At the Festival of Harvest, when you present the first of your new grain to the Lord, you must call an official day for holy assembly, and you may do no ordinary work on that day. [Numbers 28:26 (NLT)]
At sunset yesterday, the Jewish feast of Shavuot began. Originally known as Festival of Harvest or First Fruits, Shavuot is the second of the three pilgrimage festivals given to the Israelites. The first was that of Unleavened Bread (Passover) and the third was the Final Harvest or Ingathering (Sukkot or Tabernacles). Originally, all three festivals were tied to the harvest with Passover at the beginning of the barley harvest, Shavuot seven weeks later at the start of the wheat harvest, and Sukkot at the last harvest of the season. For a nation who’d left Canaan because of famine, spent four hundred years in a foreign land (much of it as slaves) and then another forty years as nomads, the promise of becoming a people with land of their own, who could plant and harvest for themselves, must have been almost inconceivable.
Two distinct rituals were observed on Shavuot. In gratitude for the harvest, two loaves of bread baked from the new crop of wheat, a bull, seven lambs, two rams, and a goat were offered. In the second ritual, the choicest of the harvest’s first fruits were presented to the priests as these words from Deuteronomy were said: “With this gift I acknowledge to the Lord your God that I have entered the land he swore to our ancestors he would give us.” [26:3] Continuing with verses 5 through 10, the worshiper then acknowledged God’s faithfulness in bringing the people out of Egypt and in keeping His promise to the patriarchs to bring His people to a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Because it fell a full seven weeks (50 days) after the Passover, this festival became known as the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).
Ten days after Christ’s ascension, during Shavuot, a group of believers gathered together in Jerusalem. A powerful wind roared and flashes of fire appeared and “everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Because of the uproar, a crowd gathered and Peter preached the gospel to them. That day, 3,000 people believed and were baptized; these new believers were the first fruits of the gospel harvest. Because it occurs fifty days after Easter, Christians call this day Pentecost, from the Greek meaning “fiftieth.” Because of the difference between the Jewish and Gregorian calendars, however, 2021’s Shavuot began last night but Pentecost will not occur until Sunday, the 23rd.
Because rabbinic tradition held that the Law was given on Mt. Sinai exactly seven weeks from the beginning of the Exodus, the day’s emphasis gradually moved from the first fruits of the harvest to the Torah. By the 2nd century, with the Temple destroyed, what began as a harvest festival commemorated the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai.
Today, Shavuot celebrates Israel’s bond because of the Torah and Pentecost celebrates Christians’ bond because of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, when looking at the origin of this ancient Jewish festival and its acknowledgement that God fulfilled His promise to bring His people into the Promised Land, I think of the many Messianic promises of the Old Testament. Rather than freeing us from slavery in Egypt, God faithfully fulfilled His promise and freed us from slavery to sin. Rather than physically bringing us into Canaan, He brought the Kingdom of God to us. Granted, the story is not over and the Kingdom is not fully realized, but we are in the land He promised and the best is yet to come! Let us be thankful and praise God for all He’s given us!