Shavuot and Pentecost

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Jewish tradition marks the holy day of Shavuot (Weeks) as the time of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Christians mark the holy day of Pentecost as the time of the giving of the Holy Spirit on Mount Zion. 

Of course, these are the same day, one by the lunar calendar and one by the solar calendar. Understanding the connection between the two can be a source of great inspiration.  

Shavuot literally means “sevens”, for 7 times 7 equaling 49; while Pentecost means 50. Both are connected to the end of the counting of the Omer which began during Passover.

The date of the giving of the Torah, noted in Exodus 19:1 as being “in the third month” is not exact, so the counting of the day may or may not be correct. 

In any case the parallels are striking.  On Mount Sinai the Torah was given in fire and lightning in the presence of the Angel YHVH; the people literally “saw the voices” of God, just as the disciples saw the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire from Messiah Yeshua.  (Exodus 19:18-19; 20:18; Acts 2:1-4).  

There is even a rabbinic tradition that while the Torah was given on Mount Sinai in Hebrew, it contained within it 70 languages representing all the nations of the world. (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9) The disciples in Jerusalem received supernatural tongues from heaven that were heard in different languages (at least 15 listed in Acts 2:5-11), also representing every nation of the world.

Another Jewish tradition related to the grain offering that is commanded on Shavuot, is to stay up all night studying the book of Ruth.  For us, this story clearly points to the One New Man, the grafting in of the Gentiles to God’s Olive Tree, Israel.  This began on a world-wide scale on the day of Pentecost.  

Amazingly, in modern times, Shavuot was adopted by the kibbutz movement as its “holy day” (the early kibbutzim were mostly anti-religious). Now it has become a national Israeli holiday with parades, celebrating “firstfruits” of agriculture produce, family dining, folk dancing, and even new commercial inventions. 

In the biblical narrative, there is a three-stage development of the שכינה, shekhinah – indwelling presence of the glory of God.  The first stage is represented by Sinai.  The pillar of cloud and fire followed the people into different places.  The second stage is the Temple of Solomon, where we read that the glory of God filled the Temple at its dedication (II Kings 8:10, II Chronicles 5:13; 7:1).

The third stage is the Shavuot-Pentecost outpouring on the disciples. This also happened in Jerusalem. The three stages therefore would be:

  1. Pillar of cloud and fire in exile
  2. Cloud and fire in Temple in Jerusalem
  3. Fire of Holy Spirit in disciples in Jerusalem.

From here the New Covenant goes on to develop the metaphor that we, as the Body of Messiah, are a spiritual temple made up of living stones. (Ephesians 2:21-22; 1 Peter 2:5)

It is debatable whether the outpouring of the Holy Spirit happened in the upper room or in the Temple itself.  The Scriptures are not clear on that point. The disciples are described as “continually” being in the “upper room” in Acts 1:13-14, and in the Temple in Acts 2:46.  They were described as being in a “house” in Acts 2:2 – in Greek that is oikos, which might indicate the upper room; yet in Hebrew the word for house is bayit, בית which can mean either house or temple.  

In any case, the upper room on Mount Zion and the Temple on Mount Moriah are only a few hundred meters one from another, so it does not make much difference.  The symbolic meanings of Zion or Moriah would both be fitting. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit goes from wilderness pillar to Solomon’s Temple to the hearts of the disciples. 

Of course, there is yet another stage, a future stage, in which the Holy Spirit is to be poured out on “all flesh” as promised in Acts 2:17.  As Paul desired “urgently” to be in Jerusalem on Shavuot-Pentecost (Acts 20:16), so we also dedicate this holy day every year to pray “urgently” for that global, end times’ outpouring. 

 

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