Shavuot can be a relatively confusing Jewish holiday because we don’t read about it very often in the Bible. It is possible that you might have never heard of it. But it is one of the big three holidays; this was one of the pilgrimage holidays in which the faithful of God would travel to Jerusalem to be a part of the worship happening at the Temple. But moreover, the traditional Jewish understanding of this holiday in relation to the fulfillment through the work of Yeshua (Jesus) is rather amazing!
Today, if you were to live in Brooklyn or Jerusalem near very religious Jewish people, you may not realize any holiday is happening. Shavuot, which means “weeks” since it takes place seven weeks and one day after Passover, doesn’t command visual displays like little booths built in people’s backyards as in Sukkot; there are no menorahs in the windows of Jewish homes as there are during Hanukkah, and you won’t hear shofars (rams’ horns) being blown in synagogues like you would during Rosh HaShanah. The Bible simply says that there are to be sacrifices and grain offerings according to Leviticus 23:16-22. This is essentially a harvest holiday – frankly, that seems a bit boring. However, according to Exodus 19 and 20, traditional Jewish theology says that this was the holiday on which God gave the Torah (the Law) to the Hebrews who were newly liberated from Egypt.
The giving of the Law was a truly momentous occasion in history. This was when the God who was only known because He spoke to Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses became known to all because His commandments were now written in stone. This was drastically different than the other religions of the Near East because in those religions, the gods were only known through their supposed prophets and priests. There were relatively no set rules regarding conduct, so if a farmer wanted rain for his field, he would go and ask the priest what to do. The farmer had to trust that the priest was hearing from the god accurately. However, the God of Israel gave his commands in stone so that everybody knew how to approach Him. In other words, if you loved God, you would do His commandments because He had given a law about how to know Him. In this light, it was as simple as that.
As we continue reading the Tanakh (the Old Testament), we start to get glimpses of something great coming. God even promises:
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:35)
Once again, this seems to drastically change the paradigm of how to know God. At one time faithful people were obliged to follow laws that were written, but now something more fulfilling was going to take place. The essence of God’s commands, which ultimately reflect holiness, would be written on the hearts of men. Until the day of Pentecost, we didn’t know exactly how this was going to happen.
On that day in Jerusalem, which was called Shavuot in the Jewish calendar, God sent his Holy Spirit down on what came to be called Pentecost (Acts 2). It was called Pentecost because Pente means 50 and because it was 50 days after the Passover season. Because of the work of Yeshua (Jesus), those who believed that He died and rose had been delivered from the pain of sin and death. And on the Jewish holiday that commemorated the giving of the Law on stone, God sent His Holy Spirit on the faithful, essentially writing His law on their hearts.
As this holiday passes by without much visibility, let us call to memory that on the Shavuot after Yeshua resurrected, something marvelous happened. God sealed those who believe in His Son by engraving His holiness on their hearts! We who believe have been likewise sealed!