How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Shavuot -- Pentecost

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Shavuot, or Pentecost as it’s better known, is this Sunday, May 19th. Some denominations -- mostly older ones -- celebrate it, others do not; up until a little while ago, I didn’t celebrate it or know anything about it, really. But now I’m so glad I do.

Shavuot is 50 days after First-fruits, the day soon after Passover when the first fruits of the barley harvest were offered to God in thanksgiving, as well as the resurrection day of Yeshua (Jesus). Leviticus 23:15-16 explains the “omer count” -- individuals count each day between the two feast days; this establishes an anticipation-building countdown for Shavuot. Shavuot, the Hebrew name meaning “weeks,” describes that countdown, as does Pentecost, which means fifty.

The Bible doesn’t specifically explain how Shavuot should be celebrated, other than what sacrifices were to be brought to the Temple -- animals and the first fruits of the wheat harvest. But there are two major episodes in Scriptural history that we associate with Shavuot.

The first is the giving of the Ten Commandments. This earth-shaking event descended upon Mount Sinai around the time of Shavuot, as recorded in Exodus 19. God had just rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery and He was ready to seal them as His people by bestowing the Ten Commandments on them, which have come to exemplify the moral law that everyone functions under. This was a gift because if God hadn’t “stepped” down onto that desert mountain and given these commandments -- an expression of what He Himself is like -- we’d be at a loss as to how to live, and how much joy would there be in that?

The second historical event, a further manifestation, happened exactly on Shavuot, in Acts 2. This was the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Yeshua, and it was also a world-shaking event. These men and women were empowered to preach the Gospel as none had ever been before -- and if God hadn’t put His power upon them, where would we Christians be today?

Are these two events linked? I think so -- both enable us to live according to God’s will, for one thing. The commandments tell us what to do (of course, there are other things God wants us to do, but these sum them up) and the Spirit imparts to us the ability to do them. Another interesting comparison is that there is a Jewish tradition that because of the intensity of that great spiritual moment, tongues of fire flickered on the heads of the Israelites gathered around Mount Sinai. Just like the tongues of fire that the book of Acts reports flickered on the heads of the 120 disciples.

So if we think about these great spiritual events, Shavuot does become pretty important!

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