Shavuot for Jews. Pentecost for Christians. We can have a great dialogue with our brethren in faith in the Holy One of Israel about the lessons taught in this memorial of the revelation of God. The Word was spoken and written at Sinai, become flesh in Yeshua the Mashiakh (Jesus the Christ), and put into action by the transformation of the Spirit.
Here are some names for Shavuot in the scriptures:
- חַג הַקָּצִיר בִּכּוּרֵי מַעֲשֶׂיךָ khag ha-qatsir bikkurey ma’aseykha (Feast of the Harvest of the Firstfruits of Your Labor; Ex. 23:16)
- חַג שָׁבֻעֹת khag shavu’ot (Feast of Shavu’ot; Ex. 34:22; Deut. 16:9–10): Weeks/Sevens
- בִּכּוּרֵי קְצִיר חִטִּים bikkurey qatsir khittim (Feast of the Firstfruits of the Wheat; Ex. 34:22; Num. 28:26)
- πεντηκοστή pentecoste (50th day, i.e., Pentecost; Acts 2:1; 20:16; 1Cor. 16:8–9)
- יּוֹם הבִּכּוּרֵים yom ha-bikkurim (Day of the Firstfruits in rabbinical literature; cf. m.Bikkurim 3:2–3)
When we studied Hebrews 4–10 a short time ago, we learned how Yeshua is interceding for us as the superior high priest.
Christians celebrate Pentecost as a holiday 50 days from Easter. But it’s been disconnected from the biblical origin in Passover and the beginning of the barley harvest, which are essential components of the lesson of deliverance and transformation. The appointed times of the LORD are not nonsequitur, pieced together without an overarching message. They are all connected and layered upon each other. But we as Messianic believers can connect our Christian brothers and sisters understand this festival time is connected to something much deeper, something that is connected to our Hebrew roots.
Shavout is a festival of harvest and pilgrimage, but is not the only Feast that is connected to harvest and pilgrimage. Bikkurim, or the wave sheaf offering, and Sukkot (festival of Tabernacles or Booths) are also festivals connected to harvest and pilgrimage.
We deny ourselves important lessons if we stuff these festivals into the “harvest” category and dismiss their importance because most of us no longer live lives closely connected to the agricultural cycles of planting and harvest.
Exodus 12 tells us God’s calendar for Israel starts with the first month just before Passover, in March–April. Then we see in Leviticus 23 that Sukkot is celebrated in the seventh month, which is considered the “turning point” of the year. But the year has more than seven months.
In Israel, they have rain in both the spring and the fall, which means they have two different harvest seasons, unlike the climate we have here in Northern California, where we only have one rainy season in the fall and winter.
The realm of the Creator is not the realm of the created. The creation can’t meet the Creator at any time. God uses the tabernacle and the sacrificial system as a walking, breathing parable, teaching us how to approach God. When you come into the front door of the tabernacle, you have to be changed into something clean, perfect and there’s a death that has to occur before you can walk in. You don’t enter “as you are” but transformed into something clean and holy.
The lesson of the Tabernacle is a lesson of transformation. As we look at these festivals, they are not just an excuse to have a barbecue with lots of food and a time to party.
Why all the symbols and parables?
Why doesn’t God just “get to the point”? Yeshua tells us why.
“And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ Jesus answered them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
‘In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, “YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.” ‘But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’” (Matthew 13:10–17 NASB)
You have to want to be transformed. You have to want to be in the presence of God.
Lesson behind the barley harvest
The first crop harvested in the Land of Israel is the barley harvest, which is harvested in the spring. In Hebrew it’s called Bikkurim or the Festival of First Fruits.
Barley in Hebrew is שְׂעֹרָה seʿorah (H8184, “bearded grain”).1 It comes from the root verb שער saʿar (“to be hairy”) and is related to שֵׂעָר seʿarah (H8181, “hair”) and שָׂעַר śāʿar (H8175, “to bristle, with horror”).
