It's about celebrating everything God gives us, even the blessing we find in His law.
by Laura Costea | May 23 2023
Shavuot is one of the most important Jewish holidays, but it’s one that often seems to fly a bit under the radar. It’s been called a “neglected stepchild” compared to our other holidays. Maybe this is the reason many Gentiles know about Passover and Hanukkah but haven’t heard about Shavuot.
Even among our own people the meaning of Shavuot has evolved over time. What started as a harvest festival became a celebration of our receiving the law of God from Moses.
So let’s unpack the history and the traditions of Shavuot and see how they’re designed to encourage our trust in God and deepen our friendship with Him and with each other.
It’s no accident that Shavuot and Passover are calendar buddies. God called us out of Egypt for a reason, and the holiday of Shavuot reveals at least part of that reason.
When God asked us to remember Passover, He wanted us to remember our redemption from slavery. Seven weeks later, He asked us to celebrate Shavuot as a way to remember that He would not only protect and deliver us from evil, but that He would provide for us wherever we go.
So Shavuot has always been about God’s generous provision—and about our response to that provision.
The original idea for Shavuot was pretty simple:
When Moses came upon the burning bush and the holy ground, took off his sandals and bowed down low, God made a promise: “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).
Imagine being forced to work someone else’s ground, to build someone else’s cities, then being promised your own land—a good, open land, flowing with the best foods you could imagine! God always had in mind to provide abundantly for our people.
But Shavuot is about more than just a physical harvest. Rabbinic tradition has also linked the giving of the Law to Shavuot. Just as Shavuot comes seven weeks after Passover, the giving of the Ten Commandments fell seven weeks after the original Passover event.1
So we count down the seven weeks each year with blessings, which is called “counting the omer.” This is a way to remember that God’s blessing of freedom from slavery is completed by His blessing us with both a plentiful harvest and His Ten Commandments as a guide for life.
Harvest and mitzvot (commandments) might not seem like they go together, but they do; they’re both things for which we are dependent on God. Our God is the source for every physical need, but we’re not purely physical beings. If God provides abundantly for all aspects of life, that must include guidance for our relationship with Him and with others.
The Torah was a guide for how to navigate those relationships:
In Rabbinic tradition, this importance of community and commitment to God is also underscored by reading the Book of Ruth at Shavuot. Ruth and Naomi’s story isn’t only a picturesque tale of gleaning and harvest. It’s a story of loyalty and trust, of dwelling with God and one another, and of celebrating His provision for family life.
All our holidays have action items, such as: go someplace, do (or don’t do) something, eat this, don’t eat that, or sometimes don’t eat at all! By giving us tangible practices, God reminds us that our beliefs are tied to who we are and how we live.
Our to-do list for Shavuot makes it one of the best holidays:
The Law was given to Moses, interpreted by him and given to our people as a whole. But the Lord seemed to promise a future, more personal understanding of Himself through the prophet Jeremiah: “ I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).
For believers in Messiah Jesus, we find it very significant that God sent a visible manifestation of His Spirit upon us on the Shavuot holiday in Jerusalem that followed Jesus’ resurrection.2 It was a sign that God was changing our hearts to be able to love and serve Him more fully (Acts 2:1–4; Deuteronomy 30:6).
Believing in God’s provision in Yeshua means accepting the gift of the Torah from the inside out–that’s worth celebrating! God has provided all we need, even forgiveness for falling short of obedience to His law—even filling us with His Spirit.
My Jewish family members sometimes have a hard time understanding my belief in Yeshua. They seem to think that following him is a departure from the Torah. But if it weren’t for my relationship with Yeshua, I don’t think I would be able to fully understand God’s words, let alone obey them.
Many rabbis teach that one reason we stay up late studying Torah on Shavuot is to “re-accept” this gift from God. The key question that Shavuot puts before us now is: are we willing again to receive this gift?
1 This is why Shavuot is also called the “Feast of Weeks.”
2 This is known as “Pentecost,” which was the Greek name for Shavuot in the days before the destruction of the Second Temple.