Shavuot desserts

How to Celebrate a Messianic Shavuot

Exploring Shavuot tradition and what Jesus adds to our celebration of God's 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.

Where Shavuot Came From

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.

Shavuot has always been about God’s generous provision.

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:

  • Israel was commanded to “present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:16). We could only have this harvest because God provided it. When He renewed the covenant with us, He reminded us: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored …” (Joshua 24:13). The land and the harvest both came from Him. Shavuot begins like all our holidays do—by remembering what God has done for us!
  • Though it may seem to some like a lesser-known holiday, Shavuot is one of the three feasts in a year when males were required to present themselves at the mountain of the Lord (Deuteronomy 16:16–17).
  • In the highest of holidays, we were to remember the lowliest among us. “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:22).

More than a Physical Harvest

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.

If God provides abundantly for all aspects of life, that must include guidance.

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:

  • The Torah would teach us how to walk with God. “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” (Leviticus 26:12).
  • It also taught us how to live in healthy community with one another. “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:13–15). Many of the 613 commandments have to do with treating our neighbors with justice and peace.

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.

How to Celebrate

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:

  • We rest. Shavuot is a yom tov, a holiday of holy rest (like Shabbat). “You shall not do any ordinary work.” (Leviticus 23:21). For the two nights of Shavuot we can enjoy a time of rest and have candlelit dinners.
  • We study the Ten Commandments and the story of Ruth. Some Jewish people may hold to the tradition of staying up all night reading Torah! Even for those of us who are less-than-totally observant, we can find joy in God’s presence as we meditate in His word to us.
  • We enjoy God’s gifts through delicious traditions, like baking two loaves of bread and eating dairy foods and desserts! Loaves of bread were originally part of the sacrifice offered to God at Shavuot (Leviticus 23:17).
  • Some of us decorate our homes with greenery and sweet-smelling flowers as another reminder of God’s gracious provision of another season of spring.

The Provision We Didn’t Expect

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).

God has provided all we need, even forgiveness.

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.