Beginning during the season of Passover and Unleavened Bread is a counting of weeks to the Festival of Weeks:
“You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete Sabbaths [seven full weeks, RSV, NIV, CJB, ESV, et. al.]. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD…On this same day you shall make a proclamation as well; you are to have a holy convocation. You shall do no laborious work. It is to be a perpetual statute in all your dwelling places throughout your generations” (Leviticus 23:15-16, 21).
Shavuot is known to many by its Greek-derived name Pentecost or Pentēkostē, meaning “fiftieth.” Its Hebrew name is derived, however, from the plural form of shavua, which means “week,” in reference to the seven weeks that are to be counted to Shavuot. In Exodus 34:22, Shavuot is described as being “the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.” Deuteronomy 16:9-10a further specifies how how God’s people are to “count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand” (Deuteronomy 16:9- 10a).
Shavuot was originally intended to be an agricultural festival, where primarily the first of the wheat harvest would be presented to the Lord as a special offering, in the form of bread, waved before Him:
“You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the LORD. Along with the bread you shall present seven one year old male lambs without defect, and a bull of the herd and two rams; they are to be a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD. You shall also offer one male goat for a sin offering and two male lambs one year old for a sacrifice of peace offerings. The priest shall then wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering with two lambs before the LORD; they are to be holy to the LORD for the priest” (Leviticus 23:17-20).
Since the destruction of the Temple, additional importance has been applied to Shavuot. Hertz indicates, “Jewish tradition…connects it with the Covenant on Mount Sinai, and speaks of the festival as…‘the Season of the Giving of our Torah’. The Israelites arrived at Sinai on the New Moon. On the second of the month, Moses ascended the mountain; on the third, he received the people’s reply; on the fourth, he made the second ascent and was commanded to institute three days of preparation, at the conclusion of which the Revelation took place. Hence its association with the Feast of Weeks, which became the Festival of Revelation.” H.M. Adler further comments, “With the destruction of the Second Temple, the agricultural aspect of the Festival receded, and Shavous became primarily the Feast of Revelation.”
Shavuot, referred to here as the Feast of Revelation, is readily associated with God giving Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, which is certainly something worthy of celebration and convocation. The giving of the Ten Commandments, and indeed the entire Torah, is something that is monumental for all of humanity—arguably second to the resurrection of Messiah Yeshua! Without the Torah, we would be unable to see the Messiah to whom it points (Romans 10:4, Grk.)!
However, in realizing the traditional connection between Shavuot and the giving of the Law, we see that the first Shavuot was not as glorious as one might make it out to be. While Moses was on the mountain receiving the commandments from God in an awesome scene of fire and smoke, the Ancient Israelites were forsaking God and making themselves a golden calf. We know the story all too well from Exodus 32, as when Moses came down from the mountain, he smashed the tablets:
“It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf which they had made and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink it” (Exodus 32:19-20).
A cry of war went out in the Israelite camp because of this grave and terrible sin. Moses called those loyal to God to his side and ordered that they slay those who were sinning:
“Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies —then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. He said to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.”’ So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day” (Exodus 32:25- 28).
Three thousand Israelites were killed in association with this first Shavuot because they sinned against the Lord and worshipped an idol. However, thirteen hundred years later in Jerusalem, as Shavuot was required to be one of the three pilgrimage festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16), this appointed time experienced some important prophetic fulfillment. At this time, just after Yeshua had ascended into Heaven, the Apostle Peter proclaimed a riveting message to those assembled in Jerusalem:
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Yeshua the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death…Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah —this Yeshua whom you crucified” (Acts 2:22-23; 36).
Acts 2:41 states that “there were added about three thousand souls.” On the first Shavuot, or the day of Pentecost as it is widely known, three thousand died because of their idolatry. Thirteen hundred years later, on the day of Pentecost, three thousand came to faith in the Messiah.
The Book of Acts describes how on this Shavuot, people believing in the Holy One of Israel from all over the known world came to gather in Jerusalem, both those who were observant Jews and proselytes (Acts 2:9-11). Contrary to popular belief, Peter did not proclaim to the crowds amassed the beginning of “the Church.” Rather, he proclaimed the good news and that Yeshua was both “Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). What Peter proclaimed was that He is the promised Redeemer of Israel, and that those assembled were to “Turn from sin, return to God, and each of you be immersed on the authority of Yeshua the Messiah into forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh! For the promise is for you, for your children, and for those far away—as many as ADONAI our God may call!” (Acts 2:38-39, CJB).
The events at this Shavuot are extremely important for us to remember today. It was the time when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in all the Believers, as the close and personal presence of God: “And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4). Prior to this time, the Holy Spirit was only given to kings of Israel, prophets, and those specifically anointed by the Lord—but now, all who had faith in Yeshua were given the Spirit! This new work of God, inaugurated at Shavuot/Pentecost, was preparing to change the world.
When we celebrate Shavuot now, there is much to be thankful for and to remember. We first remember the baked loaves and offerings that were to be presented to the Lord as a pleasurable aroma to Him. We then remember what we should consider to be the second most important event in our faith (the first being the Messiah’s resurrection): the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai. And as Messianic Believers, we are reminded that on the Shavuot following the Messiah’s ascension into Heaven that the Holy Spirit was poured out and that many were saved, decisively beginning the era of the New Covenant (cf. Acts 15:8-9).
Note that the command to count “from the day after the sabbath” (Leviticus 23:15) has been interpreted differently for at least 2,300 years. During the time of Yeshua, the Sadducees considered “the sabbath” here to be a reference to the weekly Shabbat, whereas the Pharisees interpreted it as a reference to the High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread. In Judaism today, the Pharisaical method is what is followed. Messianic practice invariably differs. Consult the FAQ on the TNN website “Omer Count.”
Cited in Ibid.
For a further discussion, consult the author’s article “When Did ‘the Church’ Begin?”
For resources on how to keep the Spring festivals with your family, including the Festival of Purim (Esther 9:26-27), consult the Messianic Spring Holiday Helper by TNN Press.