Shavuot – the neglected Harvest holiday

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Among all the Jewish holiday, Shavuot seems to have become the underdog with time. In the Torah it is one of the three central ones, one of the pilgrimage holidays. Biblically, there is no reason it would be less celebrated than Pesach or Sukkot. In reality, it has been overshadowed by almost all the other holidays, even the later man-made holidays that celebrate historic events, like Purim, Hanukkah and Israel Independence Day.

Why is that? Maybe partly because one of the central things the Torah say is that it’s the harvest holiday. Celebrating a harvest feast became irrelevant for Jews, not only since the industrial revolution, but much earlier than that. First, it’s the harvest season in the land of Israel, but not in Europe. Once the Jews were disconnected from the land of Israel, and scattered all over the world, the holiday’s agricultural meaning diminished. Second, Jews could not own land throughout a significant part of history, and even when they did own land, they were often removed from it by force. Jews had to rely on commerce and trade for survival much earlier than the rest of the world.

With time, Jewish tradition looked at the events in the Torah, and put two and two together. Forty days after the exodus from Egypt – this seems to be the time at which the events on Mount Sinai occurred. This must be when the Ten Commandments were given. There is no biblical proof of this, but it is plausible.

So on Pesach, God redeemed his people and took them out of Egypt. For forty days they were wondering “Okay… now what?” Shavuot came along and clarified what God expects from them. This is the Torah. These are the rules. This is what I expect you to keep.

As I have said before, the spring holidays are the holidays that Yeshua has fulfilled. The fall holidays are the holidays that will be fulfilled in the second coming. And we can see the fulfillment of Shavuot in the New Testament.

On Pesach, Yeshua died on the cross and resurrected. God redeemed us and took us out of sin. But for forty days his disciples were wondering, “Okay… now what?” Shavuot came along and clarified it. This time with the Holy Spirit – not by a written word, but by a law written on their hearts. (Jeremiah 31:33).

The Torah and the Holy Spirit are two amazing gifts that God has given us. They are both perfect reflections of who he is, and they complement one another. Neither is good without the other. One was not given on expense of the other. We need The Holy Spirit to understand the purpose of the Torah. We need the Torah to know God’s nature and what he expects from us.

The people of Israel said “We will do everything the Lord has said” (Exodus 19:8) on Shavuot. Then Moses went up for forty days, and the people committed the sin of the golden calf. The result? Three thousand people died (Exodus 32:28). On the day of Shavuot in the New Testament, we see three thousand people baptized. (Acts 2:41) I don’t think this exact number is an accident. There is a direct parallel. The Torah shows us God’s perfect standard, and precisely therefore it brings death to anyone who doesn’t keep it – which is everyone. We can’t keep it. That’s why we need the grace that Yeshua gives.

On Shavuot the first Messianic congregation was formed, right here in Jerusalem. It was formed by Jews from all over the world who spoke a lot of different languages. Later the gospel expanded to even include gentiles.

Just like Yeshua told his disciples they would be fishermen of people, we can say of the Shavuot harvest festival – on this day we celebrate the harvest of people.

“You were slain and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

This article originally appeared on Tuvia’s blog, May 29, 2020, and reposted with permission.