How to say it and what it means
The Hebrew is shah-voo-oat, but it is also correct to say Shavuos (shah-voo-ohs). Shavuot means weeks.” The Greek word for this holiday is Pentecost, which means “50th.”
Shavuot in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 23:15-21)
- Shavuot occurs 50 days or seven weeks after Passover.
- It is a harvest celebration commemorating God’s provision for and sustenance of His people.
- Shavuot shares two important characteristics with the holidays Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles):
- All three holidays involved a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
- All three holidays involved firstfruit offerings at the Temple.
- Passover, in early spring, included firstfruits from the first harvest, barley.
- Shavuot, in late spring, included firstfruits from the wheat harvest. Among the many offerings given, was a “wave offering” of two loaves of leavened bread. This was the firstfruits offering.
- Sukkot, in the fall, was the final harvest and included firstfruits of olives and grapes.
Shavuot and Jewish Tradition
- According to Jewish tradition, Moses received the Law from God at Mount Sinai during Shavuot.
- Jewish tradition also suggests that King David both was born and died on Shavuot.
- Revelation: God’s Word was revealed through the Law.
- Community: the giving of the Law taught the Jewish people how to relate to one another as well as to God.
- The Ten Commandments are read to commemorate the giving of the Law.
- Some Jewish people stay up all night studying the Torah (Law) to “re-live” the revelation at Mount Sinai.
Book of Ruth is read, tying in with the theme of harvest as well as the theme of community. This also ties in with the belief that King David was born on Shavuot, since the last verse of the book shows that Ruth was one of his ancestors.
- A 12th century Aramaic poem, Akdamut, which heralds the Messianic future, is read.
- Jewish people traditionally decorate their homes and synagogues with flowers and greens.
- An older tradition prescribes that two loaves of leavened bread be baked; some say they represent all of humanity (one loaf is the Jewish people, the other Gentiles), while others see them as representing the two tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.
- It is traditional to eat milk products, because the rabbis say that when our people received the Law they were as newborn babies.
Shavuot in the New Testament
(see Acts 2)
- The giving of the gospel: God’s grace revealed through the Living Word
- When the Holy Spirit came to the disciples in tongues of flames and they began speaking other languages, they were preaching the gospel of Jesus to God-fearing Jews who had come to Jerusalem from every nation under heaven to observe Shavuot at the Temple.
- The Resurrection connection: King David and Yeshua
- Peter seemed to know the tradition that King David was born and died on Shavuot as he gave his sermon. He used the prophecies of David in the Psalms to speak of the resurrection of Jesus, the Son of David.
- Prophecy fulfilled
- Peter pointed out to the crowd that what they were witnessing was a fulfillment of prophecy from the book of Joel (Joel 2:28).
- An experience of revelation and community
- A mighty revelation occurred that day as 3,000 Jewish people understood the truth of Peter’s words and became followers of Jesus.
Shavuot in the future: the harvest festival to come
Just as there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that Jewish people heard and accepted Jesus in a supernatural way on Pentecost, so an even greater outpouring is predicted by the prophet Zechariah: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).
Yes, there will be mourning when all of Israel finally realizes who Jesus is, but after the mourning and the repentance there will be great joy. Yeshua said this regarding the end-time harvest of souls:
“The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest”
(Matthew 9:37, 38)
This content was adapted from an earlier Jews for Jesus article.