Today's lesson concerns a New Testament observance that has its origins in the Old Testament.
every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”
— Matthew 13:52
The OT doesn't get a lot of attention these days, and sadly so, considering that Paul clearly tells us...
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work
— II Timothy 3:16-17
Keep in mind that the only Scripture available at that time would have been the Old Testament. If Paul endorsed the validity and value of it shouldn't we be mindful of our obligation to its lessons?
Neglect of the Old Testament leaves us with only a partial and incomplete picture of the truths of the New Testament concepts that are, many times, only superficially, traditionally, and culturally understood without the Old. What happens when we disregard this portion of God's Word we end up missing all the wonderfully deep and rich images, illustrations, examples, and lessons that are essential to our comprehension and growth. Paul encourages our learning from the Old when he writes . . .
whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope
— Romans 15:4
Nothing has changed about God. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the God of the Old and the New.
these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come
— I Corinthians 10:11
This study will, therefore, examine how the modern tradition of Pentecost in Christian churches is rooted in an Old Testament observance of a feast called Shavuot or Feast of Weeks, Both Shavuot and Pentecost are very related and symbiotic. As we shall learn they both contain necessary elements that concern our Christian walk and faith.
Shavuot—Feast of Weeks
We will begin with Shavuot as it is recorded in the scriptures.
you shall observe the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), of the first fruits of wheat harvest
— Exodus 34:22
you shall keep the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) to the Lord your God
— Deuteronomy 16:10
Shavuot was the fourth, and at the center of, the seven Biblical feasts. It is also at the center of the three of these that are considered pilgrim feasts. The three Pilgrim Feasts required that the men of God had to appear before the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem. This indicates that this Feast that is central and pivotal to our understanding of God's full plan.
Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the Lord God of Israel
— Exodus 34:23 (Unleavened bread, Shavuot, Tabernacles)
Counting of the Omer
Shavuot, a celebration of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, concluded what was known as the "Counting of the Omer" in which fifty days were counted from the Passover. During this time, between Passover and Shavuot, a sacrifice of an omer of barley was offered in the temple daily, in anticipation of the wheat harvest which coincided with the celebrating of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf (omer in Hebrew) 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.
— Leviticus 23:15-16
The Torah (first five books of the Bible), was the Word, agreement, and instruction of God to His Covenant people, through whom Christ would come. It was written to those who accepted Him, with the intent to follow Him, and His instructions, to a designated, promised land. The Sinai meeting was considered as a wedding day or a marriage to God that ratified that agreement.
This serves as an illustration for those who would come to God through faith in Christ and the covenant he made with the Father through the cross on our behalf. The offer still stands for those who would follow Him and His ways. The designated promise land is eternal life with Him.
Deborah M. Melamed wrote in her book "The Three Pillars" that this particular holiday celebrated Israel's spiritual liberation.
Passover marked their freedom from slavery. Shavuot marked their freedom to be God's. The same way that Christ's death frees us from sin and His Spirit frees us to obey.
The Omer's Relationship to Manna and the Word of God
The "omer" as seen in the above section, is also seen in Scripture, in connection with manna, and is a biblical metaphor for "The Word", the bread from heaven that sustained God's people in their 40-year wilderness journey on the way to their destination. Jesus, "The Word" identifies Himself to us, that He, indeed, is the very subject of this conversation.
Our fathers ate the manna in the desert . . . but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world
Benson Commentary writes concerning Christ, The Word, Our Manna
Christ himself is the true manna, the bread of life, of which that was a figure, John 6:49-51. The word of God is the manna by which our souls are nourished, Matthew 4:4.The comforts of the Spirit are hidden manna, Revelation 2:17. These comforts come from heaven, as the manna did, and are the support of the divine life in the soul, while we are in the wilderness of this world: it is food for Israelites, for those only that follow the pillar of cloud and fire: it is to be gathered; Christ in the word is to be applied to the soul, and the means of grace must be used: we must every one of us gather for ourselves. There was manna enough for all,enough for each,and none had too much; so in Christ there is a complete sufficiency, and no superfluity. But they that did eat manna hungered again, died at last, and with many of them God was not well pleased: whereas they that feed on Christ by faith shall never hunger, and shall die no more, and with them God will be for ever well pleased. The Lord evermore give us this bread!
The Lord commanded His people to set aside an omer of Manna, in a pot as a reminder of how God had sustained and provided for them in this miraculous wonderful way. Again what a worthy remembrance!
And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a pot and put an omer of manna in it, and lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for your generations.”
— Exodus 16:33
Glenn Carpenter pulls these ideas together of wheat, manna, and the Word, for us, and gives us the New Testament application to all, in this commentary
"The Feast of Weeks (Shavuot/wheat harvest) was only to begin after crossing over into Canaan . . . after having their first harvest in the Promised land . . . This day in Judaism was also traditionally the same day on which the tablets of the Law were given to Moses, in the wilderness . . . it is certain that manna was falling in the wilderness, on the calendar date of there yet to be celebrated Feast that typify Jesus who is the bread of life (John 6:48) . . . He is the First fruits of a great Spiritual harvest. He is also the "Living Bread" Which came down from heaven (Jn 6:51) "
— Glenn Carpenter "Connections"
The Wheat Harvest
According to ~ "A dictionary of Bible symbols":
"Wheat is a symbol for the abundance of God's provision for his people, especially as a picture of their spiritual nourishment i.e. the Word of God (like the Manna) . . . Symbol for one's stock of provisions of the everyday necessities of life"
It speaks of the satisfaction and sustenance of obedience to God's Word, instruction, and revelation.
