The Biblical Significance of Shavuot
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Shavuot is one of the Shalosh regalim or “pilgrim feasts” during which all of the males were to present themselves before God in Jerusalem. The feast celebrates the completion of the seven-week Omer counting period between Passover and Shavuot.
Most of the feasts in the law are centred around the agricultural calendar of the land of Israel. The barley ripens around Passover, while the wheat ripens in the following weeks after this.
Therefore, during Passover, farmers in Israel would go into the fields and reap one Omer (or measurement) of barley and bring it to the priest in the Temple. Then the rest of the barley and wheat would be reaped in the intervening seven weeks with a tenth (or tithe) of this produce being taken to priest in the temple at Shavuot. The peace offerings on Shavuot would have to contain the leaven or yeast made from the new grain that had just been harvested. Old and new leaven is picked up as a teaching aid or metaphor in the New Testament.
In the Jewish world, this feast is celebrated by studying Torah all night along with a reading of the book of Ruth. It’s strongly associated with the house of David
The reason for studying the Torah all night is because according to Jewish Tradition, the law was given at mount Sinai during this very time.
While the Bible doesn’t tell us the exact date of the giving of the Torah, biblically you can work out that it falls somewhere within a week of Shavuot.
Additionally the book of Ruth is set around this time of year. We know she entered the land at the beginning of Barley harvest, (Ruth 1:22) which is the same time that the Jews entered the land under Joshua.
The intervening weeks of the harvest and gleaning in the fields were the 50 days of counting between Passover and Shavuot.
The Spiritual Significance
The calendar of Israel reflects the overall purpose of God with his people. The sacrifice of the Passover lamb speaks of the sacrifice of Christ. The very day when the farmers would go out into the field to pick the first fruits of the barley harvest, the day after the sabbath in the passover week, is when Christ was raised from the dead – the first-fruits of them that slept as Corinthians tells us.
In the intervening 50 days, Christ spends time with his disciples in Jerusalem and Galilee before ascending into heaven. After this, the disciples wait at Jerusalem and are given the Holy spirit on the feast of Pentecost or Shavuot. There are certain phrases in the book of Acts that make more sense with an understanding of this feast.
For example Acts 2:1 says “when the day of pentecost was fully come”.
The phrase “fully come” is likely used because they have been counting the days leading up to the feast (since passover) and now the 50 day period had finally arrived.
Similarly, while Shavuot was around the time of the giving of the law at Sinai, in the case of the apostles, that giving of the Holy spirit would be used in the 1st century to blaze abroad the word of God throughout the Roman world and beyond. After this, the feasts in the eleventh month – The feast of trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), the day of atonement (yom kippur) and the feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) all speak of the return of Christ and the Kingdom Age.
The Rebuilding of the temple
The purpose of the law given at Mount Sinai was to turn a nation of slaves into a holy, special nation before God. More fundamentally than this, it was a schoolmaster to bring us to an understanding of Christ. In the future when Christ returns, Ezekiel 40-48 tells us about the rebuilding of the temple with much of the law being kept once again. In the future, the law will be used for the same purpose as ever – teaching the nations about sin and the sacrifice of Christ. As Isaiah says, the nations will flow up to Jerusalem to the temple to learn about God. We pray for the day when Christ will return and all the inhabitants of the world will learn of God’s righteous ways.