We are going to begin discussing the ceremonies surrounding the festival of Shavuot, and then bring out some concepts that will help us understand this festival. The word “Shavuot” is the feminine plural for “weeks” and is related to the Hebrew word “shavuah” which means week. This is another festival that “falls through the cracks” when it comes to understanding it. There are several names for Shavuot. In most English Bibles it is called “Pentecost” which comes from the Greek word for “fifty” and alludes to the fifty days after Passover. Another name you will see in English Bibles for this festival is “the feast of Harvest” (Exo 16.16). An idiom for the festival is “the First Trump” and we will explain this later on. Most people think the first “Pentecost” was in Acts 2, but it wasn’t. It was in Exodus 19-20 when the people arrive at Mount Sinai 47 days after the Egyptian Passover. God says that they were to consecrate (kedusha) themselves for three days (Exo 19.10-11). This will brings us to 50 days. God audibly gives the Torah with a shofar, smoke, thunder, “voices” wind and fire.
Exo 19.1 begins by saying, “In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai.” The third month in the religious calendar started in Exodus 12 is Sivan, so “on that very day” refers to the third day.
Exodus 19.2 says, “When they set out from Rephidim (meaning “lax” and this was where they fought Amalek in Exo 17.8. Amalek always attacks when we get “lax”), they came to the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain.” The word “camped” is singular, even though there are twelve tribes. This concept is important because in Acts 2.1 it says, “And when the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all together in one place.”
In Exo 19.4 it says that the Lord brought the peole out of Egypt “on eagles wings” and this term is seen in Rev 12.14 when the Lord takes Israel into the wilderness again after the false messiah declares himself “God” in the Temple. This term “on eagles wings” refers to angelic protection through much difficulty. If you compare both situations, you will see how both groups got to that point.
We call the festivals in Lev 23 “Moedim” and this means “appointments” another name for the festivals is “Hag” which means “circle” and relates to the Circle dance done by the people at the festivals. Moed, or appointed times, is time for the people to do certain things, at certain places and at certain times. We talk about “keeping” the commandments but this involves incorporating the Torah into our lives and to stay in line with the “tavnit” (pattern, blueprint, shadow, picture) God gave us in keeping them. That involves doing certain things, at certain places at certain times. That is why we cannot keep the festivals today. In order to stay in line with the “tavnit” we need to do certain things at certain places at certain times and the festivals cannot be kept without being in the land, without a Temple, without a priesthood, without the Levi’im, without the utensils of the Temple and many other things. However, this was not the case with Israel in the wilderness or in the first century.
These “appointments” allude to Biblical Eschatology which is understood in a biblical sense as pertaining to the Messiah and the Redemption. Yeshua is the “Shaliach” (sent one), the “agent” of God sent to bring about this redemption. We enter into this redemption by “emunah” (faith). The “good news” (gospel) is that Yeshua has come to bring this redemption. The festivals in Lev 23 covers the blueprint that the Lord is following by doing certain things, at certain places and at certain times to bring about the redemption.
In Lev 23.15-22, it gives us the instruction concerning the festival of Shavuot. In Lev 23.17 it talks about two loaves baked with leaven, and these loaves are called “Shtai ha Lechem.” They are the only bread offerings (Korban Mincha) that are offered with leaven. Along with the Shtai ha Lechem, there are animal korbanot in v 18-20. Two lambs are offered as a Korban Shelem with the two loaves as a “wave offering” called a “tenufa.” This is when the priest stands on the east or west side of the Altar, and turns his body in six directions three times ( first to the north three times, then to the south three times, east and west, up and down). Some have suggested that he lambs are placed between the two loaves and alive when the first tenufa is done. Due to the weight of the lambs, this was not probable. Maimonides says simply interpets this as waving the loaves and the lambs separately. After the waving, the kohanim eat from the two loaves together with the remaining meat from the congregational peace offerings.
The two loaves are called “First Fruits” (v 20) and then in v 22 we have a passage talking about the gleanings of the fields. This seems out of place but when you remember this is related to the festival of Shavuot and the beginning of the harvest, it fits perfectly. Gleanings was a central theme in the Book of Ruth, which takes place at the time of Shavuot.
Let’s go back to v 21 and pick up a term there. Shavuot is a “holy convocation” which is “Mikrah Kodesh” in Hebrew and it means “holy rehearsal.” This tells us that there is an event coming that deserves a “rehearsal.” It is also a “shabbaton” (high Sabbath) or “Yom Tov” (good day). When the event happens, we will go “OH, that’s it” because we have been rehearsing the festival. Another term in v 21 is “no laborious work.” You cannot work in your occupation, but you are allowed to do any work that is associated with the festival.
In Exo 23.14-16 we have the term “first fruits” used again, so this is telling us that it is a significant term associated with Shavuot, which is also called the “feast of the Harvest” (beginning of the harvest). Harvest is “ha Katzir” and it refers to Shavuot. Later in the verse you will see the “feast of the Ingathering” and this refers to Sukkot. Another Shavuot passage is in Deut 16.9-12.
Now, Shavuot was seen as the time when God betrothed himself to Israel (Jer 2.1-3) and Israel is described there as the “first fruits” of his harvest. Israel was becoming a nation at Sinai and the Torah was seen as a betrothal contract, called the Shitre Erusin. The second marriage contract at the second stage of the marriage is called the Kiddushin. There are two witnesses at a Jewish wedding. One is assigned to the bride and one is assigned to the groom. Moses brought the bride to meet God at Mount Sinai (Exo 19.17). The other witness brings the groom to the people. Elijah is the other witness who brings the Messiah to the People. This role was fulfilled by John the Baptist (Matt 11.12-14; Luke 1.17) and is the “friend of the bridegroom (John 3.29). Moses personifies the Torah and Elijah the Prophets. The Torah and the Prophets are the two witnesses that testify of Yeshua (Rom 3.21; Psalm 40.7; John 5.39-47). How do we know about the Messiah and the redemption? It is through the Torah and the Prophets. Now, keep all of these phrases and concepts in mind as we move forward because they will all play a role in our understanding about this festival and how it fits into our understanding of what happened at Mount Sinai, Acts 2 and the Temple ceremonies. Then all of it will transition into our eschatological understanding.
In Part 16, we will pick up here in our study about the ceremonies and the concepts associated with the festival of Shavuot.