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by Rev. Mark Robinson
And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the LORD. And ye shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering unto the LORD, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet savour unto the LORD. Then ye shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits for a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the LORD for the priest. And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 23:15-22
Shavuot, or Pentecost, is the third of the required feasts of the Lord found in Leviticus 23. There are a variety of names that the Scriptures give to this feast. “Feast of Weeks”, Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10; “Feast of Harvest”, Exodus 23:16, and “Day of the First Fruits”, Numbers 28:26.
It is the only festival that does not have a fixed date. The dating is from “the next day after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days”, Leviticus 23:16. During New Testament times the lack of a fixed date for this feast resulted in differing opinions on when the beginning of the count should take place.
The Sadducees, generally wealthy members of the Jewish aristocracy who had embraced Hellenism, were the Temple custodians. They numbered about 3,000 at the time of Jesus. According to Josephus, in the 107 years from the beginning of Herod’s reign in 37 B.C. to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there were 28 high priests. The Talmud records that by the time of Jesus, the high priest bought the office from the government and the position was changed every year. These policies resulted in a group of wealthy Sadducean priestly families being appointed to the office on a regular basis. They understood the Sabbath to refer to the first Saturday of Passover; thus, the counting was to begin on the first Sunday, always putting Pentecost on a Sunday.
The Pharisees generally came from the middle class, were zealous for the Mosaic Law, and were the “party” of the people. At the time of Jesus they numbered about 6,000. They interpreted Sabbath not to mean Saturday but the first day of the rest (the first day of the Passover Festival). The counting would begin on the second day of the Passover Festival and Pentecost could fall on any day. The Pharisees method became the generally accepted method and is used today among the Jewish people.
The Christian dating of Pentecost is the seventh Sunday after Resurrection Day (Easter). This view lines up with the Sadducee view of it always falling on a Sunday.
The lack of a specific date for this festival is seen by Jewish authorities, with the initial counting from Passover to Shavuot, as a continuous link or flow of the first three festivals. The understanding is that they are intrinsically linked together.
This festival’s purpose was initially agricultural. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Shavuot took on an historical basis for its celebration. Based on Exodus 19:1, this festival became the celebration of the giving of the Mosaic law. It became customary for the book of Ruth to be read in celebration of this feast.
It seems as though God providentially brought together a number of things to bring us some fascinating insights into this feast day and the work of Israel’s Messiah. Three insights for our brief consideration are the concept of the Kinsman-Redeemer and its relationship to Messiah Jesus in the book of Ruth, the beginning of the church on the very day of Shavuot (Pentecost), and the contrast we see between law and grace in relation to Shavuot.
Today the reading of the book of Ruth accompanies the celebration of this Festival. This practice probably started sometime in the 2nd century of this era.
The Book of Ruth and the kinsman/redeemer are intrinsically tied together. To not understand the kinsman/redeemer teaching is to miss the thrust of the book and the pictures the book of Ruth provides us of the relationship of Jesus and the church. The book is a love story between a Gentile woman, a Jewish man, and the God of Israel.
Boaz, a relative or kinsman of Elimelech, Ruth 2:1, Naomi’s deceased husband, wanted to fulfill his obligation as a kinsman redeemer and raise up a family for Ruth. Ruth had married Mahlon, one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, and he had died also, Ruth 4:10.
Boaz was following the Mosaic command found in Deuteronomy 25:5-6.
“If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.” Deuteronomy 25:5-6
There were three requirements to be able to fulfill the requirements of a kinsman/redeemer. First, he must be the nearest kin (relative). Boaz was not the nearest qualifying relative, so he asked the nearest relative if he would marry Ruth in fulfilling the law. He was not willing, Ruth 4:1-6, and Boaz then became the nearest relative.
The second qualification was the ability to fulfill the obligation. Initially, Boaz did not have the ability to perform the obligation because of the nearer relative. When the nearer relative passed on his obligation, Boaz then qualified, and had the ability to fulfill the obligation, Ruth 4:8-11.
