In that day, I will restore David’s fallen sukkah. I will repair it’s broken walls and restore it’s ruins. I will rebuild it as in the days of old.

– Amos 9:11

Pulling a Messianic rabbit out of a Pentecostal hat

Tonight marks the onset of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost (a Greek word meaning ‘fiftieth’). The original Hebrew name for the holiday is Shavuot (‘weeks’), referring to the seven-week counting period between Passover and Pentecost – seven weeks of seven days each, culminating in the celebration of the holiday on the fiftieth day (Leviticus 23:15-21). 
 

  • What is Shavuot/Pentecost all about? Is it connected to the Giving of the Mosaic Covenant and to cheesecake? Does the Rabbinic celebration and meaning of Shavuot differ from what the Hebrew Scriptures teach? Why are some Messianic leaders confused on these points? It’s that season of the year where, once again, it’s time to set the record straight.
     

 

Hebrew harvest time
 
The first agricultural harvest of the biblical New Year (which occurs at Passover time, according to Exodus 12:1-2) is the barley harvest (see Exodus 9:31; Ruth 1:22). The Book of Ruth takes place close to Passover time, during the barley harvest.
 
The next harvest comes soon after, and it is the wheat harvest (see Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:9-12). The Feast of Shavuot/Pentecost celebrates the wheat harvest, as these above passages explain. Fifty days separate between these two harvests.
 
The Festival of Shavuot is also called the ‘Feast of the Reaping’ in Exodus 23:16, where we are told to celebrate “the reaping of the first fruits of your labors which you have sown in the field” (also see Numbers 28:2).
 
Shavuot is an agricultural festival in the Bible. The declaration of thanksgiving in Deuteronomy 16:1-11 was proclaimed by Jewish farmers (probably on Shavuot) when they brought their first fruits offering to the House of YHVH in Jerusalem.
 
Moses established that all Jewish men needed to come up to Jerusalem three times a year, to appear before YHVH’s presence with offerings (Exodus 23:14-17; 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16). This feast was one of the shalosh regalim (sholesh regolim in Yiddish) – the three pilgrim feasts.

 

  • This is all that Moses said about Shavuot – no more and no less. Shavuot is not linked to any other Biblical occurrence or date in the Hebrew Scriptures. 

 

 

Change you can’t believe in

The Five Books of Moses present exact and clear days when to celebrate feasts. Here are some examples:

 

  • the New Year (the first day of the month of Aviv; Exodus 12:2)

 

 

 

 

 

But when it comes to the date when the Mosaic Covenant was given, the God of Israel does not give an exact calendar date for the event, nor does He command the Jewish people that they should celebrate that event as a Feast or on a certain day.

 

 

In search of the lost date

The Scriptures do not give an exact date for the Giving of the Mosaic Covenant. That 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: December 24/25 was chosen not because of a specific date given in the Gospel records, but because of pre-existing pagan Roman traditions. People tend to 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).

 

In the Books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, God communicates a threefold emphasis of keeping the Feast of Shavuot:

 

  • 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)

 

 

 

In all these passages, the Bible is utterly silent 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.

 

Here is the timeline given in the Bible of the events which transpired between the first Passover in Egypt and the Giving of the Decalogue in the Sinai Desert. This biblical timeline shows that it is impossible to make dogmatic declarations regarding the Giving of the Torah as happening on the same day as the Feast of Shavuot/Pentecost.

 

  • 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 at some time during those 40 days

 

  • Exodus 32:19 – Moses destroys the two tablets after the 40 days

 

 

Jumping Jubilee!
 
Over one hundred years before the birth of Yeshua, Jewish scribes translated the Bible from Hebrew into Greek. Their translation is known as the ‘Septuagint’ (a Greek word meaning ‘the seventy’ – referring to the traditional number of seventy scribes who did the translation work). The Septuagint uses the Greek word Pentēkostē when translating Leviticus 25:10, to refer to ‘the fiftieth’ – in this case, the 50th year of Jubilee. In Yeshua’s day, Jews would call the Feast ‘Shavuot’ when speaking Hebrew,  or Pentēkostē (Pentecost in modern English) when speaking Greek.
 
Paul the Apostle marked his personal calendar, taking note of Shavuot/Pentecost. He wanted to come up to Jerusalem in time to celebrate the Day of Shavuot/Pentecost (Acts 20:16). His apostolic faith was recognizably Jewish as well (Acts 21:24; 28:17).

