A Bit of Background
This year, Shavuot begins on the evening of May 20, the sixth of Sivan. In Bible times, this holiday was an agricultural festival—a time for our people to present the firstfruits of the crops to God. It was a holiday of gratitude; of giving back to the Lord that which He had given to us. According to Leviticus 23:14, we couldn’t even eat from the produce until the firstfruits had been dedicated to God!
A firstfruits offering was actually presented at the end of Passover (Leviticus 23:9-14). Then, seven weeks after Passover came Shavuot. This feast literally means weeks,” and it was a time when additional firstfruits would be offered. Shavuot fell fifty days after the Sabbath which came during Passover (Leviticus 23:15, 16), thus in Greek it was called Pentecost, or “fiftieth.” Shavuot is also called the “Feast of the Harvest” in Exodus 23:16 and the “Day of the Firstfruits” in Numbers 28:26.
From the time it was instituted, up through the days of Yeshua, Shavuot was one of the three holidays that required the entire male population to “appear before the Lord” (Deuteronomy 16:16). This meant making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem once that city became the central place of worship.
After the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the agricultural rites associated with the biblical feasts could no longer be observed. Jewish tradition made a connection between Shavuot and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, which was understood to be the fiftieth day after the Israelites came out of Egypt. The holiday also came to be called, “The Season of the Giving of the Law.” To this day, it has become traditional to observe Shavuot by staying up all night and studying Torah; a practice called “Tikkun leil Shavuot.”1
In Acts 2 and 3, the New Covenant records that the Holy Spirit was poured out at Shavuot. As a result, 3,000 Jewish people recognized that Yeshua was indeed the Messiah, and they turned to God. These souls were the firstfruits of God’s gospel harvest.
We also discover a missionary principle at work in these chapters of Acts. According to another tradition, when God gave the Law, He first offered it to the nations of the world, all of whom heard it in their own language. God offered the Law to Israel after the nations rejected it. In Acts 2, Jews from many lands are gathered in Jerusalem, each hearing the apostles in their own language.
According to yet another tradition, King David died on Shavuot. It seems appropriate that Peter chose this occasion for his sermon in Acts 2, in which he proclaims that King David died, but one of his descendants—Yeshua—has risen from the dead!
Celebrating the Feast Together
Today, Jewish believers in Yeshua can celebrate Shavuot with their family and friends, or with their entire church or congregation. Jeff and Pat Feinberg, in Shabbat School Fun for Messianic Kids, offer this suggestion: try having an all night “birthday celebration…Birthdays usually include candles to blow out…the flames and wind are symbols that can help us introduce…the Ruach (this very word is Hebrew for ‘wind’ or ‘breath’).”2 Gather the children and adults together and, “Thank God for His teachings and precepts, for His Holy Spirit (Ruach haKodesh), for the body of believers, for our daily help from the Holy Spirit, and for all His good gifts to us!”3
Begin the evening at 8 p.m. and plan to stay up until 6 a.m. Some suggestions for such a celebration may include:
- studying and memorizing the Ten Commandments
- having a Ten Commandments “drill”; learning them in sign language
- reading the Book of Ruth and acting it out
- eating dairy foods such as blintzes, kugel or cheese souffle
- singing songs or hymns about God’s Law, His harvest and the Holy Spirit
- baking a birthday cake from scratch; giving small gifts to the children
- watching videos on the Ten Commandments such as “Ancient Secrets of the Bible” (by Group Publishing)
- praying together for God to bring in a harvest of new believers from your community
- making wind socks to remind us of the Holy Spirit who came as a “rushing mighty wind from heaven” (Acts 2:2). You’ll need: a 2-liter plastic bottle for each person; several hole punchers; rolls of curling ribbon in several colors; scissors. Remove the black plastic bottom from the bottle (discard bottle). Cut away the end of the plastic so that you have a cylinder. Punch three holes around the top edge of the cylinder. Punch holes 1″ apart around the bottom edge of the cylinder. Thread and tie on 18″ lengths of ribbon through the top three holes, gathering them together and tying a knot at the top of the ribbon (for hanging). Thread and tie on 18″ lengths of ribbon through all the bottom edge holes, leaving the ribbons dangling.
Shavuot: A cause for celebration!
- The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, by Michael Strassfeld (Harper & Row, New York, NY), 1985.
- Shabbat School Fun for Messianic Kids, by Jeff and Pat Feinberg (FLAME Publishing, Lake Forest, IL),1993.