The third requirement was being willing to fulfill the obligation. Ruth 4 clearly shows how willing Boaz was to fulfill the obligation. Boaz met every requirement of the kinsman/redeemer. He took unto him Ruth as his wife, and through their marriage was born Obed, the father of Jesse and David, Ruth 4:13-17. This gentile woman would be in the Messianic line!
Jesus is our kinsman/redeemer as He met all three requirements. Not only was He our nearest kin, Hebrews 2:14, but He was able to fulfill the obligation of the kinsman/redeemer in that He was able to redeem us, 1 Peter 1:18-19, and He was willing also, John 10:17-18.
For the festival of Shavuot the book of Ruth is read in the synagogue telling the glorious story of the love of a Jewish man for a Gentile woman as he followed the God of Israel’s desires. It is no coincidence that at the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), a Jewish man, Jesus, and ultimately, primarily, a Gentile bride, the church, were brought together, in the birth of the church. This too is a love story of a Jewish man for His Bride!
BIRTH OF THE CHURCH
The birth of the Church took place on Pentecost and is recorded in Acts 2:1-4. Part of the offering to God on this feast day were “two wave loaves…baked with leaven,” Lev. 23:17. Typically offerings contained no leaven; yet this did.
Leaven, at times, is used in the Bible as a picture of sin. For example:
“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:7-8
The picture is clear. The church is made up of redeemed, but still sinful, Jews and Gentiles. The church, redeemed Jews and Gentiles (“two loaves”), are an “offering to the Lord,” Romans 12:1-2.
In the plan of God, the church was born on the feast of Shavuot! What a beautiful fulfillment of this feast, especially when one considers that, in the providence of God, the book of Ruth is the biblical focal point in the synagogue today.
LAW AND GRACE
Shavuot brings out the contrast of law and grace better than any other feast day. Jewish people celebrate Shavuot as the time of the giving of the Law by God, through Moses, to the nation of Israel. When the Law was given on Sinai, shortly thereafter, we are told, “there fell of the people that day about 3,000 men”, Exodus 32:28.
The law can only bring death, Romans 3:19-20, Galatians 3:10. There is no possible redemption or spiritual life in the Law because of our sinfulness, Romans 3. In a very vivid way, God showed the curse of the law, Deuteronomy 27:26, by accompanying its giving with the death of 3,000 people.
In contrast, when the church was begun, the blessing of grace is shown in that we are told that, shortly thereafter, “…the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls”, Acts 2:41. Grace brings life, Ephesians 2:8-9.
Three thousand died at the giving of the law. Three thousand lived, spiritually, at the birth of the church.
Along with the law at Sinai, God gave Moses instructions for the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is a portrait of Jesus. A picture of how one finds grace through the Messiah. Many books have been written on “Christ in the Tabernacle.” These show the many parallels of the Tabernacle and Jesus, and how the Tabernacle pictures the grace we find only in Jesus, the Messiah.
Shavuot stands as the background of the proclamation, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”, John 1:17!
The feast of Shavuot when seen in light of Pentecost and the accompanying Jewish traditions challenges each of us in a number of areas. Law, grace, church, spiritual life vs. death are just some.
With no fixed date for Shavuot, the Christian application is we have been liberated, redeemed, from the bondage of sin through the Passover, Jesus the Lamb, 1 Corinthians 5:7; unto resurrection through Christ as our Firstfruits, 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, and new life in Messiah, 1 Corinthians 15:20,22-23, 2 Corinthians 5:17; and by grace brought into the family of God with the birth of the Church at Pentecost, John 1:17; Romans 6:14; Acts 2.
Have you celebrated the feast of Shavuot in a spiritual sense? In light of the above shouldn’t you, by faith, accept the Messiah as your Savior and Lord? When you do this, you will truly appreciate the feast of Shavuot/Pentecost!