The Jewish Feast of Shavu’ot is here (Deuteronomy 16:10). The fifty-day period between Pesach/Passover and Shavu’ot is drawing to a close. That period is described in Leviticus 23:16 as the counting of the Omer (a biblical peck measurement). Shavu’ot is the fourth of seven celebrations in YHVH’s divine Feast-calendar (Leviticus 23:2).
Moses calls this holiday the Feast of Reaping/Harvest Festival (Qatzir; Exodus 23:16) and also the Feast of Weeks (Shavu’ot; Exodus 34:22; Numbers 28:26). This day celebrates the joy of the harvest and our thankfulness to God 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)
YHVH’s focus in the Books of Moses 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)
At Shavu’ot the Bible tells us exactly what God wants us to emphasize in celebrating this holiday – our heartfelt thanksgiving for His harvest blessings
First the barley, then the wheat
The Jewish New Year comes fourteen days before Passover, according to the Bible (Exodus 12:1-2). Exodus 9:31 and Ruth 1:22 describe this season as the time of the barley harvest. The Book of Ruth is thus connected to Passover time, not to Shavu’ot.
The maturing of the next crop in Israel’s fields comes approximately fifty days after Passover, and it is the wheat harvest (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:9-12). Shavu’ot thus celebrates the wheat harvest, as these above passages explain. Fifty days separate these two bountiful harvests.
Jewish pilgrims and exiles
Shavu’ot is considered one of the three Pilgrim feasts (Passover, Shavu’ot, Tabernacles), when all Jewish men are commanded to make their way to Jerusalem and worship before YHVH (Exodus 23:14). It is part of the shalosh regalim – Hebrew for ‘three times’ – in Exodus 23:3 and Numbers 22:28. Paul the Apostle’s personal calendar was marked as wanting to come up to Jerusalem in time to celebrate the Day of Shavu’ot (Acts 20:16). He expressed his apostolic faith in some very Jewish ways (Acts 21:24; 28:17).
Pentecost – the Greek name used by Jews in the Exile
Two millennia ago, the Greek-speaking Jews of the Western Diaspora used the words ἑβδομάς (hebdomas – ‘of seven’) or Pentēkostē (πεντηκοστή) to describe holidays revolving around ‘fifty.’ The Greek word Pentecost eventually became more famous that the Hebrew Shavu’ot, though of course both refer to the original Hebrew holiday in the Jewish Bible.
Moses gives us the exact days of:
- the New Year (the first day of the month of Aviv; Exodus 12:2)
- the Feast of Passover (the 14th day of the month of Aviv; Exodus 12:6, 14; 34:18; Leviticus 23:5)
- the Feast of Trumpets/Blowings (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)
- the Feast of Tabernacles (the 15th day of the seventh month; Leviticus 23:34; Deuteronomy 16:13).
But YHVH does not give an exact calendar date when to celebrate Shavu’ot.
The closest we get is 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 Shavu’ot 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 ‘sabbath’ as the day after the first night of Passover. Interestingly, the biblical text does not use the word ‘sabbath’ here or anywhere else to describe Passover or the day after the first night of Passover.
So based on Moses’ instructions, the biblical celebration of the day of Shavu’ot/Pentecost will vary from year to year (depending on what day of the week Passover occurs). The exact day is fluid, and reflects changes in the yearly lunar-based calendar. Rabbinic tradition has chosen to lock down the celebration of Shavu’ot to a specific calendar date every year, and it is the rabbinic traditional date that nearly all Jews celebrate today.
Forty days of ministry and ten days of ‘tarrying’
In Acts 1:3 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 Shavu’ot 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).
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). Simon Peter’s message was bold and evangelistic and spoken to all the Jewish men gathered for the Feast of Shavu’ot: “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 Shavu’ot in Jerusalem resulted in the ingathering of over 3,000 Jewish men into the Body of Messiah.
The Jewish men who embraced Yeshua on Shavu’ot were all followers of the Mosaic covenant. Indeed, nearly all Jews in those days lived a Mosaic lifestyle. “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).
On the day of Acts 2 they were powerfully 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).
Peter declared (Acts 2:16-21) that these amazing manifestations were a reflection of Joel’s Last Days prophecies (Joel 2:28-32). Earthquakes, world-shaking signs and the outpouring of the Ruach Hakodesh would characterize these Days. In the same way, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Jewish believers in Acts 2 was a down payment, a promise that all these events will one day come to pass, and that all the Jewish people would one day be filled with the Spirit of YHVH.
Sleight of hand: sidestepping the New Covenant
My dear friend (who is now with the Lord) Dr. Louis Goldberg (former Professor of Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute) often taught that the rabbis who rejected Yeshua’s Messiahship and atonement fashioned a non-biblical connection between Shavu’ot and the giving of the Mosaic covenant on Mount Sinai. This attempt to tie in Shavu’ot to the Mosaic Covenant was not based on any clear biblical information. Instead, it came from the theological desire to shift focus away from the amazing events of Acts 2 – the inauguration of the New Covenant.