Barley’s unique characteristics include it is sowed in fall, usually in the eighth month (October–November) after the “early rain” looses the soil. It is ready for harvest in spring, about a month before wheat (Gezer calendar, line 4, and Exodus 9:32).
But it has lower yield than wheat, yet it is hardier2:
“Barley provides about 15 percent less protein than wheat, and its yield amounts to ca. two-thirds that of wheat. Barley is important because it tolerates higher degrees of salinity and alkalinity and will grow well in nutrient-poor soil, under more arid conditions. Sowing barley expands the amount of arable land brought into cultivation and provides a hedge against a failure of the wheat crop due to adverse environmental circumstances.”
Barley is offered in the Tabernacle in one minkhah: the “grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity” (Numbers 5:15 NASB).
Barley is a symbol of the people of Israel. The Spartans in Thermopoli weren’t the first 300. One of the first references to the barley harvest after the children of Israel to enter the land is the story of Gideon and his original 300. There are puns in the Bible, just as there are in the English language.
Barley is not your first choice but it’s something to fall back upon if the wheat harvest fails.
As Herbert Wolf says in his commentary on the Book of Judges:
“Barley bread (v.13) could represent Israel as a cultivator of the soil. It was a staple food of the poorer classes, to which virtually the entire nation belonged.”
Instructions for Shavuot
“The LORD spoke again to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD’S appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations” (Leviticus 23:1–2 NASB)
The details on the timing connection between Shavuot, Bikkurim and Pesakh are in Leviticus 23:9–21.
The next verse, Leviticus 23:22, is not random. It is a reminder not to be greedy and to take care of the poor:
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.’”” (Leviticus 23:22 NASB)
This is what Ruth was doing when she moved to the land of Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi (Ruth 1:16). She was gleaning in the fields of a distant relative named Boaz but she wasn’t merely gleaning the remnants but also received favor from Boaz and his servants.
She placed her future with the people of Israel and she became part of the ancestry of King David. She is a picture of the Gentiles who are grafted into the people of God.
When we think of ants and other insects who store up their food for the winter.
We can also think of Yeshua’s parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1–13). Five of them were wise enough to have enough oil for the long haul and five who didn’t store up and prepare for the long haul. We have to be ready for a long, tough journey.
One of the parables of the harvest is that when it’s ready, it’s ready. It’s not time to take a nap, a vacation or just leave it alone. You work long and hard until it’s all in.
At the time of the Exodus, when they got the call to leave, they left in haste. You can’t catch the next bus or train. When the the call goes out to leave, you leave. When the people of Israel came out of Egypt, they were God’s harvest.
When you plant something, all you can do is sow and pray. You have to trust that the provision will come.
When God took the children of Israel out of Egypt, it was all part of His plan to put them up against a superpower and the sea. Their old life was pursuing them and it looked hopeless, but God worked a big miracle and made a way through the sea. The way through the sea was a type of baptism. The Creator opened the sea and they walked through it. They were at God’s mercy. Their skills at swimming and running would not help them. They only had God.
Remembering the 10 commandments
Shavuot is intimately connected to the arrival of the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai. Ex. 20:1-21 records what God said to the people at Mt. Sinai, including the Ten Commandments, or Ten Words.
What is so soothing about the smell of whole animals? What is soothing to God is is when His people who offer them are actually repenting and longing for His transformation.
The LORD descended with thunder and smoke on Sinai.
“All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.” (Exodus 20:18–21 NASB)
This was not about scaring the people into full compliance. There’s a problem with fear. It doesn’t last long. Fear subsides when one is constantly exposed to what you fear.
Their fear of being chased by the Egyptian army didn’t last long. They soon resumed their bickering and complaining. Shortly after hearing the 10 words, their fear subsided and they committed the sin with the the Golden Calf.
‘New covenant’ was the original plan
The difference is what’s revealed in the twin prophecies of the “new covenant,” penned hundreds of years before “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14).
“ ‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:31–34 NASB)
When you need a quick response, fear is a good motivator but constant terror hardens the heart. Terror can’t move the heart in the long term. If all we have is fear and terror, we look for all the loopholes.
“‘Therefore say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.'”‘” (Ezekiel 36:22–28 NASB)
In this short text, we go from God chastising them for profaning his name and “making His name mud” among the Gentiles to restoring them.
When you have a new heart, you may still make mistakes but you actually want to be in God’s presence and will do whatever has to be done to repent and return.
Will we still stumble? This side of the Kingdom, yes. But God is willing to clean us up and restore us if we only humble ourselves and ask Him.
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1John 2:1–2 NASB)
What we see in much of the “Old Testament” is when the children of Israel got “bored” with following God and wanted to “spice it up” by adding elements of worship from the pagan world. It didn’t work out well.
God wants more Ruths and Rahabs coming to Him. He wants those who are excited to meet Him. God is on our side, cheering us on when we walk towards Him. Torah is not out of our reach. It’s in our mouth, in our heart. It’s just like the new covenant. God wants to be everything to us, what motivates us and what moves us.
God made Israel special, set them apart and made them a nation. Daniel was not personally responsible for the sins that brought the people of Judah to Babylon, but he had that new heart, that repentant heart that changed the course of history.
If you aren’t yearning to be with God, then all the sacrifices, prayers, mezuzahs, teffilfin, and tzitzit (Deuteronomy 6) mean nothing. If it’s all a “yawn” to you, and you don’t see God’s testimony as something worth reaching for, then don’t waste your time or God’s time.
First we have the hearty crop (barley) than the bountiful crop (wheat). Wheat is a crop that can be exported beyond its borders. It doesn’t just feed your own people, but your neighbors and even those across the sea. The Kingdom grows with its second harvest. Do you want to be a crop that is just sufficient or do you want to be a crop that grows exponentially?
The true knowledge of good and evil didn’t come from the Garden but from the Mountain. There is only one source of knowledge of good and evil that truly cares and that is God. We don’t need a tabernacle to tell us we are second class and to keep out. Life does that.
Why God made the tabernacle is to bring us back to Him. God calls us to choose life, not death. The presence of God is the source of life.
What are we actually exporting? We are supposed to be exporting a knowledge of the Creator of Heaven and Earth. We are to love those around us as we love ourselves. We export the Kingdom everywhere we go.
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:1–8 NASB)
What should have happened at that first arrival at Mt. Sinai after the Exodus is what is recorded here. When all you have is the fear and thrill of God but no love or gratitude, it’s easy to be enticed to walk away from God and back into the bondage of sin. If you don’t think of entering God’s rest (Hebrews 3–4) as a homecoming, all you have is drudgery. If you aren’t transformed by God, the law is merely a burden to overcome. If one merely studies and lives Torah because it’s a novelty or duty, that novelty and loyalty likely will wear off.
What made Sinai special is that God did some thing special on earth. The tabernacle and the people of Israel were a parable for us to study and learn. That is the testimony of God. God does not “invite and smite” but wants to invite us into His home and make us better than we are. That is the good news of the Kingdom.
The children of Israel were to be a hub of the salvation of the world. Praise God that this world, with all its evil, barbarity and grossness will not continue. We also thank God that He does allow it to continue. We are suffering but in the end, this is not the way it will always be. When we look at eternity, the 6,000-plus years of history so far will be merely a blip. God is moving us to choose the good, not the bad. God will move the world to the good and away from the evil.
Banner photo: Colorized photo of a wheat harvest in Pennsylvania in 1943. Photo by John Collier, public domain photo.
- Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, eds., s.v. שׂער, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB), (Oxford: Clarendon Press: 1906), paragraph 972. ↩
- David C. Hopkins, vol. 1 of The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (NIDB), s.v. “B,” (Abingdon Press, 2006), paragraph 5846. ↩
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