JERUSALEM, Israel – Once again this year, Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, begins as the weekly Sabbath ends on Saturday evening at sunset. Temperatures in Israel soared as the nation prepared to celebrate the harvest festival when Jews mark Moses' receipt of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.
Shavuot is the second of the three biblical pilgrim festivals, after Pesach (Passover) and before the fall festival of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), when all Israel came up to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple on Mount Zion.
Shavuot takes place exactly 50 days (seven Sabbaths) after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special time called the counting of the omer.
"Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord." (Leviticus 23:16)
A few verses later, God instructs the Hebrews to remember the poor and the stranger when gathering the harvest.
"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 23:22)
The Harvest Festival
Shavuot is also known as Hag Ha'katzir (the Harvest Festival), when Jews traditionally read the Book of Ruth, the story of the Moabite woman who chose to return to Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi.
"Entreat me not to leave you or turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go and wherever you lodge, I will lodge.
Your people shall be my people and your God, my God." (Ruth 1:16)
When the young widow goes out to glean the harvest, she finds herself in grain fields belonging to Naomi's relative Boaz, who becomes her husband.
Ruth then gives birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David, placing her in the genealogy of Israel's Messiah, according to scripture.
First Fruits and Giving of the Torah
Israelites brought the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple, inspiring yet another name for this holiday, Hag ha'Bikkurim, the Festival of First Fruits.
Their offerings no doubt included the seven biblical species: olives (and olive oil), grapes, wheat, barley, figs, dates (and date honey), and pomegranates, all of which are abundantly produced in Israel today.
Traditional fare for Shavuot is dairy products and fruit, celebrating the land flowing with milk and honey.
But perhaps dearest to Jewish hearts is the belief that God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai on Shavuot, birthing yet another name, Hag Matan Torateinu (The Festival of the Giving of the Torah) that gave rise to the tradition of staying up all night studying Torah.
Understanding all that Shavuot encompasses provides a fitting foundation for what took place on the same day in an upper room in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, where 120 followers of Yeshua (Jesus) waited to be imbued with power from on high.
They may have prayed about the promise foretold by the prophet Joel, which the apostle Peter described: "There came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty, rushing wind when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:2-4)
This outpouring of God's Spirit produced quite a harvest – about 3,000 people joined the 120 disciples to become "witnesses to Me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth."
And so it happened, just as the prophet Joel foretold.
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:17a, 21)
The giving of the Torah (God's law) represents the covenant between God and the Jewish people, while the outpouring of the Holy Spirit empowered the first followers of Jesus to spread the Good News, despite persecution.
Many would agree that an outpouring of God's Spirit is what today's upside-down world needs the most as the bearers of the Good News pray for a bountiful harvest of souls.