Shavuot and the giving of the Torah

Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, is a celebration of the firstfruits of the spring harvest. It is a time of rejoicing before the Lord:

From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf (the Omer) of the wave offering, count off seven full 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 23:15)

Shavuot has become a celebration of the giving of the Torah because the rabbis calculated that the Torah was given on that day. The Counting of the Omer is considered amitzvah because it is a time to consecrate oneself in preparation for a climatic event on the fiftieth day. It is said “on Shavous night a Heavenly light, an exceedingly sublime, yet powerful godly light will be commanded to leave its upper world in order to descend and elevate those whom can contain it. Like rain that falls from the sky above, this light descends to fill all the containers below that can hold it.” Rashi taught that this light cannot be received by evil people.

For centuries Israel was an agricultural economy. Shavuot is a thanksgiving festival in which the people celebrate their complete dependence on the Lord for their daily bread. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The period of Shavuot coincides with the giving of the Torah. Although the exact day is not stated, it is quite feasible that the Torah was given at Shavout, fifty days after leaving Egypt. Pesach occurs on the fourteenth day of Nisan and it was in the third month, Sivan, that Moses first went up to God on Mount Sinai. The Torah has kept the people of Israel as a separate nation despite having been scattered throughout the world. Israel is the firstfruits from among the nations, set apart for the glory of God.

After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day.”

…The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the LORD said to him,“Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them” (Exodus 19:14; 20-22).

This preparation and consecration harmonises with Paul’s teaching: “In a house there are vessels for noble and ignoble purposes. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Tim. 2:20).

Jesus told his disciples: “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). Almost two thousand years ago, on the day after the Pesach Sabbath, the day the wave offering of the firstfruits would have been presented by the priest, Jesus the Messiah was raised from the dead, the firstfruits of the resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). When he appeared to his disciples he told them, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised” (Acts 1:4). It was necessary for Messiah to die first, then, after being resurrected, to ascend into heaven so that he could send the gift of the Holy Spirit upon those who were waiting, having consecrated themselves through their faith in him and the sanctifying power of his word.

The fortieth day after Passover, Jesus ascended into heaven as was foretold through the prophets concerning the Messiah (cf. Psalm 68:18). On the fiftieth day – Shavuot – when the disciples were gathered together in the upper room of the temple, an event greater than what had happened at Mt. Sinai took place. The Torah, which had been written upon stone tablets two thousand years previously, was written upon the hearts of the disciples of Messiah, the firstfruits of the harvest.

The believers, who are anointed with the Holy Spirit, show that they are a letter from Messiah written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3). This was the fulfilment of the word of God spoken through Jeremiah (31:33), “I will put my Torah in their minds and write it on their hearts.” There could be no more appropriate time than Shavuot for this to be fulfilled, the time when God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven were gathered in Jerusalem. It was at that very time when the disciples of Jesus were gathered in the temple waiting expectantly for that “exceedingly sublime powerful godly light,” that the Holy Spirit descended upon those who believed, empowering them to be witnesses.

“Those who wait upon the LORD, will renew their strength.” The glory, which had long since departed from the temple, returned, but now that glory was contained in the living stones of the temple.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Messiah (2 Corinthians 4:6).

When Shavuot came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:1-4).

The people of Israel could not partake of the harvest until it had first been consecrated by presenting the wave offering in the temple. The consecration of the firstfruits sanctified the whole:

If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches (Romans 11:16).