Do you know what today is? It is the day of Pentecost. The anniversary of the beginning of the church and the day the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples waiting for commissioning in Jerusalem.
After Jesus rose on the third day after his crucifiction, he appeared to his disciples and others, explaining many of the Scriptures for the next 37 days. Forty days after Passover, he ascended into heaven. Before he did, he told them to preach the Gospel to all nations, but before they went, they were to wait upon the Holy Spirit.
So they went back to Jerusalem and waited. Waiting, watching, and praying.
Ten days later, on Shavout, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, baptizing them in spirit and power.
What is Shavout/Pentecost
Pentecost is the Greek word for “fiftieth” referring to the 50th day after the Festival of Harvest. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, this is the word most Christians are familiar with. ((Pentecost. Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed 8-6-2014.))
However in Hebrew, the day is referred to as Shavout. The word refers to the 7 weeks that are counted to the day. Sheva is the word for “seven” in Hebrew and shavua is the word for “weeks.” Shavout is the completion of 7 weeks of 7 days.
Shavout and The Festival of Harvest
So what is all the counting about in the first place and what is the significance?
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He asked them if they were willing to follow his commands and be His people. It is interesting in the passage that recounts this, He asks very specifically and they say “Yes,” more than once. (Exodus 19:1-19 and Exodus 24:1-15)
We always have free will.
Then Moses went on Mount Sinai to get the instructions from God to keep the covenant.
In those instructions, God told them they must celebrate three festivals in his honor:
- The Festival of Unleavened Bread (Passover)
- The Festival of Harvest (Shavout)
- The Festival of Final Harvest (Sukkot)
“Each year you must celebrate three festivals in my honor. First, celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast, just as I commanded you. Celebrate this festival annually at the appointed time in early spring, in the month of Abib, for that is the anniversary of your departure from Egypt. No one may appear before me without an offering.
“Second, celebrate the Festival of Harvest when you bring me the first crops of your harvest.
“Finally, celebrate the Festival of the Final Harvest at the end of the harvest season, when you have harvested all the crops from your fields. 17 At these three times each year, every man in Israel must appear before the Sovereign, the Lord. Exodux 23:14-17 NLT
They agree to this, (Exodus 24:1-11) Moses goes back on the mountain for the written instructions and is there for 40 days and 40 nights. (Exodus 24:12-18 NLT)
If you know the story, you know what happens next. The Israelites thought it was taking too long, got impatient, and some of them convince Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship.
It sounds crazy after all God had done for them, and what they had just been through, but are we any different? Isn’t it easy to get discouraged when an answer from God seems to take longer than we think it should and we start putting our faith in other things? That is idolatry.
God tells Moses on the mountain what is going on and Moses has to intercede with God on the Israelites behalf not to wipe them all out. God was so disgusted with them he told Moses he would make his descendants great. Moses is successful in saving them as a whole, but he comes down and cleans house with those were participated in the rebellion and takes the rest who stood around tolerating it to task. (Chapter 32 of Exodus is pretty heavy stuff.)
After all of that, Moses reiterates the conditions of the covenant again, and again Israel says they will abide by it. The three Festivals are listed in the instructions again in Exodus 34:18-26.
When is the Festival of Harvest?
The book of Leviticus goes into the specific details of the Law. In chapter 23, the details of the observance of the festivals are given:
Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread
5 “The Lord’s Passover begins at sundown on the fourteenth day of the first month. 6 On the next day, the fifteenth day of the month, you must begin celebrating the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This festival to the Lord continues for seven days, and during that time the bread you eat must be made without yeast. 7 On the first day of the festival, all the people must stop their ordinary work and observe an official day for holy assembly. 8 For seven days you must present special gifts to the Lord. On the seventh day the people must again stop all their ordinary work to observe an official day for holy assembly.”
Celebration of First Harvest
9 Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. When you enter the land I am giving you and you harvest its first crops, bring the priest a bundle of grain from the first cutting of your grain harvest.11 On the day after the Sabbath, the priest will lift it up before the Lord so it may be accepted on your behalf. 12 On that same day you must sacrifice a one-year-old male lamb with no defects as a burnt offering to the Lord. 13 With it you must present a grain offering consisting of four quarts[of choice flour moistened with olive oil. It will be a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. You must also offer one quart of wine as a liquid offering. 14 Do not eat any bread or roasted grain or fresh kernels on that day until you bring this offering to your God. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed from generation to generation wherever you live. Leviticus 23:5-14 NLT
Passover begins on the 14th day of the 1st month and the Festival of Unleavened Bread begins the next day and continues for seven days.
On the day after the Sabbath of the Festival, i.e. on the Sunday of the week of the Festival, the Celebration of the First Harvest, also known as First Fruits is celebrated.
As I mentioned before in an article on Passover, Jesus was crucified at the same time the Passover lamb was being sacrificed and he rose on Sunday during the celebration of First Harvest/First Fruits.
Even though the first day of Passover, the 14th day of the first month, will fall on different days of the week, First Fruits is always on a Sunday. Always. It is not set by date, it is the day after the Sabbath.
