath” – meaning the day after the first Sabbath day which occurs after the first night of Passover. The Karaite movement in medieval Judaism follows this exegetical meaning of Leviticus 23:16. But the rabbinic stream takes a different approach, defining this Passover as the ‘sabbath’ itself. Interestingly, the biblical text does not use the word ‘sabbath’ here or anywhere else to describe Passover.

So based on Moses’ instructions, the date of the biblical celebration of the day of Shavuot/Pentecost will vary from year to year (depending on what day of the week Passover occurs). The exact day is fluid, and reflects the changes of each calendar year. Rabbinic tradition has chosen to tie down the celebration of Shavuot to one specific calendar date every year, and it is the rabbinic traditional date that nearly all Jews celebrate today.

 

Reap, don’t weep

This feast is called the Feast of Reaping (Qatzir; Exodus 23:16; see Psalm 126:5 for the same root) and also the Feast of Weeks (Shavu’ot; Exodus 34:22; Numbers 28:26; 7 x 7 weeks plus one day). This day celebrates the beginning of the wheat harvest season (Exodus 34:22) and is characterized by celebrations of joy in the harvest and thankfulness for the Exodus from Egyptian slavery:

  • Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to YHVH your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as YHVH your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before YHVH your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where YHVH your God chooses to establish His name.You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes (Deuteronomy 16:10-12)

 Shavuot is one of the three Pilgrim feats (Passover, Shavuot, Tabernacles), when all Jewish men are commanded to make their way to Jerusalem and worship before YHVH (Exodus 23:14; shalosh regalim, three times as in Exodus 23:3; Numbers 22:28).

  • The biblical emphasis of Shavuot/Pentecost is on thanksgiving for God’s harvest blessings.

 

Messianic harvest in Jerusalem

In Acts 1:3 Luke recounts that Messiah Yeshua ascended to heaven 40 days after the crucifixion: “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Ten days later (50 days on), “when the day of Shavuot/Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). The Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) came upon the gathered Messianic Jews all of a sudden and with great power: “And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues” (Acts 2:2-4).

The result of this supernatural visitation let to a huge Messianic harvest of salvation: “Therefore let all the House of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah – this Yeshua!” (Acts 2:36). Shimon Kaipha’s message was bold and evangelistic and spoken to all the Jewish men gathered for the Feast of Shavuot: “‘Repent, and each of you be immersed in the name of Messiah Yeshua for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’  And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ So then, those who had received his word were immersed. And that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:38-41).

  • The first great public revival meeting on Shavuot in Jerusalem resulted in the ingathering of over 3,000 Jewish men into the Body of Messiah.

These Jewish men were all followers of the Mosaic covenant, as were nearly all Jews in those day. “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Teaching” (ed. of the Mosaic covenant; see the context of Acts 21:20). They were being inaugurated into what Messiah Yeshua called ‘the New Covenant’ in Luke 22:20. In the words of Jeremiah, this New Covenant would be different from the Mosaic covenant:  it would not be “like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, says YHVH” (Jeremiah 31:32).

  • The supernatural events of Acts 2 were a mighty inauguration into the New Covenant through the declaration of Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice.

 

Pentecost power or Rabbi Ruth?

My dear friend now with the Lord, Dr. Louis Goldberg (former Professor of Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute; www.messianicjewish.net/products/fire-on-the-mountain-past-renewals-present-revivals-and-the-coming-return-of-israel-by-dr-louis-goldberg), often taught that rabbinic connecting of Shavuot/Pentecost to the giving of the Mosaic covenant on Mount Sinai was not actually based on biblical information. Instead, it was based on the theological desire to shift focus away from the amazing events of Acts 2.

Rabbinic emphasis refused to accept the Acts 2 connection with Shavuot/Pentecost, since that involved the inauguration of the New Covenant, and included Gentile inclusion into the Jewish Body of Messiah through faith in Yeshua alone. Instead, rabbinic Judaism tried to weld the inauguration of the Mosaic covenant into Shavuot/Pentecost. Rather than accepting Gentile salvation as coming about through faith in the Jewish Messiah Yeshua, rabbinic commentators now made the Book of Ruth do double duty: Ruth herself would now be presented as a convert to rabbinic Judaism, and Shavuot would be highlighted as the day of the Giving of the Sinaitic covenant.

  • Most Messianic Jews and Gentiles are ignorant of this history. They have heard that Jewish tradition ascribes the Giving of the Mosaic Teaching to the Feast of Shavuot. So it has become a Messianic tradition as well, much like how twinkling trees and eggnog have become a cherished part of Christmas.

Here are the biblical dates given for the period between the first Passover and the giving of the Decalogue:

  • Exodus 16:1 – On the 15th day of the second month after the Exodus, Israel arrives at the wilderness of Sin
  • Exodus 19:1 – On the third month after the Exodus Israel arrives at the wilderness of Sinai
  • Exodus 19:16 – After various activities, they arrive and camp. Moses goes up to meet God who instructs him, and then Moses comes down. Then there comes a time called “three days later”
  • Exodus 24:1-11 Moses takes 70 elders to a banquet where they eat with God
  • Exodus 24:16 Six days later there Moses goes up to see God and in verse 18, stays there for 40 days
  • Exodus 31:18 Moses receives the two tablets some time during those 40 days
  • Exodus 32:19 Moses destroys the two tablets after the 40 days

This time line reveals that it’s impossible to state with any sense of certainty that Shavuot/Pentecost and the Giving of the Tablets happened on the same day.

Only a Grinch gets angry at Christmas. So who would want to get into an argument concerning when to celebrate the Giving of the Mosaic covenant?

Perhaps it is worth remembering that God Himself did not tell us to establish a feast commemorating the giving of the Mosaic covenant. The God of Jacob also gave no clear date in the SCriptures as to when that blessed event happened. The rabbinic plastic surgery done on Shavuot/Pentecost occurred many years after Acts 2.

 If all of the above biblical and historical information is true, then could the emphasis on Shavuot/Pentecost as a Mosaic Covenant day actually be a distraction? Could it be undercutting what YHVH is trying to teach us throughout the Holy Scriptures, and de-emphasizing what He would like us to understand?

 Let us rejoice in the great Harvest Feast of Shavuot/Pentecost as we thank God for His rains and look forward to the mighty harvest of the nations when Israel will bring much greater riches to the nations and life from the dead to the entire world! (Romans 11:12, 15)

 

How should we then pray?

  • Pray for a revelation to believers about the amazing Harvest Feast that is Shavuot/Pentecost
  • Pray for the equipping of harvesters for both Jewish people and Gentiles for God’s great final harvest
  • Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army

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,

Avner Boskey

 

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