Festival of Gratitude and Joy
Today’s Text: Leviticus 23:9-11, 15-17
The first tour I hosted to Israel in 1994 so impacted my concept of the Bible that for a full three weeks following, even my sleep was filled with the sites we visited. Likewise, studying the Feasts of Israel from the context rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures provides not just the Bible foundation, but also has the potential to ignite our passion for celebrating a mostly neglected holiday on the Christian calendar.
Shavuot (Pentecost) as described in the New Testament book of Acts marks the birthday of the church. Without the historical background, however, you may be surprised to learn that the festival was inaugurated by Moses and is still joyfully celebrated in Israel some 3,500 years later.
When first instituted, the nation of Israel was preparing to enter the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants. Standing east of the Jordan River, Moses addressed the congregation for the last time. He assured that they were about to enter the land flowing with milk and honey.
With God’s blessing, however, came responsibility. Excerpts from Moses’ instruction to Israel provide the foundational details:
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest.
He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.’”
“‘And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed.
Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord.
You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord.’”
Originally, in the list of convocations or holiday appointments outlined for the nation of Israel, Shavuot marks a particularly joyful ingathering. The festival is a jubilant celebration of God’s bountiful provision and recognizes the obligation to honor the Lord first with expressions of gratitude.
The book of Leviticus cites the institution of the Jewish Feast of Bikkurim (Firstfruits) occurring on the first day of the week following Passover. Coinciding with the beginning of the barley harvest, the people of Israel were required to come to Jerusalem with the first and best of that year’s produce. The nation did not eat or sell any of the new crop until the priests waved a representative sheaf of barley before the Lord (23:14).
On the first day of the week 50 days later, the season of Firstfruits came to an end with the celebration of the feast of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks/Pentecost) at the beginning of the wheat harvest. The people of Israel offered their first and best of seven types of crops to the Lord: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and honey (Dt. 8:8).
Shavuot is the yearly feast of thanksgiving and praise to God for bringing Israel into a bountiful land (26:3-10). Today in Israel, Shavuot is celebrated with music festivals and parades displaying produce grown on kibbutzim, moshavim and agricultural cooperatives.
In a tradition reminiscent of biblical celebrations, farmers bring samples of their produce to the president’s residence in Jerusalem—a highlight in the agricultural community.
Because the Bible describes the Promised Land as “the land of milk and honey,” the Jewish community celebrates with dairy products—especially ice cream, blintzes and cheesecake.
Tradition also states that God gave the Law on Shavuot. And, water is a prominent feature of the celebration because the Law is often likened to water. For that reason, many families choose to spend the day enjoying a water feature as part of their celebration.
All over the world Jewish people remember the giving of the Law by gathering in synagogues and community centers for all night sessions to read the book of Ruth and study Torah. In Jerusalem, the study sessions traditionally end around 5:00 A.M. by walking to the Western Wall for morning prayers.
I can think of no better way to celebrate God’s goodness and the giving of the Law than by watching the sun rise over the Western Wall of the Temple Mount—a tradition that began in 1967 following the Six-Day War when the army opened the Western Wall to visitors on Shavuot.
Although the celebration has grown over the millennia, Shavuot endures as an expression of gratitude and great joy for God’s goodness. As in ancient times, Israel and the worldwide Jewish community joyfully acknowledge God who is the source of both their material abundance—the harvest—and spiritual bounty— the Law.
Shavuot is not about pseudo-piety often associated with Pentecost in the church, but rather a celebration of life itself that Christians should embrace!
P.S. Looking for more information on Pentecost Sunday? Explore the link between Shavuot and Christians living in the 21st century.
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. With 40 plus years of ministry experience, Rev. McCracken is known for authenticity in communicating biblical truth that makes his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author via Contact Form under ABOUT. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (Emphasis added.)
1) Wheat sheaves in a field on Moshav Naham. By zachi dvira Pikiwiki Israel [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) First Fruits ceremony in the Garden of Samuel, Kibbutz Gan Shmuel. By Amos Gil [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
3) Bikkurim offerings on Shavuot holiday in Nahalal, the first workers’ cooperative agricultural settlement in Israel. By Sharon Ben-Arie, via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
4) Shavuot Parade at Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel. By Amos Gil [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
5) Teddy Kolleck Park Musical Fountain, Jerusalem. By Dror Feitelson Pikiwiki Israel [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
6) Worshipers at the Western Wall celebrating Shavuot in Jerusalem, Israel at dawn, May 26, 2012. By Daniel Majewski (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios