Continuing in my study of the Jewish feasts, Shavuot is the third and final spring holiday. Similar to Thanksgiving, it celebrates the wheat harvest in Israel. It is also called by several other names: later First Fruits (Bikkurim), as it follows the barley harvest (First Fruits); the Festival of Weeks, because it marks the end of the seven week count that began with Passover (called the Counting of the Omer) which is dictated in Leviticus 23:15; and also Pentecost, Greek for “50th day.” It is one of three festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Tabernacles) which required a pilgrimage to Jerusalem of every able male.
In Old Testament times, the law demanded that each household bring two leavened loaves made of wheat flour to the temple to be waved for all to see, as a testimony to God’s provision, and in anticipation of God’s further provision of the fall harvest. It also required animal sacrifices to remind them of their need for atonement (which Jesus fulfilled at Passover), and it was a day of no work. In later days, Shavuot has also come to be a celebration of the Law and the Ten Commandments, which were given to Moses seven weeks after he led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt (the day that would become Shavuot). Today, traditional observation of Shavuot consists of a feast which features fruit and spring harvest foods and dairy, decorations using flowers and greenery, and an all-night session studying the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, or the books of the law).
For Messianic Jews and for Christians who believe Jesus of the New Testament is the promised Messiah, Shavuot takes on an even greater meaning. After Christ’s death (which fulfilled Passover) and resurrection (which fulfilled First Fruits), Jesus appeared to believers for 40 days before ascending to heaven. He commanded them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit was given to them. This, we know, occurred ten days later on Pentecost, or Shavuot, when Jews from all around were in Jerusalem bringing their harvest offerings to the temple. What an amazing, receptive audience Peter had for his sermon that day (Acts 2)!
And what an amazing fulfillment to a Holy Day ordained thousands of years earlier. You see, just as Christ’s resurrection fulfilled early First Fruits, so the salvation (promised resurrection) or harvest of 3,000 Jews fulfilled later First Fruits – Shavuot. And as the Israelites looked forward to a fall harvest, so prophecy looks forward to a later harvest, when a great number of Jews will also turn to Christ. In Romans 11:25-26, Paul writes, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob (Is. 59:20)…’”
I love that phrase about Gentiles coming in. That’s me! God had me in mind, even when he was creating his great plan and ordaining these feasts to illustrate it for his people. And I especially love the book of Ruth (traditional reading for Shavuot as it takes place during the spring harvest) because Ruth was a Gentile grafted into the Jewish faith. Like Ruth, I too am adopted, and I’m finding particular pleasure in studying and learning from these feasts.
Shavuot is this week, and I’m excited to be able to observe it with my family this year.