Rabbinic Judaism refused to accept the Acts 2 connection with Shavu’ot, since that would involve validating the inauguration of the New Covenant. This would accept Gentile inclusion into the commonwealth of Israel through faith in Yeshua alone (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Instead, rabbinic Judaism tried to create ‘new facts on the ground’ – which were in fact ‘fake news.’ They created a new narrative – the Mosaic covenant was given to Israel on Shavu’ot. 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 Shavu’ot would be highlighted as the day of the Giving of the Sinai Covenant.
- Most Messianic Jews and Gentile believers are ignorant of this history. They have heard from Jewish tradition that the Giving of the Mosaic Teaching happened on the Feast of Shavu’ot. Some Messianic teachers who are ignorant of this history have ‘Messianized’ this tradition as well – much like how twinkling trees and eggnog have become a cherished part of Christmas.
What if the Gentiles take over the neighborhood?
This business of allowing Gentiles to have access to Jewish blessings and to have equal fellowship with the God of Israel alongside of Jews – this was shocking to the majority of Pharisees as well as to the other streams of Judaism. Most Jewish religious leaders feared that this new upstart Messianic movement, by allowing Gentiles in, would overwhelm rabbinic Judaism’s role as watchman on the Mosaic walls.
Whereas Messianic Jews such as Paul declared that Gentile followers of Yeshua could now be fellow heirs of the same Messianic body and fellow-citizens with the Jewish saints (Ephesian 2:19-3:6), the rabbis countered with a new paradigm – that the hero of Shavu’ot would now become a heroine. Ruth was about to be elevated as the poster child for Gentile conversion to rabbinic Judaism. Her Passover barley harvest story was morphed into a re-formed Shavu’ot harvest narrative.
The rabbis who used to fellowship with Paul before his Damascus Road experience had other even more serious objections to apostolic Messianic teachings. Though Paul did live a Mosaic life (see Acts 28:17) as did all Messianic Jews at that time (see Acts 2:20-25), Paul taught that one of the main purposes of the Mosaic covenant teachings (the word ‘Torah’ in Hebrew means ‘teaching’) was to lead the Jewish people to the New Covenant through Messiah Yeshua. Paul adds that, when the Jewish people come to Messiah Yeshua, they are no longer under the guardianship of the Mosaic covenant. Paul uses the Greek term παιδvαγωγός (paidagogos), which referred to a bodyguard who would take the child from his home through the rough Greek streets, protecting him and bringing him safely to the Greek school. Paul calls the Mosaic covenant a paidagogos (loosely translated as ‘a tutor’):
Why the Torah then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the Seed would come to whom the promise had been made . . . But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the Torah, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore, the Torah has become our tutor to lead us to Messiah, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Galatians 3:19, 23-25).
The Rabbis understood that Paul was interpreting the Hebrew of Jeremiah 31:31-34 as meaning that the new covenant was “not like” the Mosaic covenant. Their counter-reaction? It involved closing down open discussion of Jeremiah 31, while insisting that Jeremiah must have only meant ‘a renewed covenant.’ But this rabbinic decision involved violating the clear Hebrew meaning of Jeremiah 31:32, “not like the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the Land of Egypt.” Jeremiah clearly prophesied two things:
- the New Covenant was a Jewish covenant
- the New Covenant was not like the Mosaic covenant
Dating the Giving of the Mosaic Covenant
Here are the biblical dates given for the period between the first Passover and the giving of the Ten Commandments:
- 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. After that indeterminate time, 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 biblical time line reveals that it’s inaccurate to state that Shavu’ot and the Giving of the Two Tablets happened on the same day or even in the same month.
The Scriptures do not give an exact date for the Giving of the Mosaic Covenant. The event happened, 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 hunger for 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 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 Shavu’ot and the Giving of the Mosaic Torah.
Religious Jews are taught that Shavu’ot is the date of Matan Torah (the giving of the Sinai Covenant), and the story of Ruth the famous Moabite woman who ‘converted to rabbinic Judaism’ receives strong attention. It may come as a surprise for some to find out that the Bible’s take on these events is rather different.
- God Himself did not tell us to establish a feast commemorating the giving of the Mosaic covenant. He gave us no clear date in the Scriptures as to when that blessed event happened.
- The rabbinic plastic surgery done on Shavu’ot was performed many years after Acts 2.
- If all of this biblical and historical information is true, the rabbinic emphasis on Shavu’ot as a day to celebrate the giving of the Mosaic Covenant is actually a distraction meant to undercut the inauguration of the New Covenant. It is an attempt to de-emphasize what YHVH is trying to teach us through Acts 2 and the New Covenant.
Let us rejoice in the great Harvest Feast of Shavu’ot as we thank God for His coming 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 an increased understanding to come to the Messianic Jewish movement about the authentic biblical meaning of Shavu’ot
- Pray for revelation to come to many hungry Jewish hearts about Messiah Yeshua and His New Covenantal gift of the Holy Spirit and salvation
- Pray for followers of Yeshua worldwide to receive and embrace these biblical and foundational truths, and to receive discernment about inaccurate traditions
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth
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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