When I studied Second Temple Jewish History at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, my professor Dr. Menahem Stern (the top world scholar of that discipline) pointed out how Acts 2:9-11 was an excellent description of the extent of the Jewish Diaspora in those days – the countries to which Israel had been exiled and still remained in Exile:
 

  • Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God” (Acts 2:5-11)

 

Shavuot meant that Jews from all over the world would come up to Jerusalem to honor YHVH’s commandment. Though a few proselytes (Gentile converts to Judaism) also came up, it was Jews from across the Roman world – from Arabia to Asia, from Egypt to Elam – who all got together for a national Thanksgiving Day celebration in Jerusalem. This happened every year – Jewish people celebrating a Jewish feast in a Jewish city.
 

  • Acts 2 has no mention of Messianic Jews or the wider Jewish community celebrating the Giving of the Mosaic Covenant on Pentecost/Shavuot. What they celebrated was only what Moses said should be celebrated – a biblical and agricultural feast of thanksgiving

 

 

The message of Messianic Pentecost
 
Shimon (better known today as Simon Peter) is filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, as are his spiritual comrades. Flames danced like togues of fire on their heads, and they all begin to speak in unlearned languages – the languages of the countries of their Exile (Acts 2:6-8). The good news of Messiah Yeshua and His resurrection is being proclaimed in the very heart of Jerusalem!
 
Peter said that these amazing manifestations were a reflection of Joel’s Last Days prophecies. Earthquakes, world-shaking signs and the outpouring of the Ruach HaKodesh would characterize these Last Days. In the same way, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit 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 will be filled with the Spirit of YHVH.
 
Eight years later, the Good News of Messiah Yeshua was still only being preached to Jewish people. But three breakthrough events occurred in Acts 8-10: Philip was led by the Spirit to share the Message with an Ethiopian eunuch; Saul was miraculously brought into the Kingdom; and Peter was brought up to Caesarea to share his Jewish message with the family of the Roman centurion of the Italian Cohort. That whole Roman family repented, came into the kingdom, and spoke in tongues – but as Gentiles who had never converted to Judaism.
 

 

Messianic Gentiles or converts to Rabbinic Judaism?
 

This business of allowing Gentiles to have access to Jewish New Covenant blessings and to have equal fellowship with the God of Israel alongside Jews (Paul’s gospel) – 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) without converting to Judaism or being circumcised, the rabbis countered that Shavuot would now have a different meaning and emphasis: the hero of Shavuot would actually be a heroine. Ruth was now moved from the Barley Harvest time (as per the Book of Ruth) to the Shavuot wheat harvest season. The rabbis turned their spotlight on Ruth, tweaking the narrative and morphing her into a convert to Rabbinic Judaism.

 

  • Just to emphasize and clarify this point, there is not historical or biblical evidence that the events of Ruth took place at Shavuot, or that rabbis existed at that time

 

 

Rabbinic pushback – the New Covenant is not new; it’s simply a refurbished Mosaic Covenant
 
The rabbis had an even more serious objection to apostolic Messianic teaching. Though Paul’s lifestyle was Mosaic in practice (see Acts 28:17) as was the pattern of all Messianic Jews at that time (see Acts 22:3; 23:6; 26:1-7), Paul taught that one of the main purposes of the Mosaic covenant teachings (Torah in Hebrew means ‘teaching’) was to lead the Jewish people to 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 paidagogos, which referred to a bodyguard who would take the child from his home through the Greek streets, protecting him and bringing him safely to the Greek school. Paul calls the Mosaic covenant a paidagogos (often translated ‘a tutor’) which would lead Israel to Messiah and His New Covenant:

 

  • 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 literally, to mean that the New Covenant was ‘not like’ the Mosaic covenant. Their counter-reaction involved closing down open discussion of Jeremiah 31, insisting that Jeremiah must have only meant ‘a renewed covenant.’ But this rabbinic decision violated the peshat, the clear exegetical 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 was clearly prophesying: the New Covenant was a Jewish covenant, and that the New Covenant was not like the Mosaic covenant.

 
So the rabbis, like Mary Poppins, reached into their magic carpet bag and pulled out a newly morphed date on the Jewish calendar – they proclaimed that, from now on and based on their own authority, the Feast of Shavuot actually occurred on the same day that the Mosaic Covenant was given. From now on, Shavuot would be morphed into a holiday celebrating the Mosaic Torah and not the Inauguration of the New Covenant. The Rabbis would now champion the Giving of the Law, and the New Covenant Messianic movement’s main message would be undercut.
 

