Shavuot is primarily about giving. God is a great giver! On Shavuot He gave us the Torah and the Spirit – priceless gifts! He also gave us His beloved Son: “God so loved the world that HE GAVE His only begotten son that whoever shall believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
What greater gifts could God have possibly given us? God gave us His very best and He asks us to give back out of all He has blessed us with. Seven weeks after the start of the harvest, at Shavuot, the ancient people of Israel were commanded to bring a free will offering to the Lord in proportion with how much God had blessed their harvest.
“Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot) to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:9-10)
Giving of First-Fruits (Bikkurim)
Shavuot was the appointed time for the Jewish people to bring their First-fruits (Bikkurim) offerings to the Temple. No one was to appear empty handed.
“Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot) and the Festival of Tabernacles.
No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17)
Shavuot is also the time for us also to give a special free-will offering or gift to the Lord according to how the Lord has blessed us. The apostle Paul told the Gentile church that they have an obligation to give materially toward the Jewish ‘saints’ (believers in Yeshua) in exchange for all they have received materially through the Jewish people.
“For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” (Romans 15:26-27)
The first-fruits of each of these species would be placed in decorated baskets and loaded onto oxen whose horns would be laced with garlands of flowers.
As the farmer would lead his entourage through cites and town enroute to Jerusalem, there would be music and dancing to accompany the grand procession. Wearing these garlands of flowers (called ‘zer prachim’ – floral head-wreath) is a Shavuot custom practiced in the Land of Israel.
Although the Israelites were intended to rejoice over the goodness of God to their own families, God repeatedly exhorted His people to remember the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows.
“And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name —you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you.” (Deuteronomy 16:11)
The New Testament also tells us what is accepted as ‘true religion’ in God’s eyes: to care for orphans and widows in their distress. (James 1:27)
The blessings God has blessed us with are not for us to hoard or use only for our own families, but to share with others who are in need. It was for this reason that God commanded the people not to harvest the entire field but to leave the corners of their fields for the poor.
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’” (Leviticus 23:22)
Shavuot and the Book of Ruth
Because of its agricultural theme, the traditional Scripture reading for Shavuot is the entire book of Ruth. The story of this Moabite who gleaned in the fields of Boaz and eventually married him is one of the most beautiful and romantic love stories in the Bible. A Jewish tradition, therefore, is to stay up all night studying the book of Ruth on the first night of Shavuot.
Some Christians are unfamiliar with this brief book from the Old Testament, but the story of Ruth is so rich in prophetic meaning for the Church regarding their relationship with Israel and the Jewish people.
In a nutshell, Naomi represents the Jewish people who left the land, lived in exile, and lost their entire families there (in the Holocaust). They have returned with nothing but bitterness and sorrow; some of them angry with the Almighty.
Ruth and Orpah, Naomi’s two Gentile daughters- in- law represent the two types of the Christian Church – one who agrees to abandon Naomi in her time of need; and the other who refuses to leave her. Ruth pleads with her mother-in-law to be allowed to stay with her even until death.
Boaz represents our Kinsmen-Redeemer, Yeshua Hamashiach (the Messiah).
Ruth came back to Israel with her Jewish mother in law, Naomi, and vowed to her, “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
Naomi’s other daughter in law, Orpah, kissed her goodbye and left her. Ruth means ‘faithful friend’ but Orpah, in contrast, means ‘back of the neck’.
These two Gentile women, related to Naomi through marriage, may represent the two types of the Gentile, Christian Church and their relationship to Israel. One sticks with her to the end; but the other walks away in her time of greatest need.
Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz, her ‘kinsmen redeemer’, who represents Yeshua, our Redeemer. When Ruth asked why he had taken special notice of her, a foreigner, Boaz replied,
“It has been fully reported to me the kindness you have shown to your mother in law…” (Ruth 2:11)
Our Kinsmen-Redeemer, Yeshua, also takes notice of the kindness anyone shows to the Jewish people, and He will give a full reward. “May a full reward be given you by the God of Israel under whose wings you have taken refuge” (Ruth 2:12)
Give and it Shall be Given
In ancient, Biblical times, there were two types of harvesters in the fields: those hired workers who harvested the main crops in the center of the fields and the poor who gleaned in the corners. The primary harvesters would fill their baskets, carry them over to the barn or wagon, dump them and go back for another load.
They didn’t really care how full their baskets were, as they were paid by the hour, and therefore only needed to look like they were keeping busy. With the poor, however, it was a different story. Most had likely walked quite a long distance to arrive at the field and would have an equally long ways to carry back the grain they had gleaned from the field.
Whatever amount of food they could stuff into their baskets would be the amount of food available to feed their families. It could be a matter of life and death if they could sufficiently fill their baskets. Therefore they first made sure to put in a good measure (filled to the brim); then they would press it down to make room for more. After adding more to the basket, it would then be shaken together and then heaped up until it spilled over the sides.
This is the true meaning of “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over…” Anyone listening to Yeshua’s words in ancient Israel would have understood the meaning of these words. He was saying that whatever we give, we’re going to get a whole lot more of the same in return. We always receive back more than we give.
“Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)
This scripture does not simply refer to material giving; but also and perhaps primarily, about giving mercy, grace, patience, forgiveness and love to others. Then it will come back running over and abundant into our lives. This is the context in which Yeshua gave us these Scriptures.
“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6: 36-37)
As we enter into the Festival of Shavuot, may we be filled with gratitude for all God has blessed us with; and may we remember to give generously – for God loves a cheerful giver.