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Shavuot: The Harvest of Blessings

Harvest-Wheat field

Wheat field in Israel

“Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks [Chag ha-Shavuot] to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you.”  (Deuteronomy 16:10)

Tonight as the sun sets in Israel and around the world, the Biblical holy day of Shavuot (Festival of Weeks) begins.

For many the night will be long; they will stay up all night learning Torah to honor the day Moses received the law on Mount Sinai, which occurred on Shavuot.It’s a

Staying awake is a centuries old custom.  Since it is traditionally believed that the Israelites slept in on the day God gave the Torah, staying awake is thought to rectify the apparent lack of enthusiasm.

A special booklet call Tikun Leyl Shavuot (Rectification for Shavuot Night) made for this occasion has excerpts from the beginning and end of each of the 24 books of the Tanakh and the 63 books of the Mishnah.

Because of the holiday’s connection to the harvest and agriculture, here in Israel, it is marked by food festivals, picnics, and visits to the kibbutz and to the Western Wall, a remnant of the ancient wall that once surrounded the Holy Temple’s courtyard.

Every Shavuot it is packed with people praying.  The streets of Jerusalem were filled like this 2,000 years ago when Holy Spirit fire fell on the Believers united in prayer, and about 3,000 observant Jews were saved.

Wailing Wall, Western Wall, Pesach, Passover, Shavuot, Weeks, Sukkot, Tents, Booths, Kotel, Temple Mount

Crowds gather for a holiday at the Western Wall: The Torah commands that the Jewish People make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Shelosh Regalim, the three major festivals of Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks), and Sukkot (Tents or Booths).

Biblically speaking, Shavuot is the second of the Shelosh Regalim, three major annual pilgrimages of the Jewish People to Jerusalem.  

“Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place He will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread [Passover], the Festival of Weeks [Shavuot] and the Festival of Tabernacles [Sukkot].”  (Deuteronomy 16:16)

On Shavuot, the Israelites brought an offering of the first crops of spring to the temporary Mishkan (Tabernacle) and later, to the Temple in Jerusalem.

It is a time when God commands His people to give a free will offering.  Everyone was to bring something, giving in proportion to how He has blessed them.

“No one should appear before the LORD empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.”  (Deuteronomy 16:16–17)

Netanyahu-Shavuot

Israeli students celebrate Shavuot with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

When each family presented its basket to the Lord before the Cohen (Priest), they recited the following verses of Scripture:

“My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.  But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor.

“Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.  So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders.

“He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”  (Deuteronomy 26:5–10)

Offering-First fruits

Offering of the first fruits

The Many Names of Shavuot

This holiday falls 50 days after Passover; therefore, the Hellenistic Jews (Jews living under Greek rule in the 3rd–4th centuries BC) named it Pentecost, from the Greek word pente, which means fifty.

Most Christians, therefore, know Shavuot by the name Pentecost.

The name of the festival is actually derived from the Hebrew word shavuah, meaning week. Shavuot (weeks) is the plural form.

Shavuot marks the end of the seven-week period called Sefirat HaOmer (Counting of the Omer), which began at Passover.

“From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks [shavuot].” (Leviticus 23:15)

On the fiftieth day, a new grain offering is to be presented to the Lord and a sacred assembly held to celebrate the Feast of Weeks.

“Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD.”  (Leviticus 23:16)

Ten Commandments-Hebrew

The Ten Commandments in Hebrew

Shavuot is such a multi-faceted holiday that it is also known by other Biblical and traditional names besides Shavuot and Pentecost:

  • Yom HaBikurim (Day of the First Fruits) in Numbers 28:26 (but not the Festival of First Fruits in Leviticus 23:9–12);
  • Chag HaKatzir (Festival of Reaping) in Exodus 23:16;
  • Bikkurei Ketzir Chittim (The First Fruits of the Wheat Harvest) in Exodus 34:22; and
  • Z’man Mattan Torateinu (Season of the Giving of the Torah), which is a name arising from Jewish tradition.
Israel-Jezreel-Wheat-Shavuot

Golden stalks of wheat in the Jezreel Valley in Israel just before Shavuot harvest.

Shavuot: The Giving of the Torah

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  (Exodus 19:5–6)

According to traditional Jewish belief, Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Although it is not explicitly stated in Scripture, this is believed to be the day in which the Ten Commandments were given to the nation of Israel seven weeks after their miraculous exodus from Egypt.

More than 3,300 years ago at the foot of the mountain, the Jewish people accepted the privilege and the responsibility of living as God’s “set-apart people.”

The Torah became the agreed upon standard of behavior and code of conduct for both the native-born Israelite and the stranger who lived amidst them.

“The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.”  (Numbers 15:16)

Vintage engraving, Moses, Ten Commandments

A vintage engraving of Moses and the Ten Commandments.

Holiday Observances: The Land Flowing with Milk

“He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”  (Deuteronomy 26:9–10)

To commemorate this special day, children in Israel typically wear white and carry decorated baskets filled with fruit, vegetables and a dairy products such as cheese.

They also sing holiday songs, and many wear a wreath of flowers around their heads.

Since Shavuot is associated with the giving of the law, all around the world, the Jewish People will attend synagogue today to hear Exodus 19 and 20, which includes the Ten Commandments.

Tonight, as many stayed up all night to study the Torah, the Megilat Ruth (Book of Ruth) is also read.  The harvest scenes described in Ruth are in keeping with this harvest festival.

Furthermore, since Ruth was a convert to Judaism, her acceptance of the Torah reflects the theme of the giving of the law.  It is also traditionally believed that King David, Ruth’s grandson, was born and died on Shavuot.

Shavuot, Simcha, Israeli children

Israeli children celebrate Shavuot: The banner reads Happy Holiday of Shavuot.

Chag Shavuot Sameach (Joyous Feast of Shavuot)

The tradition of eating meals that include dairy products on Shavuot is thought by some to date all the way back to the day Moses presented Israel with the Torah.

After receiving the Torah, the Israelites realized that their meat was not kosher.

Since they were hungry, butchering and cooking fresh meat would have taken too long, so they opted for dairy products.

Although this festival lasts for one day in Israel, outside of Israel, in the Diaspora, it is often celebrated for two days.

Cheese blintzes, Shavuot, Pentecost

Cheese blintzes (a kind of crepe) are the traditional meal on Shavuot, when dairy products are eaten.

Shavuot: The Giving of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit)

This ancient Biblical festival is particularly relevant to New Covenant followers of Yeshua (Jesus).

On this very day, the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) came upon Yeshua’s talmidim (disciples) who had been studying all night, as was the custom.  They were waiting according to His final instructions.  That outpouring came around 9 a.m. during the morning sacrifices.

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit….  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:4, 8)

What an awesome event in Biblical history!

On Shavuot, the disciples of Yeshua received power from the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to be His witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!

“When the day of Shavuot came…  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”  (Acts 2:2–4)

Pentecost, Jean II Restout

Pentecost, by Jean II Restout

Shavuot has significance for all followers of Yeshua, both native born and those “wild branches” grafted into the natural olive tree.

Without Shavuot, we would not have the power to witness for Yeshua about the Good News of salvation for all people.

Witnessing to the lost about Yeshua does not come from our own might or power, but by the Holy Spirit that came at Shavuot (Pentecost).

Children, Dance, Shavuot

Children dance on Shavuot in Israel.

Shavuot: Being Empowered to Live a Holy Life

Shavuot is about giving, because God is, by nature, a giver.

God gave us two of His most priceless gifts on this day of Shavuot: The Torah (His Word) and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit).

Shavuot emphasizes our need for both Truth and the Spirit of God who empowers us to live holy lives.

The Torah is the Word of Truth that reveals what a holy life looks like, but it is the Ruach that gives us the grace and strength to live out that truth in our daily lives.

The Ruach would not have been poured out, however, if Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) had not come.  He is the most precious gift that God gave—eternal salvation through Yeshua HaMashiach.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

Shavuot, Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel, Israel

Shavuot celebrations at Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel in Northern Israel.

While eternal life is the greatest spiritual blessing we can receive, God also blesses His children materially in so many ways.

We rejoice in the gifts with which God has blessed us, but the Bible also reminds us to share with others around us who are in need.

To illustrate this kind of generosity, God commanded the Israelites not to harvest their fields completely.  The corners were to be left for the poor.

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you.”  (Leviticus 23:22)

Wheat

A handful of wheat

The Book of Ruth and Shavuot

In the Book of Ruth, we read that Ruth, who was both poor and an alien, sought to provide for her mother-in-law Naomi by gleaning the grain left by the harvesters.

As it turned out, she found herself gleaning in the fields of Boaz, a God-fearing man who obeyed the commandments of Adonai (Lord).

When Boaz discovered that Ruth had come back to Israel with his relative Naomi, he went far and above the law’s requirements in leaving grain behind for her.  (Ruth 1:22; 2:1–9, 15–16)

Ruth was astonished by his benevolence and asked why he had taken special notice of her, a foreigner.

Boaz replied, “It has been fully reported to me the kindness you have shown to your mother in law.”  (Ruth 2:11)

Ruth in the Field of Boaz, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Ruth in the Field of Boaz, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

After Ruth harvested for about seven weeks in Boaz’s fields—probably corresponding to the time of the Counting of the Omer and Shavuot—Naomi devised a plan of action so that Ruth would not live out the rest of her days as an impoverished widow.

Her plan was that Boaz would act as Ruth’s Kinsman-Redeemer, so she sent Ruth to the threshing floor to sleep at his feet.

When Boaz awoke in the middle of the night and found her there, she essentially asked him for a pledge of marriage by saying, “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”  (Ruth 3:9; see Ezekiel 16:8)

Although Boaz was not obliged to act on behalf of this poor widow, he did.  He eventually married Ruth, and King David and Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) come from their lineage.

Though the Book of Ruth opens with a tragic ending, it closes with a new beginning—one that would eventually benefit all of mankind.

We see the Lord Himself play the part of our Kinsman Redeemer with Israel, which He fulfilled when He redeemed Israel out of Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land. The Lord said,

“I spread the corner of My garment over you and covered your naked body.  I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.”  (Ezekiel 16:8)

But there would come a time when a final redemption would be made:

“Mashiach [Messiah] was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.”  (Hebrews 9:28)

Yeshua HaMashiach paid the final price for our sins and became our Kinsman Redeemer.