  • Without any scriptural warrant, authority or proof, the Rabbis tweaked the emphasis of Shavuot from thankful celebration of the wheat harvest to a Mosaic birthday party. It is as if they said, “Let’s make sure to leave out the New Covenant, leave out Messiah Yeshua, and let’s make sure that there are no Gentiles sneaking in the back door into a Jewish kingdom!”

 

 

Pulling a non-kosher rabbit out of a Messianic hat
 

Most Messianic leaders and teachers have been taught by both the Jewish community’s leaders and by their own Messianic leaders and teachers, that the rabbinic perspectives on Shavuot and the rabbinic perspectives on the Mosaic covenant are the only kosher story in town. I have dear Messianic friends and leaders who deny that the New Covenant is actually a New Covenant. Instead, they teach that it is simply a new and improved Mosaic Covenant.
 
I have dear Messianic friends who believe, as the rabbis teach, that Shavuot is when the Mosaic covenant was given and that Ruth is the poster child for friendly Gentiles – and that Gentiles who are friendly to Jewish things should convert to rabbinic Judaism.
 
It is my conviction that these dear friends err (see Matthew 22:29) not knowing what the Scriptures say (or don’t say, in this case!). They seem to be unaware of both Jewish and rabbinic history – and also unaware of the early clashes between Messianic apostolic teaching and rabbinic opposition to the Messianic message on these points.
 

 

Tradition!

 

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 what has been explained above: that the rabbinic connecting of Shavuot/Pentecost to the Giving of the Mosaic covenant on Mount Sinai is not based on biblical foundations, but on rabbinic desire to shift focus away from the amazing Messianic events of Acts 2.

 

The accepted Rabbinic perspective refuses to accept an Acts 2 connection with Shavuot/Pentecost, since that would involve accepting the inauguration of a New Covenant – one which would include Gentiles in the Jewish Body of Messiah through faith in Yeshua alone. Instead, rabbinic Judaism tried to weld the inauguration of the Mosaic covenant into a pre-existing 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 Orthodox Jewish tradition connects the Giving of the Mosaic Teaching to the Feast of Shavuot. And so it has become a Messianic tradition as well among many, much like how twinkling trees and eggnog have become a cherished part of Christmas.

 

Let’s remember that YHVH never established a biblical feast commemorating the Giving of the Mosaic Covenant. There is not even a clear date in the Scriptures as to when that blessed event happened. The rabbinic plastic surgery done of Shavuot/Pentecost (morphing it into a feast celebrating the Mosaic Covenant) occurred at least 1,600 years after Moses, and perhaps a century or two after Acts 2.

 

In light of all of the above biblical and historical information, could it be that the emphasis on Shavuot/Pentecost as a ‘Mosaic Covenant Day’ is actually a distraction? Could it be that this rabbinic tradition is in fact undercutting what YHVH is trying to teach us through the Holy Scriptures, and de-emphasizing what the God of Jacob would like us to understand?

 

  • Let us rejoice in the great Harvest Feast of Shavuot/Pentecost, as we thank God for His rains coming down on the face of the earth, and the outpouring rain of the Holy Spirit coming down on our hearts! And let’s 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 Shavuot

 

  • 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 Jesus worldwide to receive and embrace these biblical and foundational truths, and not to get hung up on inaccurate traditions

 

  • Pray for the physical rescue of the approximately 120 Israeli hostages (including babies) kidnapped by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and PFLP/PLO.  At this moment some hostages are being tortured, raped and starved (this based on testimonies of recently released hostages). Sadly, many of these hostages are dead; Hamas is holding on to the corpses of Israeli citizens in cold storage to be used by them as bargaining chips

 

  • Pray for Hamas’ cruel terror dictatorship in Gaza to be decisively shattered and for all chains broken off the Palestinians living there, and for Iran’s role in jihadi deception, dissimulation and anti-Semitism to be exposed and opposed by world leaders

 

  • Pray that Israel’s leadership be granted justice, clarity, moral courage, discernment and divine strategies in utterly destroying the jihadi threat in all of its aspects, and for minimal loss of life for Israel’s defense forces and for those Gazans who are truly innocent

 

  • 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,

Avner Boskey
 
Donations can be sent to:
 
FINAL FRONTIER MINISTRIES 
BOX 121971 NASHVILLE TN 37212-1971 USA
 
Donations can also be made on-line (by PayPal or credit card) through: www.davidstent.org

 

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