Shabbat, meaning Sabbath, is the Hebrew word for the seventh day of the week (meaning “He rested”), which we refer to as Saturday. However, some people argue that the Sabbath referred to is not the seventh day of the week but the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is a high holy day and also considered a Sabbath.
However, this is clarified in the instructions given for the date of the Festival of Final Harvest:
The Festival of Harvest
15 “From the day after the Sabbath—the day you bring the bundle of grain to be lifted up as a special offering—count off seven full weeks.16 Keep counting until the day after the seventh Sabbath, fifty days later. Then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. 17 From wherever you live, bring two loaves of bread to be lifted up before the Lord as a special offering. Make these loaves from four quarts of choice flour, and bake them with yeast. They will be an offering to the Lord from the first of your crops. 18 Along with the bread, present seven one-year-old male lambs with no defects, one young bull, and two rams as burnt offerings to the Lord. These burnt offerings, together with the grain offerings and liquid offerings, will be a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 19 Then you must offer one male goat as a sin offering and two one-year-old male lambs as a peace offering.
20 “The priest will lift up the two lambs as a special offering to the Lord, together with the loaves representing the first of your crops. These offerings, which are holy to the Lord, belong to the priests. 21 That same day will be proclaimed an official day for holy assembly, a day on which you do no ordinary work. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed from generation to generation wherever you live.
must be observed from generation to generation wherever you live. Leviticus 23:15-21 NLT
Seven Sabbaths are to be counted from the day of First Fruits, (the day after the Sabbath.) It is very clear that what is being referred to is the seventh day of the week, not the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Then it states again to make an offering the day after the Sabbath, Sunday, for the Festival of Harvest. The same instructions are repeated in Deuteronomy 16.
So if anyone ever tries to pull the bogus claim that Sunday worship has “pagan” origins, you can point them to Leviticus chapter 23. Out of the six appointed times God specifies in this chapter, the only two that are set for a specific day of the week are Sunday.
(Even beyond that, that is a historically fallacious claim, but if you don’t want to spend a lot of time debunking it, just point them to Leviticus 23.)
The Orthodox and Catholic Churches observe Pentecost. Protestant churches not so much, which is really sad. It is the anniversary of the birth of the church.
In Judaism, the counting of the 50 days to Shavout is called the Counting of the Omer.
Even though there are explicit instructions to start the 50 count on the paschal Sunday, that is not when it is observed in most branches of Judaism today. The official calendar starts the count the day after the Feast of Unleavened bread. This year, Shavout was celebrated on the two days beginning the evening of Tuesday, June 3rd and ending the evening of Thursday, June 5th.
After the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., much like the observance of Passover itself, Shavout changed from a celebration of harvest to one of the celebration of the giving of the Torah.
Celebration of the Promise
But really, the seven weeks of seven days represent completion . . . fulfillment.
Just as the Festival of First Harvest was a foreshadowing of Christ who was the first to rise from the dead, the Festival of Harvest was a foreshadowing of God’s promise to fulfill his goodness to his people by the giving of the holy spirit.
2 On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
5 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.
7 They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! 9 Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.
13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”
Peter Preaches to the Crowd
14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15 These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. 16 No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants—men and women alike—
and they will prophesy.
19 And I will cause wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below—
blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
20 The sun will become dark,
and the moon will turn blood red
before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.
21 But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved.’ Joel 2:28-32
22 “People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. 24 But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. 25 King David said this about him:
‘I see that the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
26 No wonder my heart is glad,
and my tongue shouts his praises!
My body rests in hope.
27 For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.
28 You have shown me the way of life,
and you will fill me with the joy of your presence.’ Psalm 16:8-11
29 “Dear brothers, think about this! You can be sure that the patriarch David wasn’t referring to himself, for he died and was buried, and his tomb is still here among us. 30 But he was a prophet, and he knew God had promised with an oath that one of David’s own descendants would sit on his throne. 31 David was looking into the future and speaking of the Messiah’s resurrection. He was saying that God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot in the grave.
32 “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. 33 Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today. 34 For David himself never ascended into heaven, yet he said,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
35 until I humble your enemies,
making them a footstool under your feet.”’ Psalm 110:1
36 “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!”
37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”
41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.
The Believers Form a Community
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
I’ve been reading Psalms during the Counting of the Omer, the countdown from Resurrection Sunday (First Fruits) to Pentecost (Festival of Harvest.) There are 150 Psalms, so I’ve been reading three psalms each day and finished the book today by reading Psalms 50, 100, and 150.
The overarching theme of the book of Psalms is God’s overwhelming faithfulness and goodness, no matter what the circumstances. Just like the Festival of Harvest, it is a celebration of thankfulness God always fulfills his promises.
They didn’t mention Pentecost at church today, but they did sing an awesome song that is about just that.
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heaven!
2 Praise him for his mighty works;
praise his unequaled greatness!
3 Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
praise him with the lyre and harp!
4 Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
praise him with strings and flutes!
5 Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
6 Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!
Praise the Lord! Psalm 150:1-6 NLT