Shavuot is a Feast that is de-emphasized in the traditional Jewish community (due to two thousand years of being forbidden to own farmland) and largely misunderstood in Christendom. Yet it is one of the three pilgrimage Feasts, in which all the men of Israel were commanded to present themselves before the Holy One. It turns out that the meaning of this Feast is easy to apprehend as long as we look at it first through the lens of the Exodus from Egypt.
In the third month after Israel’s departure from Egypt, we arrived at Mt. Sinai (Exo. 19:1). Three days later (v. 11), God descended on the mountain in fire, with the sound of a shofar (vv. 16ff), and called Moses up the mountain to begin giving him the Torah. The day that this happened was the day of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks.
Like HaBikkurim, the Feast of Firstfruits for the barley harvest, on which Messiah was raised as the Firstfruits of the dead (1Co. 15:20), Shavuot is a firstfruits festival for the wheat harvest. On the first Shavuot, the firstfruits of the nation of Israel began receiving the Torah.
The significance of this event to the New Covenant is often missed because of a gloss in the translation of Exo. 20:18 that appears in nearly every version of the Bible. The verse reads, in the KJV, “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.” However, the usual Hebrew words for “thunderings” and “lightnings” are not used here. The more literal translation of the first half of the verse would be, “And all the people saw the voices and the torches . . .” The rabbis asked themselves how one could see a voice, and why the passage spoke of voices in the plural. The answer that they came to was that the people saw God’s voice as sparks of fire which rested on each individual present. As for why the voice was spoken of in the plural, “wherefore R. Johanan said that God’s voice, as it was uttered, split up into seventy voices, in seventy languages, so that all the nations should understand” (Exo. R. 5:9). This only makes sense, since it was a mixed company that went up from Egypt (Exo. 12:38) and not everyone there would have understood the Holy One’s commands and covenant had it been spoken in Hebrew only.
Fast-forward 1500 years: On Shavuot after the death and resurrection of the Messiah, the firstfruits of the Ekklesia began receiving the Torah written on their hearts by the giving of the Spirit of God in the form of fire and with a great sound, and then they went forth to announce the Good News of the New Covenant to the crowd (the Voices of God speaking all the languages of the world from within them), one comprised of Jews from all over the world many of whom did not speak Hebrew (Jer. 31:33, Ezk. 36:26-27, Acts 2:3ff). Why did God this time speak through men instead of directly from heaven? In part, it was to demonstrate that what was formerly written on tablets of stone was now being written on hearts of flesh (Rom. 2:15), but more than that, because we had asked Him to (Exo. 20:19)!
One of the commands we observe on Shavuot is presenting two leavened loaves (the Shtei Halechem) before the Holy One (Lev. 23:17). Under ordinary circumstances, leaven is symbolic of sin and is forbidden in the offering (2:11), yet on this occassion, it is commanded. The reason is that while Yeshua presented Himself before our Father as a sinless offering, the Holy One’s people can make no such claim for themselves–nevertheless, the Merciful One receives us for His service as well.
The two loaves represent a division in the Body, but by being presented together we see that division healed. There have been many divisions in Israel’s history: The northern and southern kingdoms, the Messianic remnant from the majority who do not know Yeshua, Jew and Gentile, etc. In every case, the consistant theme of prophecy is the removal of jealousy and the reunion of brethren. This is why the prophecy of Jeremiah announcing a New or Renewed Covenant is given to both Judah and Israel (Jer. 31:31), even though the latter had been carried off by the Assyrians.
There is another aspect of Shavuot which is almost always overlooked: It’s connection to the Yovel, or Jubilee. Just as Shavuot is the 50th day after seven weeks of days, the Jubilee is the 50th year after seven weeks of years. In the Jubilee, all indentured servants are set free and all land is restored to its proper family. In Shavuot, we celebrate being set free from our slavery to sin and being restored to our proper inheritance, the Torah of liberty, written on our hearts by the Spirit of the Holy One.
Shavuot is truly a Feast pregnant with meaning–as indeed all of the Holy One’s Appointed Times are. I look forward to the day when all of my Sunday brethren join us in celebrating these joyous times of refreshment and learning, and to the day when my Jewish brothers and sisters are able to see the Messiah who has cast His shadow over our calendar.