“Oh, that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways!...He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat...”
— Psalm 81:13-16
Wheat—Fact and History
Wheat originated in the Middle East, and eventually spread throughout the rest of the world. Isn't this so very picturesque of the Gospel, the good news of God's Word, that originated in the Middle East that goes out to the rest of the world and produces a harvest of the souls of men?
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come
— Matthew 24:14
In terms of the Harvest of the souls of men is concerned, the omer of barley offered for the days prior to Shavuot is a picture of the Jewish people, whom God covenanted with through the "Passover Lamb" and revelation of His Word, that pointed forward to Christ. They were the first to be the recipients of the Word of God and the Gospel. The Wheat on the 50th-day images the Gentile harvest of souls that would receive also this good news along with His Spirit.
Its Modern Observance
Presently, in modern Judaism, the Feast of Weeks/Shavuot is in keeping with the same themes as was celebrated in Jesus' time. It is observed by the Jewish people to commemorate the giving of the Torah (God's Word, Instruction, Law) to Moses on Mount Sinai, as was mentioned earlier.
On Passover, the Jewish people were freed from Slavery and on Shavuot, they committed to serving God according to His revealed Word.
The Torah is the central theme of its modern observance. Dairy products are consumed in its celebration to commemorate the word, as well as all-night Torah study.
Milk and honey are compared to the Torah along with its delights, by Solomon who wrote
Honey and milk are under your tongue
— Song of Solomon 4:11
The New Testament makes this same connection.
as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby
— I Peter 2:2
How is Pentecost connected With Shavuot?
Christ died the Passover lamb that was slain. The events that occur fifty days after this event are significant.
For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us
— I Corinthians 5:7
Jesus's disciples were still following the prescribed religious feasts and observances after His death. "Pente" from which the word Pentecost is derived means fifty in Greek. The disciples were observing Shavuot.
The book of Acts records that after His death . . .
He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God
— Acts 1:3
Forty days, (hearkens back to Moses on Sinai), after His death would have been ten days, (number of testing man's obedience to God), before the prescribed Shavuot feast, that all Jewish men were required to attend. This was why all the people were gathered in Jerusalem at this time in the book of Acts. This was His command to them before He ascended after those forty days
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said,“you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
— Acts 1:4-5
What they did in those ten days, is relative to the gift the disciples of the Lord would receive.
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication . . . When the Day of Pentecost (shavuot) had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
— Acts 1:14, 2:1-4
This scene of the giving of the Holy Spirit is so reminiscent of the Old Testament giving of the Torah, with the assembly of the peoples of God, the sound from heaven, and the fire. (see Exodus chapter 19)
There was a proposal at both events for those who had assembled to commit to following Him. (See Acts chapter 2)
Both of them taken together offers us an invitation and makes us aware of the need for both elements of Word and Spirit in the Christian life.
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit
— I Thessalonians 1:5
Notice that they were in prayer when the Spirit came. Word and prayer are both essential.
Another observation that combines these two events with both elements of Word and Spirit, is that both observances are connected with God's covenant relationship with His people and their reciprocal outcomes. The first event with the giving of the Word alone resulted in a failure to fulfill.
three thousand men of the people fell that day
— Exodus 32:28
At the giving of the Spirit coupled with the Word...
those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them
— Acts 2:41
We cannot have one without the other.
Two Loaves—Jew and Gentile
There are two loaves presented on this feast.
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
— Leviticus 23:17
Notice that these loaves are to be presented baked with leaven (yeast), unlike the unleavened bread at Passover. Recall that Jesus, our Passover, is the unleavened bread of that feast. He was Resurrected and now He is our officiating High Priest. He was human, yet without sin (without leaven) who presented Himself as the first fruits of the salvation of man. What could these leavened first fruits represent?
Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures
— James 1:18
We who had sinned (leavened bread) become first fruits with Him and presented (waved before the Lord by the officiating High Priest . . .
all (both Jew and Greek) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
— Romans 3:23-24
Romans chapter three is a discussion on the two loaves of Jew and Gentile, that are saved by His grace.
unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies (Jesus - Firstfruits), it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain (Jew and Gentile - Firstfruits of His creation)
— John 12:23-24
Recall the feeding of the 4000 (Gentile), and 5000 (Jew) symbolizing the all-encompassing salvation (bread) and the harvest of all the souls of men.
Both Word/Food and Spirit/Water (Old and New Testament reading and prayer) are necessary for an eternal life lived with God both here and in eternity. It was in the garden that "The Word of God" was forsaken and the "Spirit" departed from Adam and Eve. They were exiled from the Garden, no longer in fellowship with God, and technically dead
The Old Testament gave us the Word/Law/Torah/Instruction of God, that provided the framework and structure, which Christ the Word Himself, fulfilled. In the New, He then came by His Spirit at Pentecost and revived us in Spirit again, that we may live with and for Him and that He might live in and through us.
...they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
— Acts 4:31
I hope this lesson will be an inspiration to . . .
Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
— Isaiah 55:6
. . . in both His Word and prayer.
© 2016 Tamarajo